Stepmonsters The Book: A Review and A Ramble
Just the title of the book conjures up all kinds of evil thoughts doesn't it? But, if you are a step-parent, this is the most reassuring book you will ever lay your hands on.
First off, let me say how guilty I felt when I started reading this book. Why would I, Karen, want to read a book called Stepmonsters? Well, because I feel like I've failed at this stepmom gig. We've been through a lot of ups and downs with our blended family. And I want to be a better person. I'm tired of feeling angst and helplessness in the stepmother realm. And this is one realm you'll not understand until you walk in the stepmother shoes.
Finally, I've found a book that doesn't tell me to "just shut up and accept it" "the problems are coming from my insecurities" "how I can change to make the family better". Well, Stepmonsters validates that I am not the problem. Nor is it my problem to solve.
I've learned, halfway through this book, that I am NOT ALONE. I cannot tell you the weight that has lifted off of my shoulders. I've learned that from the beginning of time, step moms have been titled "evil", through fairy tales and movies and books. And this idea of the evil stepmom is so entrenched in our brains, that it is something that is just accepted and even expected. We are dealt a losing hand before we even enter a second marriage, doomed by fiction and non fiction tales of stepmother evilness.
I've been remarried to a man with two children for 13 years. I thought my "active" role of step parenting aka being the "wicked stepmother" was over, and that now that the kids had grown and flown, I could finally develop relationships with his kids, relationships that don't involve parenting at all. It was such a good feeling to know that I could finally relax and just enjoy my husband and our marriage, without my kids or his kids being "in the middle".
And then I found out that one of his kids is coming back to the nest to roost.
Insert emotional tornado here. I've been struggling. (intensley which is why I've been quiet)
I love my husband so very much. And I want to be the best wife and the best person I can be. So I started searching, really searching, "Adult Stepson Moving Home". Because I didn't want to go back to that place I had been before he moved out. That place? Being the interloper. Being the intruder. Living in the house that belongs to his dad and him. (Even though his dad and I bought the house together 10 years ago). Being the guest in my own home. I thought those days were over. But they aren't when one is coming back to the nest. Or are they?
I put my foot down and said no. 21 years old is too old to move back in. He's a MAN now for crying out loud. But I didn't really have a leg to stand on that foot. This is his child, and although he's an adult, he is my hubby's child. So we compromised. Three months, living by house rules aka: no weapons in the house, no having friends over after we go to bed at night, no coming and going whenever, no treating our home as a flop house. No water bottles everywhere, no dishes left for me to clean up, yeah... all unrealistic expectations because of my experience in the step kid living at home camp. I'm not the maid, nor the dishwasher, or a short order cook. But I love my home and realistically, if he leaves a mess, I'll probably clean it up because I don't want my house a shambles. 3 months is a wink of an eye, and it will be here and gone before I know it.
I'm also not bending over backwards to make people like me anymore. I'm too old for that nonsense. Not just my step kids, but anyone I encounter in life. I've given that up. All people are just not going to like me. There's nothing I can do about it. Coming into my marriage 14 years ago, my goal was to be "just another adult in my step kids lives to love them". Now my goal is "just be my husbands wife". I'm not the mother, I'm not a monster. I am their father's wife, and I am content in that role.
I'm not out to compete for hubby's time and attention, although I have felt like I have had to in the past. I now understand his deep rooted guilt over the failure of his first marriage and taking away the nuclear family structure from his children. I know they hurt then, and probably still hurt now. I remember. I am a child of divorce.
I've learned that some of the jealousy I feel is due to my own lack of paternal parenting. When I was my step kids ages (both of them) my father had written me out of his life. That actually happened when I was 17, so for many many years, I didn't have the dad I needed or deserved. I had a stepdad who IS wonderful and who I call Dad now. But being written out of your biological father's life for not living up to his expectations of how I should or should not live was pretty devastating for me. Even though I blew it off as "good riddance", I cried many tears. I was "daddy's girl" until my own parents divorced. And then I was given the choice: Her (my mother) or Me. "you can't have it both ways" he said.
So yes, part of me has a profound feeling of loss not having a present father at important times of my life. And maybe that is where my jealousy plays in. My hubby IS the father to his children that I needed as a young adult. I missed that part of life. And I married him because of the love he gives.
I didn't marry his kids though. And he didn't marry mine. We took each other, we vowed to each other to love each other till the end of time. I didn't fall in love with his kids, I fell in love with him. I know for a fact he didn't fall in love with my kids either, he fell in love with me. We married each other, but we didn't marry each others kids. This is just one thing that I needed hit over the head with a rock to come to grips with. All my Norman Rockwell dreams of our "blended" family lives were fairy tale dreams. I set myself up for failure just expecting that I could make everything ok for everyone. I can't.
The only role that is totally important to me is wife. Yes, wife. I know it sounds cliche and old fashioned and whatever, but all I want in life is the relationship I have now with hubby. It has grown and flourished over the years, and we have been through so many trials, and we survived all of them. We will survive this too. Thanks to this book, and a better understanding of the dynamics of Stepmothering. My only regret is that this book wasn't written 13 years ago before I said "I do". I could have ditched the unrealistic expectations I had before the wedding!
So if you are struggling being a stepmom, please, read this book. It will bring you peace. And a little peace is good for everyone.
This is an unpaid, unsolicited review of Stepmonster: A New Look At Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin.
update 11/6/2013: I finished the book a few days ago and have been digesting the words and feeling so much better about myself, knowing that I am normal and what goes on in my "tossed in a blender" family is normal.
In all honesty, I would have cut the chapters about primates and birds and tribal people shorter, I sort of glossed over those parts, they were long and boring. I got the idea though, which is the drive it home point of the book: This is normal, your feelings are normal, their feelings are normal, everything is normal, you are not alone.