Thursday, April 8, 2010

step-family ties

When parents divorce and later remarry they may overlook preparing their children for how to deal with new stepfamily issues. Maybe they don't realize that issues will come up. Maybe they don't anticipate that 'kids' who get along well might not be adults who get along well. Maybe they don't know to expect that the strains of divorce will eventually rear their ugly heads and the differences between how one family was raised and another may not be seen in the beginning, but pop up later. Whatever the case, as a 'child of divorce' (which here, 13 years later still seems like a strange label, since the first 17 years of my life did not carry that label) I (and as an extension my family) feel these strains.

Both my mother and father have remarried and both remarried wonderful people whom I love and am lucky to have in my life. That doesn't mean that I'm happy my parents are not together, but at the very least I can say that I am happy that they are happy. Both of my step-parents have children from previous marriages and in turn each of my step-siblings have very unique personalities. I can see good & bad qualities in each of these 3 people (not that I'm trying to be judgemental)... a step-brother and step-sister on my dad's side, a step-brother on my mom's side.

It feels glaringly obvious comparing my sister and I with our step-siblings that we were raised in very different homes... different experiences, different expectations, different values. Divorce has colored our lives in shades that I think I would describe as wounded. From my own description and point of view I can honestly say that my own parents' divorce still hurts. But one thing is certain, it isn't ever going to go away.

There has never been any type of manual or guidance as to how to be this new version of myself. My parents divorce, coming when I was 17, was easy to put at arm's length. I only had one year of high school left, afterall... I could ignore it, just 'deal' with it for a year and then... a new life. A life of my own choosing. One that didn't require me on a daily basis to face my family being torn into pieces. I only had to think about it on holidays or during the short summer months.

But I digress.

I definitely would NOT say that I dislike my step-siblings. I think the best way that I can describe it is that the wounds of divorce have led (at least two of) them to make choices that contrast with some pretty important values in my own life. I'm REALLY not judging. I imgaine if they knew the way I've kept so many of my feelings and wounds buried these 13 years, they might not think I've made the best choice. Like I said, there's no instruction manual. And I don't judge. But that doesn't make any of us best friends.

But now, as an adult with a family of my own, learning to live with family you didn't pick (but that your parents DID PICK!!!) is DIFFICULT. My dad has been re-married for 9 years, my mom for 8. To this day, I don't completely know how to get along with my step-siblings (particularly the 2 who live in state... there's not a lot of getting along required for a step-brother half way across the country). When those differences in values, the results of choices made by wounded people rub me the wrong way, and I don't know how to stear my own family through the mess. Sometimes the best I can think to do is to keep my own family at a distance, not allow ourselves to be immersed in the chaos and mess. Sometimes I can really feel the pain that that distance causes my step-siblings, parents and step-parents. I feel bad for that. But at the same time, none of us knew how this was going to work and none of us could have expected that sometimes it really does get tangled and messy.

I think it is important to realize & remember that we're all doing our best. We're all trying to figure things out and we don't all get it right all of the time.

Burying my feelings was never a GREAT choice but it was all I knew to do. Maybe some day I can dig them up, dust them off, put them on a shelf and give them their deserved place to be observed at a distance and maybe someday I'll be able to drum up some more positive perspective.

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