You guys have probably heard the joke stepmothers whisper to each other about how we all have scars on our tongues from biting them so often, right? Let’s admit it: Sometimes we can’t keep our mouths shut. And what’s more, sometimes we shouldn‘t. As all things are in life and in stepfamilies, it’s a balancing act. Here are the criteria I try to use while helping to raise my three stepchildren, ages 15, 13, and 10.
Am I willing to be the bad guy?
Sometimes it’s impossible to consult your spouse or the ex before you speak. Sometimes women see things that men simply don’t. Sometimes you believe so strongly in something that you simply must speak. That’s life. So are you willing to be the bad guy? Because stepparents who speak up become targets for anger from the kids and exes and sometimes our spouses, too. If you are willing, then speak your truth. Sometimes truth is more important than getting along with everyone.
Can I live with my choice to remain silent?
I typically stepparent from the back seat as most stepfamily professionals advise. But sometimes I simply can’t because I feel that if I don’t speak up I will not be able to live with that choice. As you all know, a stepmother’s greatest skill is learning how to let things go. (Your stepchild was allowed to do something by her mother that you disagree with? Oh well. ) Only you know which values you can remain silent about and which ones you can’t.
What are you concerned/angry about?
A warning from someone who has been there: If you do speak up to a stepchild about a behavior or issue you feel strongly about, then work to keep it just about that one thing. For instance, if a stepchild sasses you in a nasty teen tone and you have had it up to here with the disrespect, keep your words calm and focused on the issue at hand. Because stepmothers often stuff so many things to keep the peace, if you open your mouth, your response can be totally out of proportion to the issue because you’re bundling all your feelings of anger from past hurts and injustices into the current issue. If you can’t keep calm and blow your lid instead, try to have a conversation after everyone has cooled off to talk about why you reacted the way you did.
If I stuff my feelings will I carry this with me forever?
I want my stepchildren to like me. Sure, I do. But I also don’t want to have a heart attack any time soon. (Ever read the book Anger Kills? Scary!!) I’m only willing to stuff so much to make the peace. If I am not myself then I have done my entire family a disservice. I wrote my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom because I did an interview with a veteran stepmother for an article I was working on. She’d been in her stepfamily for more than two decades. After I asked her a few questions, she let go a torrent of anger she’d been holding in and building on for a quarter of a century!! If you choose to remain silent, please, please, please, do not carry that anger with you for the rest of your life.
So. Are you willing to be the bad guy? About what issues?