It's Halloween and a day where children and adults alike dress up in costumes and pretend to be someone or something they're not. Whether it's a ghost or a monster, it's fun to get out of our "real selves" if only for a day.
If you're a stepmother who's reading this, there's a chance that every day feels like Halloween when you live in a culture that clings to the myth of the "Evil Stepmother". You've learned the hard way that trying to pry that notion out of society's grip is harder than stirring up ghosts and goblins from graves long decayed.
"Evil." "Homewrecker." "Gold digger." "Selfish."
If you're a stepmother, old or new, childless or not, you may be nodding your head right now. I work with many of you who describe their hurt and frustration with the assumptions and labels foisted on them from the time they say, "I do."
We're all familiar with the myth of the "Evil Stepmother", thanks to fairytales and Disney. You've experienced, despite having not even met your partner until well after they were divorced, the suspiciousness of the ex, his kids and the general culture who throw daggers of unwarranted accusations your way.
If you're a stepmother who has chosen to be childless, you become even more frightening. Many are suspicious of women who don't want children. You, by virtue of being a woman, are expected to long to procreate and are judged by many as selfish and self-centered when you don't.
You've felt the hateful stares from his ex-wife and her friends at sporting and school events and felt like a mummy who's been bound and gagged or like a witch burned at the stake.
Sound dramatic? If you're not a stepmother, maybe so. But for the millions of you who are partnered with men who have children, you may have found yourself feeling numb, angry, lonely and wondering what the hell you were ever thinking in the first place.
You've made lunches, checked on homework, schlepped the kids around to school and extracurricular activities, done laundry and if you try to complain to anyone (like almost every mother does), you've been given the standard pat response, "You knew it was a package deal." There are no cards on Mother's Day and no indications of appreciation.
Your friends who aren't stepmothers don't get it. Your partner may not get it. His kids naturally have loyalty binds for their mother and so of course, they don't get it. So what are you to do with the unexpected judgments that feel like a curse?
You become your own best advocate by trying the following:
1. Find support from other stepmothers. It's essential that you find other women in your position; the ones, who will validate your feelings, reassure you that you're not evil or crazy and let you know that you're normal and not delusional. Find the women who've walked the same haunted path before you and can help to light the way of understanding and compassion.
2. Talk to your partner about your loneliness, sadness, anger and pain. Too many of you have tiptoed around this, been afraid to confront and to simply tell the truth. While your partner hasn't experienced anything close to what you have, draw him in as an ally of understanding so the loneliness doesn't keep you awake in dark midnight hours.
3. Learn to love yourself "as is". This is one of the hardest tasks for any human being and a goal worth attaining. When you learn how to love yourself and take care of yourself, it's easier to not take other's judgments personally because you know it really has nothing to do with you. Self-care goes hand-in-hand with self-love and there's nothing selfish about nurturing yourself so you don't turn into an overwhelmed shrew.
4. Accept that not everyone has to accept you, especially your stepchildren. They may be in their own nightmare of adjusting to not having their mother and father in the same house. Their loyal binds towards their parents are understandable and it takes time (years in fact) for them to adjust to a new kind of family.
The more you do these things, the more you'll be able to detach from the unfair assumptions. You'll be more comfortable in your own skin and allow a natural process to occur. If you end up developing warm and loving connections with your stepchildren, awesome. If not, you don't need to attain relationship nirvana with them to be happy in your stepfamily situation. Kindness and respect are all that is needed.
Unless you are truly an "evil stepmother" (and there are some), releasing expectations of acceptance and love from your stepchildren will allow you to focus more on your partner, building a strong and lasting union, which certainly benefits the kids who don't need to go through another horror of a family splintering in different directions.
I want to tell you that you're not evil or selfish and I admire all that you do and take on. You are brave, dedicated and devoted to trying to make your new family one where all members feel welcome, seen and valued.
It's just that you'd like to be one of them.
This is an except from an article that first appeared in Stepmom Magazine.