Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Stepmother's Lament

If, in my younger years, I had written a list of things I never thought I'd be, "a step parent" would probably have been on it. Not because I ever had any real beef with my step parents, but because the reality of being on the other side of that fence was just not one I could envision for myself. But then I fell in love with a man with children, and the rest, as they say, is history. The thing is, that even after knowing his boys for over four years now, they still kind of seem like strangers to me.

The step parent's world one filled with blurry boundaries and mixed emotions. I want to know them better (they're cool, interesting people) and be more "parental" with them (whatever THAT means), but I don't know how to go about it. First off, they're boys, and that whole thing is just foreign to me. They're world of video games and skateboarding and general boy-ness is not one in which I feel welcome. Second, our house clearly does not feel like "home" to them, no matter what their father and I do to make it feel so. Third, it is clear that we have a lot more rules, structure, and expectations here than they're used to at their mom's house, and most of these are my creation, so I almost always feel like the warden instead of the mom.

When they're here, which is roughly every-other-weekend (less frequently for the 16 yr. old), I am vaguely uneasy during the whole visit--like I don't know what to do with myself. And then when they leave to head back home, I feel guilty for not being more involved with them during the weekend. It's a cycle that repeats itself with little exception.

Something that makes this whole thing even more guilt-inducing is that BH is an absolutely, totally involved stepfather to The Geej. It's pretty amazing. Granted, he's been a part of her life in some way-shape-and-form since she was 15 mos. old, and there's no other father she's splitting her time with, so the circumstances are quite different. He's told me that he feels like her father, which absolutely melts my heart. He wants to legally adopt her. She calls him her dad. And because of all of that, the rules are clearer. He is, ostensibly, her father and can (and does) act accordingly.

But I am the stepmother in the stereotypical meaning of the word. Their dad moved away from Colorado to be here with me and my daughter. Then they're mother uprooted them and moved them away from the only town they'd ever known, and to Bryan/College Station (of all places). Closer than Colorado, granted, but still 2 hours from their dad who used to be a few blocks away from them . They have every right to resent the fuck out of me for being the root cause for the total upheaval in their lives and the subsequent adjustment difficulties they've both experienced--the teenager, especially. I'm not saying that they DO blame me, but I certainly wouldn't blame them if they did.

They've just left to head back home, and I'm deep in the whole "guilt" part of the cycle. BH will drive them for an hour to a designated meeting place, and then they will get in their mom's car and head home. Luckily it won't be 2 weeks until they visit again--they'll be back for Thanksgiving. I'm not sure how or what I can do to make my time with them more meaningful and less awkward. Let me know if you have any advice.


Lumberyard said...

I have never been a stepparent nor have I had any stepparents so anything I am saying is just a crazy stab in the dark.

So my opinion…

Most important- Let yourself off the hook. Relationships take time to grow. Especially this kind. Don’t discount the fact that much of what is called family bonding happens with the day-in day-out of growing older/up with our loved ones under the same roof. So in this situation (coming every two weeks) it should be par for the course that it would take longer especially if the children are older and not bound to their adult caretakers the way little ones are.

I think with any relationship that is important it starts with unconditional love. The everyday subtle actions that convey, “our house is your house.” “My concern for you is unlimited.” “I will love you with the same love I show anyone in my life, etc, etc.” None of this means you have to be something different. You are who you are.

Be yourself and you will be fine. Hold these relationships with an open palm. Love unconditionally. Expect nothing in return. That’s all you can do and the rest will sort itself out.

Karla May said...

Thank you, Lumberyard. (I feel weird calling you Lumberyard. Perhaps L-yard?)