A mea culpa to stepmoms everywhere

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In these very pages, Smartmom inadvertently insulted her stepmother, MiMa Cat. It was the article about the Buddhist Haggadah. Smartmom neglected to mention that for many of the past 20 years, MiMa Cat has prepared a delicious family Passover feast.

A superlative cook, MiMa Cat cooks up tasty Seder classics like brisket, homemade matzoh ball soup, and noodle kugel.


So it’s understandable that MiMa Cat felt sideswiped by Smartmom’s omission of her in her column.

“You know, you hurt my feelings. I’ve made so many Passovers for all of us,” she told Smartmom a few weeks ago.

The fact is: MiMa Cat is an incredibly huge part of her life, so Smartmom tried not to get defensive. But of course she was. “The article was about the Buddhist Haggadah. It wasn’t about you,” she told her on the verge of hyperventilation.

But that wasn’t the point, and Smartmom knew it. She had, by omitting MiMa Cat, made her feel invisible.

And that’s an awful feeling. And it got Smartmom to thinking about their relationship. They’ve definitely had their ups and downs but together they’ve created new family traditions — special birthday dinners, games of charades, and October weekend’s upstate — that are meaningful and fun to both of them.

Step-parents occupy such a tricky spot. They are required to become part of something that existed before they came along. They’re supposed to blend together like Skippy creamy peanut butter with people they barely know.

Getting close to one’s step-mom can feel like a betrayal of your actual mom. But not getting close to one’s step-mom can feel like a betrayal of your dad.

It’s a lose-lose situation for children of divorce caught in that tug-of-war between their parents. And step-moms have been singled out for particular scorn throughout popular culture (“Cinderella,” anyone?).

MiMa Cat is no wicked stepmother. She’s a beautiful, warm, funny, interesting person who has always been very kind to Smartmom.

Smartmom first met MiMa Cat back in 1980, the year she graduated from college. Her parents separated in 1975, and her father and MiMa Cat were moving into an apartment in Brooklyn Heights.

OK, so it was a little strange for Smartmom (then just Smartdaughter) to meet his father’s girlfriend. But she rose to the occasion with aplomb, and soon Smartmom, Diaper Diva, Groovy Grandpa and MiMa Cat were having weekly dinners and occasional weekends at MiMa Cat’s beach house.

Things soured a bit when Smartmom and Hepcat tied the knot after Smartmom’s mother wouldn’t allow MiMa Cat to come to the wedding. Smartmom was angry and confused.

She wanted to please her mother, but she certainly didn’t want to hurt MiMa Cat. Mostly, though, she didn’t want to be involved in a proxy war between her parents.

It’s something divorced parents do all the time. And Smartmom and MiMa Cat, like many step-moms and stepchildren, pay dearly. It nearly ruined Smartmom’s wedding and her relationship with MiMa Cat.

What’s a girl to do? Someone should write a how-to manual for stepparents and children of divorce or, at the very least, set up a support group.

And that’s exactly what one stepmother — call her Savvy Stepmom — did in Park Slope, creating a safe place where stepparents could commiserate.

Smartmom spoke with Savvy Stepmom, who works as a doula and massage therapist. She moved in with her boyfriend a year ago and they want his 12-year-old daughter spend more time with them in Brooklyn.

Six women and one man came to the first meeting of Brooklyn Step-parents at the Tea Lounge on Union Street. According to Savvy Stepmom, most of the women are pregnant or have their own kids so they are dealing with blended families. A few of the people have step kids with ADD or ADHD and wanted to talk about those special challenges.

And there was a lot of talk about exes.

Everyone seemed to agree that trying to blend families is no walk down Seventh Avenue. In fact, it’s more like a murky swim in the Gowanus.

For Savvy Stepmom, getting to know her stepdaughter hasn’t been easy. “I’m not a parent. I’m a stranger. We’re all forced into this difficult situation that we have to make the best of.”

Savvy Stepmom is giving her stepdaughter a lot of time and space. “I try to put myself in her shoes. While I want her to love me, I don’t blame her for not loving me right away. But it’s hard to be rejected.”

Savvy Stepmom remains hopeful. “One day, she will come around to see that I am a nice person and that I want to be her friend. I would love to be a positive influence in her life.”

But it could be a long haul. Adolescence is a difficult time for children of divorce. They certainly don’t want to be disciplined by their father’s wife.

Savvy Stepmom remembers the hell she went through with her own step-mom when she was a teen.

“Now that I’m about to be a stepmother, I am writing my stepmother a Mother’s Day card to apologize and to tell her that I am now living through a similar situation. ‘Sorry for the attitude.’”

Smartmom’s conversation with Savvy Stepmom made her want to call MiMa Cat up and make a lunch date. They need to have a talk about so many things.

It’s been a long journey, but Smartmom knows that they are finally at the point where they love and trust one another enough to be able to share what they’ve been through and where they’re going.

Louise Crawford, a Park Slope mom, also operates “Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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