I Am Woman, Hear Me Write

Ashley Brown: As stepmom, I know the joys of blended family

One afternoon in December, the week after our big fundraiser, I was in need of a break from work. As I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, an article caught my attention: An Open Letter to my Daughter's Stepmom. As a stepmother myself, I thought I'd take a look.

It turned out to be a beautiful article, and it made me reflect on my family. The second sentence of this article stated: "you were never part of my plan." I think it's fair to say as I was growing up imagining my future, being a stepmother wasn't necessarily in the picture. I would also venture to bet I was never part of my husband's first wife's plan, either.

But that is the thing with planning: It doesn't always work out the way you thought it would -- and, in my case, it worked out better than I could have imagined!

I am stepmother to two adult daughters. When my husband and I started dating, one daughter was a young professional and the other still in college. I was anxious to meet them and afraid of their judgment -- girls can be tough, especially on other women.

I had nothing to worry about; they were smart, open, fun and welcoming.

A year after meeting the girls, I met my husband's ex-wife, Marla. How was this going to play out? Would we have anything in common? Would there be competition? Jealousy? There was none of that, and we actually had a lot in common -- most importantly, a family we loved.

Over the next several years, we worked on creating the rhythm of our family. Through college graduations and holidays together, we got to know and respect one another. I have to give Marla credit for setting the stage for a successful blended family. I was coming into the lives of her daughters and she could have made it difficult, but she didn't. She was open, friendly and, most importantly, secure in herself and her place as their mother. We were not in competition with one another; we both wanted what was best for everyone.

When Jim and I decided to get married, we didn't want a big wedding; we wanted family and close friends. I had the conversation with Marla about our wedding. I didn't want her to be uncomfortable, but I couldn't imagine not invit

ing her and Keith (her now husband).

They ended up coming and I think she thoroughly enjoyed her role as the ex-wife. There is something a little delicious about introducing yourself as the groom's ex-wife during small talk at dinner!

I want to share my story about our thoroughly modern family because, in today's world, where the divorce rate still hovers around 50 percent, many people are dealing with blending families. There are some horror stories full of drama, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Divorce is painful and no one enters a marriage with the intention of divorce, but sometimes that is the unfortunate reality. The positive news is that if divorce is something you are dealing with, you can move on with your life and create a new path for yourself and your family.

The most important thing we need in dealing with the unexpected is a strong sense of self. The state of our self-esteem makes a world of difference in how we see the world and react to people and things happening in our lives. It is too easy to think the worst of people or situations, but oftentimes we are setting the stage for failure.

During a staff training last year, our facilitator said something that truly resonated with all of us: Don't make up the story, listen to the facts and ask questions. How many times do we make up in our own mind someone else's story? More often than not what we make up in our mind is MUCH worse than the reality.

When you find yourself spiraling in a sea of insecurity, stop and ask yourself, what is really going on? What part of this is in my control? Does this deserve the benefit of the doubt? The best thing you can do is focus on having good information, integrity and good intentions. If you are making choices and decisions with those factors at heart, that is the best you can do.

When I was meeting my stepdaughters and their mom years ago, it would have been so easy for any one of us to be petty, or overly sensitive. But we had open minds and were generous with benefit of the doubt. We were also secure in ourselves and our places with each other.

The result? I am the bonus mama (the girls' term of endearment for me) to two beautiful, smart women, and Nana to the cutest babies every! I have a friend and ally in Marla, and all of us together are a happy, noisy, messy, loving blended family.

Ashley Brown, executive director of the Women's Resource Center of Manatee, can be reached at 941-747-6797.

COMING NEXT SUNDAY: Maria V. Zavala, president of Latinas of the Women's Resource Center, explores the growing and changing diversity in Manatee County.