A debut memoir offers a poignant meditation on the joys and challenges of being a stepmother.
When Lile met her future husband, she was a lobbyist for a nurses’ association and he was the state representative from the 39th district of Snohomish County in Washington. Their romance started haltingly, but once Lile finally agreed to go out with Art, it quickly blossomed into something of real substance. There were hurdles, however: Art was still married to his wife, Vicki, though the two were separated, and he had two children from that relationship. Still, Lile and Art pressed on and decided to wed, though Vicki, sometimes resentfully, made the divorce proceedings arduous. Those inconveniences portended the kinds of problems Lile would recurrently encounter, the ineluctable pitfalls attached to the “blended family.” She moved into a house Art built with his ex-wife. Because Lile was unemployed, she was immediately thrust into the daily duties of stepmotherhood, shepherding Art’s kids—now hers too—about town in her car. The author experienced a short grace period characterized by polite awkwardness, but that eventually gave way to emotional conflict and an identity crisis. It was not immediately clear what role she played on Christmas or if she should be recognized on Mother’s Day. A community unfamiliar with Lile all but shunned her; Vicki could be territorial and curt. Lile and Art eventually had a child of their own, further complicating the household dynamic. And when Art’s two kids from his first marriage reached adolescence, their natural rebelliousness further challenged Lile’s goal of domestic harmony. The author sensitively and candidly discusses emotionally wrenching topics with a lighthearted touch. She quickly discovered that being a stepmother was both a dauntingly difficult and unsung role: “There is no ceremony for stepparents. No stepmom shower. No waiting for the official papers as you would for an adoption. No party balloons.” It’s impressive how generous she is recounting her struggles—she never surrenders herself to bitter recrimination or uses her remembrance to settle old scores. And Lile is refreshingly self-critical, openhandedly anatomizing her own foibles. This is a genuine love story that thoughtfully considers all the ways real-world obstacles conspire against a simple romance.
A beautiful examination of a family and the sometimes-fragile ligatures that bind its members.