Monday, June 7, 2010

Sagas of a Stepmother: Book Review of 'No One’s the Bitch'

If you are a stepmother, or if you are a mother whose child has a stepmother, then this book was written for you! Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine are a mother-stepmother pair and the authors of this wonderful guide on how to build a better relationship between mothers and stepmothers.

No One’s the Bitch is a well-written guide that teaches woman about forming a better relationship with the ‘other woman’ in their life. The book starts out where most mother-stepmother pairs start out – lost and confused – and guides them through the grueling task of building an amicable relationship with one another. Jennifer and Carol’s book provides a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, approach for navigating through the murky waters of the mother-stepmother co-parenting relationship.

In my opinion, one of the best aspects of this book is its ability to identify and normalize many of the taboo feelings women experience as they struggle to form an extended family unit for the best interest of everyone involved. The feelings involved in forming a “blended family” (for lack of a better word) are complex and, at times, overwhelming. It is difficult for a stepmother to decipher how much, or how little, emotional investment to place in her stepchildren. It is also difficult for mothers to decipher how much, or how little, say-so is appropriate for a stepmother to have when it comes to her stepchildren.

Every family is different, and each woman will have to determine the answers to these questions in respect to themselves, their husbands (or ex-husbands), their stepchildren, and the ‘other woman’ in their lives. At one extreme, some stepmothers may play a very active role in parenting their stepchildren. At the other extreme, some stepmothers have no interest in parenting their stepchildren and consider that the mother and father’s role.

While No One’s the Bitch is a useful book for anyone who is a stepmother, or whose children have a stepmother; it will be most helpful to woman who will regularly be in situations where they must interact with ‘the other woman’. It offers a ten-step guide aimed at helping woman through the long and difficult transition that occurs when a divorced man with children remarries.

The first couple of chapters in the book focus on self-reflection. Women are challenged to take an inventory of what their current mother-stepmother relationship is like and how that affects their day to day life and stress levels. They are also challenged to look within themselves to identify their own “crap” that contributes to the nature of the current relationship.

Next the book guides women to look towards the future and imagine how their lives (and stress levels) would change if they were to have a cordial relationship with the ‘other woman’ – not to mention how this would positively benefit the children involved. Unfortunately, children are often the battleground in which such mother-stepmother battles rage.

The authors go on to explain how to take action and begin to reach out to the ‘other woman’ and eventually form a collaboration of parenting efforts. Being accountable for one’s own actions and committing to be better at communication are both positive steps in this direction. Finally, since we all know that change does not happen overnight, there are two chapters devoted to regrouping and strengthening the fragile mother-stepmother relationship while it is in its early stages. The book also reminds us to celebrate and look back to see how far we have come in building a positive, healthy relationship where there was once only hatred and chaos.

Another thing I loved about this book was how the authors wove in sections on how the remarried man with children may be feeling about the newfound relationship between his wife and his ex. The book touches on how the man can be instrumental in forming a collaborative parenting team, or how the man may need some coaching from the two women after they begin to work things out.

While it may not always be possible for stepmothers and mothers to get along, when it is possible the kids will benefit immensely. The ‘loyalty binds’ often experienced by children of divorced parents, will lessen. The transition between households will go more smoothly. And most importantly, children will feel a more cohesive sense of self when all the adults in their lives team up to form a solid parenting unit.

I have been lucky, and blessed, with a great husband and stepson, as well as my own wonderful little man. The last two and a half years, that we have spent forming a family, have had their ups and downs. Building a relationship with my stepson’s mother has been challenging as well as rewarding. There are still many, many wrinkles which may never get fully ironed out, but I have made a commitment to myself to be the best stepmother I can be – and, to me, that means forming an amicable relationship with my husband’s ex-wife. As I like to say, we are learning to be one big, modern family.

Stepmother relationships are one of the topics I am most passionate about. Please feel free to post any questions, comments, or suggestions for future articles on the topic. Below I have provided some links to additional resources about stepfamilies.


Anonymous said...

There are situations where the title or claim, No One's the Bitch, isn't so.

I'm a step-mom (also have my own children).

In time perhaps mothers will begin to understand that their willingness to get along with the father/step-mom (pretend at least) and give their children permission to love each household's members freely, is the best thing they can give their child. It was bad enough the family unit was torn apart, but to lay a burden of guilt on children for things they cannot control and had nothing to do with, is not going to benefit them.
I see more stories of women holding onto anger from their divorce than men. Or at least acting out on it by brainwashing their children against their father's and his new spouse. (P.A.S.)

But for now, while people like you continue to teach and reach out to stepfamilies, either people will begin to learn how to work together in this situation. Even better our kids will begin to understand that divorce is not the answer to our unhappiness and they can stop the cycle of divorce!

Unless you're being abused in some way, hopping from one relationship to the next just creates more problems. A different set of problems.

I would love to counsel step-families but more than that, I would love to counsel people who get married so that they learn it's always better to stay married to the same person you had children with.

We're creating a generation of children who are lost, and angry.

New Breed Mama said...

Dear Anonymous,

I couldn't have put it better myself!


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