One could argue that one of the most challenging acts a stepmother can do is to bear witness to her husband navigating his role with his children and their mother. Some of us do it well and many of us struggle. Some of us go kicking and screaming. Some of us withdraw in silence and hurt. Some of us do all of the above.
There is no easy way to do this witnessing thing. It finds us at our best and it finds us at our worst. It finds us when we feel anxious and when we feel calm. Any interaction involving his children requires some form of the witness.
The difficulty comes in not knowing that the witness is the role we’re being asked to take. The daily tasks of life are so many and of such a nature, a woman naturally gets swept along to make things right for others. And, in the early days it’s so easy and somewhat comforting to pitch in, tempted irresistibly to play the role of “just doing what needs doing.” Of course we’ll fix the lunch for everyone on a Saturday, it’s what women do.
But, to really witness takes backing up a step or two. It takes a second look at what is really going on. It takes getting past and underneath our own reaction to things like his kids not saying hello to him. Maybe the witness sees the same non-greeting happen over and over and on the 20th time says quietly to her husband, “It is so difficult and painful to watch my husband being treated disrespectfully by his own children.”
A great many of us are married to the man the books call the “permissive” father. We hear the “permissive father” label and we rev up to undo those behaviors. The books and blogs tell us so clearly how a divorced father should do things, complete with suggestions to change him, we get caught up in the quest to make that happen even if it’s not ours to do. But, the witness sees past all that and understands that sometimes what looks like permissiveness is not. Sometimes what looks like acquiescence is a first step toward a different future. Sometimes, it’s simply hope.
The witness to the stuff we like and the stuff we don’t like comes from deep inside us. We watch and respect as he says yes to children he seldom sees. We support and respect his decisions because we know they are his to make. And, we bring up issues and concerns when the heat is off even though in the beginning we had the fire in us and we couldn’t hold our tongue and our feelings boiled out with indignation and outrage because someone else’s household did things that effected our own.
Over time, the witness grows stronger and clearer. It grows able to remain, noticing, watching, waiting, pondering, listening, and being present. The witness doesn’t leave. The witness doesn’t avoid. We, the witness, remain standing. Swirling all around, negative draining away. Quiet or not quiet. Beside our man.