“You’re lucky,” people say.
After looking over both shoulders to make sure they’re talking to me, I ask why. “Because you are a woman with stepdaughters! That must be so much easier.”
What I want to say is, “Easier than what, unmedicated oral surgery? Holy bleep, didn’t you ever go to middle school?”
What I usually say is, “Which would you rather play with, Barbies or Legos?”
I am, and pretty much always have been, a Legos kind of girl. I climbed trees, rode my bike everywhere, and practically lived at Chamblin Bookmine.
I think most girls, myself included, go through a phase where the mall is The Temple of Awesomeness, but I grew out of that phase a long time ago. It’s perfectly normal that Jason’s daughters are in a very materialistic, shopping-centered phase. But I can’t relate to it, and I certainly won’t indulge it. Additionally, it makes me kind of sad for them. There is so much more to life than iCarly and the latest novelty accessory (slap bracelets, silly bands, hair feathers – you name it, they have brought it to our house), but they have a hard time appreciating anything that doesn’t come packaged in plastic or isn’t advertised on TV.
Last summer we found ourselves shopping for first day of school outfits. One of the girls decided she wanted denim shorts as part of her outfit. “You already have denim shorts, so that’s good,” Jason said. “No!,” she exclaimed, “I have to have NEW denim shorts!” She chose something else, just because it meant her whole outfit would be new.
I have to keep reminding myself that this has nothing to do with the divorce. However, it has everything to do with the culture – large and small – in which these girls were raised. While I am familiar with the larger consumer culture, my upbringing was 180 degrees from theirs, and I continually struggle with the clash of values. I was brought up to value experiences; they have been brought up to value things.
Tyler is also materialistic, but not to the same degree, and not consistently. He finds his treasures on the playground – a rock that he believes is a fossil, a rubber band, a paper clip – but he also wants a PS3 and a new Nintendo DS for Christmas (not. happening.). On the other hand, his favorite gift from last Christmas was a small laughing Buddha statue I got for $2.00 at an antique store. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with his gender, but also because he was raised in a debt-averse household (both before and after the divorce).
But back to my original point.
There is no magic formula that governs which combination of step-parents and step-children will be successful, for the simple and obvious reason that all parents are different, all children are different, and all divorces are different. The pressures and tensions that are brought to bear on the relationship between you and your stepchildren are actually unique. YOU ARE A SPECIAL, SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE. I don’t say that often.
Jason and I have found that, even within our own household, the relationship between him and Tyler, and me and the girls, is vastly different. We have learned to meet each child where they are, instead of trying to force-fit them into little boxes of our own design. In return, we try not to let them manipulate us into being their “ideal” parents (imagine the inmates running the asylum). I’m sure the girls would like me better if I bought them trinkets every time they came over, but most reasonable adults understand that doing so would be only a cheap, flimsy victory. When the trinkets dried up, so would their affection.
So no, I’m not “lucky” that I am a woman with stepdaughters. I am lucky that my stepdaughters are generally well-behaved, smart, and respectful children. I am lucky that they love my son, and he loves them. And I am especially lucky to have a partner who is committed to building a household that works for THIS woman, and THAT man, and THOSE kids – not some idealized combination of the three.