Reviewed by Jessica Withers
Like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the cover of A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom should have ”the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters.” Stepdaughter and stepmom, Jacquelyn Fletcher, expertly translates the skills of the office into skills for stepfamily life. Chapters include, “Show Me The Money: Financial Realities”, “Pit of Despair: Fight the Instant-Family Funk”, “What Is a Stepmother?: Uncovering Your Expectations”, and “Face The Music: Getting to Know the Kids.” With each chapter, Jacque gives introspective questions for stepmom and discussion topics for stepmom and husband. She also scatters other thinking points throughout the book. One thing I had to keep reminding myself as I read CGG was that Jacque had a particular audience in mind—not stepmoms in general, but previously single, career-minded, childless stepmoms—“married (or are about to marry) a man with children.” Even though it took some getting used to, I appreciated having a resource aimed at childless stepmoms like me.
Right away, I have to confess that I did not do the homework Jacque assigns with each subject. I had a deadline after all! Through my first reading of CGG, I found the questions overwhelming—and I had a hunch that Dan would, too. He agreed to read a chapter of his own choosing and discuss it with me. Dan chose “This Land Is My Land: Day-to-Day Life in a Stepfamily.” This particular chapter covers such items as discipline, house rules, transition days, chores, making mistakes, and the huge change in living circumstances for stepmoms. Dan thought the beginning chapter questions for the stepmom–which Jacque calls the “Career Girl’s Personal Assistant”—were reasonable and would be useful for stepmoms. The chapter-concluding “Discussion Topics for Two” were also deemed reasonable by Dan; he and I agreed that we had already covered those topics in our life together. Dan could easily identify with how difficult it is for a childless woman to meet the hurricane that is their new family. As for discipline and chores, Dan is an excellent example of a father who is the primary authority figure in the house, but who has empowered the stepmom with adult authority. And Dan really liked Jacque’s suggestion of laundry clinics to teach the kids how to do tasks themselves. We’ve actually discussed this together, but “Jessica’s Organization Workshop” has yet to be scheduled.
I explained to Dan that there were “Discussion Topics for Two” at the end of each chapter and questioned how he would have felt if I had tried to go over all these with him a year or more ago. He flipped through the book—“probably overwhelmed and maybe resentful that you thought we needed to discuss all of them.”
A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom isn’t a book to be swallowed whole and rushed through. If you are contemplating marrying your man or committing to living with him, you have probably already discussed some of these topics as they’ve arisen organically, you have probably already had long thought about the “Career Girl’s Personal Assistant” topics, and you know your man well enough to know how to approach those urgent or most-important-to-you topics. My stepmom friend, Moira, read CGG when things started getting serious with her boyfriend. Now as various scenarios come up, she rereads the pertinent chapters and is able to have thoughtful discussions with him.
I will definitely be keeping my copy of Jacque’s book in my Step Mom Toolbox, right on the top tray where I can easily find it. And you should, too, especially if you are wondering how “all those dolls and trucks and toys fit in my feng shui map.”
About Jessica Withers:
Jessica has been in a stepmother role to 3 children for almost 2 years. She has recently started a Stepmom Support Group for stepmoms in Tompkin’s County, New York. She has worked in public and academic libraries for over nineteen years.