Being stepmom

Stepmom links

Stepfamily Central: Establishing Clear Boundaries in your Stepfamily – an interview with Jenna Korf about learning to figure for yourself where you need boundaries (everyone’s boundary needs are different) and how to create them.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . plants her feet and stands tall. – It’s amazing how good standing in “Super Woman” posture feels. This is an easy pose. Give it a try!

Crushing Glass: Silence Blended – A mom with mixed feelings for the stepmom (or stepmom figure) who came and then went from her son’s life.

Suburban Turmoil: Facing Off Against the Food Police – This stepmom watched her stepkids develop as eaters over the years and is relaxing a lot more about food with her younger kids. I had a similar experience, so I want to give this entire post a big virtual high five.

Playing World of Warcraft with the Kids

playing world of warcraft-009Following my youngest stepson through the countryside on our way to the big city.


The first time I logged into World of Warcraft, I felt like a newborn. I saw colors and shapes moving in front of me, but my brain couldn’t make sense of them. There was nothing to latch onto.

“You’re facing me,” my oldest stepson told me. “Those are my legs.”

Then it clicked. I was looking through my character’s eyes, and what I saw were knees. We were standing in a snowy clearing. I was three feet tall, and my stepson was the size of an adult.

Gavin and I had picked gnome bodies, so we were both very short, and the kids — as elves and humans — were comparatively huge. They were strong, too. They had months — maybe years — of experience on us, and they had both traveled to where we would first enter the game to protect us while we got our bearings and to show us around.

But first they had to teach me how to walk. I couldn’t figure it out on my own.

When we could finally maneuver and sort of fight anything that might attack us, my youngest stepson took me on a tour of the countryside and the big, underground dwarf city nearby. I kept losing him and he came back for me over and over. I felt like a little kid — impatient, helpless, confused, and safe all at once.

You know how when you watch a movie, after a minute or two, something happens in your brain and you don’t think about watching the movie anymore — you’re so absorbed you feel like you’re in the movie? The same thing happened for me in this game. After a few minutes, I wasn’t just watching my gnome run around on a computer screen — I was in the game, running through snowy forests in leather boots hunting wolves, smiling at Gavin in his gnome body with his green eyes and green hair, or tilting up to look at the kids, trying to keep up with them. I still have memories of things we did together there — swimming, gathering herbs on the side of the road while Gavin called me to hurry up, walking through grassy plains, exploring cities, and fighting off trolls and giant spiders and strange things under water. They feel like real memories, of real places in real, other bodies. Or like dreams — vivid dreams — that we dreamed together.

After the first week or so, I think the kids got a little bored with us. You can make your characters kiss and dance and hug, and Gavin and I kept smooching in the game and looking into each other’s eyes and jumping up and down at the sight of each other. Plus, we traveled slowly and died easily. The kids moved on to quests with their friends in more dangerous territory while Gavin and I stuck together, figuring out things they already knew how to do and exploring places they’d already seen. When we really needed their help, they came back down to walk us through the hard parts.

I met one of the kids’ friends for the first time when the kids were busy on a tricky quest. Instead of coming to bail us out one of them asked — we’ll call him Brian — to help us.

A huge, experienced warrior, he swooped in to protect us while we fought off the raiders we couldn’t handle on our own.  When they were all dead, we thanked him and he swooped off to wherever he had come from. It was like having a superhero drop in.

A week or so later when I picked one of the kids up from school, he pointed to a boy sitting at a table nearby. “Remember that guy who helped you last week? That’s him. Brian.”

“You’re Brian?!?!” I walked over, awestruck.

In my brain he was that big warrior. But at the same time, here he was also a fifth grader. I knew he was one of the kids’ friends, but still I felt… surprised. It was like something out of a fairy tale — like he was under some kind of body morphing spell. He was both things at once, but it almost seemed like the warrior part was more real.

I walked closer to the table where he sat. “It’s nice to meet you,” I said. I felt respectful. “Thank you so much for helping us.”

He encouraged me about what we’d done so far and gave me advice about the kinds of quests Gavin and I should take on next, and how to go about them.

I listened and nodded, trying to remember it all.

And it felt like while I was seeing him as a warrior, he was seeing me — not as a Charlie Brown sort of adult — but as a person who could use his advice and encouragement. 

I looked up to see Brian’s mom, who had come to pick him up, watching from a few feet away. “I was so glad to see it was you guys that Brian was playing with online, and not weird people,” she told me with a sparkle in her eyes.


Here’s the really weird and wonderful thing, though: something shifted between the kids and us for a little while. Like that moment with Brian, I saw them not just as kids, not just as people who I could help and take care of in this world, but as people who helped and took care of me, and who knew more than I did in that other world. I think they saw me a little differently, too. When we came back into this world, the “real” world, we came out fresher and more tender. I came out with more respect for them — not theoretical respect, but respect I felt at my core.

I came out feeling — remembering? — that our sizes and ages and experience levels in this world weren’t really who we were. Who we were was something else. It felt like we were all spirits together — all sparks of self. How tall or how old our bodies were or how much we knew about this particular world felt less important.

It was exhilarating to switch places with the kids. To be small while they were big and to need their help to navigate and function. I think that while we were switching places, maybe they saw us not so much as quasi-alien adults, but as people, too. Just being people together for a little while was bliss. It felt gentle and glow-y and new. It felt good.

When I think of World of Warcraft, I think of meadows and plains and forests and adventures. I think of getting a taste again of what it’s like to be a kid. I think of seeing — really seeing — and being seen by the kids.

And I think of Gavin’s green eyes and shock of green hair, and I think of him smiling and dancing at me.

Please, Thanks and Sorry, Part 2

As I think about it, there are other reasons I don’t push saying please, thanks or sorry.


Sorry is the one I feel strongest about. Saying sorry when I don’t actually feel sorry feels humiliating to me. It feels like submitting — collapsing who I am inside — for the sake of avoiding having something bad done to me. It feels like letting down my defenses for a wave of awfulness to avoid an even worse wave of awfulness that might come if I don’t. It feels like being over-ridden, being wiped out, being not okay fundamentally. Being shameful. Being bad inside.

I never want that for my kid. I don’t want that for myself, either.

It’s one thing to say I’m sorry when I feel sad about someone’s situation, or when I bump into them or step on their toes, or when I see looking back that I hurt them and I didn’t realize it at the time, or I understand the situation differently now and I would definitely do things differently if I could go back in time.

The thing is, I can’t make my little one feel any of those things by telling him to say he’s sorry when he has done something socially unacceptable. I think the straightest route to helping him figure out what is and isn’t okay to do is to gently coach him, to keep him and the kids he is with safe, and to avoid humiliating him at all costs. Humiliation makes me defensive. I think that’s true for my kid, too. When I’m defensive, I’m stuck in my own head. I’m not learning new things. I’m not tuning into the people around me. I’m not feeling like good connection is easy or even possible in that moment.

What I want for my kid is good connection. I want him to be able to see how what he does affects other people, and to be free care about how they feel.


I imagine writing thank you notes for Christmas and birthday gifts together in the future. (I like writing thank you notes, so when I picture doing it together I imagine it being fun.)

But other than that, please and thank you are things I’d rather skip prompting on. He hears me and Gavin talking politely to each other, to him and to other people. He joins in. He knows how to do it. I’ll let him speak for himself.

If the way he’s asking for something is annoying me, I let him know. “Could you please stop screeching? That bugs me.” Or, “You don’t need to yell. You can ask more quietly. I can still hear you.” Generally, that seems to work pretty well so far.


One of the things being a stepmom for so many years has left me with is a sense of how fantastically fast kids grow up. People say it all the time. Now it’s something I feel.

Kids figure things out. They learn what they need to learn to go where they want to go.

I don’t want to spend my little one’s childhood poking and prodding him. I want to enjoy it, to have fun with it, to play in it together. I want us both to bathe in the good connection we already have and to spin it on and on.


Related: Why we don’t tell our little one to say please or thank you or sorry

Playing with bugs

Playing with bugs
Here I am taking a picture of my niece’s pet cutworm. (Photo by Gavin.)

In my family, we grew up fascinated with — and playing with — bugs. My niece and oldest nephew seem to have inherited the Davis love of bugs. (It’s too soon to tell with the youngest nephew.) It didn’t occur to me until I joined the Doughtie clan that bug love might not be a universal childhood trait.

I remember the first time I suggested to my youngest stepson that he turn off the electronics and go in the back yard and play with some bugs. He looked at me with gentle, puzzled concern. There might have even been a little bit of pity in his eyes. It was the sort of look I might get from another adult if I suggested out of the blue that the other adult go in the back yard and find some insects to play with. It was an “Are you sure you’re feeling okay? Is everything going all right for you?” kind of look.

What’s normal?

Check out this confession post and all of the confession comments over at Mormon Mommy Wars. Sometimes in the mom-stepmom world, I think we get super careful about doing a good enough job because we know another woman is going to be seeing and hearing all kinds of intimate details about what we’re doing and that she’s not likely to be a very sympathetic observer. And sometimes, sometimes, I think it’s easy to look down on the other woman when she’s parenting in a way that’s … well … pretty normal, actually. I think the things people are confessing to in the comments to this post are just that: pretty normal. If kids are getting love, there’s such a range of things parents can do or not do and still have the kids turn out okay. That’s my theory anyway.

(And yes, I have a crush on Mormons. I lurk in their blogs. I read their books. I’m an atheist, but Mormon culture hits me where I live. And I’m linking to a “mommy confessions” post on a Mormon mommy blog because Mormons have some of the strongest family values I’ve ever heard of. These are folks who clearly love their families, they’re devoted parents and spouses, and they sacrifice a lot for their families. And they still struggle and compromise and maybe occasionally let a kid eat Cheetos for breakfast. That’s why I think this is such a good comment thread to read when trying to figure out what’s normal in parenting.)

(Originally posted on The DHX.)

The sick bell

The sick bell

When I was little and I got sick, my mom would tuck me into my bed or under blankets on the couch and give me a bell so I could ring for her when I needed her. My mom’s bell had a stained glass handle and lived on the bookcase when everyone was healthy. Mine is this brass apple (and it also lives on one of our bookshelves when we’re all healthy).

A bell is nice for sick people because they don’t have to yell from their beds, and it’s nice for me because I can hear it all through the house. I give it to Gavin and to the kids when they come down with something that keeps them home from work or school, and they half smile like they’re not going to use it because it’s funny to ring a bell for help. Believe me, they don’t abuse it. They always ring it a little shyly. I like coming to see what they need right away, because it’s a way of showing them that I love them. When I was little and miserably sick, it felt comforting and special to know that I could ring a bell for love and attention and Seven-up and Saltines and help rearranging my blankets. I like being able to do the same thing for Gavin and the kids.

Originally posted on The DHX.