A long time ago, David and I went to a fancy cocktail party hosted by friends of David and his ex-wife. I knew the hosts a little but hardly considered them my friends. We got our drinks and were standing around when I saw a woman making a beeline towards me! Following the obligatory hug, she asked, “SO SUSAN, HOW’S IT GOING WITH YOUR NEW FAMILY?” Her penetrating eyes and piercing expression scared me.
I told her that I was doing OK, but that “it was a struggle.” (Big mistake.) I explained that it was hard taking care of three more kids who weren’t my own. She said she didn’t understand why I would feel that way. I tried to explain, but with each word, I dug myself deeper into a hole. She said, “Some people have trouble raising ANY CHILDREN…you might be one of those women!” Her final shot was, “You should have thought of that BEFORE you married him!”
I found the nearest door, ran outside, and burst into tears.
Why was I so vulnerable? The problem was that I knew I was failing. I knew I was in over my head, and no one understood my situation. How could they? The incident just reinforced how alone I felt in my struggle.
Our new stepfamily was on shaky ground. My stepchildren missed their mother terribly, and they wanted little to do with me. My husband was busy at work, and it was my job to raise the five kids—his and mine. It was an impossible expectation…in the beginning, anyway.
Fortunately, resources for new stepfamilies have come a long way since then. There’s a lot of good information and help for stepfamilies in the way of books, counseling, coaching, forums, blogs, support groups, etc.
Looking back, I can see that I was young, vulnerable, sensitive, and way too hard on myself. What I needed so badly…and didn’t have…was thick skin and permission to stand up for myself! I was always comparing myself to the ideal of the perfect nuclear family. It was impossible to fit the mold. All I could do was pretend…and try harder.
Thank God for the passage of time and growing up… and also for the good support and understanding of stepfamilies today.
Susan Wisdom MA