When do we stop ‘stepping?’

My daughter texted me this morning, asking for a second opinion on some wording for a eulogy for a truly great man—her father in law (I mentioned his passing a couple of posts ago).  It was very important to her to express just how loved this man always made her feel.  I told her she was lucky—that I had never had a father in law, just mother in laws who weren’t too excited to share their sons with me (I obviously have a tendency towards marrying mama’s boys…a blog for another day).

Only moments later, I realized that what I had written wasn’t true at all.  I’ve actually had two father in laws; but since they were step dads to my spouses, for some reason their validity as my father in law simply did not exist for me.  That really hit me—and set my mind off to thinking about the life parallels within my own family and other (step)families I know as well.

My first impression was one of relief.  For years now, it has bothered me intensely that I literally have no relationship with two of my in laws, my step daughter’s husband and my step son’s wife.  Initially, when I first met each of them, I thought I would be close to them.  They greeted me warmly and welcomed me into their lives.  However, shortly after they married into our family, they began to treat me with complete disinterest.

An example, so you will know this is not my imagination, is the sharing of my grandson’s football and basketball schedules.  Prior to marrying my step daughter, her husband to be included me in the group mailing of Andrew’s football and basketball schedules.  After their marriage, I no longer received them.  Everyone knows my husband is the worlds worst communicator—that there was literally no chance I would ever see sight of a schedule again.  When I finally begged to see his email, I was able to see that many ‘extended’ people had received the schedule (even Andrew’s ex step dad), but not me.  I didn’t understand and felt very hurt.

Another example is the planning of my step son’s honeymoon.  Since I had planned and orchestrated the four previous weddings amongst our kids, with absolutely  no help from my husband other than writing a check when needed, I felt comfortable contacting the two  of them (step son and wife to be) via email, asking to meet with them so we could go over details to book their honeymoon (they  had already texted me that they did not want me involved with the wedding; they wanted to do it themselves).  But my husband informed me days later that he would be meeting with them and taking care of the honeymoon.  At first, I thought that was really cool that he was finally getting involved with something…but when I realized that he didn’t even want to discuss it with me, it left me feeling very uncomfortable.  Apparently they had requested that it remain between the three of them and of course, I obliged because the ultimate goal was a happy honeymoon; but I didn’t understand…and I felt hurt.

It seems almost crazy that this all came together for me this morning when I mistakenly said I had never had any father in laws.  Sometimes I think this blog is like therapy.  Since I am always looking for something interesting to ‘share,’ it forces me to look deeper into the situations that arise in my life.

Maybe my in laws don’t dislike me after all.  I just don’t matter to them.  They have learned, through their relationship with their spouse, that I am a peripheral person—not a key player, just as I learned that from my two husbands about their step fathers.  Each of my husbands have loved their step fathers, in their own way, but neither looked upon them as a ‘father’ and did not share their lives with them as one would a father.   My step children love me in their own way, but as they have gotten older and begun their own families, don’t share their lives with me as one would a mother.

Several years ago, I processed (emotionally) and accepted my new place in my step children’s lives and it has allowed me to maintain a healthy, loving (but fairly uninvolved) relationship with them.  This is what they needed from me at this stage of their life and I was respectful of their needs.  But, somehow, I did not translate that same theory to their spouses.  Doing so today has lifted a huge burden from my heart.  I no longer have to examine every interaction with them, searching for the ways I must be letting them down.

It seems as though there should be a limit on the ‘step’ situation…that every person who enters the life of the ‘step’ something shouldn’t have to also be a ‘step’ something.  I mean, really, that word just creates distance that doesn’t really need to exist.

My heart refuses to acknowledge the word step.  From the time I married my husband 17 1/2 years ago, his kids were my kids—even more so since they lost their own mom at such young ages.  I wanted them to feel as though they had a living mother like everyone else.  But, it just never stuck with them and in the end, I heard them referring to me as their step mom and it eventually felt uncomfortable calling them my kids when they made a point to call me their step mom.  With my children, even though their fathers are alive, they have always called my husband their ‘father’ when they introduced him (out of respect) and their siblings were all their siblings…there were no ‘step’ labels.  I think that they, like me, felt that the distancing word was unnecessary.

As I sit writing this, I wonder if my stepchildren [will] tell their children that I am their step grandmother.  Gosh, I hope not.  The thought of that breaks my heart…but I realize it is a possibility.  There was an incident last year with my (then) 6 year old granddaughter.  When I opened the door to let her in, I said “Jackie!  Mimi missed you so much!” and prepared to wrap my arms around her.  She stood back and said, “You are not my mom’s mom.  You are her step mom.”  The words felt like a slap in the face.  But I just said, “That is true, but I still love her.”  The conversation ended there.

Is one ‘step’ the beginning of a million ‘steps?’  For each future generation, will I ever be a real person?  Or just a ‘step’ something?  That’s a sad thought, because I feel no ‘distance’ from them in my heart.  They are just my grandchildren and I love them wholeheartedly.

I wonder why we feel the need to label people?  Is it ever a helpful thing?  I can’t think of any instances where it might be.  Can you?





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