Being A Step-Parent In Between A Parental War

Please bare with me as I woke up this morning to discover I had no more creamer for my coffee.  “Sad face!”  In fact, my pantry is looking a bit bare this morning, as it usually does after my step-children visit for the weekend.

Before my step-children leave, they always raid the pantry of granola bars and raisins (candy, if any, left over from Nana).  “Can I have a baggie,” my step-daughter always asks, and she fills it up to the point it’s difficult to seal, with the intent to sneak it home.  Their mother doesn’t allow “candy” or any other kinds of junk-food in the house; however, sometimes there are exceptions.  So, it never hurts to try, I guess.     

Step-parenting is suppose to be simple…

Two weekends of every month, summer break, and alternating holiday breaks, I am a step-parent.   The job should be relatively easy.  I mean, I have step-parents.  I understand how this is suppose to work.  I know my place as a step-mother.   Plus, it’s only a part-time gig that requires more “supervision” than “parenting,” right?  Unfortunately, Life has a way of always passing me the funky lemons.

I try extremely hard to respect my step-children’s mother’s (often times odd) parental choices, because at the end of the day,  they are her kids.  But, every time my step-children visit us, they have a new religion, new diet, new hair style, an interesting twist on certain facts, and sometimes a confusing strange outlook on life.  Most of the time, I just nod and smile.

It is certainly not my place to correct them and even though my husband does have some parental rights, I often just elbow him in the gut to keep quiet.  Correcting and expressing our own different opinions can be misinterpreted by the custodial-parent as undermining their parental decisions.  So, its just best to let it go and choose the battles we can win.

The One Who Must Know It All

When children become teenagers, us adults, know nothing; but we are still at an age where everything is all about “WHY,” “HOW,” and “WHAT!”

This weekend, I was expected to know what happens if lightening were to hit glass (I assume it would shatter).  I am not sure how we even started talking about lightening.  But, that is a much easier question to answer than the other questions they tend to throw at me.  In general, it is “I” who my step-children often seek answers to the worlds most difficult questions and the answer is never as simple as 42 (The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference).

Often times, I am asked extremely, difficult (totally not my area of expertise) kind of questions that are probably best suited for the biological parent.  I cannot tell you how often Google has assisted me in answering and solving many interesting mysteries; like the time one of my step-children came to me with a “marking” on their neck that they claimed they “just woke up with” one morning.  It turns out it was a Pagan symbol drawn in what appeared to be brown eye-liner as part of some protection spell.  Totally not judging!   I have total respect for all religions.  If it works, it works!  Again, not judging, but I must admit, it was one of those difficult things to explain to a child who thought they were magically marked overnight.  Just saying,

I never invite these type of difficult conversations unless necessary.  Sometimes, you can tell something heavy is weighing on their tiny little shoulders and they need someone to talk to, otherwise they become an emotional mess.  The most difficult part of difficult conversations, is when they look to you for validation regarding their parents feud.  “Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Who is good?  Who is Bad?”  Although I would certainly love to give them my 10 cents about their parents, I try to focus on redirecting those questions back onto them, allowing them to formulate their own rational opinions about their parents.  I try to largely emphasize on the fact that a person cannot be truly defined as “good” or “bad” just from hearsay nor from the actions of others that we may not fully understand, as there are always two sides to one story.

I’ve been a part of my step-children’s lives since they were very young.  I’ve heard a lot of drama, seen a lot of drama, and dealt with a lot of drama (99% of it being completely unnecessary).  I might have even grown as a person with all of the drama.  More importantly, I certainly know that  I learned a lot about mental health through this step-parenting journey.

Not My War To Fight

The first four years, I found myself fighting a war that wasn’t mine.

The drama between biological parents is none of my business, unless their drama crosses over the boundaries into neutral territory threatening our family’s fortress of solitude; then, of course, I must suit up for battle.  As a heavily suited General, I spent the first four years, wasting unnecessary energy leaning over a dusty table of worn war maps and quirky figurines contemplating our next move in battle.  Our fortress was constantly under heavy attack by every kind of artillery an uncooperative parent can throw at us.  I was constantly ordering unsuccessful counter-attacks from the sidelines; because I didn’t exactly understand how to deal with irrational behavior in a rational situation.  The details of this war is not my story to share; however, I eventually realized that between everyone involved, I was the “only” one suffering emotionally.

 

Dropping Emotional Weight and Fortifying The Boundaries

Two years ago, I threw down my shield and sword, hung up my white flag, and walked away from a war that is not mine to fight.

I blame my grey hairs on four years of emotional drama (okay, grey hair is technically genetic).  Not only was I having to help my husband deal with his uncooperative ex, I was also having to help my step-children emotionally cope with unrelated issues that were happening outside of our house, either at their mother’s house, at daycare, or at school.  Whatever was bothering them, they came to me  for advice.  It was extremely stressful and very emotionally for me, especially, when many of these things are completely out of my control.

Nobody carried as much emotional weight as I did.  When I abandoned the war, everyone was extremely upset with me.  They didn’t like taking over all the weight I carried; so much so, they kept pushing me to stay in the war using manipulative tactics that were no better than those that came from the so-called enemy.  It took me several months to officially walk away.

Today, I am much happier and extremely stress-free. I have fortified our boundaries with one simple rule: “What happens at mom’s house, stays at mom’s house.”  Simply, Don’t bring that drama over here!  I have also established consistent rules and a simple routine for our house that my step-children love.  Most importantly, both my step-children know that they must leave their bad mood from their mom’s house at the front door.  They love that idea and if something is bothering them, we certainly talk about it, but we no longer allow it to ruin our visitations.  It’s all about being positive, understanding, and enforcing boundaries.

As for my husband and others that are involved in all this drama, I have established personal boundaries making it certainly clear to everyone that I don’t want to be involved nor do I even want to hear about it.  I might step in every so often to assist my husband in providing clear effective communication to his ex, but other than that, I am not much involved anymore.

I have learned to accept that there are some unfortunate things in Life that I cannot control, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the best out of an unfortunate situation.  Breathe, smile, and always keep a positive attitude!

 

Disclosure:  I have no intentions on making anyone look bad in this post.  I did my very best to share and express my own personal experiences without disclosing personal details of an unfortunate situation between two other people.  Please keep in mind that an uncooperative parent doesn’t make them a bad parent.  Co-parenting is not always easy.

 

 

 

 

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