My fiancé glared at me, and if looks could kill I would have been flat on the floor.
“I told you to hold her down.” He wanted me to grab his shrieking, kicking daughter and pin her to the carpet so he could force a dose of medicine into her mouth.
My heart raced. Between her screaming and his yelling, I was overwhelmed by the both of them. I put a hand on her arm and then whipped it back. “But the stepparenting books say I’m not supposed to do that kind of thing!” It felt like the thousandth time I’d said it.
He rolled his eyes. “The books,” he said gritting his teeth, “are bullshit.”
I tentatively took hold of her, and only by working as a team were we finally able to get the medicine through her pursed lips. Later that day, after several cups of tea and lengthy reflection, I decided to abandon most conventional stepparenting advice.
I came into my stepdaughter’s life just after her second birthday. I spent the next two and a half years reading everything I could about what I was supposed to do and not do as a stepmother. By the time she’d reached four and half, I was emotionally drained, exhausted, and at my wits’ end. I felt betrayed by all of the step-parenting “experts” I’d consulted. Most of their advice was either impractical, didn’t apply to us (my stepdaughter being very young), or just plain didn’t work.
More than that, much of the advice I read seemed to emphasize, either blatantly or subtly, the need for stepmothers to accept an unreasonable amount of disrespect, inflexibility, and poor behavior by their stepchildren and partner because these things “just come with the territory.” One book I read seemed to suggest that it’s a stepmother’s duty to accept this kind of treatment because she is the one disrupting her stepchildren’s lives.
According that author, once a woman becomes a stepmother she should accommodate her life to her stepchildren’s because “the children have been raised with a family pattern, and it’s not fair to them if they suddenly have to change [their lives] . . . it would be complicated for the stepchildren and this would present them with an opportunity to resent you—the reason for the change.”* Later in this same book the author remphasizes that, "The other members of your family have a previous history and their routines need to be modified to include another person. Sometimes you may feel awkward because you are the reason for all the adjustment and change.”**
When, in reality, the real reason that children’s lives change is because their parents get divorced--stepmothers just come later. But I digress.
Desperate for more information, I started lurking on Internet posting boards like iVillage.com and Step Talk.com. I was surprised—at first—to see that so many other people were experiencing the same problems that I was. I kept seeing people write “the books say . . . but.”
With so many hundred of thousands of people entering into stepfamilies every year, I thought, why isn’t there better advice available to stepmothers? Why are there so many unhappy, frustrated stepmothers?
I decided to start researching stepparenting and stepfamily advice more seriously. I've set up this blog to discuss my research, talk about my experiences, and share strategies that hopefully other women like myself can use in their everyday lives. My goal is to focus not necessarily on how to be a "good stepmother" but how to be a happier, more contented, or at least less frustrated one by rethinking and reshaping the role.
* From 7 Steps to Bonding with Your Stepchild by Suzen J. Ziegahan, page 54.
** " page 96.