I could see her crying at her keyboard as she tried to shut out the laughter of Dad and Stepmom outside her closed bedroom door. She hates them for being happy. She hates herself for hating them. She’s so angry and resentful. So frustrated and confused. But mostly she’s a sad little girl missing her mom, dead four years. Through tear-blurred eyes she searches cyberspace, desperate for connection, hoping for help yet convinced it’s hopeless because the only way to ever make things right again is to bring back Mom.
How do you counsel a child who can’t have the only thing she says will make her whole again? Here’s what I told her:
What do you do when you want something that you can not have? You have options, you know. Do you…
a) Keep longing for the impossible?
b) Feel sorry for yourself and build a wall to keep out everyone who tries to help you?
c) Make your peace with the new reality while still holding your mom’s memory in your heart?
d) Open your mind and heart to the next chapter of your life and allow yourself to move forward?
She was too stuck in b to listen. What do you say to a child who won’t allow herself to be happy for her father or friendly to her stepmom because it feels disloyal to Mom? I told her:
When one partner in a loving marriage dies, it can, after a while, be a wonderful tribute to that marriage for the surviving partner to marry again. But if one partner in an unhealthy marriage dies, it is less likely for the other to remarry.
You seem to think it’s your job to stand up for your mother’s memory and to be unwelcoming to your stepmom even though you say she is nice to you. I wonder what your mom would say about it. What if she could whisper to you, “Sweetie, it’s a good thing that your dad has found a wonderful woman to share his life with again. I am truly happy for him. Please try to be happy for him. And please, open your heart to this good woman. She wants to be your friend. Let her in. That will make you happier and stronger as you grow up. And when you are happy, I am happy.”
So the girl she took in everything I said and slowly began to open her mind to the possibility that maybe she could enjoy a relationship with her stepmom, not as a substitute for Mom (of course not!) but as a caring, trusted woman who offers unconditional love and understanding, support and stability. But then her fear of loss brought a frightening thought and the girl wanted to know what might happen if she loved Stepmom and then they divorced or “something happens” and Stepmom wasn’t around any more. “I can’t lose another mom. No way!” And I replied:
Every time we reach out to someone in friendship or love, we risk that “something might happen” and the relationship will be damaged or be lost. That’s the nature of life. We are human. Our feelings change and circumstances change. And even if feelings and circumstances remain constant, we don’t live forever. Not any of us. It’s a hard thing to accept, but we have to accept it because that’s the way it is… for everyone.
Your relationship with your mom ended in this life. Since her death you have created a new relationship with her. She is always in your heart, loving you as much as you love her. That’s an everlasting gift and nothing will change that. Another unopened gift is a dad and stepmom who are so ready and eager to love you. They’re waiting for you. When we hold ourselves back from getting close to others because we are afraid of what “might happen” someday, we shut ourselves off from the most important thing in life… love.
Love is all around. Take what you need. Give what you can.
David and I have celebrated a lot of Valentine’s Days together… so much chocolate! I appreciate how our partnership contributes to my health and well being. It makes so much of what I do possible. I also especially appreciate how our relationship continues to get better. How can that be? We work at it. A lot. We’re not aiming for perfect, only progress in the direction of more kindness, compassion and fun.
And so, on this Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about love after 38 years of marriage. Take what makes sense to you. Leave the rest. I hope it helps in whatever ways you need.
It’s not about who you love, it’s about how.
If it’s getting in the way of being together, as friends and lovers, talk about it.
Be totally trustworthy and require the same from your partner.
Look for opportunities to ease your partner’s mind and tight shoulder muscles.
Turn off the Opinionator and listen with an open heart and mind.
From time to time, just clean up someone else’s mess without expecting an Academy Award.
Don’t cheat… ever.
If you or your partner has created a break in trust, do what makes sense to learn from it and move on… if you can.
Be a safe person for your partner to show his/her vulnerability and strength.
Show that you know and understand who s/he really is.
“Let’s go for a walk” is a lovely thing to say.
Do the dishes, even if it’s not your turn.
Nurture the romance and the friendship because the kids will grow up and leave.
Make food together and enjoy what you’ve dished up.
Don’t look for perfection only progress… in yourself and your partner.
Find at least one thing, outside of the house, that you enjoy doing together and do it… regularly.
Put down the damn phone iPad, Kindle, laptop and hold each other close.
Bring home an occasional surprise treat as a “just because” gift of love.
Anger comes in two varieties… the clean kind (I’m upset & here’s why) and the dirty kind (You ALWAYS do this!) Keep it clean.
Use your love for your partner to give your best self. It’ll become ingrained and then you can give it to everyone.
Be nice. Save the contempt for… actually, don’t save if for anyone.
Share that last chocolate chip cookie.
When your lover wants to talk about something that’s important to him/her (but not to you), stop and LISTEN with genuine interest.
When a hug is given, hug back, no matter how crappy a mood you’re in. It’ll make you feel better.
Show appreciation. Even after years of being together, “Please” and “Thank you” are signs of caring.
Unplug when you’re with your sweetie and be where you are. It shows “You matter to me more than checking FB.”
Fill up the gas tank because you know your partner needs the car tomorrow.
Making your honey a snack is an act of love.
Make eye contact and a smile when s/he walks into the room.
Dark chocolate. Lots of it to share.
When your lover is out in public playing a sport, performing, presenting, be front & center, cheering him/her on!
Let there be togetherness in your chores. Cleaning up, doing laundry, shopping is sweeter when you’re doing it together.
When your lover looks great, tell him/her. When s/he has had better days, do NOT say a word!
If your lover is under the weather (or on a work deadline) do more than your share around the house with a smile.
If you notice your honey has spinach bits between teeth or (horrors!) a booger… speak up (discreetly, of course!)
Foot rubs are such a gift!(if you like having your feet touched) Otherwise… ask what else would feel better.
Be helpful, without being asked.
Listening with an open heart and an open mind leads to understanding. Understanding increases love.
Say the words “I love you” like you really mean it. Yes, from time to time, we all need to hear the words.
A gift is most appreciated when it reflects how well you know and understand your sweetie.
Flirting with anyone other than your sweetie is disrespectful to your lover and your relationship. Just don’t. If you find your affections wandering, take it as an opportunity to make the relationship stronger. Say, “Honey, I need more _____ from you.”
Dark chocolate… wrapped or unwrapped. Lots of it. Frequently. Share.
Forgiveness is a gift to you, your partner, and the relationship. Let go of resentment or it will poison everything.
Be the kind of partner you’d like your partner to be.
Show how much you appreciate having him/her in your life. Not just on Valentine’s, but every day
Your kids learn about love and loving by the way you treat them and by the way you and your partner treat each other.
When your partner is worried don’t say, “That’s ridiculous!” (even if it is.) Just be there with support and encouragement.
Look for opportunities to be helpful. Don’t wait to be asked.
Smile at your sweetie. It sends a great message and you always cuter when you’re happy.
Do something special together today to celebrate your love. We all need that from time to time. This would be a good time. Enjoy.
In August my son Ezra and his lovely Sarah are marrying in a garden surrounded by vineyards. Their idyllic spot is about an hour north of our home. Which means when it comes to the wedding we’re off the housecleaning hook. Yeah, right. Four generations of our family will be traipsing in and out of Fox Manor all weekend so bring back the hook ’cause we are so on.
Since it’s pouring today (again) I decided it was time to take inventory of… The Mess.
You know how when you’re expecting company every flaw of your otherwise spotless home comes into sharp focus? Suddenly it’s like “Woah, how long has that gunk been on the door? When was the last time anyone looked in this corner? Have you seen the vacuum? We still have one, don’t we?”
I cleaned my glasses and headed to the stairwell, where well… the scratches and gouges on the wood panels made me wince. Seriously, I go up and down these stairs dozens of times a day and I swear I’ve never noticed how crapped up the walls are. No one could miss the crazy webbing of gashes and slashes. And yet, apparently, I had… for years.
House cleaning isn’t fun, but there is an element of problem-solving to it that I can get into at times. After rummaging through my arsenal I spotted a 32 oz (Value Size!) bottle of Orange GLO 2-in-1 Clean & Polish “Great for Wood Cabinets” Granted it didn’t say “Great for wood paneling!” but scratches are scratches, right? So I sprayed the wood panels and for an instant the scratches seemed to miraculously vanish! Kewl! I thought. So I sprayed and wiped some more. But then something not so cool occurred. The oily Orange GLO glommed onto and into the gouged out surfaces and instead of disappearing they started coming out… with attitude. It’s like every single mar, mark and blemish now shouted: Look at ME! Aren’t I distinctive!?”
I slumped, disgruntled, embarrassed staring at this wall of… mistakes when I began to recognize some old friends. That scratch over there happened right before Ezra was born and me and David and little Fayette helped to carry Fay’s old crib up to the new baby’s room. And that one… when Fay was 14 and the four of us hit the wall several times as we carried her bed frame downstairs because she wanted to sleep on a mattress on the floor. And that happened when Ezra was 16 and scored a used couch for his room and we all helped to lug the behemoth up the stairs.
For 27 years dogs, cats, computers, desks, printers, books, lamps, loaded backpacks, kids, friends have gone up and down these stairs. Sometimes we lose our balance. Sometimes we misjudge the distance and hit the wall. Nothing to hide. Nothing to be ashamed of. We just keep moving.
When you think about stepmothers, what comes to mind? For me it’s that heartless woman whose idea of a family outing was to take Hansel and Gretel into the woods and abandon them…twice. Then there’s the callous, opportunistic bitch who fleeced Cinderella’s dad for all he was worth then treated her stepdaughter like a slave in her own home. And let’s not forget that ultimate charmer, so narcissistic and jealous of Snow White she order a hit on the girl. “Cut out her heart and bring it to me in this box!”
Geez! With stepmoms like that it’s no wonder we grow up with such fear and loathing for women who marry men with children. But with 43% of first marriages ending in divorce and so many subsequent remarriages, the likelihood of a child having a real stepmother is relatively high.
So what’s really inside the hearts and minds of stepmoms? Are they as powerful and conniving as we’ve been led to believe? And if so, then why are they blamed for so much that goes wrong in their families? And why are they given so little credit for their sincere efforts to be a positive force in the lives of their husbands and stepchildren? Fair questions that deserve answers.
In this week’s podcast I talk with Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster: A New Look At Why Stepmothers Think, Feel And Act The Way We Do. We get into the fact vs. the fantasy of real stepmoms from someone who has walked the walk and done her homework inside and outside of the family. Every woman who married a man with children or is considering it, needs to hear this one! Men who brought a stepmom into the lives of their kids, don’t want to miss it either.
*What’s a podcast? “A podcast is a series of digital media files, usually either digital audio or video, that is made available for download via web syndication.” –Wikipedia… So, in this case, there’s an audio file for you to listen to (in addition to reading the above).