Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Rock and the Hard Place

"It's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Photo taken in Blowing Rock, NC April 2013, Family Reunion
     I'd wager a guess that most of us have heard and/or used this phrase. Never a good place to be, is it? Typically I prefer warm, soft, and fuzzy as opposed to rock-hard. And who wants to be stuck or trapped?
     Of course, in true "The Calling of a Step-Mom" style, I began thinking about what this phrase means for step-mom. After mulling thoughts around a bit, the light bulb of epiphany turned on. The trickiness of being STEP is that we are forcibly being placed between the rock and the hard place.

Many people, especially biological/birth parents tell STEP two things:

1. Being STEP is practically the same as being the birth parent.
2. Being a step is not the same as or as hard as being a (biological) parent.

Why is this problematic? Because these two things--options--are the ROCKS.

Step parent Sample Scenario:
I'm so frustrated today. Teenage SK is acting out, being moody and making me feel as if everything I say is an issue. At bedtime, there are no hugs or I-love-yous. There never has been. I feel disconnected and a bit sad.

Sample Address to Step-parent via Rock #1:
STEP, what you are feeling is no different than what parents feel in general. Having a teenager comes with ups and downs, so just suck it up; biological parents must come to terms with their growing child as well.

Now let's filter the same step scenario through Rock #2.
What you are feeling doesn't compare to what bio parent feels. You do not have the same capacity to love this child. Imagine feeling distance and a change in connection between bio and child. STEP, you have no idea how it feels to experience the drama that is growth of child.

Alright, where to begin?

Response number one lands step in a place where she is robbed of lamenting the challenges specific to being step-mom. Various psychological studies support the fact that the ambiguous nature of being STEP and the "outsider" effect the role often spawns incites depression and anxiety in a large number of women in the step-mom role. This particular article is written by Lucy Tobin, psychologist and step-mum. For some reason unbeknownst to me, this particular link may be broken. I will correct it soon, but in the meantime I suggest you Google it :)

The bonding and gelling many parents experience and establish with their kids is non-existent for step, he or she is coming into a ready-made family with hopes of being able to bond, while daily facing the task of balancing acclimation, attunement and sensitivity to the kids needs, marriage, interactions with extended family, etc. So when hormonal teenage SK lashes out, step doesn't have "she used to hug me every night" and "she drew me a picture that says I-love-you-daddy" feel good memories to fall back on. Oftentimes, seemingly normal interactions simply feel like REJECTION. All in all, there's just a dynamic to being step that is other and distinct from biological parent, not that either one is better or worse, just DIFFERENT.

Response number two places step outside the bounds of emotional reception and sadly achieves the very thing I alluded to above: that being step is lesser, not enough, deficient,  sub-par. Instead of steps and bios being different but sharing space on the same plane, the second response situates step on some other plane, a plane that pales in comparison to bio-plane.

Being sandwiched between these two rocks is the hard place! Either the functioning of step is reduced or it is eclipsed. 

Being step overlaps in experience and responsibility with parent while also being wholly different from it. My book is all about delving into the HARD PLACE, acknowledging it and establishing the fact that step need not be stuck or trapped there. The existence of steps has excavated a new site, a new PLANE. One in which we must acknowledge and discuss intelligently. For the goal is to bring about knowledge that empowers all participants of blended families and step-families to see, value, and acknowledge one another--particularly all the adults to the benefit of the child or children. 

Remember, The Calling of a Step-Mom, is not "Woe is me" languishes. Yet this writing is "Here I am. Here we are. We are people and all that comes along with being a person," in light of being obscured and seemingly ambiguous.

If you understand any part of this post, please respond. If you have never thought about these things before and are inspired by this post, please respond. 

Humbly Pressing On,

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seeping into the Background

Are you are step - parent who has ever worried about being reduced? Reduced to less than who you are as a person, less than what you embody on a day-to-day basis?

Oftentimes I think people read these step - mom blogs and think, "This person surely is bitter."

Ewww, bitterness, that's the bad label--no one likes a bitter person. But, I just had an epiphany! Sometimes that air, that tension, that emotion, those tears welling up, those lips and muscles quivering with frustration (or any number of emotions), is much more than the manifestation of bitterness.

Very few persons embody roles characterized by and imbued with overwhelming ambiguity and an almost amorphous quality. As STEPS we often have to hold our tongues, bottle our thoughts and SEEP INTO THE BACKGROUND.

Isn't balance one of the hardest states to attain? Aren't many human beings currently seeking it? Balance, the great quest, the great conundrum,  and a thing/a state NOT necessarily born in many of us. In my role as step I'm constantly evaluating, speaking up, active in my love for my step - kids but ever mindful of my status, my non-status, my "I'm not their blood relative." 

Sometimes I am certain of what I think,  what I feel, but it does not serve my status well to give voice to such thoughts most of the time--tongues we twist, tie and bite, vying for that illustrious BALANCE.
Sometimes we seep into the background because our hand is forced by the ambiguity of our status. "Mother" and "Father" take the foreground, no matter what--despite inadequacies, bad decisions, and foibles of character. Yet, there are STEPS who, equipped with those same inadequacies and foibles (like every human being), approach their step-kids with the utmost respect, appreciation and care, but their moves of love and patience towards the step-kids are trumped by biology. STEPS reduced to second-class, sub-par inhabitants of the home merely because attached to their title is that infamous prefix, STEP

At the end of the day the process of SEEPING is tiresome, sad and frustrating...that is all.
If you understand what I mean, please respond.
Humbly Pressing On,

Friday, February 28, 2014

Misplaced Modifier

"I can't work until 6 o'clock on Wednesday, remember? I will need to pick up the kids by quarter to 6."

"Oh, yeah, I totally forgot! Can't leave your kids're a great mom!"

In my stepmother mind:

Yes, that is correct. I certainly have to pick up the kids but they are not my kids--even though I have interactions with them that mirror interactions I would initiate with my own progeny.

I go out of my way to say "THE kids" as opposed to "MY kids." The difference is subtle yet difference still remains. Some people might protest and charge me with being absolutely ridiculous: What difference does "the" or "my" truly make? On the other hand, several bio-parents might be thinking, "Damn right! She better say 'the' kids; they're not hers!"

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the STEP language game.

There's a subtle yet powerfully effective double standard weighing on the shoulders and mouths of step-moms everywhere.

Scenario #1:

Mom, Judy, is sitting on the bleachers at Timmy's soccer game engaging in a bit of girl talk with the other moms. Judy proceeds to say that Timmy needs to be a bit less like his father and quit procrastinating with getting his homework completed after game time. A ways down the bleachers, step-mom Jane comments on how stepson Tommy probably needs to devote a bit more time practicing soccer so he can improve at goalie position.

Mind you, I have created fake names, but the framework of the scenario is indeed a real one. I have witnessed Mom Jane's comments be received back within the circle of parents with understanding and camaraderie. Even if one or more of the parents think Mom Jane's comment off-putting, her statement is still one that CAN be made. On the other hand, step-mom Jane's constructive criticism of Tommy is admonished. She is met with the statement, "Um, he is not your son; you shouldn't be so rude or critical." (Moreover, most steps probably wouldn't say anything at all. The STEP language motto becoming, "Keep your head down and your mouth shut!")

Incredulous? Disbelieving? Sound ridiculous?

As soon as I say, "Oh, my stepdaughter..." I immediately become marked and ultimately discredited in a certain way (the marking being polarizing). Then my statement is followed by a series of questions: Do you have any kids of your own? Do you want to have kids of your own? Are you planning on having any? AND I am thinking: So, can I finish talking about my plans with my step-daughter this weekend now? Or can I not talk about that until I pop out a baby? And what if I do not ever have kids of MY OWN? So what?

"That's my girl."
"He looks just like me."

Step-mom cannot say this, especially CHILDLESS steps; this language of possession as it concerns another human being(s) can never be broached by step-mom. What can step-mom say? What is her field of statements?

"She doesn't look like me."
"His mannerisms are nothing like my own."


"I love her!"
"I enjoy his laughter."

I may not be able to claim my step-kids in a very literal sense of claiming: I was outside of their conception and birth, outside of their naming, and still I exist outside of seeing myself reflected back in their faces. Yet I love them and enjoy them and celebrate them. Language has coloured me evil, but my language NOW is LOVE. A pure love when considered that the deeds that I perform in honor of these children are indeed for them, having literally STEPPED into a situation overwrought with complexity, complication, and strife. A situation that requires courage, bravery, and selflessness.

Step-moms be encouraged in your magnificent ascent to LOVE. Love, simply. And for those who know step-mom, spur her on in her bravery in order that she may continue to thrive through a role that has long been entrenched in a site of isolation, limitation and misunderstanding.

Do you have any experience with the STEP-language-game? If so, please share your experiences for the edification of us all.

Humbly Pressing On,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Call for Answers

Greetings friends! I have been very busy working on multiple writing projects--one of which is The Calling of a Step-Mom book. With this blog post I would like to do something a bit different from what I have done in the past. I would like to invite each of you to be active participants in my step-mom project. 

Beginning today, I am going to post a prompt which I will leave up for one week. I would like each of you to respond to the prompt either in the comments section or via email. Keep in mind that responses can be as brief or as extensive as you'd like for them to be. An answer may consist of a word, a phrase, or an essay with beginning, middle and end (I will never discourage someone from writing an essay). 

Week One Prompt: Who is Mother? In other words, what do you think of when you see the term "Mother?" (If you were explaining "mother" to someone who had no prior knowledge, what would you say?)

Be candid.

Humbly Pressing On,