by Wednesday Martin is a must read for any step mom who’s experienced anger, resentment, jealousy when it comes to her husband’s kids or his ex-wife. Martin’s research is impeccable and eye-opening. As a step mom myself, I was more than interested in some of the feelings I have, especially the ones that just don’t make sense to my logical brain. For example, early on in my marriage, I sensed that my stepson and I were silently competing for my husband’s attention. In chapter 3, Martin identifies areas of competition as a “step dilemma.” I very much identified the area of the “power” competition. Even today, after nearly three years, my stepson will slide in a comment “hey dad, remember when we cooked hot dogs on the grill at Park Ave?” Martin states that while I, the step mom, have the immediacy of the present, my step kids have the past. And for my step son, (and for whatever reason) it’s important to him to remind his dad of the time it was “just the boys” living in an apartment on Park Ave (not the Monopoly Park Ave!)
Another “step-dilemma” that step moms run into and I see this all too often on the step mom forum I help moderate, is the “mis-information from the stepmothering industry” (yes, there’s an industry!) What I tell my sister stepmoms (often to a deafening silence) is validated by Martin’s research,
A woman with stepchildren may exhaust herself with her attempts to resolve [step family conflicts brought on by kids trying the age old "divide and conquer" routine]. For this reason, sociologist Linda Nielsen notes that a woman with stepchildren will have more success when she adopts the attitude ‘My main goal and my main focus is to build an intimate, fulfilling relationship with my husband and to take better care of my own needs, not to bond with or win the approval of my stepchildren.’ Nielsen notes that a shift like this cannot happen in a vacuum; the woman’s partner needs to be on the same page with her. If the marriage is to work, Nielsen insists, ‘her husband has to be committed to creating a [partnership] around which his children revolve rather than a marriage that revolves around his children.”
In a nutshell, practicing self-care is vitally important to the emotional well-being of step moms everywhere and the most important relationship in the marriage is the relationship between the husband and the wife.
Are you dealing with rude and disrespectful stepchildren? Or just a stepchild with issues? Ever get the idea in your head that you had to fix it? I know I have! Martin writes about the fine art of disengaging – to simply try less or stop trying at all. Disengaging requires accepting a number of truths about being married to a man with children:
- They are not your children
- You are not responsible for overcoming their upbringing or any emotional or social problems they have (thank you Wednesday!)
- You are not responsible for what kind of people they are. You are not responsible for what kind of people they become
- These responsibilities belong to your husband, who will likely not raise his kids (or make interventions with his adult kids) the way you would
I don’t know how many times we stepmoms need to hear it, but a year ago, I heard the same thing from my stepson’s counselor who told me, “you can’t change him, you can’t fix him. Your only only job is to love him.” I can do that! And guess what? It works. I stopped trying to fix my stepson. It’s like having the weight of the world suddenly removed from your shoulders. It was a relief when I realized that I no longer had to try to fix my stepson. Accepting what IS is the first step in righting your stepmom compass!
There is an art to disengaging, and a lot of my sister stepmoms don’t quite understand what it is. I’ve tried to explain it and often I tell stepmoms to stop taking on responsibilities that are not theirs to begin with. Martin eloquently writes, “the goal of disengaging is to stop assuming responsibilities that are not yours and then feeling disappointed when no one appreciates your efforts.” Remember, when you take on responsibilities that are not yours, you are care-taking and if you remember my piece on Care-Taking, you know it does NOT work.
I absolutely loved Martin’s chapter on HIM – the husband. Ladies – read this chapter over and over again. Especially if you are struggling with a husband who plays possum to the ex-wife or can’t seem to get out of Disneyland Dad Mode. And then after you read it a few times, use your new found understanding to reach out with compassion. Most likely, you man is clueless to why he feels the way he does and why he does what he does.
A section of research that Martin includes in her book is the research of John Gottman on married couples. Gottman’s research is legendary – and his accuracy at predicting which couples will fail is based on thousands of hours of video tape…Gottman can tell who will make it and who will not on body language alone. Most married couples don’t know “how to fight” and Martin’s inclusion of Gottman’s research is priceless. Read the chapter on “Your Marriage” and then go to Gottman’s website for more information.
I am giving Stepmonster 5 pink diamonds ♦♦♦♦♦ – it’s a must read for every stepmom and it’s a great tool to have in your stepmom tool box!
If you haven’t read Wednesday’s interview with Brenda Ockun, do so – NOW
If you haven’t read an excerpt of StepMonster, do so – NOW
Need to read another excerpt? Here’s Chapter 4
Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin – A MUST read for step moms everywhere!