Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Let's Hear It for the Girl!

The job of a step-mother is truly a thankless one, which is why their husbands need to go a bit beyond the norm to show their gratitude. When you think of all the different situations that step-moms are in, from tight families to chaotic households, from dealing with ex-wives, either good or bad, to dealing with the memory of a lost wife and mother, there really isn't one way to get the job done. My wife has really embraced her role as step-mother, to the point of reading magazines and blogs written by and for step-moms. In fact, I think she really thought she was ready for this role. After all, her dad was a strong single father through some of her teen years, after the death of her mother. She spent the rest of her teen years adjusting to the addition of her father's new wife, so she felt like she could really relate to what my kids were going through. Sure, the relationship between her and her step-mom was rocky at first, and probably largely because of MyTy's resistance at first, but they have settled into a sweet and beautiful mother-daughter bond and friendship that I hope inspires my own daughter.

But I think it bothers her that step-moms so often get a bad reputation. They are often perceived as interlopers, maybe even former mistresses and home wreckers. Their role in the family is so hard to define and so difficult to establish that very often, they end up on the the bench cheering on the team, but never get a chance to shine in the game. I took the kids to see Cinderella when it came out, and we all actually liked it for different reasons. The baby especially liked it, so much so that she burst into tears when she realized it was over, just rambling incoherently about pumpkins and mice. I've never seen her do that for any other show. But, as good as it is, my wife doesn't seem to want to watch it. She's put off by the whole "evil step-mother" trope, and I guess I can understand her objection. Even the word is a little annoying to her. For as long as I've known her, she's referred to her own step-mom as her "second mom," although I suspect that it didn't start out that way. In fact, I'm pretty sure she had some other names for her at first. 

One of the things that is definitely awesome about step-moms is that they are able to love children with the same intensity and depth as a biological parent, but without the chemical assistance. I don't mean drugs, at least not in my situation, as far as I can tell. What I mean is that step-moms often have to rely on other reasons for loving than the biological instinct, or social obligation. There is no evolutionary imperative in step-parenting. So step-moms in the best situations have to love the children in their charge with just the right kind of love, one that is nurturing and accepting, but, at the same time, doesn't push the child into a situation where their affections or obligations are in conflict. And of course, do all this, all the while knowing that the child they love would probably prefer that their family didn't include a step-mom at all. That's in the best situations. In the worst, step-moms have to search for reasons to love, remind themselves of reasons to love, and sometimes, unfortunately, continue to love when there are no reasons to do so.

But I thank God that things haven't worked out that way for us. We have our own unique set of problems, and sometimes everybody in the house doesn't get along with everybody else. When that happens, we pull ourselves together and remind ourselves of our individual obligations and contributions. Sometimes we even have to get some professional help and advice, just like we would with our health or our finances or any other aspect of our lives. Still, even when it's difficult, I know two things. I know that others have it a lot worse, and I know that a large part of the reason that we don't is because I married the right woman.

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