When my mom was facing a premature death due to a cancer that was ravaging her body, she told me on one of our drives to her radiation appointments that she had urged my dad to mourn her for a year after she was gone, and then to find another wife. She told me that she was sorry she was so sick, and that they had had a beautiful life together and that he deserved and needed a companion. So, on the one hand, she regretted the pain and suffering that she felt in a way she may have caused (through years of smoking). On the other hand, she so very graciously and generously was giving him permission to honor what they had had, and to start a new chapter.
A couple of years after my mom had passed, my dad met Janet, after a friend urged him to create an eHarmony account. I remember when he created his profile - I think it took about three hours! - and he asked me to read his answers. It was thorough! My dad was a catch - apparently widowers in their early 60s are a hot ticket item in a demographic that tends to be largely female. He communicated and dismissed his share of women who were not intellectually and culturally satisfying to him (apparently “shopping” is a common hobby), and eventually Janet appeared. After a few online messages and phone calls, they met in person (she lived in VA, he in SC). A few months later they were engaged, and a few months after that they married. That was over ten years ago.
I remember during this time, well-meaning friends saying things like, “Susanne, aren’t you upset? Don’t you think this is rather soon for him to be dating/getting married?” Quite honestly, I did not know what they were talking about. Soon after they started dating, Janet flew up on her own to CT just to meet me, my husband and my kids. From the beginning, I sensed and now know that she is kind, authentic, and truly cares about my dad. And she is intimidatingly smart! They have the same obsession for opera, classical music, classical literature and art museums. They both dislike shopping, love to travel, cook, walk on the beach. Janet has taught at various universities including Georgetown and Howard U, and I think this may have been a factor in my dad’s decision to get his Master’s at the age of 69, and embark on a new career in teaching (he is now the head of his school’s language department!).
I realize that my mom paved the way for me to find acceptance, and this was perhaps one of the greatest gifts she could have given me. And my dad. He and my mom had a wonderful, adventurous three decades or so together, raising two children across four countries. And, that part of the journey ended for them, for our family. When my dad met Janet, he started a new journey, that did not take away from his time with my mom. Janet takes good care of my dad and I do not have to worry about him, knowing he is in loving, attentive hands. Sure, there was a transition when his new love distracted him from doting on his daughters and grandchildren, but that was a temporary adjustment and it gave way to a new normal. And they certainly dote on their five grandchildren!
As I was running yesterday and thinking about motherhood, and the often mixed feelings around Mother’s Day depending on where we are as mothers, daughters, wives, and how we are managing our expectations, I was thinking about how this day may feel for stepmoms. I imagine being a stepmom, even when you are entering a family with adult children, the way Janet did, is a scary adventure, with lots of potential for conflict and drama. I am grateful that my dad lucked out/chose well, and that my mom paved the way for acceptance and gratitude. And my hope is that on this Mother’s Day, as I think of my mom with love, sadness, and longing, and I also feel so much gratitude and love for my stepmom, Janet - that if you are a stepmom, or are struggling to accept a stepmom, that you feel love and compassion. In this morning’s yoga class, the teacher pointed out that we most fear external forces, but the truth is that the greatest sources of pain are within us. So, may we all just soften into this messy, brutiful existence, stay present, and accept that we are doing the best we can, right now.
Happy Mother’s Day :)
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.