I’ve been a fan of the Oregon State Beavers since I entered the school as a freshman in 1978. This year, for the first time in over a hundred years, the football team has a winning record, 6-0. You can sense the struggle and heartache this team has been through and the Oregon State fans are some of the most die-hard fans you’ve every met, they keep showing up for their team even when they lose.
It’s this winning season that caused me to reflect on all those years of losing and how winning and losing have a lot to do with the stepfamily experience.
Early in my re-marriage, there was a palpable tension that I didn’t understand. As I observed what was going on, and sorted through the politics, it became apparent there was some fairly serious competition going on in our extended stepfamily.
I also noticed that in stepfamilies I knew, there was often one parent vying to be the winner. Sometimes, both parents fought for the winning spot in their child’s attention. Other times, a stepparent edged into the competition. In other families, there was an all-out covert campaign, with regular one-upping. Or, more passively, one parent putting the other parent down in an effort to discredit them. There was even a parent who needed to be needed so badly she set up situations where she appeared as a winner.
I re-evaluated the place I held and engaged with my stepfamily for the umpteenth time. I re-evaluated my sense of needing to do or fix something or make things better. I emerged from the deep-dive committed to laying down my end of the tug-of-war which I wrote about in this blog post.
It turns out stepping away from the competition was the best thing I’ve done in this stepmother journey.
When I’ve suggested as much to a couple of friends, they responded, “but, ___ “ and the list of complaints and worries went on, clearly they were tormented by the feelings they had inside. They weren’t ready to end the tug-of-war, not yet.
There are apparently some stepfamilies where the parents in the two homes work together closely and there is not a competition. I take my hat off to them. If you can do that and it works and there isn’t resentment from any of the parents, then bravo.
That is not the case in 90% of the stepfamilies I know. In most cases, a great outcome would be if the parents largely left each other to their own devices and didn’t interfere with one another. Instead, we see competitions that focus on making sure the child shows loyalty and emotional attachment.
If you’re in one of the 90% of stepfamilies I’m familiar with, you can gauge whether you’re caught up in even a low-level competition by your responses to a few issues. If you find yourself stewing on what the kids’ mother wore today and how awful it was, you’re in competition. If you feel gleeful that you got to spend more time with the child, that’s competition. If you feel angry when your way of doing something is criticized, “my mom doesn’t do it like that,” that’s a pretty good sign you see yourself in competition.
It’s a tough thing to let go of, this competition. While there are cases to be made for competition and I’m so glad my football team keeps getting up every day and playing the game, a stepfamily is not a game or a competition. A stepfamily is a haven, a healthy environment, and a resource for all the people who take shelter there.
I decided that I could let go of my competitiveness and comparisons and stay focused on that haven-healthy-resource future with my husband, a future that very, very often looks like we’re not winning. From the outside, it often looks like we are losing. But we know we’re not, we get up each day and give it our best, sometimes with good results and sometimes ho-hum results. Occasionally, something happens that confirms for me that this life is a process and even though it’ll never be exact or fair or even or equal, it’s a great life and we do indeed have a haven-healthy-resource thing going on.
I’m on board with my hubby and OSU Coach Riley. Neither one of them yells to inspire people. They go with and support and encourage. It works for them and it’s working for me. My blood pressure is down (just kidding, I didn’t have high blood pressure, it just felt like it) and my heart is at peace. I don’t like everything I see and I can get riled up a bit from time to time. I’ve also been known to stick my nose in during an emergency and I stand by that and would do it again in a heartbeat. But, overall, we’re moving in the right direction, toward a positive experience, a healthy environment, and a haven-resource for us all.
Just like my OSU football team, we’ve hung on to our vision of the future and we keep working toward it even on days when the pace is glacial and we wonder what it’s all for. Then, we look up and find ourselves in the thick of this life we share with his kids.
That is winning.