When I was growing up in a lake community in rural Georgia, I was among the minority in my school classroom. Almost everyone I knew had a biological mother and father and maybe a brother or sister or two living in their family home. Mommy had married daddy, and they were all set to live happily every after, many of them in neat, white-framed or brick houses with perfectly matched picket fences and flower gardens.
My home was not like that. My biological dad had been killed in World War II; I never saw him even one time, and my mom had married again when I was 6. His mom was a society matron in East Atlanta with long painted nails, mink coats and glossy hairdos. She did not like my mother very much, and I heard her refer to me more than once as “baggage.” Her husband, Luke, a very big man, was captain of one of the Atlanta fire departments and I idolized him from the first time I saw him until he died. He was very good to me, and we were pals. There were times when I was pretty sure he didn’t even like Grandmother Talton very much himself.
Times have changed in this last half-century. I would be in the majority now. Most homes in my grandchildren’s classrooms are made up of blended or step-parented families. I have seen the struggles first hand that some of these good men and women go through trying to parent through difficult situations and unreasonable people. And I can tell you heartedly that I commend them for their effort. Many get a bad rap when they are not guilty as charged and are only trying to rear good children. My hats are off to them, and I say Happy Mother’s Day to you — perhaps our unsung heroes in today’s generation.
There are tendencies to be overcome, beginning with not bad-mouthing the ex. He or she is an ex for some reason. We will always have our opinions, but it is not a wise thing to do to try to get the child in the situation to take our side and agree with us. It is so sad when a child becomes a pawn in these situations. A child should never be burdened with spying, delivering messages from one parent to the other, telling on an adult, or siding with the parent they happen to be with at the moment. Please guard your home by not getting into disputes and arguments with or about the ex. “Voicing your disdain for the other parent’s actions will make the child feel as though she has to choose between you and her biological parent. Make it very clear to the child that the relationship she has with her biological parent does not have to change just because you are present in her life,” advises a leading authority on the subject.
Don’t come on like gangbusters by trying to impose your parenting style, choices, desires or dreams on the child you have not invested in since the beginning of her life. Give up on trying to be a replacement parent, and don’t expect things to be perfect in the early days of blended homes. And perhaps most importantly, don’t play favorites. This is especially true if you each have children from another relationship. It is common to think your child is “special” and needs to be treated in that manner. Blatant favoritism is hurtful and can damage a child’s self-esteem ever so quickly.
Dr. Donald T. Saposnek, a clinical child psychologist and child custody mediator, said recently that the rate of divorce in second marriages where there are children from a previous marriage is about 85 percent in the first year and 60 percent after that. “There is a lifelong, documented trend of children wanting their parents back together, no matter how difficult the situation had become,” said the expert. “Children often wake up in the morning thinking up ways they can get rid of the new stepparent. They are asking, ‘Who do you love more, me or your new partner?’” Often, the new partner simply gives up and leaves the home.
I would go a step further and add that grandparents, aunts, uncles and close friends perhaps also add to the uneasiness by taking sides and mentioning the ex spouse or relating how “things used to be.” We all must be careful, conscious and circumspect in our attitudes and conversations while this blending is taking place.
So, once again, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who play the often vicious role of stepmom. All joking aside, you deserve honor and love for your efforts in the home. May God bless you and may you live to see a happy family with children imbued with character, love and genuine compassion for others. If any woman has been kind to you in your life, or helped you through a difficult situation, take time this weekend to call, write, or visit and say thank you. It will make a difference in her life and it will make a difference in yours, too.
Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at (409) 781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.