Tag Archives: Stepfamily Life
A snippet from a fascinating, stepfamily-relevant new post over at Skepticlawyer:
An oft-repeated mantra, everywhere from law courts to dating agencies, is that ‘children come first’. No-one ever provides any argument to back this assertion, and attempts (by me) to dig up social science research supporting the argument that privileging children’s needs over the needs of their adult parents, their teachers (or anyone else) is good for either (a) those children’s long term welfare or (b) good for anyone else have proven fruitless. This I find perplexing, and I’d be very interested to see what people think of the oft-invoked ‘in the best interests of the children’ (the standard family court line) or ‘my kids come first’ (spattered all over people’s online dating profiles).
See (contrarian that I am), I suspect it’s not true. Not only do I suspect it’s not true, but I also think it’s fed into a culture of child privileging that has led to the great bulk of young people — at least in developed countries — displaying the most extraordinary sense of entitlement. My feminist friends call this kind of thing ‘privilege’, and while the two concepts are similar, I’m not sure they’re the same. Most people, I suspect, don’t have any privilege by virtue of what they are. They have to have it conferred on them, and to my jaundiced eye, it seems that conferral is done, by and large, when they are children. Their needs are placed above the needs of their parents, their teachers and wider society. And then their sense of entitlement blows up in everyone’s faces.
Ultimately I think this issue is really about permissive parenting and divorce guilt, something we stepfamily types tend to be all-too-familiar with.
Head over for the rest of the article; the lively comments are also well worth a read.
On Thursday night I made four dozen cupcakes.
Boy C wanted to take treats to school to share with his whole class; while I didn’t have the energy to churn out enough cupcakes from our somewhat makeshift kitchen in the Boys’ City to feed all the kids in Boy A’s and Boy B’s classes as well, I sent them each off with enough cakey goodness for themselves and their teacher and four friends, and promised to bake for their classes next visit. They were fine with that.
Some of my most enduring memories of childhood are of my mother’s wonderful baking; there was very little money to spare in our house but always an abundance of biscuits, lamingtons and patty cakes. She even baked cakes to sell to local cafes using the tiny gas stove in the bus we lived in while my dad was building our house.
While I bake well myself, my focus has long been on producing fancypants grownup desserts rather than bulk kid-friendly treats. I made Nigella Lawson’s vanilla cupcakes (modded by pushing a square of milk chocolate into each one) for the Boys, and while they certainly elicited no complaints, they just didn’t have the moist, dense-but-light deliciousness of my own mum’s recipe.
I would love to think that my cooking could become part of the tapestry of the Boys’ childhood memories, similar to my remembrances of my grandmother’s Neenish tarts and my mother’s amazing cakes. Not in a “motherly” way, obviously, but Boy C greatly enjoys cooking with me and often thanks me for cooking “such yummy things” for them. I really hope we can hold on to cooking as a shared pleasure as he gets older.
Interestingly, I often notice that when I’ve had successes with dishes for the Boys, next visit it will transpire that their Mum has *coincidentally* cooked pancakes or chocolate self-saucing pudding or whatever it is a few times since then herself, and – of course – that hers is HEAPS better than mine, her recipe is the only “right” recipe and my (previously appreciated) way of cooking the dish is now suddenly “wrong”. And suddenly it can feel like I’ve got three little food police watching, critiquing and sometimes rejecting my meals….
I’m never competetive about the cooking thing, but I do work hard to find a niche where I can contribute to the Boys’ lives in ways they can accept, so it stings a bit when their Mum seems to be trying to undermine me on this level. Still, if that is what’s happening (and it may not be!), it can only be because she feels threatened in her role. Strange, because there’s no question in the Boys’ minds or in my mind as to whether I’m a rival mummy figure – it just isn’t that way at all, even with Boy C who has a close and affectionate relationship with me.
For instance, if we’re out and anyone mistakes us for a mum with her kids, the Boys are so quick to discount the idea that it can leave the hapless commenter looking a bit stunned. Recently we were all boarding a plane and the flight attendant on welcome duty made a comment about how much “my boys” look like me. My instant response was “No, they’re not mine, they’re my partner’s boys.” She was a little taken aback, so I added “Sorry, but if I hadn’t told you straightaway then they would have, and that could get noisy!”
So, since there’s no question that the Boys would ever see me as a mother, think of me as a mother or get mixed up about who is their mother, and I’m not in any danger of doing that either, plus I’ve tried to communicate these things to the Boys’ Mum by mentioning how proud they are of her and how loyally they speak about her to us, I wish I could just be left in peace to cook pancakes or meatballs or chocolate pudding for them without being undermined!
How do food and cooking work in your stepfamily?
You know how maestro piano players are sometimes described as playing a piece of music “stormily”?
The Lovely Man is in the study at the moment, and I can tell he is writing his email response to the Boys’ Mum’s most recent sound-and-light-show communication because his typing is noticeably stormy in volume, tone and rhythm.
It’s a bit sad that the amount of conflict she orchestrates means that I have learned to distinguish between an email being typed to her and an email being typed to any other random person FROM ANOTHER ROOM!
What are the storm warnings that stepfamily drama is brewing in your home?
Role ambiguity is described in stepfamily research and literature as one of the biggest hurdles for stepfamily members, and especially for stepmothers.
Basically, many of us aren’t sure who or what we are “meant” to be in our new families – to our stepkids, to our partners in relation to their children, to the kids’ other parent/s.
And of course, when you give people an enormous, high-pressure task that that they are really, really motivated to ‘get right’ because their marriage, their family and much of their self-worth apparently depends on their success, BUT you don’t provide them with clear guidance about what to do or how to do it, AND you throw a lot of interpersonal and societal judgement into the mix… well, surely that’s a never-fail recipe for Nightmare Cake.
So anyway, when Anne O’Connor’s thorough, well-written and very helpful article from DivorceMag on Stepfamily Roles recently washed up on my electronic beach, for the above reasons and more I felt it was well worth reposting….
With separate snapshots of information for stepmothers, stepfathers, mothers and fathers on helpful ways to negotiate their roles in the extended stepfamily system, useful, practical dos and don’ts for each role and a special section on the often problematic mother-stepmother divide, this article would be a great one to keep up your sleeve for reference or to send to someone new to stepfamily life.
I did the school run for the Boys by myself today and will be again tomorrow, since the Lovely Man has two early starts at work.
By “school run” I don’t just mean the drive in to school but the entire early-morning-drill-sergeant-get-boys-up-and-ready routine.
It only lasts about ninety minutes, but it’s quite an intense process, especially since stepmother authority to compel obedience/listening/quick responses is often fairly limited.
I sometimes dread the prospect of school run days, but today went fairly smoothly, on the whole. (Three boys of various sizes invariably = a range of at least minor hiccups, but that’s parenting, I guess.)
There was one lovely moment, though – I had made umpteen slices of toast with strawberry jam, which had been delivered to the table and duly devoured, and was standing at the sink trying to get the post-breakfast fallout cleared away.
Suddenly, a little pair of arms wrapped around my waist from behind and hugged me, and Boy C said:
Thankyou, B. You’re *really* nice to us!
He’s such a sweetie, and my smile persisted even after I looked down at where his hands had been and saw his little jam-sticky paw prints on the front of my cream dress.
That’s the other side of parenting, I guess, and I like it, jam and all.
Monday was the first night of our regular week with the kids.
As usual, Boy A was fairly hostile towards me: he refused to respond to my hello, and every comment I made (not to him – I don’t waste time trying to make conversation with him directly) was met with a shrug or a smart remark.
For instance, I was talking to the other boys about making Crepes Suzette for dessert this week and describing how we would set fire to the crepes before serving them.
(Setting fire to foodstuffs has gigantic appeal to boys, in my experience.)
At this point, Boy A butted in to snidely suggest that he’d rather pour petrol than liqueur on the crepes. To which I replied that he was quite welcome to add petrol to his own serve.
Normally I wouldn’t have responded that way; that night had me teetering alarmingly close to the cliff edge of my self control.
“Yeah, that’s really funny.”
Oh, right, because it was all about me being funny at his expense.
Anyway, by 5pm I’d had it and retreated to the bedroom with my laptop for much of the rest of the evening, feeling besieged and frustrated but glad to be avoiding further hurtful comments and pointed exclusion.
Later, once the kids were finally in bed, I asked the Lovely Man how he felt the evening had gone and whether there was anything extra I could have done to support him with the kids.
I was expecting to talk about specific tasks, like me doing dinner so he could cover homework duty – that kind of mundane stuff.
Instead, I heard:
“I think it was good that you kind of made yourself scarce and kept a low profile in the bedroom, because Boy A finds it difficult when he thinks you’re too much in the foreground.”
Finally, I found my voice.
“I’m all in favour of keeping things low-key, especially in the first 24 hours we have the Boys, but I am NOT going to hide out in the bedroom or generally fade into the wallpaper because Boy A prefers it that way. His behaviour is the problem here, NOT MINE.”
Turns out that the Lovely Man hadn’t even noticed Boy A’s nastiness, and just thought I was relaxing in the bedroom because I wanted to.
I found it disturbing and a bit hurtful, though, that it’s considered preferable that I minimise my presence and role in the house to keep the peace and keep Boy A “happy”.
Ultimately, I think those kinds of accommodations devalue and disrespect me and enable Boy A to continue deferring his adjustment to our family situation.
I understand that the Lovely Man feels stuck in a lose/lose situation, juggling to keep everyone happy, but this incident has made me wonder – if my best contribution is made by downplaying my existence in what is meant to be my part-time home, why am I here at all?
As a stepmother, are you ever asked or expected to downplay yourself or fade into beige to keep others in your stepfamily “comfortable”?