A Healthy Stepmother . . . makes a guest appearance tonight on #MomsofBoysChat

It’s finally here, it’s today….after a few weeks of getting organized, I’m going to be a guest on the #momsofboyschat on Twitter.

Yup, I’ll be the guest on a Twitter chat. Today, Friday, August 23, 7pm Pacific time (10pm Eastern). The chat is hosted by Marie Roker-Jones over at raisinggreatmen.com. Her site is worth exploring!!

The topic of the #momsofboyschat tonight is Balance and Resilience with a regard for the back-to-school time we are in. Very fitting, I’m taking my stepson on our annual school shopping trip next week.

In my work as a Feldenkrais® teacher, I teach my clients to use self-awareness to improve balance and resilience and posture and overall well-being. We can think of good posture as being able to smoothly move in any direction, at any time, without a lot of concentration or effort. In many ways, that’s the same definition as balance. I know we think of balance as not falling over, but that’s such a limiting way to contemplate a vast and delicious concept.

Balance is not too much of this or too much of that. It’s about easily going this way OR that way. Color can be balanced. Your checking account can be balanced. So can your mood and your time and everything else. So, falling over is only one of the many ways to think of balance. It’s not the way I’m going to discuss on the chat, we’ll zero in on the sense of rushing vs resting, hurry vs leisure, getting it all done vs choosing a few things done well.

Resilience relates to balance. When you are off that center and when you are bouncing around from here to there and car pooling and getting to the board meeting and running, running, running, you need the ability to quickly and comfortably come back to your starting point, aka homeostasis. We could think of that starting point as neutral, or a place of balance. It is from there we go out and to there we come back. That is resilience. Can we return to the place we began and have the energy to go out from the center again? Rubber-bandish, if you know what I mean.

I also have a few ideas about what I’m calling our Legacy Behaviors. Legacy behaviors are those things we learned in our growing up homes, back when we didn’t have as many choices about our behavior. We were going to do what needed done in the situation to fit and survive. Children are at the mercy of their adults, even if it seems we’re at theirs. All the more reason for you to feel and find balance and resilience, you will be passing along those behaviors to your children.

You can look back to your childhood family to see what you learned about how to handle things not going well, how to handle the one more thing on your plate, how to handle when someone gets ill. It’s all there, the patterns you’ve gained and use over and over without even thinking. I’ve dug down deep in my family legacies to see what was there and with my father living with us now after his stroke, I am getting to see it even more up close and personal.

My message is: we can change the patterns. We can get past enough of our anxiety, or anger, or depression, or disappointment, that we will have an improved quality of life. We can learn to stay in a place of balance or return to it easier and quicker and smoother.

It takes time and practice, but the potential to live without struggle or conflict, it is there.

My favorite story about learning balance and resilience comes from a trip I took to England years ago to teach a workshop focused on walking.

On the opening Friday evening of the workshop, I asked the group to lie on their back and reach their right leg up in the air with the sole of the foot facing the ceiling. Everyone did this amidst many groans. One woman struggled and strained to hold her leg there. I walked over and took hold of her foot and ankle with soft hands and modeled with my hands the quality of how she might hold her leg. She softened in her knee a bit. I kept holding and began some minuscule movements to turn her foot left and right. After a few moments, she softened in her ankle. Her leg was still in the air, but she was supported by me taking some of the weight and she was beginning to understand there was a way she could release the holding all along her left leg. We worked with it a few more moments and she could hold her leg in the air with some improved degree of comfort. 
She went to bed and during the night had a muscle spasm. She described that when she had a spasm, normally she’d have to get up and take some medication or get up and do some elaborate stretches. Instead, she lay there in the dark noticing the spasm. She realized it was actually in her neck, but more to one side. She began noticing her arm and how she was holding it and returned to noticing her neck. Gradually, she noticed that the spasm was as strong and before she knew it she was waking up with the awareness she’d fallen back to sleep without getting out of bed.
Her comment to me the next morning was that she had learned to keep asking, what else is there to let go of, what is another way I can do this?

I find myself returning to that question over and over and over again in my life. Whether it’s as a stepmother, as a wife, or as a daughter who’s now the caregiver, there is always something else I can let go of. When I do, there is a huge expanse of possibility that opens before me and I can go left or right or forward or backwards, even up or down. All smoothly, all with balance, and very easily return to the starting place.

Practicing balance and resilience is worth every minute of time spent.

The chat tonight will be like dipping your toe into the process, but there’s a ton of information on this blog and over on my Feldenkrais Notes blog, where if you read the Reflections pieces, you’ll get a sense of how my work relates to everyday living. And, of course, not everyone is a stepmother ;-), but the process of integrating into my family and using these strategies was what helped me organize my thinking around the topic, so it’s still the best place to get my ideas. I could have called the blog, A Healthy Human.

If you can’t join us on the chat tonight, you can begin by reading the Soothing series on the blog. About 14 posts related to strategies to practice soothing, another way to talk about Balance and Resilience.

See you soon!

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . is part of the dialogue.

Hello and happy new year! Here we are at the beginning of a new calendar year and I’m doing my usual, ignore the goal-setting and resolution-building. In fact, this article came across my desk which suggests we ought to be dreaming. I couldn’t agree more. I love a good dream, it’s what gets me up in the morning.

One of the things I used to dream about was being involved in the dialogue about kid issues in my home. If you’re a stepmother, you might join me in a good chuckle. We all start there and some women accomplish it to their satisfaction but that has not been my experience, nor the experience of many of the real-life stepmothers I know. Instead, my work has been to discover when I agree, when I can bend, and when I need to let go, as well as how to gracefully navigate between those choices without guilt and with healthy boundary setting.

Knowing it is healthy to have and use my voice, I began blogging. I fumbled and bumbled my way through the first months, finding the words to describe what I stand for in the world of stepmothering. At first, I convinced myself I wasn’t part of the ever-growing stepmother industry, because I wasn’t selling anything. Then, I was invited to do a guest post for Wednesday Martin on her Stepmonster blog.

I kept writing. I kept honing my thoughts about what we stepmothers call ourselves, about our struggles to feel okay and our recurrent pain in the face of repetitious slights, as well as our basic need to find a sense of belonging. I almost stopped blogging, thinking I had run out of material. If not for one of you readers sending an email, Kim, are you still writing this blog, I hope so, I need this, I might have stopped. Turns out, I wasn’t done.

In August, Shari Gregory, LCSW, approached me about co-leading a support group for stepmothers. Shari and I have been meeting and developing our curriculum so we can begin as soon as 8-10 stepmothers find us and interview with us. Our plan is an 8-week program on Tuesday evenings from 6:30-8:30pm. We are about halfway through our interviews and looking forward to finalizing details in the next month. If you know anyone in the Portland, Oregon area, please have them get in touch.

Because we are charging a $30 fee for each week of the group, I’m suddenly part of it, the stepmother industry. I cringe because I don’t like the thought of being part of an industry and I never liked being a market target.

And, as if co-leading a support group wasn’t enough to entrench me in the stepmother industry, I’m now working on a book. I took a class called Discover The Book You Were Meant to Write, with Jen Violi. I definitely discovered my book and I’m well on the way. I can’t say more at this point, but you know my style. It’ll still be me, with a twist and still me. But, when my book for stepmothers comes out, I’ll be even deeper into the stepmother industrial complex.

The good news in all of this industrial complexity is that I am a language geek, meaning I love words. I am fascinated with what they mean and how we behave differently when we use different words. And,

  • I am on a mission to reclaim stepmother as a positive term.
  • I’m getting active on Twitter and beginning dialogues there.
  • I’m continuing to blog and twist a few arms to stop calling names, since calling names leaves a slick, gooey, coating of slime on the person using the name. And, when we use those names online, it just leaves a trail of see, we told you so, stepmothers are only out for themselves. I think there are lots of other ways to process our pain rather than publicly. If you want more of my thoughts on how to soothe on that subject, just say so.

I’ve come to realize we stepmothers need each other and we need to blog and be visible. There are a bunch of us out here doing this in a healthy and positive way. For some ideas of what others are doing, check out artist-stepmother Kimberly Harding’s blog, journalist-stepmother Amy Young’s blog, or this anonymous blog, Stepmother Revolution.

It also makes a difference when we follow and comment on a blog, like you do here, and here’s why. If we are going to change the dialogue about stepmothers in the culture, we need people to see and read the day-to-day introspective, respectful, and compassionate words of stepmothers like you. By commenting, you are helping build evidence to show that stepmothers are not conniving, selfish, or unloving women (or, insert any other negative word applied to stepmothers). You will be contributing to a growing trend that will show sociologists and folks like the Wednesday Martins-of-the-future that there was a shift in the stepmother psyche in the early 21st century.

And, this is why I’m going to keep walking forward into the stepmother industry

  • to remain part of the dialogue
  • to contribute in constructive and meaningful ways
  • and most of all, to make sure we leave evidence so it will be said we weren’t looking for a place to scream about the mother of our stepchildren, we were looking for peace and inclusion.

My best to you for 2013.

Dream big.

.

I so appreciate you leaving your thoughts here, and by doing so, helping build the conversation. A few of you have noted that your comments show up on a Google search. That’s true, but you can preserve your anonymity by using your first name only. Another idea is to go by Jane Doe or some other name. You don’t need a separate email account to do that, simply fill in whatever name you want to use in the comment form. Your email must be real, but no one sees your email except me and I don’t share it with anyone.

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . and the holy grail of success.

I saw an article the other day on how to be a successful stepmother. I nearly spit out my coffee. Success? How about keeping good manners and being respectful. Is that what they meant by success? How about loving your husband when you want to slug him because he doesn’t get why you feel left out in a particular family situation? Is that what is meant by success?

Nope. The article was about the things a stepmother could do to make the family better, good, healthy. As if the stepmother has that power dripping from her every word and move.

After I got done brewing and stewing about the meaning of success and the pressure it puts on any person, mothers, fathers, stepmothers, I decided to break in on my weekly blog routine and write this post.

I want us to stop killing stepmothers. We need to find ways to support them, in the same way we support mothers. Why? Super simple, stepmothers are part of the current family structure in our United States. Stepmothers are here to stay, growing in numbers every month, every year, and every decade. To not support stepmothers, or anyone else in a family, is to not support the family. As if to say, it doesn’t matter if the trauma continues.

We know that if our water quality is good enough the fish can survive. We know that if the air quality is good enough the birds can survive. We also know if our stepfamily community is strong enough the stepmother has a better chance of being healthy.

Healthy is different from successful. Healthy is free from anxiety or depression and other medical conditions. Wednesday Martin reports in Stepmonster that stepmothers are twice as likely as mothers to have depression. If the general population has a 20% incidence of anxiety and depression (according to the Centers for Disease & Prevention), yikes!

So, it’s frustrating to me to read headlines like Top 10 Tips to Become a Successful Stepmother. I just made that one up, but there are plenty like it.

What is success? Success for a woman? Success for a stepmother? Success for a stepfamily? And is the stepmother responsible for the success of the stepfamily?

What if success is getting up in the morning? Putting the milk and oatmeal on the table? Contributing to the group effort such as driving the kids to and from events? Partnering with the hubs to create a positive environment in the home regardless of whether the kids spend more than a couple of hours a week.

Success might be a measure of whether the marriage stays a marriage. And then, is that the stepmother’s responsibility? By herself? Where are the articles to the fathers, Top Ten Tips to Keep Your Spouse Engaged When Your Children Aren’t Hers. Or, 5 Reasons It Takes A Village To Support a Stepmother. And for the rest of the family and extended family, Three Ways to Support a Mother by Supporting a Stepmother.

See, this is the dirty secret . . . we, as a culture, have given permission for every divorced couple to take all of the grief and sorrow and strife and unresolved angst that follows divorce and ball it up into a giant overly-sodden spitball, so large it would sink a battleship, and lay it at the feet of the stepmother and say, okay honey, now climb on over that. If she can and if she does, and if she gets to the other side and her hairdo and makeup are intact and her clothes neatly pressed enough that she could be on the cover of a magazine, well then, we miiiiiiight consider including her in the club called family.

Everyone knows that spitballs won’t hold her weight. Everyone knows that each step she takes is to sink into a pit of nothing, almost like quicksand. Everyone knows the gauntlet laid out for her is impossible to complete and she’s going to be haggard, irritable, and anti-social by the time she’s done. It’s pretty likely she can’t accomplish the task and that’s precisely why it’s been given to her. So, can you see how asking about success is a set-up?

Rather than worrying about being successful, let alone a successful stepmother, I hope a woman will be engaged enough to find ways to be content within herself and connected to her husband. I hope she will be healthy enough to take care of her emotional pain in ways that calm her heart and don’t over-burden the relationship. I hope she will be open enough to confess her pain in a way that allows her husband to witness, but not have to rush in the knight-in-shining-armor behavior.

I hope she finds her verve and her passion for life.

And, the measure of her life? That will come later, much later, after the kids have grown and gone and are living lives they’ve created for themselves and she and her husband have long become content with sitting side by side, just the two of them. In those moments when she’s looking at the man she chose over and over, the one she shared years of tears, joys, and adventures with, she’ll have the opportunity to gauge the satisfaction in her heart and decide how her life has ripened. Even then, it’s not about others telling her whether she was a success and it’s not about her winning.

It’s about having been there, and she was there.

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