I wrote the following post on my Facebook page over the summer:
I consider it my job as a mother, stepmother and mother of a blended family to always be the bigger person. Always rise above conflict. Always put all of our kids first even when it's detrimental to me. Always support safe and healthy relationships with their other parents when possible and to protect them when not possible. Always teach them that they have a voice in these complicated situations. Always listen when they learn to use their voices.
But sometimes I just don't want to be the bigger person. I want to say how I really feel or just go home instead of show up. I will never make those choices, but sometimes doing the right thing takes every ounce of energy I have.
Shortly after posting, I noticed a good number of reactions and comments, but more importantly, I received several message in my inbox. They were from women who had been in similar situations and felt similar struggles in doing the right thing each and every time. These women offered words of encouragement, understanding and empathy. They thanked me for being willing to be real and honest. Because who wants to admit sometimes you’d rather just leave? But sometimes I’d rather just leave. And evidently I am not alone.
I was at a swim meet that day. Usually I am surrounded by a buffer of any number of our five kids. That day, everyone was otherwise occupied, and I was alone. My husband was there, but had volunteered as a timer, so I was effectively alone. So every time the swimmer had an event, it was me and the other parent at the end of the lane cheering. Pretty much the last place I wanted to be. Alone with the other parent who has never once had a conversation with me in five years (except to cuss me out, and that doesn’t really count as a conversation since I did not participate) and has no intention of having one ever.
At one point, as I walked to the pool, it was apparent that I was being looked at, pointed out and discussed by the other parent and an unwitting participant in me-bashing. Now, this happens fairly regularly, and usually I just ignore it. But this day I was tired. It was hot and I was tired. When I saw this display, I just wanted it to stop. Have you ever screamed inside your own head with a smile on your face? I have. I fought my instinct to say, “Just stop it!” or “Shut up why don’t you?” or “What is your problem?” I seriously debated turning around and going home or going back to my chair or watching from another location, but then I thought of the swimmer. Would she wonder where I was when she reached to end of the lane to do her flip turn and I wasn’t there cheering for her? Would she believe the negative things she constantly heard about me because I abandoned her and didn’t watch as usual?
So I stayed at the end of the lane. Cheering, smiling and doing the right thing. The thing that no one tells you when you become a step-parent, is that it is never about you. It is easy to know this with your biological children. That genetic bond makes it automatic. But with steps, it is a conscious choice. You begin your relationship loving them because you love your spouse. And you hope and pray that you truly grow to love them because your love THEM. And over the time of my marriage, I did grow to love THEM. But when someone is working to sabotage that relationship, that choice to do the right thing is a struggle. I have to remind myself that these are the kids who had no choice in their divorced circumstances. They never asked to be in the middle. They shouldn’t have to manage the adults and their relationships. EVER.
When I realized that blending my family was not going to be a walk in the park, I promised my steps that I would always do the right thing. Always. I would never participate in fighting, arguing or drama. That promise is the thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow. I do not ever want to be the one causing them harm, making them choose or causing them pain. I want to show them what it means in life to be the bigger person. The only problem with that is that is what often causes me harm, pain and drama. But it is not about me. It is about them. And sometimes doing the right thing and adulting SUCKS!
So receiving emails from women who have felt the same emotions was comforting. It can be very isolating to go through parenting issues, but with step-parenting it is magnified. People love to judge and assume. But no one really knows how hard it can be and what is really going on. Two of the women who messaged me were women I don’t see often. One was a woman I have never met, but have worked with by email on projects. Hearing from them makes me feel less isolated. And I know I can email them if I need to and they will be a sounding board. So let’s keep the dialogue open and support each other. And together, maybe we can find the Gift of the Struggle.
How do you keep doing the right thing?
What do you do when you screw up (because we all do)?
Who can you talk to when the going gets tough?
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Author, Relationship Expert, Humorist, Advocate of Finding Your Voice
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