Read an Excerpt
The Enlightened Stepmother's Self-Portrait
Your Goals: Now and Later
There's something wonderful about the future, no matter how much were encouraged to "live in the present." Our goals and dreams are pristine, made perfect by hope and determination. Best of all, they're possible. (Writing this book for you was one of ours.)
How does joining a stepfamily work with your life's plans?
It's a key question, usually asked in reverse, as in "How can you fit into your stepfamily's lives?" Stepmothers need to be wary of falling into that mind-set. You're not a piece of furniture for which a corner must be found. (If others stubbornly persist in viewing you as furniture, make sure they see a sturdy, steady, solid piece in prime condition that rightfully claims a central position!)
This is the time to get to know yourself as thoroughly as possible so you can decide if you are ready, willing, and, most important, able to handle what lies ahead. In "Stepmom's Quick Primer," number 10 is especially relevant This is your life too. Your hopes and dreams are as important as those of every member of your prospective stepfamily.
Some of your personal goals will require an investment in time, some in money, others, just plain grit. A trek in Nepal? Founding a new charity? Maybe you want to start trying to conceive a child as soon as you're married. When you know where you wish to head and what you need to get there, you can take the proactive route. If you're just considering stepmotherhood, this will be the firststage in deciding if that choice will work for you. If you're already a stepmom and want to take better control of your life, we will show you the way.
Don't "Second Best" Yourself
If you compromise on an issue you consider non-negotiable, you will live to become resentful. If you join your stepfamily accepting second best for your life, you will be expected to continue to do so. Follow-up interviews with new stepmothers indicated that in less than a year, some had "learned" to "put up" with what in any other social situation they would have considered intolerable. Why? As one stepmom put it: "For the sake of peace." What was intolerable the stress of putting their feelings, opinions, and desires on the back burner while trying to forge new relationships had become routine.
Sacrificing your goals to fulfill the wishes of your new family does not work. This is not being selfish; this is being realistic.
In your list of priorities, there will probably be some issues about which you feel more flexible. Moving to a bigger home to accommodate visiting stepchildren might not be financially feasible, but building a modest addition in a year might be. A honeymoon in Tahiti may blow six months' mortgage payments, so you may be willing to settle for a delayed, or different, wedding trip. But if you want to continue to volunteer with your community theater after the wedding excitement is over, you need to make sure that your avocation and time are respected.
Yes, there are emergencies and plans that go awry, but the importance of knowing your goals is to see if your life and a commitment to a stepfamily are going to make a good match.
You need to feel that the power to fulfill your dreams remains in your hands in spite of the unexpected.
A Stepmother for Every Season
During the course of our interviews, we discovered issues that were important to stepmothers in similar age groups. Depending on the stage of life you're in, you can use the following sketches as a guide to your own reflections:
The Tender Twenties
If you are in your twenties now, stepchildren are probably the last thing on your mind until you meet that special man who happens to have a child or two from a previous marriage or relationship. If you are truly serious, perhaps even considering giving up your carefully made plans and marrying right now, consider how these young children will impact your life. They will become partly your responsibility. Are you ready for this? You may be a college graduate with a fledgling career, or part-way through your studies. Perhaps you didn't complete your degree but are planning to return to college later. If you become a full-time or part-time stepmother, will you be able to spare the time and energy from your career or schooling to help support a ready-made family?
Maybe you're working as a saleswoman in the top boutique in your town, with an eye toward becoming a partner in the business someday. If your mate has part-time care of two little daughters, are there adequate child-care provisions to allow for the hours you need to put in at the shop? Consider the effect on your carefree life not only of a husband but of two young people as well who will become integral to your everyday planning and thinking.
If your husband pays child support and alimony (sometimes called "maintenance") these expenses may stretch many years in front of you when money's tight, will you be able to further your education in pursuit of a better job or be able to afford your first home (or first child) together? Do you want to see the world before you take on responsibilities for other people besides yourself? Think about whether you feel you've had a chance to experience life with a capital L before you commit to stepfamily domesticity. Are you ready to help raise his children, when you don't even think you want one of your own yet?
It's sometimes difficult to think long-term when you're just starting out, but your talent and potential should have all the room in the world to grow.