I said I would come back to the lot of stepmothers and during the hair-shirt month of January seems like a good time. It is a gift, being a stepmother. See if you have the courage to open this gift.
Some Unwelcome Facts
- The hardest part about being a stepmother is not your stepchildren.
- The hardest part is confronting all those undigested unpleasant feelings within. Loneliness. Hatred. Fear. Jealousy. Rage. Those old chestnuts.
- These feelings are not to do with your stepchildren and I bet yours are the worst stepchildren in the world, okay.
Step-children have a habit of bringing to the surface all the old jealousies and insecurities that we don’t like to be reminded of. They are hang-overs from our own childhood when it didn’t feel safe to express them. Here are three examples of how that happens.
- A new baby arrives and everyone is telling us how lovely it is and how we’re going to be a wonderful big sister, it may not seem acceptable to say just how we feel. Lonely. Hateful. Rageful. Jealous.
- A sibling or parent is seriously ill or handicapped and all the attention is taken away from us. There may be unbearable pressure on us to be ‘good’. How can we be jealous or angry when we are the ‘lucky one’?
- Mummy or Daddy is gloriously happy with a new partner and all they want is to include us in their new family. We may smile instead of saying how lonely and hateful and full of rage and jealous we feel inside.
The behaviour of your stepchildren may be outrageous. You are not losing your mind. Your new husband may not be doing his bit to parent them because he feels so frightened they won’t love him any more. These things may well be true. But that’s not where your vile feelings come from. Those feelings are all yours and you need to be very kind and delicate with them so that they can finally be digested and you can transform into an adult human being.
When you feel that outrage, that jealousy, that falling-apart feeling you are reliving some earlier traumatic event which may have been no more unusual than the birth of a sibling or your own parents’ divorce.
If that feeling is overwhelming it is time to offer yourself the space to express it wherever that may be done safely and privately. Therapy, writing a letter (not to be posted) to the parent or sibling who caused so much grief, speaking or shouting out loud (in your empty house or stationary car or on a long walk) all your grievances, however infantile, can be very cathartic. (I do not advise driving while you do this because you will find the speedometer up in the hundreds very quickly.)
Frequently as children love was withheld until we stopped being angry or jealous but people who are angry and jealous need more love, not less. See if you can feel how much love and holding you need as you really allow yourself to experience these terrible feelings. You have my permission to offer yourself that holding and love even when you are full of rage and venom, especially when you are full of rage and venom. Just imagine being lovingly held until you relax.
This is not a one-off cure although once you start on this path it will have immediate relieving effects that you will notice. If you are able to relieve the rage within you will find it much easier to tolerate your stepchildren’s behaviour which is likely also driven by rage. Their rage has awoken your rage. Sometimes you may notice you feel no older than they are. Do not shame yourself for this. Take steps really to own your rage and express it well away from your family. You will be amazed how much less annoying you will find them and you may also note the first stirrings of compassion for them and for their father.
From this place you will find it easier to help everyone and you will be suffering a lot less inside.