Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blended but Not Quite Smooth

Having a blended family is not what one would call easy.  Most of the time things run without a hitch.  Then there are the other times.
When Doug and I got together and decided that we wanted to make this thing permanent we did so with eyes wide... squinted, really.  A new relationship always comes with its own baggage. We both did. Having been married before we came together with a lot of our own issues. We both spent time making the other pay for sins that weren't theirs and through trial, error, and a whole lot of miscommunication managed to get past it.  I am not She and he is not Him and we've managed to go down that road fairly smoothly.  A decade or so worth of conditioned responses did not always have the outcome that was expected. We learned and we grew and our relationship is stronger for it. 
The biggest difference we had was children.  I came into this with three children and 12 years of parenting experience behind me. Being young, and for a good portion of the stretch, on my own, I had done things a certain way without interference.  Mine was a tightly run ship with no margin for error.  It was my way or the Gypsies - you pick.  I learned quickly as a single mother that there was no room for complacency.  In two parent households you can run the good cop/bad cop in a somewhat alternating fashion without running into a loss of control.  When there is only one cop the game changes and you must be one all of the time or risk a reign of chaos you can not get a handle on.  A common saying became "What I say, when I say it, the way I say it". Without such strict order all could  be lost. Let's face it, I was (and still am) outnumbered.  This was met with a mix of shock and awe. I got comments that ranged from "I'm amazed at your strength - good job. Glad you're not my mom!" to "Your parenting makes us uncomfortable, do you think you're too hard?".  Most days I am secure in my parenting choices. I only need to watch my children in any public or social situation to know I did the right thing. Bad behavior was punished swiftly and fiercely, and the results are evident.  Other days I am wracked with Mommy-Guilt. 
In walks this man willing to step in and step up without qualms of taking on three children not of his making.  He quietly and unceremoniously steps in to help lighten the load. I warned him. I tried to disillusion him to the joys of this family that he was about to make and I was met with a patience that I hadn't known existed. Mine was a world of chaos and he sought to bring order and balance to the control I had such a tenuous death-grip on.  And ever so slightly, I let go. Sort of.
We made Mine into Ours and then added two more little humans into the mix. I'd like to say it all runs smoothly. I'd give my new boobs to be able to say that we have become this cohesive unit that runs as if it was always this way, but it's not.  When I started dating again I refused to date men with children. All of the reasons, all of the fears, and all of the struggles I was unwilling to deal with are  becoming a reality in my own home. It took five years for these to be vocalized to me. I am at a loss. 
The biggest problem we are running into is a disparity in the way the older girls respond to us. They often will ask who they think will give the best answer. Can I go, can I have, is not asked of who is more convenient or available. This is something that all parents deal with. I did it as a teenager. I know Doug did, too. But there is a wound there that will not allow this explanation to be a salve.
Then there is the attitude. First, let me say, these are teenage GIRLS! Attitude is everything. And without it I'm pretty sure there would be a irreparable rift in the universe that would cause the earth to implode. The vacuum created by the lack of exaggerated sighs alone could cause satellites to suddenly fall from their orbits. Unfortunately the issues lies in the girls giving Doug an attitude that they would never dream of giving me.  But without the 12 years of previous dictatorship under his belt it's difficult to be on a level playing field.  I'm sure it's the same attitude that teachers, coaches, and other authority figures get.  But detention, benching, or privilege-revoking are not the deterrents that a lifetime of ingrained obedience is. I believe their response to me vs other authority figures is muscle memory.  In the same way I may learn to be fluent in another language, at this point in my life I  will never learn to think in Icelandic. I will always think in English first and respond in Icelandic in a probably less than ideal way. This is how the girls respond with Doug. This isn't fair. But I don't know how to change it. I struggle - we struggle. 
I am not without my own fault in this. I tend to step in when I shouldn't.  I make decisions without consulting and just generally take over when I really should step back. I know this is not a struggle I make alone. I'm sure this is a commonality everyone with a blended family wishes we didn't share.  All I can do is try to be conscious of this and do the best I can to make it easier on all of us.
I hope my husband can continue to be patient with me. I hope my children listen when I try to explain this to them.  One way or another, it will all work out. I only hope it's for the best.