I was over at Family In Bloom reading Tulip’s latest about how her husband put a really powerful and appropriate boundary in place for her pre-teen stepdaughter, Daisy. Go read her post, if you haven’t already – the way Tulip’s husband handled the situation was just SO perfect. It was like stepfamily poetry or something.
What was interesting though was despite the ringing-from-the-hills rightness of how the issue got dealt with, a rightness so patent that it had commenters alternately sighing wistfully and congratulating madly, Tulip was nonetheless second guessing the actions taken and wondering if the way the particular situation was dealt with was too harsh.
(In case I wasn’t already clear, there was NO.WAY. it was too harsh… in my opinion, anyway.)
The whole thing made me think: isn’t it funny/weird/interesting that we stepmums tend to push harder than our partners for boundaries, rules, structure in a dynamic that can feel utterly ENDLESS, but when we finally get our wish and we get to firm up the boundaries or someone else does it for us, we suddenly feel a tiny bit guilty, uncertain, or just plain mean?
I had this come up recently in a different context.
It was my week in the Boys’ City, and there had been a steady but not slow degeneration into morning chaos and disorganisation from the Boys. Morning after morning, we’d get halfway to school to hear a voice from the back that someone had forgotten their assignment, due today and reeeeeeeally important. Or someone else had left their lunch behind. Or their tie, and now they wouldn’t match the other kids at choir and would risk getting into trouble.
I’m sure I need hardly say that in every instance, there had been a range of reminders that morning about the assignment, the lunch, the tie. For goodness sakes, the Lovely Man and I give multiple prompts about taking assignments and homework with them, we place the Boys’ lunch boxes on top of their school bags to be packed and we LAY THEIR UNIFORMS OUT ON THEIR BEDS for them (OMG, I’m a valet to pre-teens!) while they enjoy their leisurely reading breakfasts. Which is another story altogether…
Anyway, the Boys were constantly and sloppily forgetting their school things. And for the most part, the Lovely Man would either turn the car around to get whatever it was, guaranteeing a late arrival at school for all the Boys, including any that were organised that morning, or he would drop them at school, then drive the twenty-five to thirty minute round trip to collect the forgotten item and deliver it to the school. There were never any negative consequences to the Boys from their forgetfulness, just a confident expectation that the adult servants would rectify the situation with minimal inconvenience to the child involved.
I’ve always had a problem with this approach; the incentives aren’t there for improvement in the patterns of behaviour, so how could we expect improvement? It would actually be unfair to expect the Boys to be more careful to remember their things unless the adult response changed.
So anyway, the Lovely Man had early work on a couple of mornings in a row and it was down to me to do school runs alone. The Boys were a tiny bit more motivated about getting ready in a timely way than usual, but inevitably the call came: Boy B had forgotten his blazer and tie, and Boy A had forgotten his blazer as well, despite my reminders.
We were about halfway to school, doing okay for time but set to be late if I turned the car around, so after checking that they wouldn’t be cold, I said:
It’s a pity, but I’ve got things on today, so I can’t run home and get them for you. You’ll just have to manage as best you can.
There were no demands that I rearrange my schedule or accusations of cruelty or wickedness; they were pretty accepting.
But you know what?
Even though I stuck to my guns, it was a warmish day, and I absolutely knew letting them tough it out was the right and necessary thing to do if they were ever going to learn to take responsibility for packing their school necessaries properly, I felt bad and guilty and just plain mean.
All day long.