• Cheryl Chenault-Shumake

The Step-Mom Bug-out Bag



August 14th, 2003 I was suffering in the dark. How can I recall that specific date? Many of us living in East Coast and Mid-West, America remember the day the lights went out. A software bug caused a glitch in a fail-safe which, in turn, caused a needed redistribution of power load to be missed. At 4:10 PM, August 14, 2003, 55 Million people in the US and Canada lost power.


Most of us had our power back within 3 days but quite a few remained without power for 2 weeks. What I remember about that hot summer day is how quickly the store shelves were cleaned out. And how quickly normally polite and reasonable people lost their ever-loving minds!



Photo byJoão SilasonUnsplash

When our power was restored, we began hearing report after report of people rioting over jugs of water, mothers hitting other mothers over the head to keep those greedy goobers from grabbing the last of baby food, diapers, and formula. We were in full-on Zombie Apocalypse mode.


In the aftermath of the East Coast Blackout we realized how poorly prepared we were in the event of a catastrophe. And we got scared. The Disaster Preparedness industry went through a huge boom in large part due to many of us, for the first time, outfitting our homes with emergency items, including what we would come to know as a bug-out bag.



A bug-out bag is a portable kit that contains the items one would require to survive for 72 hours or longer when evacuating from a disaster. The focus is on evacuation, rather than long-term survival. In other words, in the event you need to retreat from a dangerous situation, this is the bag you grab when you can grab nothing else.


Let’s get real Sisters, as a stepmom, your emotions are often on overload. We feel a deep obligation to be a steady rock for our families yet, while everyone is drawing on our resilience, calamity is drawing near us. We live on the edge of emotional blackout and if there is not a redistribution of pressure, implosion is imminent.


Tell the truth. Right now, at this moment, can you afford one more difficult interaction? One more decision made without your input? One more encounter with ingratitude, dismissal, rolling-eyes, or mocking? One more conversation with a husband who is resentful because he feels like you’re pressuring him? If disregarded, all of these minor incidents will culminate in an emotional crash.

If not now, at some point you will need to retreat, evacuate, relieve the pressure. Not for a long time. Just long enough to ride out the blackout. But a retreat will only serve you if you have exactly what you need to care for yourself. For that, you need a stepmom bug-out bag.


What’s that, you ask? A metaphorical goody-bag filled with pre-planned, readily accessible, reliable “stuff” to help you survive when dealing with dangerous emotions so you can return to your family intact. It’s your list of go to persons, places, or things, which feed your soul, releases the tension, restores your mental equilibrium and emotional well-being. If you don’t know what those are for you, don’t worry. I’ve listed my bug-out bag essentials below to help you create your own:


A Bold, Truth-Telling Friend:

Thank God for friends who love me enough to not placate me. From them, I get only so long to wallow and complain. When there’s a break in my ranting, they lead me back to truth. I get heard and then I get to hear what I need to hear. Every stepmom needs at least one friend who will speak the truth, whether we like it or not, so we do not make permanent decisions while dealing with temporary emotions.

A Happy Place:

My happy place happens to be by the water. Give me water. Any body of water. I have cried, prayed, thought, talked, relaxed, and released by the water. It’s the place where I feel comforted, centered, and small, in a good way. Where’s yours? Go there. As often as you can.

A Life – Giving Hobby:

I needed a mental break after a rough stepmom day. Without much thought or intention, I grabbed my camera, lenses, and took myself to a park. After fooling around for a few hours photographing dogs, kites, people, and flowers, I remembered how much I actually like taking pictures. My trek began as an escape and ended with joy. Discover or re-discover a hobby that lets you get away.

A Therapist:

Find yourself a good therapist and keep his/her phone number in your contact list. Even after completing therapy you may find yourself needing an emotional tune-up. You’ll thank me later.

Something Bigger Than Your Life:

As horrible as being treated like an also-ran can be, there is someone who is experiencing worse. This is not to diminish the emotional upheaval we can experience as stepmoms. However, serving those who are without homes, suffering food insecurity, or those who are recently rescued from sex trafficking, keeps things in perspective for me, and infuses my heart with gratitude despite the occasional dust-ups.


A Cheerleader:

As much as you need a truth-telling friend, you need the friend who will support, defend, and heap applause upon you. You need the person who will advocate for you when your thoughts betray you with remorse and regret. She’s the woman who will remind you of all the times you got it right when you’re in despair about the one time you got it wrong.

A Song to Dance to:

Dancing is a great way to get and stay fit and it helps you feel better, think better, and reduces stress and depression. Find a song which always put you in the mood for dancing. All I need to hear is the opening rift for Make You Sweat. By the end of the stanza, “Everybody dance now...” I’m on my feet. Better yet, take a dance class and get a consistent dose of those mood-enhancing endorphins.

$50 Emergency Cash:

Stash $50 in your wallet for an emergency retail therapy dash. Use for it that and only that. Shop. Enough said.

A Broken Measuring Stick:

This is my favorite tool in my bug-out bag. My most anxiety inducing moments as a stepmom come from comparing myself, to anyone who, from the outside looking in, seems to have it easier than I do. In those moments, my broken measuring stick reminds me there is no competition. It is my visual clue to stop comparing myself to other people, whether to my benefit or theirs.

These people, items, and activities have helped me stay sane on this journey, especially in the moments when I’m depleted emotionally and on the threshold of a full-on melt-down. I hope this list will encourage you to create your own bug-bag. It’s time to handle your heart and life with care, please and thank you. You’re worth the effort.

BONUS ESSENTIALS

Of course, I just had to bless your life with a couple more items for your bug-out bag. Here are two more:

A Bridge:

Look, we can’t alter the past. We can’t control the future. Print a picture of a bridge and carry it in your wallet. Use it to prod yourself to continue getting over what can’t be changed.

A Straw:

We are mixed-up people living with and loving other mixed-up people, creating mixed-up families. And I’m talking about our family of origin. Add to that mix, exes, children, steps, in-laws, out-laws, and on-the-run-from-the-laws and you have an entertaining brand of interesting. There are a lot of dynamics which are inherent to all of what we have going on. It’s indigenous to living in a family. Carry a straw in your purse to remind yourself, sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up!

To your step-mothering success!

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