FRIDAY THE 13th
What does good luck have to do with being a stepmother? A lot according to Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. and author of “Stepmonster”. Martin explained in the March 2011 issue of StepMom Magazine that stepmoms with the following circumstances typically report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.
Here are the factors truly LUCKY stepmoms have in common:
1. Her husband’s ex is not stirring the pot.
She is supportive of the kids’ relationship with dad’s wife or partner. She tells these kids of any age, in no uncertain terms, that her feelings are her own and that she doesn’t expect her kids to have or hold or express her feelings for her. She tells them that she expects (or hopes, if the kids are older) that they will give Jane a chance and get to know her. And that she has some nice qualities. One woman with stepchildren told me, “Bless my husband’s ex. Sometimes she overstepped a little, like expecting to come to my home for her daughter’s piano lessons. But she also told my stepdaughter that she was to be nice and polite to me, period. I don’t think my husband’s ex has ever said a nasty word about me to her daughter. And that’s why I can have a relationship with my stepdaughter.”
She’s right; if you’re unlucky enough to have a husband whose ex is angry or unreconciled to his re-partnership, you will have a stepchild in a loyalty bind. The bad news is that this is unpleasant and beyond your control. The good news is it’s beyond your control, and not your problem to fix.
2. She never felt excluded or like an outsider in her family of origin. Or, she was an only child who felt lonely and longed to be part of something bigger and noisier and more fun. Being a stepmother is sometimes an “outsider” experience and for those of us with a personal history of feeling and being excluded in our family of origin, it may push our buttons in a big way. This can ease with therapy and understanding. It’s important that your partner sympathize and understand rather than pathologize you for it and that he invite you to the center of the family at every opportunity.
3. Her stepkids are at a particular age and developmental moment when they can and will accept another caring adult in their lives. Let’s face, it, when you’re a preteen, teen or young adult, you may well have very little interest in blending and bonding. You’re more into differentiating and asserting your independence. This developmental truth often puts stepkids and stepmothers in a seemingly impossible spot—they have opposing agendas. Their age and developmental imperatives are the luck of the draw, ladies. Your response is, however, in your own hands. If you don’t pressure them to bond and blend, something comfortable, natural and right for everyone might just develop organically down the road.
4. The personalities are right. One thing that often gets glossed over in stepfamily talk is the reality of personalities and how they fit together—or don’t. One woman I interviewed had two young adult stepsons. She told me, “If I met my younger stepson at a social event, if he were someone I didn’t know, we would have plenty to talk about. We have so much in common, and we’re both adventurous types who love travel. My older stepson is just harder for me to relate to in a lot of ways. He tends to be anxious and withdrawn. He has a lot of great qualities, but our personalities are worlds apart. And we don’t have many common interests!” Connecting with our stepchildren will always take effort. But with some stepkids it may take more effort. And when they reach a certain age, we might accept that we will never be soulmates. Guess what? It’s just the luck of the draw in many cases, and that’s OK.
5. Dad is a stand-up parent and partner and always has been. So many of your stepmothering struggles actually stem from the back story, the history long before you. Your partner and his ex likely parented out of guilt and fear post divorce, or even pre-divorce. Sensing that they were making their kids’ lives difficult with their fighting, they may have compensated in all the wrong ways: by never saying no and by failing to instill a sense of responsibility in their children. Post divorce, they may have been and may still be in a competition about who is the more fun parent. And so “no” remains a foreign word. The women for whom stepmothering was easy invariably had husbands who were competent, authoritative but loving parents. Their kids knew the meaning of “No” and “Be nice to your stepmother even if you don’t love her or like her…or you and I will have a problem.”
An excerpt from the March 2011 article: “A Question of Luck” by Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. Copyright 2011 StepMom Magazine