On my wedding day, I became a stepmother. That word, with all it's ugly connotations, was a coat I put on top of my wedding dress. After the honeymoon, I looked at this coat (not at all my style), and I thought: what have I done?
Sounds horrible, doesn't it. I felt like the ogre I was destined to become for just thinking these things.
And yet, my 10 year old stepdaughter and I had a solid relationship. We met when she was 7, which is the "right" time, according to all the experts, and had ample time to get to know one another. We talked about the "step thing" (we both hated those step words -- both stepchild and stepmother), and how our relationship was up to us, and we could make it whatever we wanted.
And we did.
But little did I know, my relationship with my stepdaughter was going to be the least of my challenges. Coordinating with her biological mother, managing carpool logistics and birthdays, handling alimony and child support, and most importantly, managing society-at-large, which is still moving forward with the tired assumption that children of divorce stay with their moms and see their dads infrequently, and more importantly, that dads (and by proxy stepmoms), are passive parents as soon as the divorce and remarriage papers are signed.
85% of children of divorce will have a stepmother. And while we should consider the welfare of the children (full stop), I can tell you one thing for sure: that stepmom needs a hand.
You know the old phrase "If momma ain't happy ain't nobody happy"? That goes triple for stepmoms. And there are so few proactive support resources -- it's time we help these sisters out.
She doesn't need pity or sympathy. She needs empathy and understanding.
She needs what all moms need: help being the brave kick-ass woman she is, remembering that she is herself, after all, inside that stepmom coat. And she needs help supporting her marriage. Ayelet Waldman said it, now I'm saying it too.
Because only with a strong marriage can you possibly take care of the avalanche that is stepparenting. Before you can take care of your children, you need to take care of yourself, your marriage, your communication, and your tribe. Especially in stepfamilies.
Why? Here is a quick list of some things stepmoms have to deal with that regular mom never have to:
- coordinating schedules, on a regular basis with your husband's ex-wife
- figuring out how to deal with your husband talking with his ex on a regular basis, and the loaded feelings that go with that
- managing holidays, birthdays, vacations
- helping your stepchild navigate between two homes with very different sets of rules/expectations
- managing teachers, camp, doctors appointments
- managing illness (do you send a kid to her mother's house when she has the flu, it's not "your day" and you've got an important work meeting planned?). Welcome to guilt vs. resentment.
- in-laws who side with the ex (and don't like you)
- other moms/opinion leaders in town who don't like that you're _______ (fill in the blank: young, pretty, successful, a good stepmom)
And I'm just getting started. If you don't have a strong baseline with your husband, each and every one of these small things become a drain on the relationship.
It's a hell of a lot to put on a marriage just out of the gates, isn't it?
So sure, you can head to therapy. You can head to a psychiatrist. Or you can head to the bar. But I believe, a far better place to go is a trained life coach with a stepmom coach specialty. A life coach's job is to see the you you want to be, and to hold you accountable as you get there. To see the thriving fabulous women you were before you became a stepmom, look at the realities of being a stepmom and look at the stepmom that you and your husband can help you be, together.