My Adored Stepson sent me a text and called me today to wish me happy Mothers Day.
I survived 40 years without giving Mother’s Day a second thought (other than to thank my own mother), so I’m still a little surprised — and pleased — when I’m thought of on Mother’s Day.
Best gift of all: My 18-year-old stepson, after living the past three years with his mother in Minnesota, is graduating this week and spending the summer with his father and me before he goes off to college.
Some mothers of teenagers, let alone nonbiological mothers, might be appalled by this turn of events, but I’m delighted. My Adored Stepson inherited many of the characteristics I like in my Beloved, so I enjoy his company and am considering time with him this summer to be a gift.
But stepping into the role of stepmother hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, it has been … well … how do I say this … bang-my-head-against-a-wall, heartbreakingly difficult. Days like today, when I get to engage my stepson in a Mother’s Day conversation about his last day of work, tomorrow’s business class exam and ethics of $3 T-shirts made in Bangladesh make all those other, less satisfying moments worth it.
In honor of Mother’s Day and the season finale of the 26th season of “Survivor Caramoan: Fans vs. Favorites,” here’s a list of ways being a successful stepmother is like winning “Survivor”:
1. Outwit, outplay, outlast. If you can’t outwit and outplay a 13-year-old, you’ll never outlast one.
2. Do not be the leader. Leaders get voted out of “Survivor,” and bossy stepmothers are unlikable all the way around. I learned early on that I had no role as disciplinarian, and thank goodness, my Beloved was up to the task.
3. Don’t be a follower either. Children — biological or step — learn how to push their parents’ buttons. If you let them get to you, they win.
4. Be nice but don’t be too young, too pretty or too stupid. Having to compete for your spouse’s attention helps no one. Be yourself. Be sincere. Help with homework. Care.
5. Keep your emotions in check. Dawn’s crying jags on this season’s “Survivor” are a little too much. Yes, the actions of my stepchildren have made me cry. Crying is good sometimes. But not on camera or under the hot lights.
6. Being a good cook helps. If you can’t be a good cook, tend the fire. My tastes and my stepson’s tastes do not jive. Thankfully, my Beloved is a good cook. And I clean up after him well.
7. Lighten up. On “Survivor,” lunatics get voted out but people like to keep funnymen around. In the end, the comedians are often the “fan favorites.” In my step-dynamic, Caswell tells the jokes and I laugh at them. In the words of Martha Stewart, this is a very good thing.
8. Avoid lying. Blindsides make for good tribal councils, but blindsided contestants tend to hold grudges when it comes time for the final vote. That goes double for stepchildren.
9. Win immunity challenges at any cost! There have been a lot of challenges in this season’s survivor requiring contestants to stand, balance, hold on or hold their breath the longest (I found that challenge involving the metal grate and the rising tide really uncomfortable to watch, but Brenda didn’t panic and ultimately won). Similarly, sometimes the best tactic for a stepmother is hold on longer than she ever thought she could.
10. Don’t monopolize the challenges either. If you’re seen as huge threat, you’ll be voted off. Stepchildren don’t like threats to their security either.
Enjoy the “Survivor” finale tonight! And happy (step)Mother’s Day!