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,