Life is a series of steps – there are the ones you take when you first walk, beginning your journey. There are 12 steps you take when you try to walk away from your journey, and there are step families forcing you to step up to the plate, step back and sometimes just step in it. Indeed, even a step ladder can’t help some of us reach and grasp onto life’s obvious decisions, making them work as they should. That is when you just need to step away.
The once called nuclear family imploded or exploded depending upon your emotional opinion years ago. I have been blessed if you will, to be one of those divorced individuals who once tried to keep in step as a stepmother. The experience was brief, but lasting. I watched and learned as my stepdaughters played badminton with the shuttlecock of a man who was their father and my husband. The experience was not pleasant and looking back so many years later, I am amazed at the self restraint I had at not completely stepping over the deep end. My daughters carry damage from this one time stepfather as well, wondering I know, if I had lost my mind at the time and also, feeling as if in my personal quest, I had side stepped my responsibilities as their mother. I hope they forgive me someday; the experience was enough punishment for me.
However, some marriages take steps that do not include additional children. These relationships either bring new life into the world, or try to keep the life going where it has already taken root. The second time around, I opted for this step, and I married a man who had never had children and hoped there wouldn’t be any root rot. I suppose as far as stepping in it goes, this was a minimal mess and after almost 20 years, life has continued for all concerned and the girls bloomed.
Looking at remarried partners though, it becomes a step-to-step match, and it isn’t as easy. Ironic, how we worry about the parenting, when it is the cohabitation with our ex, that is the true step, that slips most of us all up. Stepford is more than a successful script, and the husbands and wives who live it are enough to make me scream! Sibling rivalry has nothing on watching real dad vs. step dad or the internal bitch slapping match of mom vs. step mom, as all wear the mask of perfection, hoping to gain the ultimate prize as preferential and/or popular parent. Who knew all the time spent in worry over how the children would accept the relationship, the real worry was how the new relationship would go after the children like a Wonka ticket – and trust me there is no gold involved, just the shaft!
I wish in the great all knowing marriage manual of life, there was a paragraph spelling out that just being yourself, was the greatest gift you could give to your new spouse and their children. The need to open an emotional candy store with a gold card is never a good option and the resulting decay lasts forever on everyone involved. Showing the children respect for their natural parent may take some doing, but it will confirm the quality of person their parent married, and will keep channels of communication open that only benefit the children everyone loves. I realize some people have managed just this, stepping into their relationships with this common sense and personal self esteem, making it a wonderful journey for everyone – not sure if I hate, admire or envy them.
Why is it so difficult for the spouse to understand the “X” in ex-wife or ex-husband? We walked away from them for a reason! It is our children we never step away from and in fact loved them enough, to walk a new person into their life, to help mold the adults they would someday become. Divorce is usually the first step in the right direction for a new beginning – but it never ends up being seen that way through green eyes. We slip on a ring for hope; we shouldn’t have to step into a ring for the love and acceptance of our children, hoping to just survive.
This past week, our extended family welcomed a new baby – the best celebration any family structure will ever share. I wonder though what steps he will have to take in the next 18 years, as he reaches life’s milestones with pride, and also those needing comforting. Sadly, I see him having to choose who to please first, so they will think they are the best grandparent all the better for being in his life. I pray he kneels instead of steps, and finds faith in himself above all, leaving the rest of the people in his life two stepping around his decisions, as well as their own egos.
The journey of a child to adult is shorter than we will admit, and the steps it takes to get them there are hard to erase and their imprint remains long after they have grown.