Step-parenting and the holidays

Today, I roped all my kids into coming over for dinner to discuss Holiday plans. Well, I threatened to use a rope; but, it ended up being unnecessary. It's a bit weird, still, for me to have my kids all grown up at the holidays. It's especially a bit weird since the age gap between my oldest grandson and my youngest grandson is very close to the age gap found in between all three of my boys (my own step-son, included). Seeing my grandchildren around this time of year always reminds me of when my kids were little...there is an echo there of sorts.

That echo is accompanied with a bittersweet taste as I realize that those grown men will always be those little boys to me, even if, in reality, they are adults. Having a chance to experience it all over again through the eyes of a grandmother with two ridiculously cute and animated grandchildren? Well. That's just a blessing. Plain and simple. A reward for the suffrage of parenthood? Maybe? Whatever it is, I'll take it.

I called my grown kids together because while I no longer have to wrangle multiple family get-togethers in an attempt to squeeze in time with Daddy's family and Mommy's family and the extended of extended family all while wrangling small children, my oldest son kind of does. It's weird to watch him take his first attempts at wrangling that. Yet, the fact that he is trying to wrangle it and wants his children to each spend time with his side of the DNA pool is very refreshing.

My step-mother was way ahead of the game in setting forth arrangements this year. She contacted me about our plans for Thanksgiving about a week before Halloween. Well. You know my big procrastinating self didn't have any plans that early in. Smart lady she is, she probably knew that. I'm really lucky to have good step-parents, in the event I've never mentioned it before.

Both my step-mother and my step-father hold my relationship with my biological parents at a priority. I don't know where they learned to wrangle the compassion and understanding required for that. But, they both are wonderful at it. I've never experienced any sense of competition or jealousy from either one of them in regard to how much attention I receive or do not receive from my parents. They encourage time between my parents and I. Neither of them have EVER had a foul word to say about my biological parent in front of me. From what I understand, to have one step-parent that nurtures and supports such bonds is a phenomenal thing. I've been blessed with two.

I have struggled being a step-parent myself. My first instinct is to rush in and just take over being the Mother, mark out the territorial boundaries around my home like a protective lioness and...you know, it just wasn't a good initial approach in the grand scheme of things. I discovered the hard way that it wasn't really my job to become a surrogate parent to a child who already had two full-time parents or even just one full-time parent. My job, as a step-parent, was, at least partially, to be full-time parent supporter whether those full-time parent support efforts were directed toward my spouse or my step-child's other biological parent and family. It was a tough and achy lesson to learn. I've screwed up a lot. A lot may actually be a huge understatement. I wish I had an opportunity to undo some of that. But, all I can really do now is try to be a better example from here forward. That's all any of us can do once our shortcomings are brought to our attention.

The first thing I needed to learn (and, I did...the hard way, of course), was to side step my enormous ego and overcome my desire to control. I can justify the desire to control against having been tasked with filling both parental roles at once while meticulously scheduling my time around what I needed to do in order to be both an effective Mother, Father and full-time employee. I've no excuse for my enormous ego other than I was just kind of born that way and the struggle with it has been a life long process. At least I'm honest.

I had to understand that the situation at hand with my step-child didn't call for MY sense of control or the needs of MY ego. But, it had more to do with giving solicited (as opposed to offering my opinion when it wasn't sought) advice to the full-time parent and being supportive of the way THEY wanted to raise THEIR child...not how I thought it should be done. Tricky, indeed.

I wonder, sometimes, how my own step-parents seem to have come to these conclusions so effortlessly. I also wonder, sometimes, why it took me so long to notice how beneficial it was to have such supporters of my relationship with my parents. Things tend to look a bit different after the shoe has been on the other foot for a time. Don't they?

I can tell you, with confidence, that being a step-parent at holidays and special occasions that involve step-children and blended families is a challenge. And, it is a challenge that many people in our current culture must learn to meet. On top of that, nobody seems to want to open dialogue about it almost as if it is taboo topic. I don't understand that, really. It only makes sense to me to talk about the realities and challenges of the situation honestly in an effort to share and gather information rather than continually falling on one's face trying to figure it out. But, that's just me. I have spent a lot of time asking questions and found very few honest answers. Most of what I got was a response of denial that it was even an issue. Some people are more than happy to pretend that everything is hunky dorey and even more seem to enjoy feeding off the potential drama of the situation making it worse for the most vulnerable in the mix, the child.

Instead of working together to make the experience the best for the children involved people can fall prey to the overwhelming needs of their own ego...much like I did and sometimes still struggle with. It's a real thing and not addressing it is like inviting the elephant in the room to sit down at your holiday table which really takes away from the potential enjoyment of the season for everyone. Power struggles ensue. Children are used as bargaining chips and all too often, guilting and shaming are involved on some level, too, whether that be directed toward ourselves or sent out as a manipulation tool toward the other parent or even directed at the children involved.

The truth is, a child deserves to be surrounded by as many people that love and care for them that exists. This is the situation of their life that was decided by the adults that are currently in charge of managing it. Most of the time the child had no choice in the matter; but, they up end being the ones who bear the brunt of the crap that comes along with the situation even if the adults involved are the only one's chronically complaining about it.

There is no reason for the people who truly share love for a child to fight and quibble over scheduling or to allow feelings of jealousy toward the absent parent or the child's affinity for them to increase the potential discomfort that can accompany trying to pull together a family gathering. It's just unnecessary-- a distraction from the true purpose of the gathering to begin with.

Still yet, this is not an easy conclusion to come to; and. it's more difficult to pull off than what my rose-colored picture of the potentials paint it to be. There are often hurt feelings and resentment involved. We are, after all, human each with our own insecurities and individual quirks that sometimes operate subconsciously and off their leash. Of course, it is our job as adults to come to terms with that instead of casting that burden on our kids or someone else's.

Are you a step-parent or a step-child? What insight can you give to the rest of us about how to handle such things (holidays/special occasions) effectively within that type of family dynamic? I'm all ears at missuscase@yahoo.com. I'd love to receive enough feedback to share the cumulative advice before Christmas settles in. If you are so generously inclined to share, good and bad experiences are welcome as each can be used as valuable learning tools. Of course, your identifying information will only be used with your permission. Otherwise, I'll give you a super secret “pen name” for the purposes of that write-up. And, while I'm at it, THANK YOU to my own step-parents, Roxanne and Jim, for providing such a wonderful example of how to do the job right.