Stepmoms and Mother’s Day

girl with flowers

There are 15 million U.S. stepmothers who have stepchildren under the age of 18. Preparing this article about the trials and rewards of stepmothering reminded me of preparing to start a diet.

When you first start a diet, your expectations and hopes are on overdrive. You imagine yourself losing pound after pound of weight, melting away before everyone’s eyes, getting so thin that people worry you’ve become sick, or taken up modeling. Similarly, when you first meet your stepchildren, a stepmother imagines a close, loving relationship.

It turns out that only 20% of stepchildren feel close to their stepmothers. You can’t force or control anyone enough to make them love or even like you. All stepfamilies, and many situations involving poor health and weight gain, are formed from some type of grief and loss. There are so many factors that influence the situation: the family dynamics, the duration of stability or instability, and all of the subtle factors that would take a lifetime to consider and balance and finally integrate.

If there is one day of the year that can trigger either elation or sadness for a stepmom, it’s Mother’s Day. Stepmoms feel all the pain, frustrations, financial strain, and difficulty of being a parent, but sometimes none of the rewards or joy. Often being cast outside of the family circle on special days, this holiday may reinforce that loneliness. This may be part of the reason why divorce rates for second marriages hover at 60 to 75%.

If you are feeling lonely or disconnected on Mother’s Day, treat yourself to a long hike. Hold your hand over your heart and feel your chest rise and fall with your respirations. Meditate on being a good friend to your stepchild. Kids already have a mom, however faulted or absent or incompetent she may be. However, each and every person on this planet could use a really good friend. Instead of trying to be a mom or expecting to be honored like a mom, just consider yourself a really good friend. Consistent attempts to do the best by your little friend and putting your best foot forward in their presence will return in abundance.

I dated a fellow for many years that used this approach with my daughter, and taught me an important lesson about setting expectations. At one point, a situation was escalating in intensity between them, and he told my daughter that he wasn’t her father. Nor would he ever be. Nor did he even want to be. She already had a father. He was just trying to be a good friend. I felt hurt by his comments, but when I looked at my daughter, she looked oddly calm and serene. The boundaries of their relationships were established at that moment, and they’ve been pals ever since.

Like weight loss, if we can have reasonable expectations and implement a series of actions, we can often achieve much more than we expected. Being a good friend with low expectations may be the shortest distance to a calm and serene state of mind, as you stepmother and in any other journey you encounter in your life.

Happy Mothers Day, to every mom. Every single one.

Dr. Mary sets unrealistic goals every time she starts dieting or meets a new friend. Living and learning…

Posted on by Mary Clifton, MD

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