DISCLAIMER: I would like to start by saying this is in no way a reflection of actual stepmothers or their hearts. This is purely Disney and fairy-tale stepmothers only. I know several stepmoms
who are amazing, wonderful and inspiring examples of motherhood and womanhood. OK, I feel better now; back to the blog post.
If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know that my children (and a large majority of humanity, myself included) struggle with having grateful hearts. It might be a sign of the times, or it may just be their age, but nothing seems to be enough. Or worse — someone else has something, has done something or is better.
It’s something we as a family are struggling with. I was watching the new “Cinderella” with my daughter when just one of those whining sprees came on and inspiration struck.
“Rowan. Think about Cinderella. She has nothing. She lost her family. She wears rags and sleeps alone in the attic, but do you think she is happy?”
“Yes. She is always singing.”
“Now. Think about the stepmother. She has a big house, lots of fancy clothes, her daughters … she has a lot of stuff. Do you think she is happy?”
“No. She is so mean.”
“That’s right. No matter how much the stepmother has, she is always looking around, comparing what she has to what others have or what she thinks other people have. Always comparing means you can never be happy or think you have enough, because someone else will always be a little bit different or have a little bit more. Now, Cinderella has learned to just be happy where she is. She looks inward to find her happiness, not outward. Can you try and have a Cinderella heart right now and not a stepmother heart?”
Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t; it’s hard being 5. But it gave me a moment’s pause as well. In the era of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and numerous other social media apps I am not aware of, it is very, very hard to look inward and not outward to find our happiness. There is always the temptation to look at someone’s photo or read their update and think, “Oh, I should be doing/looking/saying/thinking that, too.” It is very easy to always come up a little short.
In that shortness, I can find a lot of shame. Shame that I am not being the right kind of mom because this Facebook article says I should not being saying “no” to my kids. Shame that I don’t look the right way because such-and-such celebrity just had her fourth kid and looks amazing in that bikini. Shame that I am not being the best wife, because a friend just posted on Instagram a four-paragraph essay on why her husband is so amazing, and I didn’t. Shame that I am not being the best that I can be, because just look around you: Everyone is doing it so much better.
In my head, I know it’s not true. I, better than anyone, know the outtake photos are the ones that tell the real story.
And every day, there is a new social media account that glorifies the messiness that is regular life. The body positivity movement helps us to realize our true worth is not found in our pant size or perfect Instagram filtered photo, and yet sometimes I have that stepmother heart. And for me, that heart leads to shame, loneliness and sadness.
I don’t have an easy answer or fix for this, obviously. Quite frankly, I do to myself what I do to my daughter: I call myself out.
“Kristin. Do you have a Cinderella heart right now, or a stepmother heart?”
“A stepmother heart.”
“Can you try and have a Cinderella heart instead?”
And I do — try, that is. I try to take a step back and look around me. I see my perfectly imperfect kids and marriage, and I am grateful. I think about the progress I have made in my self-love and self-respect, and I am proud. I shut down the internet and try to focus on what is happening in my home and heart, instead of looking out and around at what everyone else is doing.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but at least I’m aware now of what I’m doing. It helps to take some of the power out of the shame if I can say why I’m feeling it. If I can understand where it’s coming from, and I realize that I am the one projecting these comparisons onto myself and not anyone else. For now, that is my and my 5-year-old’s progress — awareness and knowledge. And I’m pretty proud of that.