Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tightrope walking

I walk a tightrope daily. It's not strung at the top of a circus tent, but it sometimes feels just as tricky. And, while I've never actually walked a real tightrope, I can imagine that the rush of crossing safely to the other side is just as big for me as it is for any big-top performer.

I am a stepmom. Now, I want to make it abundantly clear that nothing in this post should be read as me complaining about being a stepmom. I LOVE my stepsons. They add a level of joy to my life that I didn't know was possible. I got the best package deal ever when my husband and I married - I didn't get one great guy, I got THREE. My stepsons are the reason I have my own darling son (really, ask my husband) - they made me realize that not only could I do this Mom-type stuff, I really and truly wanted to.

So what's with the tightrope act? Any mom (working or not, biological or step) can attest to motherhood's balancing act. You balance your needs, your husband's needs, and your child's needs with all of your wants, your laundry, your sanity. I have another dimension to consider in that balancing act. Stepmoms (and stepdads - not trying to be exclusive here, of course) have to walk the fine line of being a parental figure, but not being the parent.

I help with homework; play games; go to baseball, basketball, and soccer games; help shuttle to and from practices, games, school events. I kiss skinned knees, revel in a good report card, and am as excited as the kids about Open House. But I'm not the Mom.

There are still folks who clearly feel awkward when three or all four parents are there for the boys. As common as divorce and re-marriage is these days, you can still see the confusion, or sometimes abject distaste, on some folks' faces as they try to figure out who the "real parents" are; to whom they should address comments about the kids. I feel that keenly ( admittedly probably more than I should).

I love that it's been a long time since "my" boys have corrected someone who assumes I'm Mom. Yet I often feel the need, as the conversation goes on, to mention their mom or explain who I really am. I also find an appropriate time to explain my relationship to the boys with new folks in my life. I do this not because I want to set my boys apart from me, but out of respect for their mother. She's a strong, smart, funny lady, and she deserves the Mom-credit for these two wonderful boys. (Of course, I also worry that when I do make that explanation, a very Cinderella’s-evil-stepmother picture is painted of me.)

I know how extremely lucky I am that my husband and I have a good relationship with the boys' mom and stepdad. I have a lot of respect for "my boys"' mom. She is truly motivated by what she thinks is best for them, and that includes letting me be a big part of their life. Because of that respect for her, I try very hard to not step on her Mom-toes. I know I'm not always successful. And I'm incredibly grateful that she's so gracious as to not point those instances out to me.

I sometimes question whether it's appropriate for me to express concern or sympathy for a sick family member of hers, or a tough situation that I know about. I try to remember at school functions or sports to hang back just a bit, no matter how excited I am about it, to let Mom in/see/go first. I try to remember at important times that, as a very smart lady once said, my job “is to wear beige and be quiet." I try to make sure the boys know every day how much I love them and love getting to be in their lives, and that I know they don't need another Mom, but that I'll be there for them whenever they call.

So yes, I walk a tightrope every day. It's tricky and scary at times, but I wouldn't trade the exhilaration of it for anything.

Julie Daneman is wife to Bryan, Stepmom to Jacob and Caleb, and Mommy to Sam. They are a boisterous, loving, happy interfaith family.

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