It’s wine o’clock, dear stepmoms, and I want to declare something on behalf of myself and you too:
I’m a damn-good stepmom…and so are you.
That’s right. I said it. And it doesn’t get said often enough. We’re so busy defending ourselves against the “evil” stereotype, and refuting accusations of husband-stealing, and getting stared down by the PTA moms at school, and staying in our lane while chaffeuring kids around who may or may not like us, and paying bills to keep said kids fed, clothed, healthy, and educated…we don’t have time to step back, survey our blended family landscape, and say, “To hell with what anyone else thinks. I’m a damn-good stepmom!”
We’re so busy trying to prove that we aren’t interlopers (or the maid service) in our own home, so busy comforting husbands for whom co-parenting is a nightmare, and even busy comforting the confused and heartbroken children of women who hate us…that who has time to celebrate just how fucking awesome we are?
We’re not supposed to toot our own horns. Rarely does anyone say I’m a great mom, but it’s rarer still for someone to say I’m a great stepmom. A “bad” mom is someone who fails to fulfill her parental duties. A “bad” stepmom is redundant; we’re “bad” because we dare report for duty. So to proclaim ourselves damn-good stepmoms flies in the face of protocol. And I’m here for it.
Now, it’s true that we should leave it to our stepkids to decide if we are bonus moms or not. I refer to my stepkids as bonus kids because I do consider them to be a great addition and added bonus to my life. I leave it to them to decide if I am a bonus mother in their lives.
But when I consider the stepmom job description, as I understand it? And the working conditions? Well, I am totally the boss of me in saying that I’m doing a damn-good job.
I appreciate that my husband agrees. Our husbands are entitled to their opinions about how we’re doing as stepmoms, and they can encourage us and offer advice and help define roles and maintain boundaries with their exes, but–if I may continue with the workplace analogy–their primary role as a spouse is to do what they can to spare us a hostile work environment. And if we cannot be spared, it’s their job to recognize and address the issue to the best of their ability.
Basically, if they don’t expect us to be Carol Brady in the face of disrespectful kids and bunny-boiler exes, we won’t expect them to be Superman in this situation. And we can agree that we’re all doing the best damn-good job we can, under the circumstances.
Your stepkids’ mother also does not get to have the final word on your stepmom job performance. She too is entitled to her opinion–and if she has a blog or a Twitter account, your evaluation will be available to you via social media. (And chances are, you’re blogging and tweeting about her too. And so it goes…). But her assessment of your stepmothering doesn’t have to be yours. It certainly makes the job easier, if she gives you high marks. But if she doesn’t, frankly, you just have to consider the source.
However…this isn’t about us vs. them, them being our stepkids’ moms. Because after all, many of us are them too. We’re not only stepmoms, but our kids have stepmoms as well. But in an unscientific study that I’m totally making up, of the three remarried couples—we’ll call them clusters (see Fig. A)…
a, a, ac a, a, b, b b, b, d, d
Fig. A This is what my family cluster looks like. My remarriage is represented by “A-B,” with my ex and I both represented by “A.” A shared letter indicates a previous marriage. Kids and stepkids of each union are denoted in lower case. Note: If you can diagram your cluster and refrain from drawing your husband’s ex as a stick figure with a witch hat and a broom, you are a damn-good stepmom.
…there’s an 89.3% chance that at least one of the pairs–or one half of one of the pairs–is uncooperative.
Uncooperative is a code word that damn-good stepmoms like us use publicly as a short-hand for all manner of hostile, annoying, draining, provoking, disturbing, harassing, illegal, unethical, costly, litigious, and abusive behavior. High-conflict is another one. Damn-good stepmoms are cunning linguists when it comes to “not speaking ill of the children’s mother.” We can convey “I’m sick of this shit” in 140 characters, in such a way that it cannot be held against our husbands in family court. We have mastered a new language.
And that’s not all.
We damn-good stepmoms bite our tongues and turn the other cheek so much that our mouths are bloodied and we are whiplashed…and we still manage to do a mean stepmom stepback as easily as we can the Cha-Cha Slide, when needs demand it.
So you might feel battered and unappreciated sometimes, but to borrow a phrase from Miss Celie in The Color Purple…you’re still here. You keep showing up day after day to what may feel like the most thankless job on the planet. To build up your immunity to the toxic conditions, you insist on boundaries and you take your vitamins–self-care, girls’ night out, prayer, yoga, meditation, therapy. And you keep building with your husband and supporting him as a father as best as you can. This inward focus, this prioritization, this staying power–not getting your stepkids or their mother to like you–is the secret to being a damn-good stepmom.
So, cheers! If no one has told you today, I’m here to tell you: you’re a damn-good stepmom, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I dedicate this to Sherry (my kids’ damn-good stepmom), Heather, Keisha, and all the other damn-good stepmoms I know.