It is a reflective time of year. Reflection is good for the soul, so they say. My reflections have taken a different tack this year, due to my changed status from divorced single mom to married woman, mom of 4, step mom to 3.
I had a step mother. Now, due the some issues I have faced / am facing with my own step children I am rethinking everything about the relationship I had with her.
I was seven years old when I was first introduced to her. We had travelled to Israel to spend the summer with my father, with whom we spent a few weeks every summer. It was the only time during the year that we spent with him. We didn’t even speak on the phone in between visits. This was my normalcy. It was just the way it was since I remembered.
That summer we were introduced to her. It was a casual thing, from what I remember. No one said the “marriage” word or anything close. We all went away for a few days to a hotel – I am not sure where – all I remember is that I got sick with the mumps while we were there and while they were all out having fun and chasing snakes my grandmother nursed me back to health.
I don’t remember thinking anything negative about this woman that was hanging around. From what I recall they were not overt in their affection for each other, but that could also be that I was too young to even have it make an impression on me.
Within a year or two (my chronology is hazy because I was a kid back then…) they were all living in the states, and we came there to spend our summers. The first summer we visited them in the states they had had a baby shortly before we arrived. From what I remember, we had not been informed of nor invited to their wedding, nor had we been told there was a sibling on the way. At the time I guess it didn’t bother me, it’s not like we were all major parts of each others’ lives. But as I got older I was resentful that I hadn’t been important enough to my father for him to include me in all these changes. However, as a 9 year old I was thrilled with my baby half-brother. I changed his diapers, rocked him, totally enjoyed him. I did the same when his brother came along 4 years later.
My step mother and I, and my grandmother who lived downstairs, were the only females in a male dominated family. There was my grandfather, my dad, and my FOUR brothers. But we didn’t hang out. I preferred my grandmother’s company over everyone else’s when I couldn’t hold the baby. I felt that my step mother tolerated my presence but really wished I didn’t exist. I cannot recall any specific incident that made me think this, but that was how I thought. I am ashamed to say I hated her. I cannot put words as to why as she never did anything to me that would have hurt me. But her mere existence seemed to hurt me.
Looking at things from a different perspective now, I wonder if I had totally misjudged her. It’s too late for me to sit down with her and talk it through. She has passed on already to join my Dad in the big palace in the sky. I would love to have had the chance, as a grown up, to sit down with both of them, and talk through everything that is going through my head right now.
So, with the benefit of my newfound wisdom this is what I now think. I didn’t hate HER so much as what she represented. By marrying my father she put the final seal on my hopes and dreams for my parents to reconcile. Every child of divorce wants their parents to get back together, deep within their soul, even if they know it wouldn’t be right. But they want to be part of a nuclear family. As a “step mother who married my father so he couldn’t reconcile with my mother”, everything she said was suspect. If she asked me to make my bed, well, that’s because she was mean and wanted me to work. If she told me to eat supper like a lady, she hated me because I was the other woman in my dad’s life. If she gently told me off because I was too loud, she wished I was dead. See the pattern here? There was nothing she could have done right. I was predisposed to hate her.
Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, we only spent time with them once a year. So there was not really any regular contact for us to improve on our relationship. Any headway that had been made the summer before disappeared and we were back at square one the following summer. It had never occurred to me that she might have wanted a relationship with me. To be an important figure in my life. I just thought she would rather me out of her life completely. I thought that if she wanted me as part of her life she would have encouraged my father to be in regular contact with us, to see us more often. I saw it as her fault that he didn’t call us. In hindsight, yes, my father could have made a lot more effort – maybe she did encourage him, and he ignored her? Who’s to know?
I am sure I said many mean and hurtful things to her, teenaged girls can be vindictive and cruel. I never gave her a chance. When my father died in 1993, we all sat shiva at their house in Monsey. (yes, small world) I didn’t give one moment of thought to the hell that she was going through, having lost her husband. I had lost my father, a man I barely knew. I was 19 and life sucked. Big time. My half brothers were young at the time, not yet barmitzvah, and my heart hurt for them. I looked at my grandparents and saw their pain and sorrow at having to bury their only child way before his time – and my heart broke for them. For her? I couldn’t have cared less about her pain. I am sure some part of me blamed her for his death, which obviously is totally nonsensical.
I am by nature a caring person. I cry for people who are hurting, I feel their pain and suffering. Yet to this one person, my step mother, I was cold. Growing up I told myself it was because she hated me, so I was just giving it back to her. Now looking back on it I cringe. How could I have been so cruel and mean and just plain hateful? Her only sin was that she existed. She could have been the sweetest gentlest person in the world, cooked and baked and been a mix between Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and Mary Poppins, and I still would have hated her. I never took the time to get to know her as a person, and that I will regret for the rest of my days. I should have been happy that my father found himself a second chance, someone that he could potentially grow old with, though, sadly, neither of them had the chance to grow old. But that is a mature attitude, and I was a kid.
This year I pray that I can start somehow to develop some kind of bond with all my step children. I love their father so much – he is the air that I breathe. He is so necessary to my every day life. His kids are an extension of him, and I love them too. I want so much to have a decent relationship with them – I don’t want to be their mother, they have one who loves them very much, but I don’t want to be their friend either – I do have a parental position. There are house rules, for all the kids. How does one find the right balance without over stepping boundaries? I know it will take time and a lot of effort and frustration and major patience from me and the KoD but I am up for the challenge. I don’t want my step children to have the same regrets that I do, 20 years from now and I don’t want them to hate me just because I exist.