Big Girls Do Cry: On A (Step)Mother’s Grief

In Advice & Inspiration, Me Time & Self Love by Erica

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.Joseph Campbell

Avery and I started (step)mom: (v) because we saw the need to create a positive community of (step)mothers. We wanted to create a place where (step)mothers could go to feel empowered, supported, and encouraged in their journey – and where they could go to celebrate how kick-ass they really are! But empowerment doesn’t only mean that you are empowered to kick-ass (which, of course, feels amazing!). Empowerment also means that you are empowered to fail, to hurt, to grieve, and to face the pitfalls of (step)mothering head-on. So, in the hope of empowering more of us to face the pitfalls head-on, I’m going to take a moment today to write about grief.

There is no rule book on “How to Become a (Step)Mother.” No Emily Post guide on how to gracefully enter into a partnership with a man or woman who has children. There are countless surprises, situations for which you will be unprepared, and emotions that will completely catch you off guard. For me, one of those emotions is grief.

They say (step)families are born from a loss. I don’t know if I like that, or if I even think it’s true. (Step)families are born from love – from the love between a (step)mother and her partner. It is true that your husband / partner and your (step)children may still be processing the loss of a nuclear “first family.” But YOUR family was born from love, not from that loss. What is less talked about is the loss that a (step)mother feels when she chooses to commit to a partner with children. I knew that there would be challenges when I left my home in Philadelphia to begin, in earnest, a life with my husband and my (step)daughters in Rhode Island. But the profound sense of grief? And the way that grief has resurfaced at unexpected times and in unexpected ways? I mean, WTF, right?! What IS this shit?!

It has taken me almost two years into my life as a (step)mother to realize this, so, I’m going to put this in big capital letters so that you all pay attention: YOUR GRIEF IS PERFECTLY NORMAL. I’m going to say that again, this time in bold: Your grief is perfectly normal. I know, I know. You’re like me, right? You’re sobbing in the bathroom because you’re tying to climb that career ladder, and be a loving (step)mom, and give back to the community, and be the BEST PARTNER EVER, and find time to work out, and do yoga, and pursue your artistic endeavors, and keep the house clean, and go out for girls’ nights, and do it all while looking AMAZING and in heels (always in heels). And ya know, if you’re actually honest with yourself, you’re kinda doing that all pretty damn well. You’re making it work! Some people actually think you have your shit together. (Shhh, don’t let the secret out!) You might sleep when you’re dead, but you’re making it work! [We’ll get to (step)mom burnout in another post.] My point is, by all accounts, you’re a wonderful, successful, lovely human being. You’re amazing, (step)mom, and – as your husband or partner is probably SO fond of telling you – you have so much going for you and so much to be grateful for. So, why the grief?

It’s time to address the elephant in the room, ladies. And husbands and partners, you listen up too, because this is important. When you weren’t looking, (step)mom, your glass slipper was shattered. There isn’t one of us out there, who when we fantasized about meeting and committing to the loves of our lives, also fantasized about: (step)children, blended families, divorce, “appropriate” weddings, child support/alimony, debt, loyalty conflicts, court orders dictating what state you can live in, shared holidays, and, of course, an ex-wife. Call us crazy, but we didn’t fantasize about these things. They weren’t what we wanted. There – I said it. They weren’t what we wanted. And what did we want? Well, leaving out the nuances unique to each individual, I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us wanted to meet the love of our life and be his or her first/only wife or life partner (or, at the very least, not have an ex-partner be a fact of our daily lives). We may have wanted a big wedding. We may have wanted the opportunity to build a future with our partner with no limitations on where, or how, or for what reasons. We may have wanted to give our partner their first child – to experience the newness of parenthood together. We may have wanted some pretty normal ass things.

When you realize – really realize – that the life you had always envisioned is over – that is a real, true, powerful loss. A door has been closed for you. It is a death, of sorts. A death, perhaps, of a worldview that will no longer serve you. A death of a piece of who you are and how you understand the world and your place in it. It was certainly that for me. And that is no small thing, (step)mom. So you grieve. You grieve even before you know that what you are experiencing is grief. You grieve in stages. You grieve at unexpected times and in unexpected places. When I first moved to Rhode Island and became a (step)mom, I grieved for my old house in Philadelphia. I grieved for the life I had built there and that I missed terribly. I grieved for the fact that I had moved away from my family. And once that initial grief had passed, I was, frankly, surprised to discover new sources of grief – grief that I wasn’t there for my (step)daughters’ first words, grief that I would never give my husband the gift of fatherhood, grief over the daily struggles of trying to build a new worldview, a new slipper for myself – but this time, maybe, one less breakable. A titanium slipper. Disney, get on that! Titanium slippers for all!

So, go ahead, (step)mom. Cry your fucking heart out. Grieve. Feel the loss and feel it completely. Feel it when you expect it and feel it when you don’t. Because it is only through feeling the loss, only through facing the grief head-on, only through falling into the pit, time and time again (which I wrote about not long ago), that you can emerge, triumphant – and ever kick-ass – on the other side. And what’s on the other side? It’s when you start to see all of the doors that are opening, instead of the ones that have closed. It’s when you realize that you couldn’t possibly love a person more than you love your partner. It’s when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, and laugh, and say, “OMG, I can’t believe some people STILL think I have my shit together.” It’s when your (step)daughters say “I love you.” It’s when you make it to a yoga class and you pour yourself a glass of champagne after to celebrate. It’s when you go about the business of being wonderful, successful, lovely YOU.

And to the husbands and partners out there – I know that experiencing this grief can be hard on you. I know that you have your own grieving to do. I know that it can be confusing, upsetting, and frustrating. I know that it can make you mad. I know that there are times you just want to shake your partner by the shoulders and shout, “BUT LOOK! LOOK AT ALL THE GOOD THINGS! LOOK AT ALL THE GOOD THINGS!” To you all, I say, we love you. We see the good things. Have patience, be kind, and show compassion. We don’t need you to fix anything. We just need you to be there. To listen. To hold us. To make us laugh. To remind us we’re not crazy. To be our cheerleaders. And we’ll be yours too, when you need us. And then we can both enjoy the awesomeness of the other side – TOGETHER.

It’s YOUR party, you incredible (step)moms you! You can cry if you want to.

Blog Pairing: Death in the Afternoon

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.