Deciphering self care: an interview with Peggy Nolan

You know those people you talk to on the phone that you've never met beforeand in the very first few seconds, you hit it off? Peggy Nolan is one of those people. I've been intrigued by a wonderfully stubborn optimism evident in her writing on The Step Moms Toolbox and decided to dig a little deeper into her world. Peggy's the mother of two and a stepmother to four. Let's hear what she had to say....

Tell me about The Step Mom's Toolbox? What is its purpose and why did you create it?

The Step Mom’s Toolbox is a place for stepmoms to go for one-stop shopping. I want to get resources in their hands in one click, whether it’s a book, another blog, magazine article, or a blended-family website.My main purpose is to help step moms learn self-care, which is the best and most important advice I can give to any step mom who is dealing with her husband’s ex-wife, her step kids, her husband, her job, or any other relationship. No one will care for you better than you. Stop expecting other people to fill you up or “make” you happy - that comes from within and only YOU can give that to yourself.

Self-care is about taking 100% ownership of your thoughts, feelings and actions. It’s the realization that the only person you can change is yourself.

You're both a mom and a stepmom. What are some insights you've had concerning the traditional problems both sides typically have with each other?

I was fortunate that my girls were older when I got divorced (15 and 18). They were old enough to own their relationship with their dad and their new stepmom. Doing this was tough…. At the time, I hated my ex-husband and probably hated his new wife even more. How I felt at the time flew in the face of my desire for my daughters to have a good relationship with their dad – as a daughter myself, I know how important it is for girls to have healthy, stable relationships with their father. Living with that conflict was really hard… but it did eventually resolve itself when I took responsibility for my part in the end of my first marriage.As a stepmom, I believe the biggest problems are jealousy and insecurity. There’s this other woman who will always have access to your man! Even with the relationship I have with my husband’s ex-wife, I, too, have gone through these emotions and I still get my feathers ruffled if she plants a kiss on his bald head.... That bald head belongs to me… keep your lipstick off please!

How did you and your husband's ex manage to create a friendship between the two of you. Were there any hiccups (or worse!) in the beginning?

We were blessed with a frame-work created by her mom and stepmom, who today are best friends. I know, as strange as this is, the ex-wife’s family “kept” my husband Rick when she divorced my husband in 2002. And when it came time for me to meet his family, it was his ex-wife’s family he had me meet. Her family accepted me and welcomed me in as a daughter and a sister, which made things easy for us to create a workable, friendly mom/stepmom relationship. (The picture to the left was taken by her.)

This isn’t to say it’s been easy. We’ve disagreed on things and she’s leaned on my husband for things that have made my eyes cross!

The double-edged sword I walk on as the stepmom is doing or not doing. Hosting the baby shower for my step-daughter was fairly nerve wracking because I didn’t want to step on the mom’s toes. In my eyes, this was a MOM thing and there I was…doing the mom thing. That said, when we talked about this, she told me that she appreciated how I took her feelings into consideration, but this is what her daughter wanted, and she was OK with it.

Was your husband ever threatened by the idea of you two getting along?

No, it makes for good comic material for him. For example, when Rick left for his two weeks' annual Army training, his ex-wife and I went shopping together for our soon to be grand-daughter. What was supposed to be a shopping trip for the two of us, turned into a family event: her mom, sister, sister-in-law and both my step-daughters also ended up going! On the flip side, my EX-husband has no desire for his wife and I to ever meet…but one day, we will.

What was the kid's reaction?

Sometimes the kids think it’s weird, but they also know how great it is that we do get along because it is to their benefit. As far as the kids are concerned, they have a mom and a bonus mom and that’s their normal. You're a breast cancer survivor. Did your diagnosis and healing process have an impact on the way you are today as a mom and step-mom?

Breast cancer taught me that no one was going to take better care of me than me. No one was going to love me more than the love I had for myself. Breast cancer taught me that self-care was the best gift I could give myself. This transformation didn’t happen overnight and as I went through the process, my own girls were really put out. I stopped doing for them what they could do for themselves and caught a lot of grief. They called me “selfish” and told me I lived in “Peggy Land” during what I like to call their “mean-ager” stage....It took a lot of courage to stay the course. The day I married Rick, my oldest daughter spoke after the best man. It was impromptu and she spoke from her heart. She told a crowd of 110 people that she understood what I did and why I did it. She told everyone that she was blessed to have a genuinely happy mom and that because I created my own happiness through taking such good care of myself, she and her sister were also happier. And then she said something really mushy about me and Rick and seeing how two people who were whole and happy magnified happiness or something like that… and she had me crying like a baby.

What hidden gifts do you think the experience held for you?

It really changed my perspective on life. I had an illness that takes the lives of 40,000 women a year. I had to own my life, fight for my life, and grow my life. I know in my soul that I am supposed to teach other to do the same.

And lastly, if you could be a fairy godmother for a day and grant stepmoms and moms a single wish, what would it be? For each of them separately? For them together?

The single wish – put down your swords and stop the emotional bloodshed.For moms, I’d wish them a day of being able to let go. To let their kids enjoy and love their dad and step mom. To realize that kids can love two moms, but the one that gave them life will always get top billing.

For stepmoms, I’d wish them a day of self-confidence! To accept their reality so they can move forward and love and grow their blended family.

For moms and stepmoms together – this isn’t a battle. When you can put the best interest of the child first (no matter how old they are), everyone wins. Go out for coffee…say thank you…show appreciation for each other and the roles each of you have in the kids’ lives.

Thanks, Peggy!

Thanks for having me!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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