It’s a nasty word, bitch.
Fine, if you’re rightfully defending your kids against some injustice in the school system or you need to stubbornly not give up your seat on the bus or you’ve got a hellish journey ahead of you to do the right thing – then – who cares if anyone thinks you’re a bitch? You’ll draw upon the bitch inside you to persevere: to tap reserves of foresight and willpower, to pull you forward in the face of opposition and setbacks. You’ll activate that mother tiger inside of you that is afraid of nothing when it comes to protecting those you love.
But being thought of as bitch in general is another thing altogether. No one wants to be thought of as simply a bitch.
Men don’t want to end up with a bitch, be tricked by one, or find out their partner has somehow mysteriously become one. Women don’t want to befriend a bitch or god forbid, work for one. War wounds from bitchy familial relations in some form or fashion abound in our mass consciousness.
And yet, here's the set-up between mother and stepmother: the other woman, no matter which side you start from, is automatically a bitch. You’ll find plenty of ammunition to lob from friends, family, co-workers – from people you barely know. Start out any story about "the mother" or "the stepmother" in your life and people have already helped you pull the pin, ready to shoot her down.
Dealing with a mother who’s asking yet again for more money for summer camp or band or something extraneous? What about all the money we already pay her for child support? We give her enough already. Figure it out! What a bitch! Ever had a stepmother blow off your child’s scrape when they wiped out on their bike? What, is her heart made of coal? Clearly, it’d be more convenient for her if the kid just wasn’t around.… Think of them first for once! What a bitch! And on it goes. The land stretching between mother and stepmother is littered with such landmines. Good luck tiptoeing around them.
And isn’t it irritating to know the other side is almost certainly calling you a bitch?! We’ve figured out a way to do it otherwise. We don’t know everything, but we do know a few things. And we’d like to tell you about them. We’re a mother and stepmother who’ve cultivated first, a working relationship, then a friendship, and now, a partnership as co-authors. We’ve been at it for seven years and have seen the two children we both raise stretch out from very small people to now one very tall person, and one medium-sized, both of whom will probably leave us all in the dust, height-wise. Two years ago, a brand new baby boy (hi baby!) was added to our version of an extended family. And so, with wide-eyed wonder, the stepmom becomes a mom, and the mom becomes, proudly and gratefully, an honorary aunt.
We’ve navigated some really tricky territory to get to this point. And we fully realize it’s not all pancakes and roses from here on out. When you first meet your ex’s beautiful new girlfriend getting off the back of his new motorcycle, her curly hair cutting through the air in slow motion like a models’, you’re not exactly set to like her. When the only way she’s gotten to know you is through tales of your bad behavior told to her by her perfect romantic partner, well, she’s not so sure she’s ever going to find one single thing to like about you either.
There are issues of territoriality, competition, jealousy, anger — and grief and sadness, from both ends. Throw money and some legal elements into the mix and you have the perfect combustible material for a really…bad…family barbeque. If you were to see our journey thus far from a birds’ eye view, you’d first see two strangers walking separately but concurrently, eying each other suspiciously. Then you’d hear some cautious mumbling directed at the other person (What? I can’t hear you! Speak English!). Followed by a few half-hearted attempts at meaningless, polite chitchat. Still climbing the low hills, you’d see us maybe veering a little closer to each other’s path, as we found (surprise!) we actually had some things in common to discuss (the children).
Then we’d get distracted by something hard that we had to do together, like deal with a swarm of jungle flies (kids), cross a rushing river (kids), run from wild, howling boars (hungry kids)or construct an intricate, weight-bearing puzzle made solely out of bendy sticks (getting kids to clean up after themselves).
Somewhere along the line, you’d see us letting our guard down ever so s-l-o-w-l-y, and yes, sometimes it would go right back up, but by the end of the map, we’d have gone through enough stuff together and spent enough time together that we’d be sitting at a coffee shop (in Europe, alone, just us two girls, with lots of money and no men and—just kidding—) talking over ideas for our book.
Our book. About how we learned to get along.
We’re not hoping to get every one of you potential Stepmother/Mother pairs out there to the point of writing a book together (too much competition), but we are hoping you can get to a place where you could actually sit down and have coffee with the other woman. Not "the bitch" anymore. Just, the other woman. (No, not that Other Woman.)
So join us as we walk through this landscape and see how you can improve your own situation, wherever you may be.
How’s YOUR relationship with the mom or stepmom in your life? Can you relate?
This is so true. I have never been a stepmom myself, but I know plenty of women who have been, and I have witnessed everything you laid out so eloquently and -- thank you -- honestly.
Best of luck with your efforts to get the word out about Carol's and your mission. I can't even imagine that this HUGE gem of a subject, treated as well as you have done here, would not be seen on the bookstore shelves -- and on Oprah -- in the very near future.
Warmly, Kimber Pflaum
April 25, 2007 8:39 AM