The network

As time passes for me in my stepmother role, I am more and more coming to appreciate the importance of my network. Only a stepmother knows the feeling (or a former stepmother, for that matter) isn’t just a useful mantra, but a self-protective one.

Stepmothers flock together; they find each other, sniff each other out. [No doubt some mothers would say that’s because we all stink! So be it; I’m sticking with my metaphor…]

Across two cities, a country and the world, I’ve built my network over the last three and half years, and now there’s always, always another stepmum I can connect with. And almost always, they just get it.

They know it’s like to be partnered with a man who is burdened by separation guilt. (Because no matter who initiated the split, and for what good reasons, they ALWAYS seem to feel guilty, and usually seem to act guilty with their kids and the ex.)

They get how painful it is to feel like an unwanted, unappreciated outsider in your own home. And veteran stepmothers will understand and remind you to feel how that feels, but try not to take it too personally – even if sometimes you’re more successful than others.

Other stepmothers know from experience what a loyalty bound child looks and acts like. This one takes a while to learn, and it’s so confusing at first.

But we were having fun – why is she suddenly hitting me?

Or:

He said blue was his favourite colour, so I bought him blue sheets and now he says he hates blue!

Stepmothers know from experience that stepkids’ mothers aren’t necessarily pleased when you demonstrate a caring interest in the kids. No, they don’t want you to be mean – “wicked” – but…. they don’t necessarily want you to be (too) nice or loving or fun, either. They might expect you to uncomplainingly share the work of looking after their kids because that’s what you signed up for but still refuse to acknowledge or include you as a figure of importance in their child’s life or in the parental decision-making process.

Most stepmums recognise that because this role makes us feel insecure, sometimes we project our shit onto the kids’ mother.

Most of all, other stepmothers realise that talking to most non-stepfamily people about all of the above is generally:

a) pointless – they say unhelpful things like why don’t you just slap the little bugger if she’s acting up? or oh well, only thirteen more years! 

If it’s not a), though, it’s b), and b) is the poisonous cup stepmothers quickly learn not to sip from.

b) includes ouchies like don’t ever forget you’re not the Mother! and Oh, you can’t have kids? At least you have your two beautiful stepchildren. And, of course, that spiky old chestnut you knew he had kids when you married him.

So, that’s the best reason why a network of stepmothers, in person, over the phone and via the www is the biggest gun in your stepmother arsenal. Not to bitch and moan and get drowned in negativity, ideally, but to be able to use shorthand like handover day and disengage to someone who understands everything wrapped up in those words, and knows better than to judge.

Those of us who have a good network know how far it goes toward keeping us sane. Probably if you’re reading this, you have at least begun to tap into some kind of internet community of stepmothers.

But if there was one bit of advice I would offer, it’s that it is so, so helpful to have someone you can meet for a coffee, or a real live voice on the phone. So, adopt a fellow stepmother today!

Where have you found your stepparenting network? Where would you suggest others look to build a network for themselves?

7 Comments

Filed under Communication, Resources, Stepfamily Life

7 responses to “The network

  1. It’s not just stepmums, though there is a certain need to be around people who *get it* but all sorts of communities. Twitter is great for connecting with people as are blogs. Blogs and twitter are double awesome!

  2. It’s been a few years now, but I’m pretty sure I found my “network” through desperately googling stepmom in a million different capacities. “how to deal with stepmotherhood” “challenges of stepmotherhood”, etc, etc. I ended up finding stepmommy blog land and then began blogging myself and it SAVED me! I also read a multitude of books and have more recently (in the past year) connected with a real “live” person in my area who is a newer full-time stepmom (our moms are friends, though we never had been until our moms pushed us together realizing we were both in the EXACT same situation….thank goodness for pushy moms…haha). We vent to one another and help each other, but I’ve honestly served as a little bit of a “mentor” to her (being further along in the process, but no expert of course!) with the whole situation. She’s helped me realize how far I’ve come which often helps me get through new challenges!!

    • Yep to the books – we have a massive, long shelf of them – plus I’ve taken to downloading them on Kindle for iPhone, since most aren’t available here in Australia except by expensive international post.
      Yep to the crazed freak-out Googling, too.
      But most of all, yep to the joys of having face-to-facers, and watching “younger” stepmothers go through the process and recognising how far you’ve come yourself.

  3. momto3ofherown

    I have looked in several places over the years and have moved on from a few of them (either with some of the women I met or because of some of them, sometimes BOTH)

    I like my little circle but sometimes feel needy compared to them. I turned to my blog for this reason. I can vent, get it out and not have to unload on my DH.

    It has been over 8 years and sometimes I still feel like a “newby.”

    Blogs and facebook groups have kept me going though.

  4. Just checking in on your blog, and catching up. Nice couple of latest posts :) The Network saved me too. I’ve been at this stepmom business for 7 years, and it took me about 3 to find others in my position. Those first years were hell because I just didn’t know that there were other people going through it too. My perspective has changed a lot over the years, but I always come back to connecting with other women who have or are going through a similar experience. It makes it all bearable. Thanks to you for writing so thoughtfully!

  5. Jessica

    I need to be a part of something like this!!! Where? How? I am 25 and acquiring a 13 and a 10 year old girl, dad has full custody and we are engaged and all living together in my house and I am so lost and alone in this path of life!

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