Some real talk in here, peeps.
I’ve become obsessed with a new podcast. The Dear Sugar podcast is a spin off of the Dear Sugar column from TheRumpus.com. It’s a modern-day Dear Abby, complete with cuss words and dirty stories. Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild which is one of my favorite books in the world) and Steve Almond (another awesome author) discuss topics in letters in a funny, compassionate, and incredibly thoughtful way that really levels the playing field.
I love real life.
A few weeks ago, a letter came in from a stepmom. Nay. A Step Momster. She expressed her distress in being a stepmother and ab. so. lute. ly. HATING it. She was incredibly candid with the fact that she didn’t feel a bond with her stepdaughters and since having a child of her own with her husband, she pulled even further away from her stepdaughters. She didn’t want to dislike them, she didn’t want to pull away, but she just didn’t know how to be a stepmom. And I have to tell you…I felt for her. And I get it. Being a stepmom is weird…
I don’t dislike my almost-stepson, Cub, at all. I actually really like him quite a bit. He’s funny and kind and he’s darling when it comes to ordering the most expensive thing on the menu and DESPERATELY needing to sleep with the dogs.
But he’s not mine.
And I struggle every time he’s home with us to know how to best be a stepmom. How do I stepmom?! Do I hug him or let him hug me? Do I tell him I love him or will that freak him out? Does he like butter on his pancakes? Is it embarrassing for me to fold his underwear? Where does he want to sit at the dinner table?
I spent a big chunk of Bear and I’s relationship trying to blend the four of us together into one, happy, blended family. Abe’s dad and I used to eat dinner every night together and share bedtime routines. We used to go to the park together and go to the zoo together, because the three of us had things in common. We were all three family. But this new family…it’s not family. Cub had a whole 9 years of life before he even met me. Bear had thirty…something years before me. How could I expect that we would just blend in the same way a primary family can?
After I listened to the podcast, I called Bear. I admitted that I kinda felt like a failure when he and Cub ate dinner together on the couch with a movie and I ate at the table with Abe. But I also explained that, during the podcast, the Sugars said that trying to get everyone at the dinner table together will always leave one member of step family feeling left out or like a third week. Is this someone else’s seat? Who talks first when I’m not here? And so maybe, just maybe, it’s ok that we spread from one end of the house to the other during dinner. Maybe the family we have looks different from what I’m used to because it IS different, and I can’t expect it to look any which way at all; certainly not within the first two years. Bear had a routine with his Cub for 6 years. There’s no reason to change it except to create the perfect family montage for…for who? Other people? For my happiness?
I also can’t expect to be Cub’s second mom. Dr. Wednesday Martin said the problem with the word stepmom isn’t the “step” part…it’s the “mom” part. I’m not his mom. I never will be. I will always be someone who adores him and fights for him and keeps him safe and fed and clothed when I get to be with him. Because I really love him. But I wasn’t there the day he was born. I haven’t watched him grow up. I’m not his stepmother. I’m more his ally.
I really feel for the woman who wrote the letter and for all the other women in the world who are trying to figure out what this role entails. As (most) women we want to provide sustenance and be nurturers, and that naturally falls on our shoulders in any relationship. But also like any relationship, stepmoms and their stepkids have to grow together in order to feel like family members. And until enough time has passed for that to even begin to happen, we’ve all got to cut each other some slack and just do the best we can. And if that means dinners on paper plates in different rooms? So be it.
At least they’re eating…