Any multi-tasking mom or woman with stepkids might relate to this...please have a read and post a comment on my newest piece for the Huffington Post!
Much is written about Mother's Day being a difficult day for women with stepchildren. Especially for those who came into the lives of those stepchildren when they were very young, took an active role in parenting them, and are not acknowledged on The Day. Anyone who has read my book Stepmonster knows that I am the last one who would tell those women how they "should" feel on Mother's Day, or what is "right" or "wrong" to expect from their stepchildren and husbands on that charged and overdetermined day. Women with stepchildren hear enough lectures and shoulds. It gets old when it's your feelings at stake. Time to let stepmothers just have them, without promptly shoving a list like "Ten Ways to Be a Better Stepmother" into their hands right after.
Stepmother's Day is May 17th. Would you like a little acknowledgment?
You might know about Jacque Fletcher's terrific book, A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, and her smart and popular blog, becomingastepmom. Jacque has been featuring Stepmonster of late — I'm so excited to have her support here, and grateful that she's helping spread the message about the emotional reality of women with stepchildren. Check out her reviews and mentions of Stepmonster, and access to a podcast she and I recently recorded at:
I recently spoke with Susan Davis-Swanson of The Stepfamily Center in Beverly Hills. Susan is a therapist and stepmother herself, and she has a truly expert, compassionate sense of what women with stepchildren and stepfamilies go through. On Mother's Day, I found her thoughts about the (impossible?) task of building a family culture where no one is an outsider especially insightful and reassuring. Susan is here addressing her remarks to those of us who are stepmothers and then have a baby of our own. The birth of a baby is an exciting, exhausting time for the mother — and a stepfamily flashpoint.
You will notice that www.steptogether.org is on my resource list. That's because it is a terrific resource for stepfamilies, particularly women with stepchildren, its main users. They have a helpful recommended reading list, essays like the famous "disengagement essay" and lively chat rooms and message boards. All this for free. Check it out when you need to feel that someone understands what it's like to be a woman with stepchildren. If you find the site as helpful as I do (and you are sure to), you can support steptogether.org by making amazon.com purchases through them, or by making a donation online.
As I researched my book over the last three years, lots of women with older and adult stepchildren shared with me their sense of frustration upon discovering that stepparenting isn't just suddenly over or easier once the kids turn 18, or 21, or move out of the house. Sometimes, a father's emotional commitments and financial contributions continue into a stepchild's thirties and beyond. We're not talking about caring and spotting someone $20 for cab fare here. Women have told me stories of husbands who unilaterally decide to pay a thirty-something child's rent for the long haul, or remain embroiled in unhealthy emotional dynamics more suited to a parent and an adolescent.
In spite of the brief snow flurries in Manhattan today, Spring is in the air. I know this because I am woefully underprepared for both Passover and Easter (sometimes, being part of an interfaith marriage means bungling two traditions). If memory serves, they are to be followed in short order by May weddings and graduations, after which there will be the long Memorial Day holiday, followed by June weddings and graduations, and along the way, sometimes as early as late April or early May if they're in college, the kids are off for a three or four month summer holiday.
Did you catch Oprah yesterday? The theme was "Secrets of Motherhood," and women were cutting loose (http://www.oprah.com/dated/oprahshow/oprahshow-20090311-secret-lives-moms). I laughed out loud at the story of a mom who was driving down the highway with all of her kids asleep in the backseat — bliss! A few moments, perhaps even an hour, of quiet to look forward to! But what to do about the fact that she was dying to pee? If she pulled over at a rest stop the crowd would wake up and make her life hell again, after all. So, like any self-respecting mom in desperate need of silence and a potty, she hauled a diaper out of the nearby diaper bag — and used it. You also have to give it up for the mom who said she thinks the secret of discipline is for your kids to think you're a little bit crazy and they just don't know what you might do next. Case in point: she threatened her daughter that if she continued to misbehave, Mom would get rid of ALL her toys. Her warning went unheeded — so she made good on her promise. Swooping into the room with a big garbage bag, she spirited every toy away, Grinch-style: "There wasn't so much as a Lego left." She left her kid high and dry for 24 hours, then returned the stash. But the lesson lives on: "All I have to do is get a certain crazy look in my eye," the woman reports, "and she knows I mean business."