I could hear Anne laughing, and I hurried to her office to see what was so funny. But, of course, Anne was on the phone, and I had to wait to hear the other side of the conversation.
She was still laughing as she said goodbye to Althea, signing off with “Remember what Suzette Haden Elgin wrote in The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense;
“If you behave like a doormat, expect to be stepped on and don’t complain about it.”
As she put down the phone and focused on me, Anne asked if I wanted to know what that was about. I barely had time to nod when she launched in ...
“Well, that was my friend Althea. She is a stepmother of two teenage girls, and I can so relate to the challenge she is having.
“Evidently, Estelle is about to graduate middle school, and Althea promised to buy her a new dress for the ceremony. Of course, Althea was happy to share the occasion, and yesterday, the two of them set off to the mall to shop for a graduation dress.
“Estelle chatted away about the dress she hoped to find all the way as they drove to the mall, but what happened next took Althea entirely by surprise.
“I don’t want you to walk with me Althea. Could you just follow a ways behind?"
“Taken aback, Althea responded, “Why would I do that?” And, would you believe that Estelle told her,
“I don’t want my friends to see us – they will laugh at me for going to the mall with my stepmother.”
“Poor Althea, she did walk behind and then met up with Estelle at Forever 21 to buy the dress. She’s not happy; she got walked on (like a doormat), so she called me to complain.
“I told her I had the same experience with my stepdaughter, but I was not about to be a doormat. I responded gently with,
“No! I will not walk behind you!” and I turned back to the car.”
“There was no way I was going to slink along behind my stepdaughter so she could pretend she didn’t know me. Especially not when we were shopping for her.
“Well, I guess she realized that I would not be walking behind her, and I would not be buying her grad dress either. She stood for a moment and then came running after me to apologize, to plead with me to forgive her and promise never to do that again.
“When I told Althea about my experience, she laughed and said she wished she had stood up to Estelle. She will next time, and there will surely be a next time because Althea allowed her to be disrespectful.
“Remember, when we allow people to treat us badly, we teach them how to treat us in future.”
“So why were you laughing?” I asked.
“I was remembering the look on my stepdaughter’s face as she realized what it would cost her if she insisted that I walk behind her.
“I know her apology was self-interested, but she never did anything like that again!”
Wow. Do other stepmothers have these situations? How do you deal with it?