Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Not so Broken Home

This post over at GNMParents has me thinking about my own role as a step mom. Over the 7 years I've been married to John, I've come to realize that the post-divorce family all of us have created around Bailey is something very special. This success is due mainly to the behavior of John and C., who handled their divorce with goodwill, who focused most of their attention on making it as easy as possible on Bailey, and who continue to pay attention to what's best for her.

Since John and C.'s divorce and their re-marriages, all of the adults in Bailey's life have worked hard to function as a unit. Oddly, what we've created is a kind of extended family. C. has brought us meals during times of sickness (so have members of C.'s church--amazing) ; she's celebrated the births of Bailey's half-siblings with joy; and she even took us in when that brutal ice storm in 2002 knocked out our electricity. (Strange, I know, but we had a newborn, and really, things are that okay.) So I know that, though divorce is never ideal for a child, Bailey has landed in a pretty ideal post-divorce situation.

C. has also been very supportive of my relationship with Bailey. I can see how it might be difficult to nurture that relationship, but she understands that it is no good for Bailey to feel torn between her two families. And I reciprocate wholeheartedly. I have never spoken a negative word about C., nor has John (luckily we’ve never really had a reason to), and we are careful to be consistent across households about discipline and rules. The result is that at Bailey’s birthday parties and school functions, when we all show up, she is delighted to have everyone there instead of worried about the tension it might cause. It makes me so sad to think of the thousands of children who cringe at the idea of their parents coming together for a special day. What a shadow to celebrate under.

I've also thought very carefully about my place in Bailey's life. Because she already has a very good mom, that's not the role I attempt to play. I see myself as something between a mom and an older sister, without the full authority of a mother (though I do have some, of course) and with a bit less chumminess than a sister. I give Bailey advice when she asks for it, I chime in on family discussions concerning her well being, but I defer to John and C. when it comes to the big things (we usually agree anyway). Because I haven't tried to stand on equal footing with John and C., I have a unique relationship with Bailey. She needs and loves me for different reasons, and in my view, that is a perfect outcome.

I do feel sad for Bailey sometimes, for the loss of her parents' marriage, but I am proud of the family we have built around her. She is surrounded by love, support, and security. Both of her parents have strong re-marriages that model loving, committed relationships for her, and the friendships between all of the parents in her life have taught her that, even when relationships go wrong, courtesy, compassion, and consideration can make what exists afterward a beautiful thing.

A revised version of this post is cross-posted at Momformation


MadMad said...

A great post, as always. It WOULD be nice if more people had that kind of a step situation, wouldn't it?

Stu said...

First, thanks for the sharing. You've got a clear voice and your candidness is appreciated, especially in 2007.

Second, I am sorry by I've forgot how old Bailey is.

My daughter (step-daughter, I just don't use the term unless talking to new people or filling out governmental forms) is 11. I've had this conversation with her a few times - "Hon, how do you feel about the divorce?" - to which she replies, "I'm ok with it. I have two Dads, that's pretty cool, 'cause some kids only have one." - My point being, I don't feel sad for her anymore. I used to, but I realized I was alone there, that she didn't feel sad for herself.

I'm not referring to you in any way. Your relationship with Bailey is your own and it's beautiful. I'm just writing this comment because your post made me thoughtful.

Wendy said...

It's so good to read this. We've got the same thing going at our house. I'm the step mom of 3 kids, though.

As they get older (17, 15 and 14), it has become slightly more difficult for some reason. Just because dealing with teenagers puts added stress on everyone, I suppose.

And I think it works for exactly the reason you stated, their parents are mature, unselfish and have the kids best interests at heart. We celebrate all birthdays and school functions together; even my family comes. So, yah, it's like they have an entire extra family.

Oh, and my relationship with the kids is sort of like an aunt. I guess that's somewhere between mom and friend?

rupestur said...

I would like to have a supportive situation like this for my little girl. Her father and I split up a couple of years ago and I ended up having a baby with his close friend. Things are still tense with us all and I want to stab out my eyes whenever the two dads are together.