Saturday, June 23, 2012

In My Corner

I said goodbye to my kid on Sunday for a month--it never fails--I always cry--at least I didn't embarrass him at the airport (this year he flew to Raleigh-Durham then a bus to his camp instead of me or my folks driving him--believe it or not, it was way cheaper!). This is his 5th year so you'd think I'd get with the program by now--so not the case & I think this year may be particularly difficult with all of the changes going on. In the past, the hardest part of the summer was the possibility that my entire support structure would be gone & I'd have some time without work, Xing Fu, my besties on vaycay, & my kid all at the same time which created a feeling like the rug being yanked out from under.  Not a pleasant place to be. As a result, I recognize the need for a certain amount of structure--I need to feel connected in some way--of course this feeling has changed because now that I live with Xing Fu, there isn't really any time where he's not around for an extended period of time, & I work by choice during the summer so the only huge gap in my support system is that my kid is gone for a month. But I'm worried. 

I read a lot about blended families & being a stepmom these days.  In fact, I was pointed in the direction of an older website but a good one:  In it I found an article about the stages of development of a blended family.  This is the stage we're in right now--I shared this article with Xing Fu & I think he would agree.  Here's an excerpt by Patricia Papernow:

Early Stages

During the early stages, the family stays divided along biological lines, with most nourishment, agreement on rules and rituals and easy connection happening within the biological subsystem(s).

In the Fantasy Stage, the adults yearn to heal the pain created by divorce or death. Both partners may imagine that because they adore each other, stepparents and stepchildren will also. Stepparents may have fantasies about marrying a nurturing parent, and biological parents may imagine that the new adult will ease the load of single parenting. Children, in contrast, often continue to have a powerful and enduring investment in seeing their parents back together or reclaiming an exclusive relationship with their single parent.

In the Immersion Stage, members of the stepfamily are faced with the reality of their new structure. Stepparents encounter unexpectedly strong and negative feelings, jealousy, resentment, confusion and inadequacy as they are subtly, but consistently, excluded by the spouse and stepchildren. The biological parent is somewhat less uncomfortable, as he has the support and nourishment of the children. The adult has the uneasy feeling that something is amiss, but can't sort out just what it is. Stepparents often conclude, it must be me.

The Awareness Stage sees stepfamilies beginning to put names on painful feelings. A better understanding about the biological parent-child bond helps stepparents to see patterns (I'm jealous not because I'm neurotic, but because I'm an outsider!). Giving up fantasies of an instant family frees the stepparent to accomplish a crucial developmental task: get to know the strangers she has joined.

The developmental tasks of the early stages include bearing the confusion and disappointment of early stepfamily living without giving up; beginning to identify and articulate the very different experience stepfamily structure creates for each individual in the stepfamily; and relinquishing fantasies enough to engage actively in the step-by-step process of building a family out of strangers

I really want to be a good stepmom--but as I read, I have seen some things emerge that trouble me greatly.  I can see where we are in relation to what I've read, & it is so predictable.  I've become the stepmonster.  And here's where not having my kid in my corner hurts the most--he's not here to defend me or to speak up.  I am the outsider & without him with me--I am really the outsider because no matter what I think or feel the alignment ain't gonna be with me--at least not right now.  I'm hoping that by doing this research on the stepfamily that Xing Fu & I can be more aware of the dynamics going on--there was a huge blow-up on Tuesday which further elucidated for me that I am the enemy.  I don't want to give up & as some articles suggest to "disengage" but I am getting to that point.  I knew that this blended family thing would be extremely difficult going in (one of the most difficult experiences of my life so I've heard) & I am committed to making this work, but when do I get a break?  

And the weird thing about all of this is that I am a stepdaughter too--been there, done that & yet, you'd think that I get it & in all actuality I do--I remember being at my dad's house at the age of 12 & really hating my stepmother because she changed everything!  It was her fault!  She took my dad away from me!  I'm quite sure I was a nasty & difficult SD at times--but in that situation my dad didn't help make things better.  And she wasn't the nicest to me either--she was only 9 years older than me & I think she was a pretty good example of "how not to be a good & kind stepmom".  She got better or maybe I just got older & cared less about the whole thing.  I don't want to be that SM--I don't think I am but boy do I feel like that's how my stepkids think of me right now.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Muppet Philosophy

Been a few weeks since we've moved in & I think we're off to a good start--adjustments, adjustments, alterations, detours & the like--kinda like knitting (my sis would love this)sometimes you gotta rip it out & start again.  This is not easy & I think I've said this a few times before--but my philosophy is this: Nothing in Life is worthwhile if it comes too easy--you appreciate those things that you work hard to achieve. I get the impression that both of us want that--in fact, beside the whole love aspect, the fact that we are both committed to figuring all of this out despite the road blocks, frustrations, adjustments, & alterations, is a pretty strong message to the world:  We are in it for the duration even if sometimes it don't exactly look like it. And I'm sure that we sometimes scare the bejeezes outta our kiddos cuz' all of 'em are most certainly gun shy after divorce--even if it was 7 years ago in the case of my BS (Biological Son).  We don't see eye to eye on some things & rather than keep it all in & not communicate & just build resentment, we let it out (or I do).  Which brings me to Cookie Monster.

I just read a wonderful little article in Slate that talks about whether you are a "Chaos Muppet" or an "Order Muppet".  This article by Dhalia Lithwick is priceless.  So if you are a chaos muppet (think Cookie Monster, Ernie, Grover, Oscar, et al.) then you live your life a little bit like "seat of the pants" philosophy. Yeah, an emotional, with the tags hanging out whirlwind.   One example in the article talks about your spice cabinet. Which is so freakin' funny to me because as we set up house (and anyone who knows me knows how I LOVE to cook & have a million spices), one of our little issues is, in fact, the spice cabinet.  In the article Lithwick talks about organization & alphabetizing of the spices--if you just throw 'em in there then chances are you are a chaos muppet.  Hmmmm....guess that explains a lot.  I think a Chaos Muppet's arguing with the SO technique is bombastic rather than staid. But I will do things for cookies...  

An "Order Muppet" as you might guess, thrives on regimentation, & structure. They are "...averse to surprises and may sport monstrously large eyebrows. They sometimes resent the responsibility of the world weighing on their felt shoulders, (ah, weltschmerz)but they secretly revel in the knowledge that they keep the show running. Your first grade teacher was probably an Order Muppet."  Think Bert, Scooter,  & Kermit for good examples.  One question Xing Fu had for me was how did I want to arrange my spices?  My response was just to throw them in there--loosely organized around which ones I used more often.  In his old condo, Xing Fu had a spice rack with all of the spices neatly labeled. "Order Muppet" anyone?   And arguing stye is definitely more stoic than I.  But, the key to success is the following: " It’s simply the case that the key to a happy marriage, a well-functioning family, and a productive place of work lies in carefully calibrating the ratio of Chaos Muppets to Order Muppets within any closed system."  So, there you have it folks--in the perfect sense of opposites attract.  We just need to calibrate our relationship & our blended family into the best blend of Muppet Typology and from there it's a piece of, cookie.