Every second week something happens.
I’m not sure how best to describe it because, honestly, as I consider writing this I’m anticipating what you will think of me as a result. I expect that you will think, Well Anne it’s not really that hard, surely – try changing your attitude, maybe you should spend more time praying and less time whining, why don’t you try being more kind, more loving, more Christ-like.
So I guess I’m giving you a heads up – I know this – I get it. I know that there must be better ways to do this. I’m kind of exhausted trying though.
There is nothing quite like being a step mum. In my experience, it’s nothing like being a mum – I never thought it would be. As I’ve alluded before, there is a certain widely accepted point of view regarding stepmothers. I’m not sure if Disney is solely to blame or if there’s a long line of women who have tried and tried and then decided it’s just too hard. I remember when we were getting married the daughter of some friends of ours was very upset because she thought I was so nice – and now I was going to turn bad because I was about to become a step mum. We all laughed of course – our friend tried to find a positive step mum portrayal and all they could come up with was The Brady Bunch. I’ve been watching that and I think I know why she was so good – it’s a TV show. And she doesn’t work outside of the home, or do any of the housework at home, but back to reality. This day-to-day, is hard.
What makes this hard is:
You are living in your home with people who, some days, you think, wish you weren’t here.
People who aren’t allowed to like you whether it’s because they’ve been told not to, or because they feel disloyal if they do. People who arrive sullen, moody and sad because they feel that’s the way they should return. It’s not the way they are when they see you at school. But it’s the way they arrive. Why? Because they are tired, they are stressed and that’s how the new week starts. Then there’s a gradual defrosting, and a slow warm-up time…
So sometimes, when I’m as tired as I am today, and if I’m feeling stretched – I become someone else…
Not in a “United States of Tara” kind of way – or even the “A Beautiful Mind” kind of way. But I am aware that I close off certain parts of myself. I put them aside sometimes for the week. Part of the INFJ personality is that we find it difficult to trust once hurt – we take a long time to trust – and if at some point in the “getting to know you” process damage occurs it’s unlikely that we’ll ever bounce back completely. This does make me a little sad because what it means is that there are parts of me that close off, every second week. It’s not good, I get this, it’s probably more painful to me than anyone else. He tells me that it’s not widely recognised that I’m significantly different though I know I am. I am guarded, I am in self-preservation mode, I am less. And I’m not the only one.
How best should kids deal with “he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t care for you” comments? The “I’m soooo sad when you’re not with me” comments, the “mummy misses you so much” emails? From the perspective of a mother I understand that there is a sadness and that you miss your child when he/she isn’t around. I do it myself, I miss him, I’m a bit sad when he exits my car for his weekend away. One day my son will know that this was true of me in our time. But now is not the time for him to deal with this. He’s not yet equipped to cope with this information. Maybe he finds out because one day he reads this. Maybe he never needs to know what it was like for me. Maybe i just need to know what it’s like for him, for them.
How do you as a child turn up to live for one week at a house with people you know your other parent despises? I guess you do the same thing I do – you shut down a little. After all, it would not be good if you let yourself love these people would it? Sure it’s ok to love your dad – not too much though – just enough. It certainly wouldn’t be good of you to accidentally mention something funny or good that happened while you were with “her” or “her son”. So what you do is you self-preserve and one way to do this is to send multiple emails daily saying how you’re sad and crying – even though you’re not. You send emails hoping “this week will go quickly”. How do the ones who in the home that “I don’t want to be in” cope?
Well I’ll tell you what I do .. I kind of shut down, I operate in survival mode.. I postpone my joy, sometimes my laughter, sometimes my smile. He doesn’t like it when I do that though – apparently it robs our home of its sunshine …
We have tried very hard to return these kids each week in better condition than they arrived in. I believe we do. We are trying to help them to become responsible, considerate, thoughtful people at all times – not just when there’s an audience.
Let me say this – it’s hard. It’s hard to line up for an onslaught of attitudes, stomping feet, faces like thunder. (Typical pre-teen behaviour? Yep. But kind of easier to take when they are all your preteens and the parental front is united because it is in the one place) I know it’s not done in a deliberate way. It’s not really designed to tarnish our joy, well I hope it isn’t. I know we all suffer, all of us hurt for one reason or another and we all live in this home together.
Then I wonder, is it maybe that I don’t try hard enough. Maybe there is no way to do this well. Maybe we are doing it well- and it’s just that I’m battling that ol’ perfectionism monster again. If I am then it’s never going to be easier – it’s never going to be better than it is – this will be as good as it gets, because it’s not going to be perfect. So just in case you’re wondering I’m exhausted, exhausted from trying not to let on that I’m not being me.
There are moments of joy for sure, there are moments when everyone forgets just how hard this all is and we collectively let our guard down. We need more of those moments I guess.
I’m sure it will be better tomorrow. Maybe I’ll just pretend I’m Carol Brady, or maybe I’ll head back to the Bible and search it for the perfect family that I think we should be. I know what I’m going to find – I’m not going to find a perfect family – but I am going to find the One who enables us to bear our own imperfections and the imperfections of others by virtue of His own perfection. And maybe the answer is as simple as less trying and more relying.