The ‘50s ideal of the nuclear family is clearly a thing of the past as most statistics readily confirm. Divorce is rampant and the definition of family is undergoing constant scrutiny and redefinition. For my family, we’ve been dealing with a new Step-Mom, as I just got married, this past December 27 (2008). My new wife might argue that she is going through the greatest adjustment, while my boys and I might argue otherwise. I’ll let you be the judge, but first I want to officially introduce my family members, not by name, but by nickname. Steppin’ – My Action Verb for Step-Parenting
In thinking of what would be most appropriate, I thought I’d look for some special characteristics and/or interests to identify them. For my older son, 15, it was easy. His singular interest is rock ‘n’ roll, especially harder rock and metal. He plays guitar well, often, and loudly. So, he will hereafter be known as “GuitarHero.” My younger son, 12, has more diverse interests and is known as the artist of the family, loving manga comic books and all sorts of drawing. However, his favorite comic book is, without question, “Archie,” so his name is going to be “Jughead.”
Finally, my wife. My newlywed. The love of my life. She has many interests, but the passion that brought us together was and is skiing. We met online and the first sentence of her profile was “Do you ski?” In searching for a nickname, however, the initial skiing ideas didn’t really work: “downhill,” “slalom,” “ski-lift,” “moguls,” etc. Sitting on the chair lift with her the other day, I thought I had my inspiration. Looking down at her skis, I saw their name: “Burnin’ Luv.” Pretty good, but alas, it just doesn’t feel right. Even when, later that day, the first song I heard on the car radio was “Burning Love” by Elvis. Yes, I’m an Elvis fan and if there’s Karaoke around, you can count on my doing “Can’t Help Fallin’ In Love,” (the Vegas version, preferably), my all-time favorite song.
Feeling stuck, I reflected on another of my wife’s passions, for which we are the lucky recipients. She loves to cook and does it really well. Her Apple Pie is divine. There’s a name, but it’s boring. Finally, I settled on it. Our favorite dish, one of her specialties, is Short Ribs. Don’t ask me why, but I love that nickname, so my wife will hereafter be known as “ShortRib.”
Say hello to my family members, GuitarHero, Jughead and ShortRib. Our dogs are Simon, Charlotte, and Tache (that’s French for “Spot”).
When I became single and a full-time Dad, my boys were just 6 and 9, and while society recognizes the value of Dads in children’s lives, I found myself truly an anomaly. There were no full-time single dads at my boys’ schools or anywhere in our social lives. Consequently, when I began dating, I sought only divorced women with children, believing they would understand my commitment to my kids and the pressures and challenges of being a full-time single Dad. And, in fact, most of the women I initially dated were raising kids of their own.
With a few women, when the relationship seemed to be deepening, we introduced our children to each other and learned the real challenges of blending families. There were good and bad mixes, but I still believed that this blend was the best choice for my boys and me. Yet, as often happens, we make plans and God laughs.
When I met ShortRib, it wasn’t love at first sight, but it was definitely like at first coffee. But, she had no children, just a dog (Charlotte). She had been married many years, divorced ten, and was of an age at which having children wasn’t an option. Further, she was, in her opinion, also past the prime age for raising kids, or even sharing the parent role.
ShortRib didn’t meet my children till we were serious; her decision and the appropriate one. Thankfully, they too had “like at first sight.” Circumstances evolved that, much earlier than she would’ve liked, we ended up living together, in our house. Instantly, her orderly existence, where she had a perfectly arranged, managed, and neat home of her own, was turned upside down.
We weren’t arranged, manageable or neat. Five years of three boys and two dogs living together had allowed us, frankly, to become slobs. And, we liked it that way. For ShortRib, it was a shock from which it took her months to recover. And, months more to reform us.
I’d say the biggest challenge dealt with Ms. Clean. For us, cleanliness was a priority on par with going to the proctologist. We didn’t own a vacuum cleaner. Really. Now before you think I was totally irresponsible, I had a cleaning crew come every week and they had the vacuum cleaner, but refused to let us touch it. Wash was done when we ran out of clothes, dogs were bathed never, and we had a pool table in place of a dining room table. Our kitchenware consisted, proudly, of no two matching pieces.
Now, joking aside, these things were and are the easy stuff. Where steppin’ (my action term for step-parenting) gets challenging is when our styles differ and when the kids, as they do with any parents, put one against the other in order to get their way. For ShortRib, she didn’t know if she was supposed to be their friend or their mom. For me, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to relinquish control of any of the decision-making in their upbringing. Add into the mix GuitarHero, who liked to indirectly remind ShortRib that she wasn’t his mom, and you have a familiar combustible scenario. Plus, Jughead cozying up to his new step-Mom and ignoring your erstwhile columnist and everyone is at each other’s throats.
I hope you didn’t expect any solutions in this column. The reality is every family must figure it out for themselves. We’re brand new at this step-parenting/blending and each day brings a new challenge and opportunity for us to work better as a team. I wouldn’t have it any other way.