It’s not some people. It’s my kids. And I’ll use the term I try not to use because it takes away from the role I actually play – it’s my step-kids. Having never been a biological mother, I have very little business weighing in on how green that grass is. But sometimes I look over that fence and think – shite, your kids are pissed at you (just like mine) but…that’s it?! They’re just pissed? Right, I get it, they hate you, too (same!) – but over here on my side of the fence, I have the added bonus of carrying the responsibility for every misery our children have ever or will suffer. Which is Stepmomming 101. Which no one ever tells you. Which you spend years trying to figure out – Why am I always the bad guy? I just came down the stairs for coffee? What is happening? – until you realize that part of the role of stepmom is being just that – the woman to blame.
And, in our case, the kids’ bio-mom is hugely uninvolved. Which means I’m over here sweating and toiling and raising and coaching and organizing and cooking and planning and taxi-driving and making copies and – oh, hey bio-mom!, just swoop in every other Friday on a parade float gathering all the love and forgiveness available! Maybe while you’re here you could throw out some parenting gems! That actually happened this week, which is probably why this topic is back on top. Zack had a super minor communication issue with his bio-mom and the request was to made to us to look into hiring him a life coach. Uh….I thought that’s what parents were? I really am at a point now where I can find such input more comical than offensive. A point where my initial reaction isn’t daggers but rather empathy because she just doesn’t know.
In this case, the tilt-a-whirl was centered around ADHD and that Zack’s communication misfire was due to that diagnosis – proof he’s afflicted and backed up by ‘his behavior’ on their summer vacation. Well, yes. Six years ago Zack was tested for ADHD because the school kept reporting that he had ants in his 8 year old pants. What we learned was that he had tendencies toward it (as does his father) but that the real issue was that his level of intelligence far exceeded his grade. And I guess what his bio-mom missed was me spending hours with young Zack, teaching him study techniques and how to organize his schoolwork. Skills that carry him to this day – and are represented by his streak of great grades. What she missed were the hours Rich and I spend at his school, waving IQ tests in front of anyone who would read them – explaining that, no, he wouldn’t be skipping grades, but that he needed to be challenged where he was, with his peers. This demand continues today as he sits facing ninth grade two years ahead in some classes.
But I’ll never get the credit. Just the blame.
In summary, it sucks. And it’s also awesome. Its also status quo for the role. It’s awesome on the days (or sometimes hours or minutes) that I can ignore the input (from others or from my own confidence lacking brain) and just enjoy the humans that depend on me. It’s awesome on the days when I forgive them before they take the evil-stepmom jab because I remember that they don’t mean it (though I can see it a mile away) and that they really do know that I am so much more. Hopefully. You don’t have to look very far into stepmomming research to learn that the kids will lump everything into your bucket of fault. What will surprise is how much some bio-moms will add to it.
It took a lot of diligence to dig into the psychology of kids with two moms. It took me a lot because I was busy for years drowning in trying to figure out how to be one of those two moms. I’d heard the message – the dynamics of a child trying to reconcile something as simple as the word ‘mom.’ When the person attached to the word ‘mom’ isn’t able to perform the role, typically the person who is gets hit with the anger. If I had a nickel for every time I told myself ‘they aren’t mad at you – they’re mad at her,’ I could probably solve the coin shortage. I mean yeah, that’s great – but it still feels worse than stepping on a lego (corners up) on the way down a darkened hall in the middle of the night.
The entrance of a stepmom gives kids an almost exact date to pinpoint when their lives changed. And they don’t mark the ‘changed for the better’ moments – status quo for human nature – instead they have memorized the ‘didn’t like that very much’ moments. We all do this. We remember events by what went wrong even if the entirety of it went pretty right. It’s that whole allowance of being fed by drama. With my kids – my arrival marked a clear before and after. Obviously, lots of shit went down before to even get to the part where I arrived. Obviously. It wasn’t a ‘hey, these unicorns and rainbows are great, but let’s flip this whole family upside down for a bit’ situation. There was shit – years of it. But that’s not what the kids remember. I suppose it’s their mind’s way of allowing both biological parents to maintain a position on the pedestal that all parents deserve to sit on. So yeah, a lot of shit happened before I arrived. And, also, a lot of shit went down after.
The part I play is tricky. Because we have full custody, we do our best to allow those ‘weekends with the mom’ to be stress free, trouble free – just time for fun and relaxation. It is hard enough on kids to go from one house to another – why make it worse by sending along a list of ‘so….you should probably know that this kid got caught cheating in Latin or that kid was turning into a bit of a mix-master…’ As their time together is measured in hours, we take a lot of hits on ourselves to preserve it. And while I’ve gone back and forth as to whether or not that is fair to us, I (usually) do see the logic in it. The stinker of it is, it feeds into the Evil Stepmom narrative. Even more so on our end as Rich spent a lot of years making up for divorce guilt by holding back on consequences. So the prophesy of the Evil Stepmom was fulfilled just about immediately.
In the memory of a seven and ten year old, it likely went like this:
My parents are separating. Blink. I’m spending more time at my grandma’s where my dad is camped out. Blink. My mom had to move out of our house to an apartment. Blink. Dad moved back into our house. Blink. A strange woman was there one weekend when Mom took us over unexpectedly. Blink. The woman moved in. Blink. Mom lost her apartment. Blink. Everything was fine until the strange woman showed up. Blink. We got a new, bigger house while Mom got a room in a rental. Blink. I miss Mom. Blink. The strange woman is becoming more involved in my life. Blink. The strange woman is creating schedules and chores. Blink. I miss Mom. Blink.
And it goes on – building the narrative. The reality is, learning how to be a (step)mom is actually pretty easy in comparison to learning to let carrying the bucket of fault be no bother at all. Sure, I’ll carry that. But I know it’s not all mine – I’m just carrying it until you see that. There will come a time when the kids realize that I am not the sole provider of the drama or unhappiness in their lives. There will come an awakening when they understand that, not only were there other people at fault – but that some of those people were their very own selves.
Of course, how much blame can you attribute to a seven and ten year old? The answer is none. But how can you set up the same seven and ten year old to move into their teens and young adulthood with an attitude that doesn’t start logging every misstep in their lives as something that would have been avoided if that fateful day when that strange woman showed up hadn’t happened. The answer is – I don’t know. Still working on that one. Making slow progress. Starting to feel okay with being the woman to blame as I realize that the bucket of fault is just something I carry along to save the others. It’s very Joan of Arc, actually, sure you can be mean and nasty and hateful to me…but please love your dad forever because he’s really the best of the bunch. Really though – at some point you just realize you’ll take the blame because it alleviates their stress and it no longer affects you like it used to.
My hope is, for my eldest – the one who went off to college a month ago and has hardly noted our (Rich and myself) existence since – is mixed. I want her to find out that moving out did not solve everything while also wanting her to be so happy with her new place. I want her to realize that some of the items that haunted her followed her right out the door because they belong to her but I also want it to be a great adventure. I want her to realize that, well, I’m not evil. I want her to see what a bonus I am but I also want to shield her from all that would lead there – because it could be a very painful introspection. And it scares me that it would make her sad or depressed or disappointed in the herself, because, more than anything, I want her to love who she is.
So, for now, I guess I’ll just keep carrying the bucket of fault.
And be the woman to blame.