Last week, Buglet’s Dad slipped a ring on my finger and officially became my Future Husband. And I became not only a stepmother de facto, but a future stepmother de jure.
With my mind flooded with stories of how my own blended family of origin was slapped together (with less foresight than one slaps together a sandwich) I wanted to make sure we were making it official consciously.
Emily Post’s Wedding Etiquette: The Definitive Guide to Your Weddin...
(what, you think I’m going to rely on my own manners?) advises “if one or both of the engaged couple have children, they must be told before anyone else.”
“This is critically important for young children, and for teens whose lives will be dramaticlly changed by the addition of a stepparent and perhaps stepsiblings.”
(Not to mention potential half-siblings.)
“No matter how far away they may live or how independent they are, children of any age should be uppermost in the couple’s concerns.”
And I could not agree more. Except I didn’t have that book when he proposed, and didn’t think of it myself, being drunk on joy.
I called my mom, who told my sister, who emailed everyone in the extended family (a population the size of a small country). Thank Gods Buglet is young, and that I don’t overlap socially with Buglet’s Mom. He did not find out. We got to tell him.
Peggy Post, of the Post Etiquette Empire also writes in the wedding etiquette book that “you should also tell an ex-spouse, if for no other reason than to smooth the way for your children’s involvement.” Cobbling together our own sense of etiquette with Mrs. (great granddaughter-in-law to Emily) Post’s we decided it was appropriate to tell Buglet first, and then have Buglet tell his mom with his daddy during a drop-off, without me there.
According to Mrs. Post, “They may be thrilled, but they are just as likely to be doubtful, reluctant, and even frightened and resentful.” At least I had time to contemplate that before we told him, even if my fiance and I may have messed up the etiquette-friendly order of telling folks we’re getting hitched.
So we cooked a yummy dinner, of chicken and veggies thrown on the grill and eaten outside on the deck, the kind of dinner that is becoming family tradition. We talked. We laughed. Buglet ate an entire chicken breast. Things were good. As the sun went down, Buglet’s Dad told Buglet we had some good news.
“See that ring she is wearing? It means we’re going to get married.”
Buglet looked worried.
Daddy asked Buglet if he knew what that meant. He said no. Then my fiance said it means we were going to stand up in front of all our family and friends and promise to love and stay with each other, and that we were going to be a family.
I’m not sure if it was because Future Husband and I were holding hands and facing Buglet, if "getting married" sounded like "going away" because he was anxious and four, or if Mrs. Post was psychic and he was reluctant and doubtful and needing reassurance, but a little shadow crossed his face. He went up to his father and hugged his arm.
“But I’m your son, remember?”
Man, to be inside of the mind of a four-year-old. Such an odd, yet completely understandable thing to say. Such a straightforward statement of need, and direct plea for reassurance. So freaking vulnerable. If there ever was a situation to do the right thing, this was it.
I stepped in there, because sometimes words spring to my mouth faster than Future Husband’s. “Daddy will always be your daddy” and FH picked up the thread with “ Yes I will! But now this means all three of us will be together as a family” and while FH pulled Buglet into his lap for a strong hug, I added “and by marrying your Daddy I’m saying I’m not going anywhere and that I promise to take care of your daddy and you!”
Relief splashed over his little face. Then he came and sat in my lap. Thank God he’s four
, I thought to myself.
For good measure, I added “And no matter what, your Mama
will always be your Mama. But I’ll be sort of like a pretend Mommy
when you are here. And remember the other weekend when little Stella was over here and she asked you if I was your mommy and you got very mad and yelled ‘she’s not my mommy’ and then your daddy reminded you that you liked to pretend
that I’m your mom and it was ok again?”
“Well I have a word you can call me so that none of us have to go through that again!”
I had his interest.
“If someone asks if I’m your mom, you can say ‘no, she’s my stepmom
or my stepmother
“She’s my stepmother!” Buglet cried to a squawking bird in the yard.
And though we’ve had a great Bug Weekend so far, and he’s been very well behaved, sweet and loving towards me. But he’s been a little subdued and especially clingy with Daddy.
I’m not pushing it. I’ve backed off a bit, having wedding plans and a major surgery in the family to keep me busy. I can see this child’s relief at getting his father’s full attention.
And there lies the precarious balance of the stepmother. It could not have gone better. He displayed appropriate distress and we provided appropriate reassurance. He’s getting one on one time with his bio parent and bonding time with his stepparent, and plenty of family time with both of us (We both put him to bed that night we told him. It was nice). Things are going well, and almost as a function of that, I notice my separate-ness, under the best of circumstances. And with it, a slight sadness, loneliness, envy, and longing.
But you know, “it takes love, honesty, and infinite patience to transform individuals into a family, so respect every child’s need to question your decision and seek your reassurance.” So true, Mrs. Post. Do you have stepkids? Ah yes, you do
It is a kind of mental yoga, this stepparenting business. Loving with non-attachment. Being very clearly there for someone when they need you, backing away when they need space, knowing the difference, and not taking it personally. Recognizing your own needs and feelings without projecting them onto another. Letting someone grow to respect you without demanding they do your will, yet without allowing them to disrespect
you. Realizing that you can walk very far with this other person, but there may be a corridor where you must stop, a room you should not walk in yet, or ever.
But knowing that the room that you are in often has doors that are opening, right outside your vision, and that those doors lead down corridors unknown, yet promising.
If I weren’t already on the path of self-examination and growth, this would surely put me there.