This morning, I woke to an email from “Good Morning Britain” a UK breakfast show. They wanted to have me on their show, stat. Seemed a little odd for this American mom to get the call to appear on British celebrity TV, however I had recently been interviewed for Grazia Daily UK, so the call wasn’t completely out of the blue.
Ya see, Dakota Johnson has stepped into the conscious uncoupling of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow and was recently seen on a coffee run with Apple. Not an apple, the Apple. Because I have a stepmom coaching practice, and rank highly on stepmom coach searches, the writers came a-calling (and sometimes they just wrote without fact-checking). I was happy to share; it’s an under-discussed topic.
Did you know that 70% of marriages with children from a prior relationship end in divorce in the first five years. SEVENTY PERCENT! Have you been a part of one of those marriages, as a child or adult? Close friend? As a stepmom, I remember limping to that 5-year mark in my own marriage — carrying my three toddlers on the back, exhausted, and finding the challenges of stepmothering more difficult than managing the three babies.
It’s part of the reason I set up a stepmother coaching practice. Being a stepmom is hard, but not due to the stereotypical reasons — it’s not about slammed doors and back talk from the stepchildren (though there is that).
As I told Grazia: “The main issue with being a stepparent, Allison continues, is social prejudice. ‘Society doesn’t know what to do with a stepmom. There’s an antagonism between biological moms and stepmoms so society has some work to do to embrace alternative parenting.'”
As a new mom, there’s a shower, doulas, and classes to take about birth and parenting. There are gender reveal parties, formal announcements, Mother’s Day, and social media posts, which are often the most liked posts of a lifetime. There’s an entire cultural system that clicks in when you become a mom. And stepmotherhood? No shower. No hurrah. No gifts. Some raised eyebrows and “Are you sure you want to do this?” Concern over how it must be for the children (increasing concern with decreasing age). There is sometimes a polite welcome from a birth mom (and when it comes, it’s a smart move), but it’s unusual. Some experienced stepmoms might pull you to the side, where they smoke unfiltered Camels, drink Rye and kvetch about their lot in life–but that’s not really where you want to hang out long term.
The stepparent needs support. They’ve just stepped into a trauma they’ve (hopefully) had no role in creating. Post-divorce, the kids and parents are raw, and they’re still managing through. It’s for the stepmother to fix, but here you are, knee deep in it.
And, let’s be honest: you’re here with some dashed hopes of your own. No one dreams of being a second (or third) wife, and no one hopes to be a stepmom. You make peace with it, you find the good (and there is good), but it’s rarely something someone aspires to. So the stepmom has her own disappointment to manage too.
So a stepmom starts her unconventional parenting recipe with one part post-divorce trauma healing, one part grieving her own loss, and a big cup of courage. And instead of baking that all in a warm cultural embrace, we put the batter in the fridge and hope for the best. Society doesn’t know how to embrace, or adequately support, this new parent or family.
How do you beat the odds? It’s through a lot of connecting with your partner, bridge building and boundary setting. You accepted one role, were cast into a different one. You are not the villain here, you’re walking into a broken situation and trying to co-create a healthy marriage. You need support.
But stepmothers don’t know what they’re really getting into when they accept the role. They have faith and hope and love. If they knew the pain, the rage, and the confusion they’d feel, they may have made a different choice.
Are you a stepparent? Do you have a stepparent? A friend who is about to become a stepparent? This week, especially after the challenges of Mother’s Day when they’ve often overlooked or snubbed, acknowledge them. Connect with them and love on them. See them. And be prepared for a Thames-sized to river of love back at you; acknowledging the effort of this all-too-often unseen mother can result in emotional dams bursting. In a good way.
And if you think they would benefit from this newsletter, please forward it along (link below).
PS: In the article, Grazia reported (and The Guardian reported based on Grazia’s reporting) that Dakota Johnson had retained my services to help her transition into the Martin/Paltrow family. Incorrect. I haven’t received the call (yet), but I welcome Dakota’s (or any other stepparent) call when it comes.