Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Payoff (aka A Celebration of No Longer Being the Specter of Doom!)

So many of you are struggling. So many of you can’t feel hope and wonder how and why you ever got yourself into this stepmothering gig. I have had you on my heart and mind since the holidays, possibly the toughest time of year for stepmoms
As I watch my friends, virtual and in person, struggle with their marriages, fight to feel loved and appreciated, only to be wholly misunderstood and beat down… I wish I could help. I wish there was something I could do for you, but I know there isn’t much to be done when your husband refuses to support you any more. You are either biding your time, waiting and watching- or even hiding-, or packing up your stuff, trying to figure out where you will move. Oh how my heart hurts for you.

I am always critical of the fluff many people tell us, that “the kids will 'get' it one day” (as in, understand it all- not the gangster mob version of that statement). A number of social scientists have proven otherwise, that step"kids" continue to blame their stepmom (yes, specifically) for just about anything that went wrong with their upbringing for the rest of their lives. So given that, there’s very little for us to look forward to. I’m sure you have a sliver of hope that your stepkids or husband will understand you tried as hard as you could one day, that your intentions were of the best. That you didn’t have much choice in many of your choices, and that we were not the cause of the children’s pain over their parent’s bad marriage and divorce and the complication of parenting in two households.

So, after a very bad year, I was surprised to realize that I have earned my payoff already. I am satisfied with what I have already received, which comes in the form of my youngest stepdaughter. You may find the same with your youngest, as it seems that they are often the most accepting- or forgiving- of their stepmothers, from what I’ve read and heard from others in general.

My youngest stepdaughter has always been a generally good kid, but as you know all too well, also not mine. No matter what, when the kid is being primarily raised by their mother, you are often reminded of how your stepchild is not yours, by them primarily. (The exception is for the stepmothers who are the primary mothers, where the mother is no longer in their lives physically.) So even if a stepchild is a good kid, you may appreciate them, care for them, and even love them- but it can still be difficult being their pseudo-parent-authority-figure-thingy-person. (If you are a stepmom, you will get this. If you aren’t, you may not get it. I’m not going to delve into explaining it. It just is.)

When I’ve cared for her as if she were my own, which I believe I said in my wedding vows by the way, I’ve been significantly heart broken repeatedly over the years. It’s the way things are as a stepmom, but this is also why many stepmoms stop trying to love. It’s so hard, with no rewards, that you just have to give up at some point to save your sanity. You feel like things are going well, moving along, you have a good relationship with them… And then can get completely burned, embarrassed, and symbolically dumped in the trash or thrown under the bus. There are a lot of different ways that this can happen, so I again will not divulge much further. The most common is the yo-yo-ing of their affections due to sudden manipulation, which I now consider mom-sneak-attacks that blindside you back to square 1.

So, how is it possible that I have received my payoff already? I didn’t expect it this soon, if ever. I hope that this will give you a dash of hope back if you’ve lost it completely, or lost it once again.

I’m seeing the effects of my efforts already. I am seeing my stepdaughter be both of her parent’s daughter- and the offspring of my efforts as well. I am joyous to report that she is doing really well, flourishing in her own way, as a result of our efforts to fight “the power” of control from only one side. I am enjoying her for her, and not seeing her as a partial minion of unpredictable loyalty any longer- which I think was something that can only happen at a certain age for certain kids. For some it will be younger, and for others it will be their teen or adult years. You can’t predict when they will be thinking with their own mind. I had some hope that sooner rather than later would happen, but there was no way of knowing.

I saw this come into fruition earlier this year. I realized about a year ago that my youngest stepdaughter accepted me for who I am. She didn’t have layers or labels on top of me, developed by others. She didn’t add mythical depth to my actions and behaviors. She was not untrusting of me- which came and went over the years- and just knew me. That was so comforting, and the best thing since my husband fell in love with me. To have his own child actually see me as I am, accept me for a human with her own reasons and behaviors per her situation, was extreme validation. Forget your stepkids loving you; this is what you want. It’s very comfortable for your stepkid to “get you.” It makes her very tolerant and forgiving of me, which was already a part of her character but now is consistently applied to me. She doesn’t think that there’s evil lurking under my actions, plans of destruction for everyone she knows and her future, or question my motives for asking her to eat vegetables or clean her room. She is not angry at me for miscellaneous things I don’t know the cause of, and she accepts that I have helped her many many times over the years. And I also know that she would be willing to state that fact, though she will probably not do so to her mom for some time unless it became necessary to her.

I have never read about this minor yet monumental success in any other stepmom arena. Maybe some people already have it with one of their stepkids, but you just think of that one as "easy." Maybe you've always been cool with one of your stepkids, or all, and so you wouldn't notice the difference because they somehow always saw you for you instead of a looming specter of perpetual doom. You are lucky, my friends! Or, you don't see any hope for a happy home or acceptance from any of your stepkids, like I did, as it is so tough during the dark times that you never saw coming when you simply fell in love with a man.

I wish the same for you. I hope that just one of your stepkids, even if you don't remain married to their dad, accepts you for who you are one day. Or, as a secondary wish, that you can see them thrive because of you, whether they recognize your part in it or not. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Step Mom Protectionism

The Protective Instinct is not owned by mothers alone.

Any grandparent knows how protective they are of their grandchild.

Let's not forget Dads, known for, or considered responsible for, the protection of their children. Both parents, both sexes, are expected to be protective of their grandchildren.

You may also find that teachers can be very protective of their students. I'm sure many others that work with kids, mentoring them and helping them grow, and multiple extended family members find are, can be, or find themselves in a protective role.

I have heard so many old myths about stepparents- That they are unable or incapable of parenting. They do not have the natural instinct that a biological parent has. Many parents in a custody battle (or to their friends...) would definitely, easily, and immediately argue that a stepparent lacks all parenting skills and does not care about their child.

Wrong. I believe that stepparents are like parents and have a great deal of protective instinct for their stepchildren. My guess is that an equal amount of stepparents hold that capability as biological parents- as of course, not all biological parents are "good" parents with all those innate instincts.

Stepparents invest their lives, future, money, home, skills, and possibly all of their parenting ability (if they do not have their own kids) into their stepkids. Some may not be fantastic, just like regular, everyday parents, but many are just like me. We have invested a ton into these kids, and when their parents aren't there- We do fly into action to protect them.

Actually, a great point of contention between stepmoms and moms is this exact feeling of protection coming from the stepmom. Many, many stepmoms feel wholly protective of their stepkids, and feel that the mom is not. Whether this is true or not, as it is possibly just different perspectives (...), it is still the case that most stepmoms feel that they do know their stepchild and are quite protective of them given the amount of time they spend with them and on them. I know for a fact that I have felt it repeatedly over the years and want to step in and protect them, do something, change their situation, and be a parent. I absolutely have a natural, caring, parenting instinct to care for them, protect them, and take action on their behalf. My husband can also vouch for this, as I am often more likely to want to fly to their aid in situations that are not specifically about physical safety.

So often moms argue that their child is not safe with the stepmom. The evil, evil, unsafe stepmom.

We are bewildered, confused, shocked- because we feel the opposite of what is described. We know what we've invested and that we do have (some sort of) relationship with the children, despite its imperfections and lack of shared blood.

Just as a teacher, coach, mentor, pastor- a stepparent, who is with the child more than the aforementioned roles, feels protective of "their" stepchildren.

Further, a stepmom who seems to be less than involved has likely been driven to that or asked to be that way.