Thursday, April 6, 2017

When I Realized I Do Too Much

There is a dark little step-parenting secret that makes society's natural shaming of the role so offensive. Most steps feel inadequate. Most steps feel like they have to do MORE than they would if they were a birth parent to forge a parental bond with kids.

In my experience there are two kinds of steps, with no real huge population of middle ground. They can be summed up as "Yours are Yours and Mine are Mine" and "Treat All the Kids in Your Family as if They Were Your Own". I think the roles are self explanatory. I have been given unsolicited advice from column A multiple times. And it ranges from everything like "they aren't your kids so why do you even care?" to "that is NOT your place" to "your life will be easier if you just let him deal with them". I find that this isn't conducive for a loving relationship. I am not talking about the relationship between parent and child, but in a loving romantic relationship between me and my fiance.

I will be frank here. I am not afraid to state the fact that I am so in love with my fiance that it feels like something out of a book (sometimes a fairy tale, sometimes a seedy romance novel, sometimes a sweet novella of sonnets).  We are deeply in love and that is simply not as common as social media makes us believe. People settle. People settle and that is okay. However, I think you have to identify where your relationship falls on the scaled of I-Still-Get-Butterflies to This-Just-Makes-Sense. If you are in a complacent relationship (and are happy) than it might not work for your new mate to treat your kids as if they were there own or for you to do so if you are the step. I find that most of those column A people, who told me how I should parent and that I don't really count fall into one of two sub-categories: either they can't accept the step parent in their child's life and have issues about it OR they are in a Just-Makes-Sense relationship. Neither of which applies to me.

I treat my stepkids as if they were my own because in 6 months when I marry their dad they WILL BE! Yes, naysayers, they are my kids too. I do not know where the world has gotten all this insecurity from but I am not going anywhere. Not only am I not going anywhere but I am excited about being their stepmom AND about the prospect of making our family bigger! This is exciting to all of us!

Don't get me wrong I still randomly worry about ridiculous far off things like: when my stepson gets married will he have a special dance with me too? when my stepdaughters have babies will they want me there like my sister wanted my mom there? I can't help any of that! Its random and weird but just as birth parents are insecure about sharing parenting, SO AM I! And I am the one who the world thinks isn't good enough, so imagine that uphill climb! I never undermine the kids birth mother, I give them advice to help improve their relationship with her! I am not trying to impede but I am a special part of their lives so undermining our relationship is equally fucked up and hurts them.

I've metioned before that my relationship with their birth mother (I've decided to use the letters BM to reference her for the rest of this piece-- pun intended)  is rickety at best. It's like walking one of those wooden bridges in adventure movies. You know, the rope ones a la Indiana Jones where there is a mighty chasm below and the planks are rotted? I can sometimes take two steps forward and I'm confident I'm gonna make it to the other side but then on the next step my left leg goes through the plank and I'm holding on to dried out old rope railings with all my might and will power.

I work hard to come up with fun things to do with the kids, research and plan, then a few days or weeks or months later BM just decides to take them to do the exact same thing only tells the littlest over and over how "Isn't this the best ride you've ever been on?" "Isn't this the biggest zoo you've ever been to?" "Isn't this the most fun you've ever had at a beach?" So that, of course, when she returns to our house she tells us what BM taught her to say verbatim. Ouch. It hurts even when I know it's coming. BM is lazy and has swooped in and stolen so many of our and my ideas that the kids actually feel guilty about it and the littlest has test high risk for anxiety at her house only.

I quickly get past the juvenile shit with her. And I step forward hoping the next plank will be stronger. The sad truth is she is only happy when she has a boyfriend. She treats the kids better and attempts to co-parent. I can't understand this but don't understand her much at all so I don't dote on it. We just try to get shit done as co-parents while she is in her happy place. Now that the kids are older the realize this stuff. That BM only ordered from a fundraiser because her current boyfriend did. She only let Nana's cat out of the bathroom (long story) because boyfriend suggested it. That she only decided to take them to do certain things because of boyfriend. They also notice that she does things to SAY she did them. An hour in the AMNH or the Met (which is almost a 3 hour drive from her house) or a staged candid picture on the beach. And despite all that fodder how do I react? Do I take it as an open invite to gain an edge up on her? Nope! I tell the kids: stop worrying about mom's motivation! Have fun! Have the BEST time!

Her insecurities don't cease and I can't fix that. But I have realized something important: I CAN fix my own insecurities and my reactions to hers. I reached a tipping point where I realized that I simply do too much. I can't fix her through them. And I can't go so far above and beyond that their expectation of me is nonstop perfection.

My epiphany, much like the epiphany I had that writing these experiences in a blog for other people to read and commiserate with, came with gross tears and pain. On a Wednesday, I got a flu shot and a pneumonia shot in the same day, in the same arm. This was not a really great idea as I found on the internet later. I had severe adverse reactions to this combo and I felt worse than I did when I had had pneumonia. I was afraid I was actually possibly going to die. I told my fiance to check me for breathing before he fell asleep. I tried to go to work and failed. I could barely move. The arm I'd had the shots in was super swollen. It was a disaster. I was out of work for two days.

The next night was my oldest stepdaughter's first formal dance at school. We had picked out the perfect yellow dress. She had accessorized with stuff from both of our houses. I had taught her how to do her makeup and we had picked out a hairstyle that I promised to do for her the next day. Only now, here I was with a dress that needed to be altered with no sign of my symptoms waning and no time to help her. I altered her dress anyway. I had to move the straps in the back to sew up a keyhole that made the dress too adult and take it in. I was in severe pain.

I cried the entire time I altered that dress. I soaked the dress with tears. My vision was blurred and I kept stabbing myself with the needle. I cried so much but I felt like I HAD to do this for her. Did I mention I also did this in complete darkness? My light sensitivity was made so much worse that every time lights were on I would get a horrible migraine-like headache.

When she got ready for the dance, from bed (still in the dark) I did her hair. This time I had to cry silently because I did not want her to feel bad. When she went into the bathroom and checked herself out she said "Oh my god, it looks perfect! Thank you so much!" I told her she looked like Belle from Beauty & the Beast because we had done a half-up bun in her mousy brown hair and her dress was carnation yellow. I told her she looked like a princess and she waltzed out with her Dad. I fell asleep the moment she left but when she came back I woke up to hear all about her night.

The next day, finally feeling a little better, I recounted the whole saga to my best friends in our group chat. It dawned on me then that my behavior was mildly absurd. Why didn't I call one of them to come help me and her? Why didn't I ask my mom or sister? Why did I feel like I had to go through excruciating physical pain in order to complete a task that someone else could have done? Why did I refuse to fail?

Short answer: Because I feel like, as a Stepmom, there is no in between. There is only too much or not enough.

Long answer: See every other post on this blog. I am working on it.

1 comment

  1. I once dated a man who had a child and being the step mom is very hard to do. I now am married to a man and we have our own child. I felt what you were going through reading this. Thanks for sharing.
    Julie *


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