How long will you be angry?

3 02 2009

stepfamily-letter-projectI’ve been struck lately by the letters we’ve received at the Stepfamily Letter Project. They are all beautiful letters, full of love, anger, hurt, alienation, and brutal honesty. And that was the goal for that website: to provide a place where all stepfamily members can have a voice. I’m proud of it. I’m glad it is doing some good. The feelings people are voicing there are real. They allow glimpses into what it’s like in blended families in the United States, England, and Australia. I knew there would be a lot of pain in the letters. I knew there would be anger. Still it makes me sad that people feel so alone within their families. It reminds me of the reason I wrote A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom in the first place, which I explain in this quote from the last chapter:

“The idea for this book had many wellsprings, one of which was an interview I conducted for a magazine article I was writing. I was chatting with a surgeon who ran her own practice. She had also been a stepmother of three for more than two decades. All the kids were grown, and she and her husband enjoyed each other’s company immensely. She told me she was known by all of her friends and colleagues as a success story. Her stepfamily looked like an episode of the Brady Bunch; it was all happy and smiles and good will.

I asked her a few more questions about her stepfamily’s dynamics – for instance, how she’d developed a good relationship with her three stepchildren, two boys and a girl, who were all teens when she moved in with them. I asked if her husband was a strong and present father who supported her. I asked about the relationship with his ex. Nothing seemed to upset her. When I asked a more direct question about her relationship with her stepdaughter, I hit a nerve, and this woman spewed forth a stream of venomous rage about her stepfamily life that she’d stored up for years. The resentment and anger and hurt just poured out of her like lava.

I’ve never written about her, and I’ve changed identifying characteristics in this telling of the story because this woman didn’t want anyone to know her secret: that even though she appeared to be a happy stepmom, underneath it all she still seethed with anger.

I spent several days after the interview thinking about this woman. She felt all the anger and fear and jealousy we all feel, but she’d stuffed it instead of dealing with it directly and letting it go. It reminded me of my dad’s advice he’d given me just after his divorce from my mother: “You don’t have to love your parents, you don’t even have to like them, but you must make peace with them. You can’t be 65 and still let your parents control your life because you’re pissed about what they did to you when you were 5.” I thought this advice, slightly retooled, could have been just as applicable to this woman’s situation as a stepmother.”

Please don’t get me wrong. There are days when I feel anger. There are certainly days when I feel hurt. And my great challenge is to let each new instance stand for itself instead of firing up all the old injustices into an avalanche of negativity. I don’t want anger and pain to be the feelings I’m constantly stuck with, rubbing me raw until I blow up or curl up and give in. You know what I mean?

So ask yourself this: How long will you allow yourself to be angry? What purpose does your pain serve? I am not trying to make light of our challenges, but there has to be a better way to live than being angry all the time. I’ve tried it. It’s exhausting. I would much rather focus my energies elsewhere. What about you?

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2 responses

4 02 2009
Peggy

I do my best to help my step mom friends deal with their anger. There’s a lot of it. They resent their husbands, they’re frustrated / angry with their step kids, they hate their husband’s ex-wife. In giving advice or suggestions, what I have found is that most of the step moms I’m trying to help are at war with reality. “My husband SHOULD do this” or “the kids’ mom SHOULD NOT” do that (or be that). The step mom holding on to a should or should not statement is in direct conflict with what IS. My suggestion: Every step mom needs to read “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie and do The Work. It’s life saving!

9 02 2009
Izzy Rose

This is excellent and definitely hit me right in the middle of my heart.

IR

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