Oh, The Places You’ll Go in Step-Parenting
Weaving in and out of the (sometimes shameful) emotions as a stepmom.
I wrote a post a few months ago about step-parenting and I’ve struggled with my words ever since. Though I stand by 99% of what I expressed, because I was basing my opinion solely on my particular circumstances, I still feel discomfort and unease when writing in detail about anything step-parent related.
As open as I am with small details about step-parenting and the (somewhat unusual) harmony that my husband and I have co-parenting with my step-daughter’s mom, I tend to steer away from any negative aspect of step-parenting in general. This is not because I want to portray our lives as this perfectly blended magical co-parenting unicorn (it’s not), but because I worry that full disclosure may be deemed as complaining or airing unnecessary details.
The last few weeks, in particular, I have found myself searching online for support — for validation that I am not horrible or selfish in step-parenting. I’ve been looking in vein for some blog post that tells me my bursts of sadness, frustration and/or inner anger are ok. That I’m normal. That I’m not a monster.
Or a step-monster.
I have written that my step-daughter is the sole person on this earth who teaches me to love unselfishly every day — and that is true. But that doesn’t mean I have mastered the art. There are plenty of selfish moments that play out in my head. But as a step-parent, you learn pretty quickly that since you have entered this venture willingly, you don’t get to play the victim card. And from the moment you decide this is for real and you are sticking around, you scramble to download the cliff notes of parenting.
Because, unless you already have children, you don’t know nothing ’bout no parenting.
Sure, you can wing it. And you can be that “cool” new person to enter their lives. Maybe the fun new friend (though that role doesn’t last long, trust me). You can participate in all the parenting duties — usually with the term “light” added on (discipline-light…nurture-light).
You, my friend, are basically the Diet Soda of this family of fountain drinks.
And it’s when you fully read this parenting-by-cliff-notes manual, you learn that you should be loving and unselfish. You should put the child’s feelings and welfare before your own. You should be there for them. That is the definition of parenting.
But… you’re not really a parent yet. You’ve only just dived into this — and though you’ve read the outline and made notes — you’re not feeling everything it’s telling you to feel.
Why aren’t you feeling everything it’s telling you to feel?!
But then, there are so many good days. And those days outnumber the bad by 10 to 1. So you forget the bad days and the feelings that you feel — which were not in the cliff-notes-to parenting, so they must not be ok. You shove them deep down and you don’t let them show their sad, angry little faces.
You keep chugging along.
And things are 90% good!
People marvel at how well you are doing. You are such a great step-mom! And you start to believe it. And you feel good!
And then a dark day happens. And you feel selfish and angry.
You miss your family who is two states away. You have moved here to be with your husband and his daughter. You can’t see your family every week or every month — or even every holiday, because your holidays are not only split with your husband’s family — but the days (or sometimes hours) you have arranged to spend with your step-child as well.
But those holidays come and go — and you get over it. You are grateful for FaceTime and Facebook! Your life is wonderful and you make new strides every day, every week, every year.
And then you have a baby. A new baby!
And you watch your step-daughter embrace that new baby so graciously and unselfishly — and you love her even more than you did before! You learn from her grace and her genuine love and kindness. And you fill with such a sense of pride and admiration for her — and are so grateful her and her new sister have each other.
You get sad again.
Your mom can’t be there to help you be a mom, because she is hours away in another state. And you are stuck here. Your baby, now a toddler, doesn’t get to spend time with the children of your siblings — or get to see your parents, her grandparents, as much as you envisioned she always would.
This is not how you planned it.
You watch these sisters — your daughter and step-daughter — love each other so deeply, that you learn from them.
You are always learning from them.
And so you keep going and you are thriving. And you take extra care to make sure they both feel equally loved. And you come up with ways on your own to make sure neither is missing out.
And then you hear a complaint that things aren’t fair.
And you are shattered. Because you have tried so hard. And none of it matters.
And then you get angry.
And you don’t want to try at all anymore.
But then, you see them.
Those sisters. Their love.
They are playing and laughing and hugging and hiding and seeking and chasing. They make hilarious videos together. They are two peas in a pod and you can’t imagine a world where they wouldn’t have been sisters. And your heart is so full and happy.
When it’s not.
It’s angry. And selfish. Again.
You want to take trips with your toddler. You want to leave town spontaneously! These are the years you can do it! Before she starts school and she has a schedule and activities and obligations. Even at such a young age, you want her to travel and get used to different people and different cultures.
But you can’t. Because your step-daughter has obligations. And you can’t take one on a trip without the other. It wouldn’t be fair.
And so then you get angry that your toddler is somehow missing out. You have irrational, angry thoughts that your child is now sacrificing, too.
And you find yourself crying a lot more lately. And then you get angry at yourself for crying — and you scold yourself for being so selfish when there are so many worse things in life.
You chose this. You have no right to complain.
But, here’s the thing..
You DO. You DO have a right.
You have a right to every one of your feelings, as a step-parent.
You can be told a a thousand different times by a thousand different people what a wonderful step-mom you are. And you can still feel sad and angry and like a giant, fat failure.
Because, you are HUMAN.
You do not sign a waiver to FEELINGS when you become a step-parent.
You get to feel everything. And you are not horrible for feeling it. You are human.
You are human. You are human. You are human.
I am telling you that you are not alone. And maybe I’m telling you that, because I want someone to tell me that.
We are not alone.
This is not an easy gig. This is a f*cking hard gig. And we will feel every emotion under the sun. And it’s ok. I’m telling you it’s ok, because for the first time: I’m telling myself it’s ok.
Feeling desperation, frustration, anger, selfishness, anxiety — and then feeling shame for feeling all of those feelings — is what I feel. Often. But I am still here. And I refuse to push these emotions down anymore — while putting on red lipstick and baking a cake and pretending it’s all a glittery rainbow of hippy love over here.
It’s not. Not all of the time.
It’s an imperfectly perfect beautiful mess.
And, after eight years, we are still learning as we go.
And feeling as we go.
Besides, it’s when we stop learning and feeling — that the walls come caving in, right?
ps — I would like to note that despite what I wrote, I will still wear red lipstick and bake cakes. But that’s only because I love red lipstick and baking cakes.
Originally published at lemonsintovodka.com on February 25, 2016.