Last weekend I spent a thousand hours in the car with my loving family, driving to my beautiful stepdaughter’s high school graduation. I suppose I could tell you about what I learned from being trapped in a car with four children ranging in age from irrational toddler to far more irrational teen (hint: it’s further down toward the NOT FUN end of the spectrum. Hint #2: do not attempt without a superstar husband with an indomitable sense of humor), but I am feeling all melancholy about our Jennie growing up. So instead I offer you what I have learned about being a stepmother.
1 – Even if you think you’re good at relationships, this one is tricky. When I married Clay, Jennie was 13. Thirteen! I don’t know about you, but I was certifiably insane when I was thirteen. When I mentioned my new stepdaughter was 13, people would give me a concerned head-tilt, and say, “oh, and how’s that GOING?” And I would prattle on about how it was FINE and GREAT and she’s WONDERFUL. And it was and she is, but it also took a few years for us to be comfortable enough with each other difficult with each other. So, just because it’s going great doesn’t mean you’re home free. And just because things are hard doesn’t mean you’re not going to be fine. The only constant is change.
2 – It’s okay that things are different at her mom’s house. Really. It took me a while to get my head around this one, because I am a recovering control freak. But recently I realized that our kids, getting to know each other during these years when “our way” equates with “the right way,” have all had an amazing opportunity. They know, really KNOW that people can live differently and not be wrong. Everyone gets to pick their own life. Isn’t that cool?
3 – Even if you don’t have enough time together, everyone should probably have chores. We screwed this one up big time, turning our home into vacation fun-land. The truth is that it’s hard to feel like family if one member is excused from expectations. It’s not fair, to any of the kids. And it’s not fair to the other parent, who has to maintain order at home.
4 – Speaking of expectations, don’t think, no matter how much you love them both, that you get to orchestrate your husband’s relationship with his child. Remember what I said, about being a recovering control freak? Yeah. Ahem. Sorry. Good intentions don’t excuse overstepping your bounds.
5 – Same concept, except substitute “other children” for “husband.”
6 - Adding a new baby to the mix can upset anyone’s apple cart. There’s no telling who is going to struggle with it the most. Be sensitive.
7 – Just like the old ladies in the grocery store told you when you stumbled into the light with your newborn, don’t blink. Seriously. Because suddenly the suspicious new teen that you didn’t know how to talk to is a young woman, striding over to receive her diploma, and then out into the world. And you’re sitting on metal bleachers, trying not to cry, and wishing for just a little more time.
*Yes, I know there are seven things. I wanted to be as cool as Lydia. That’s my big goal in life, really.