Even if we’re all sick of the ugly sweater photos, Facebook does serve a purpose - it brought me this great video. Jada Pinkett-Smith was asked what it was like being a mother and wife. And her answer struck a chord with me.
She articulated beautifully that it’s a paradox. As women, we are trained at birth to put the needs of your kids first. And after you do that, most of us will often think of our spouse next. We put ourselves last. Dead last. We put the value of our own happiness or health last in line. Take a few minutes to watch it – it’s pretty powerful.
This video and this topic was exceptionally relevant to me this week, as I faced the challenges that come along with being a stepmom in the month of December.
Now, I’m not saying that only stepmoms have it bad over the holidays. We’ve all read the articles about trying to balance the family seesaw. Splitting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day between spouse’s parents can be one of the biggest fights of the year.
But there’s an added dimension of complexity if you are a stepparent. There is a whole other family you have to think about. And when you’re dealing with divorced couples – the compromise doesn’t often come easy. So, you’re not only trying to see everyone you need to see, but you’re often stuck in the middle of an endless battle that usually entails vengeance and illogical thinking.
So what do you do?
Well, I think our early training kicks in again, and the stepmoms do what we have done as women all of our lives. We put everyone else first.
With now shorter duration times at each stop due to additional members added to the family tree, we jump into mommy mode and we do what we do best … we manage the process, plan out the events and try like hell to make everyone happy.
We apologize profusely to our own parents (who usually get the short end of the stick) and remind them that our kids have at least four other houses to go to within the next two days.
We try to talk to one member of each household and lay out a schedule so we aren’t causing people to wait on dinner or playing fun, family games.
We typically spend hours planning and wrapping gifts and use smart wrapping tactics to cause less confusion – the red wrapping paper is used for each set of grandparents, blue for step siblings, green for full siblings, silver for stepparents, gold for birth parents and some Christmas bags for cousins and aunts/uncles (often we can’t even remember which are blood or half blood or figure out which ones aren’t really an aunt but call themselves one).
We also have to plan our dishes for each house – what we bring to our parents (often a main dish), our in-laws (an appetizer and a pie), the birthparents (don’t get me started) and all the other stops in between.
We remind our kids not to each too much at each stop – as to not upset the next cook on our route.
During the transitional car rides to each stop, we remind the kids of important details that could help avoid hurt feelings or arguments – “Kids, don’t forget that your stepbrother is heading to college in the summer so ask him about it” and “Remember that your mom’s boyfriend is into astrology so please don’t roll your eyes when he gives you a set of tarot cards again.”
We pass out the gifts, are the ones who take all the gift cards and gift receipts and store them in our purses, we whisper to our daughter and remind her not to announce out loud that she just received the same yoga pants from her grandmother that she did from her cousin.
We hand out school pictures and sports schedules when we remember and try to brag about our kids as much as possible.
We thank everyone profusely and apologize repeatedly as we are try to find all the kids’ coats and shoes and get them loaded in the car so that we are only one hour late for our next appointment.
And we smile. We always smile.
And just when we think we are safe for the night, and it’s time to turn into Santa and eat the cookies, spike the milk and get to present arranging … we hear a sniffle upstairs.
Now it’s time to lie in bed with at least one child (if you are lucky only one has a breakdown a year) and listen as they struggle with all the normal issues that rear their head this time of year for kids who are coming from mixed homes.
“No, just because your mom didn’t hug you as many times as your brother doesn’t mean she loves you less. Do you want to call her one more time?”
“I’m not sure why your stepbrother wasn’t there. I know he misses you.”
“I don’t think your mom was yelling at daddy – they were just excited to see each other.”
“I think your mom’s boyfriend seemed really nice no matter what everyone was saying.”
“Grandma didn’t mean to yell at your stepdad – she was just stressed about all the cooking.”
It’s no wonder that January is the biggest divorce month of the year – after making our way through December, I think many of us simply can’t take anymore. We have nothing left to give. We have no more minutes in the day for anyone else.
The kids, the husband, the in-laws, the birth parents, the birth relatives, and the step relatives have taken every last minute of sanity from our bodies. And there is simply nothing left for us.
I’m sure that’s why the spas and nail salons are filled with parents and stepparents in January – we are trying to regain a piece of ourselves that was lost in December.
We try to take a few minutes to make ourselves feel better.
We try to close our eyes and erase some of the memories from December that caused us pain or sadness – the conversations that were uncomfortable, the arguments that were hurtful or the stressful nights without sleep.
In January, we try to reset and tell ourselves that next December will be different. We aren’t going to kill ourselves to do it all again. We aren’t going to be the ones stuck in the middle of all the madness and we won’t be the only one who cares enough to plan out the schedules and buy all the gifts.
We’re going to ignore all of our childhood training of putting others first and we’re going to actually enjoy our Christmas with our kids.
We’re going to move ourselves to the front of the line – and as Jada Pinkett-Smith said, we’re going to make sure we think about ourselves.
That’s it - I am making a resoultion - I’m going to sit my family down in January and let them know – so there’s no surprises.
I’m going to lay it all out on the line and set some new ground rules for next year - just as soon as I get the kids acclimated back to their school schedules, get the Christmas decorations put away and return all the kid gifts that don’t fit.
I’m going to have this talk with my family as soon as I get my son fitted for his cap and gown for graduation, get his acceptance letter in on time to his college and secure the date for his graduation party. We are going to have a real family pow wow as soon as I get all the Christmas pictures filed away and the scrapbooks made for each kid, get my daughter signed up for driver’s education and get her a batting coach for softball season.
I can’t wait for next year – it will be so different!