Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ROI on steps: FLAT

The price of anything is the amount of life that is exchanged for it.” Henry David Thoreau

All choices exact time, energy and produce memory artifacts.
It has been said that I have projects not people in my life. That view is held mostly by people who themselves find distance a comfort or depth a risk or options plentiful. All of these conditions apply to my stepmom relations.  All the children are now adults, thus the day-to-day dependency is gone. It is time to assess the ROI and the moving forward investment.

A step relationship is a consequence of marriage. I the case of my three stepchildren the decision to marry was hastened to meet their needs as defined by their legally responsible parent - health insurance, housing and access to an affordable education that would match their dreams of becoming.

I ask myself “Would this marriage have happened without the children factor?” It is impossible to disconnect.  This leads me to deduce that it would have been less likely.  This was number three for me and I wanted a family which is more than a husband.  Truth be told; I wanted a daughter.
From past alliances, I was keenly aware of how the extended family would contribute to, or rob, the health of the family.  I tried to assess the long-term potential of interpersonal dynamics and there did not appear to be any smoking guns as was literally the case in alliance one. I knew blended would be challenging but I thought the outcome could be ‘near normal’ by most standards and that was in large part what I wanted for both me and my son. This choice of partner was more like my blue collar roots. And there was irony in the fact that we shared some extended family making the prospects of vacations in Vermont – my most favored childhood memories – possible.

So I found an intelligent, handy blue collar guy who was comfortable down to the smell and feel of his skin with kids and  Vermont connections and’ what I had’ could stabilize his family so BINGO.   My 10 year old child within had ‘the potential’ for the idealized whole family and I would be back on course with my life. Success! And like I said me & he “we” felt good together. I had comparative life experience here and the difference was often magical – so I assumed this was Love.

“People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou
It has been said that I have hurt the feelings of others with my actions, tone and look.  Got to love how ‘my look’ has been so devastating. There is some irony in that these hurts have never been disclosed to me nor can I recall anything that could be devastating – again my life experience has within it perversion, murder and madness so my barometer may be skewed.

Adding to the illusion of ‘project, not people’ my focus was on keeping things paid for and available and to enable the father of these children to have lots of face time which means I was behind the scenes. I was not all work. Community Service was a cornerstone of my life which I re-established with my new family and community.  I needed to both walk-the-talk and to support the evolution of the talents and interests of all the children.  We were in the community as a family working on projects and their talents concurrently.  
Anonymous-like seemed best along the way as it gave the dad credit for the providing for their needs as each arose or extras as they were decided upon. He got a constant and immediate return on ‘Our’ investment.  We are now in ‘YaYa’ mode - his family name for ‘grandfather’ and guess ‘who’ is still is getting the ROI and who is anonymous.

So it has been fifteen years and a very different span of life than the prior fifteen, and the fifteen before that. In this span I recall raising my voice about a dozen times in frustrated anger – and maybe thrice blurting out-loud that this “marriage” was a mistake that needs to come to an end. In this new and loud family getting to the same decibel level was of itself a challenge that I was rarely inclined to meet. They chatter loudly. It is not arguments or fervent discussion – merely exuberant chatter.  
The rare arguments were very values based which was a ‘me| them’ dichotomy. I can without reserve say that all discord has been over the children and one child in particular.  My concerns have been (still are) about self-interest to the exclusion or harm of others or themselves and if there was an appropriate ‘parent’ intervention to take.  I wanted transparency which required conversation with all parties at the table – but outnumbered I sometimes eventually responded from a place of hurt which typically creates more hurt and thus the mutual cycle of justification and distancing. I did not wish to support behaviors that I did not condone.  Discovering secrets, or lies, could become major in my eyes.

So as the ‘other’ I had choices. I choose my values every time because they were real and the relationships were too suspect. Resent disclosures seem to suggest that what I have said and done pales in comparison to a few ‘made them feel’ seeds ironically nourished by the lacked of light and context, in other words absent conversation.

Love the questions themselves.”  Rainer Maria Rilke
Uncertainty is a permanent state that is more fragile if more conditions are subject to change. The advice of Rilke is to learn to love the mysteries of life which is much easier to contemplate; than to live.
So back to the question “How would I assess the ROI on being a stepmom? Outcomes are assessed based on some expectation of results. For me results are values based adding to the complexity of this question whose answer has three domains:  First, what is the status of the relationship that created the ‘step’ condition. Second, by societal standards in addition to my own values, where did the children land?  And, do I feel the marriage|parent choice was worth the time and life energy expended?

I believe that strong values provide for stability even if they become what teenagers rail against. They help us make choices and understand the choices made. In a blended family they help level the playing field and guide resource constrained life choices.
My most bedrock principle is that within my means I invest in each child to the extent that they invested themselves. This is in reaction to, and a build upon, a striving for fairness that was the underpinning of my father’s parental worldview and “fail, better” lesson from my own experiences. And from my grandfather, I was instilled with a ‘world’ view which he exemplified through is love of the land and service to his community. Distilled his life lesson was “Try to do no harm (avoid harm by intent), and be a good neighbor”.

Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. C.S. Lewis  To be either young or old enough to have a relationship of wonder and awe in the world. 
All of the steps are 21 years old or older now; so as projects (not relations) it is time for Lessons Learned and a Results Summation.
I am supposed to be in a place where I can start reading fairy tales again. But even as a child I was more of a non-fiction reader. Wonder and awe are illusive. I have the ball & chain of responsibility still within my DNA and a lack of clarity on my wants befuddled by the actual ROI on my most recent life investment in family.

Assessment: Faulty Benchmark. Flat return.
As regards where they have gotten to, “They are consumer-centric and not one is concerned about their impact on the earth. The observable measures of their world are stuff, glitter, costumes, and games.  Each was educated to the extent they chose to be and all are living comfortable by American standards.  So the results ‘as projects go’ are within a high range; but as a mother I am not brought to a smile. I believe there is significant bio-mom influence here so there was not much I really could expect as an outcome.

With my world view as a lens the results of blended family life are less than satisfying. I do not find my steps to be very interesting or even nice people -- but I reiterate the world view is mine. Others coo and giving kudos to each of them over their babbles, baby extensions of self and entrepreneurial adventures. When I ask "Why am I wrong to  respond based on information and values, the answer is "to ‘preserve’ the relationship." I wonder what relationship means in this context. I thought real relations were based on truth and trust and adults can exchange meaningful ideas and feelings.
The child most prone to self-destruction and addiction has not changed.  She is not at her lowest word slurring, drug consuming ‘all about me’ state but she still “all about me”. What has changed is the all about me now includes her three children. I call her the other wife. She has lists of to-dos for her father and expectations that the check will still always be picked up. She does not say thank you because she is entitled to all that is given her.

Exemplifying stories on current status: Oldest child and reason for nearly every argument. (I no longer have a name just a moniker "the wife"). When she is interfering (usually getting her father to do a list of chores or pay for things) I refer to her as "the 1st wife".  This is a simple way to establish that what is going on is not setting well with me --- but it never inhibits the process she gets the chores done and stuff paid for and I need to fit into their schedule.
My advice to a pregnant step-daughter in relationship number three is “Do not get a dog now”. As always I am dismissed with condescension.  A frisky Chocolate Lab, Reilly, becomes a member of her newest family. Then the baby comes and within less than a year the strain of responsibility is too much. Reilly must go. I offer to care for Reilly until she can be re-united with her family (a.k.a. estimated 6 months when step daughter gets her shit together enough to manage being a stay at home mom with one child). Four years later, Reilly is reunited with the family by “Ya Ya”. He sees it as a way to meet the needs of the second baby, now 2. I am merely told the dog will be visiting VT. I have inferred enough to know that the dog and grandchild will be good for each other and this was the reason Reilly was with us, so of course. I hope it is decided that Reilly can stay. But initially it is too inconvenient for Reilly to stay because the family is going to Aruba (all expenses paid by the in-laws). Reilly goes back the following month. Not much is shared with me, so I probe. I get told that they want Reilly but she can visit every year when they go to Aruba that is if “I am not going to be a bitch and keep her”.
Both the dog and grandchild are now displayed on FB and called dumb, or fat or stupid by the Mom to the LIKES of others, other than me. And No I am not going to dog sit for Aruba.
Assessment: I see a picture of her and her oldest daughter getting matching haircuts and my gut fills with worry that she may become like her and I think it is scary. I do not keep this secret.  Negative return.

Exemplifying stories on current status: The talented son
He is in a fairy-tale of his own making and is consciously delaying the creation of his own family.  He is creative and capable but after short very infrequent visits my ears ring from the all the nesses: loud-ness, judgmental-ness or shallow-ness. This child was the most socially out of step in the world. As he did with all relations with girls, he abandons his family and embraces hers. He is now living with his in-laws when an equally affordable, more independent and spacious option is available to him based on the investments I made with Ya Ya. Slap.
Again no conversation just lots of inference that I am too evil to be around. Me who paid off 2 years of car payments as wedding gift, subsidized the last minute air conditioning for the wedding,  gave them a gift of local food weekly as an engagement gift instead of stuff, forwarded job announcements and other resources as I come across them.  I am not told to stop sending job opportunities but I catch wind of a life change on Twitter. We, his Dad & I are not invited to a meal. He lives 2 miles away. Even strangers are compelled to behave differently with food sharing.

My Holiday: Let me preface that we are not practicing Christians but this Holiday is pretty ubiquitous.   I buy a few things that I think they each may need (like kool ties for the new teachers) and ask for 5, maybe 10, minute time together to exchange gifts in our home. It gets postponed and then it is not important enough for his wife to participate.  This was to be my only time with family to exchange gifts. This fact does not seem to have import. I am upset and show it – I do not want to pretend.
Assessment: He has achieved his potential as a talent and has some redeeming qualities. I am in zero wedding pictures. Flat return. 

Exemplifying stories on current status: Now 21
The youngest child was hidden away in a computer or TV isolated from others when I met her at age eight so is it not a surprise that she chooses online college and is an entrepreneur creating ‘fan art’.
She is observant and smart and snide and comfortably married to what appears to be a good match for her. As a teen she had a live in boyfriend, no expectations of contribution to family life and a constant relationship with bio mom. She navigated the “I wants and gets” well from the start. In our home she still has a room with heaps of stuff not needed for more than 2 years. Most likely all in there was never needed.

Her dad chooses to chat with her on Sunday Morning instead of having quality time with me on a weekend we had dedicated to “us”, or so I thought. He is not willing to even share with her that his choice, and hers, upset me. He was ‘in the dog house”.  She now knows of how this 30 minute conversation about nothing urgent was felt and the outcome is morning text messages with snideness: An I interrupting something. What  am I to take away from these events and responses?  

I decide that all my blended family  “relationships are too fragile for truth”. Depression follows and this blog post.   
Assessment: She is the most independent and maybe the brightest of the children. Conversations can be held with her about other than stuff. She is still navigating. Flat return with blip of optimism but maybe that is misguided because I see some hint of truth in her snideness.  

All three are back to the place of their childhood where they have a birth mother that lavishes ‘stuff’ upon them and participates in their adult creation and acquisition of more stuff. They do not seem to be conflicted by their sidebar conversations of derision, judgment and comments about her alcoholism.  Does she know? If she did, would it hurt her? Would she still be compelled to buy her relationship? Is she getting more from being their mother than me in this illusory relationship?  Each is willing to visit and connect with Bio-Mom based on the ‘stuff’ exchanged. Visits at our home are totally based on convenience and need. 
I assumed I did not even merit side-bar conversation but recently discovered that the oldest regularly and fervently suggests to her father to leave me.  

So it is a lack of transparency that informs my place and considerations of relationships going forward.

On Saturday I was told that I have written off the children. That I can pretend and participate and make nice but I choose not to. 
I think "What will pretend give me: more things to pay for and an illusion of family. That sucks" I know this excommunicated living makes the marriage unsustainable.  What I do not know is how to invest in the future because I truly was not expecting this last investment to yield just unsatisfying results. 

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