Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Step-parenting 101--Redux

So, given how amazing my step-parents are...why is it that I feel so unbelievably lost as a step-mother at times? My performance can be lackluster. My understandings feeble.

What I know is this. I take my role as step-mother very seriously. If one asked me what I am...I would probably say "step-mother" before anything else. Not because I am not "mother," "partner,"daughter," "friend," "ordained minister," or "chaplain," in equal numbers, but because I work hardest in my step-parenting.

The dueling (step)daughters, T. and B. are 14 and 11, repectively. I have been married to their father for over four years now, been a part of their life for over five years. Marriage and family therapists, those in the know, say that it takes a blended family more than seven years to adjust to life together. I know this, and live it mostly delightfully, and sometimes agnonizingly.

I am not the mother of T. and B. I will never be their mother. Their mother is a good person, a commited parent, a devoted mama, and it is never my job to try to compete with her. My job is to step aside in this regard. My job is to support their mother (and father) in their roles. I have no business in the midst of the relationship they have with their mother. I remember how close I was to my own mother, how fiercely loyal, how protective and loving. My role is one of "support staff," I need to wear the dark clothes for the folks on stage, removing and replacing objects...allowing others to shine. I have no business anywhere else.

And yet, I get hooked. I admit it. I get hooked.

I get hooked because I don't know my place. I don't know my role. T. and B. never asked for me to be in their lives. All things considered, they would be much more content if their parents had remained married, if they didn't have a younger (half)brother to contend with. I want to respect this. It is their right. They are still young.

And yet, I get hooked again. I admit it. I get hooked again.

I want them to be happy. And when they aren't I am frustrated. I want them to embrace our family as it is. And when they don't I become judgmental. I want them to understand how hard it is to be a step-mother. And when I realize how naive this is I become grumpy.

Step-parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done.

But the rewards, the rewards are sweet. When Miss T. turns to me when she's worried and asks for my support and then melts into my arms I become weak with gratitude. When Miss B. regards our special television viewing time as sacred space that cannot be shared with others I nearly swoon in love for her.

We navigate new ground all the time. We have no "taken-for-granted" reality. We merely cling to each moment, interpreting and grasping one another as best we can. We're all learning what it means to be a blended family--all five of us.

And sometimes it hurts. But more often it heals. And I hold this truth close.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seven years, huh? I'm 14 months in and struggling so much at times. At the age of 7, Saffy wants her mom and I to be the best of friends. But her mom is immature, has loose morals, and drives me insane. She recently told my in-laws that she was sure I was trying to get pregnant. (I'm not and don't know where she got this from.)

I'm glad to hear you share how hard (step) parenting is. I LOVE being Saffy's stepmom but I just want her to be with us all the time. When I hear that her mom doesn't help her with her homework, doesn't bake cookies with Saffy, and doesn't allow her to climb in bed with her to watch a movie, I want to cry. All the things that are "normal" at our house, never happen at her mom's.

However, Breigh isn't an abusive or neglectful parent. She's just a bit irresponsible and doesn't have any of the same values or morals that James and I share and try to instill in Saffy.

Breigh gets mad that I get involved with Saffy's school activities. But what am I supposed to do when Saffy asks me to come to her class parties, help her with Girl Scouts, or do a special school project? James and I are full-time parents, even though we only have Saffy 50% of the time. I try not to step on Breigh's toes but when she doesn't take care of necessary things, what am I supposed to do? Argh!

If you come up with some magic stepmom powder, I'll pay you anything you ask. Thanks for sharing. I needed this more than you'll ever know.