Monday, December 30, 2013

Family is More Than DNA

Family is about so much more than DNA. I've mentioned my step-mom on here before. Usually, I don't mention my dad at the same time. Some people might find that strange. My dad is still alive & healthy. He just isn't married to my step-mom any longer. Here's the story:

My mother & dad never really got along. I knew by age 6 that they were going to get divorced. They separated when I was 16. The divorce went through when I was 17. After they split up, my dad met a wonderful woman. She had two kids from a previous marriage, and my dad had two kids. It was like the Brady Bunch, except with less kids, more dysfunction, we didn't all live together, no housekeeper....Okay, it was nothing like the Brady Bunch.
From the very beginning, she welcomed me into her family & tried to get to know me. Her kids were a few years younger than me. We started hanging out, became friends, and then became siblings. As far as I was concerned, I now had 2 sisters & a brother. My step-mom's family also welcomed me. I quickly got over feeling awkward & anxious about being around them & starting feeling totally at home with my step-mom & her family. My step-mom helped my dad quit drinking & encouraged him to build a real relationship with us. I loved spending time with them. When my daughter was born, they immediately welcomed her to their family. She was their granddaughter, niece, great-granddaughter without question, even though my dad & step-mom were not yet married.
While I was pregnant with my son & staying in the hospital, my daughter stayed with my dad & step-mom. Shortly after my son was born, they informed me they were splitting up. For the first time, divorce was a bad thing to think about. For the first time, divorce meant I could lose something very important to me. When my parents split up, I wasn't losing anything. They both were biologically my parents, so they weren't likely to walk away. However, my step-mom & her family didn't have to stay in my life.

Let me see if I can explain how I feel about my step-mom. When I decided to homeschool, I knew I'd have to tell people. When I told my mother, I was not concerned at all. I wasn't expecting her to respond well. I figured she would make a few rude comments, maybe tell me how unqualified I am to teach my own kids. I figured, oh well, I'll roll my eyes, tell her to back off, and that's that. It would not have caused a second thought or a moment of doubt. I was pleasantly surprised when that's not how she responded. When it was time to tell my dad & step-mom, I got worried. Her opinion matters to me. If she had said I wasn't qualified or wasn't equipped to teach my kids, if she had said she thought I wouldn't do a good job, I would have had doubts. I would have reevaluated. I would have been crushed that she didn't think I was capable. Few people's opinions of me matter. Hers does.

She has been more of a mom & friend to me than my mother ever has been. My mother was the woman who dropped me off outside the school & went home when my class was performing 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (this was 1st or 2nd grade). She was the one who moved out when I was 12. She was the one who kicked me out before my daughter was a year old, leaving us homeless. I'm fairly certain that she wishes I had never been born. My step-mom is the one who has told me she was proud of me. She is the one who has encouraged me.

I know it was selfish, but I couldn't help worrying about losing my family. They mean so much to me & I hated the idea of them leaving my life, leaving my daughter's life, my son never knowing them. I knew they wouldn't leave my life out of spite, but I also knew it might be too difficult for them to spend time with me. My dad told me he didn't want me to cut them out of my life for him. He knew they meant a lot to me & my daughter and that we meant a lot to them. He wasn't going to try to force me to choose.

After the divorce, my step-mom needed some time. I, of course, gave it to her. After some time, we started spending time together again. Things have never gotten back to exactly how they were before the divorce. They feel just a bit different. We don't see each other as often. Though, that could be partly because of everyone's schedules. I love the time I spend with them, though. I have anxiety issues, and family get-togethers usually stress me out a lot. Getting together with that part of my family doesn't stress me out.

I would call my step-mom 'Mom,' but I've never been sure how to ask if that was ok. Plus, if I'm being totally honest, I've always been a little scared she'd say no. Though, this year on my Christmas presents, instead of saying her name & her husband's name they said from Mom & her husband's name. So maybe she would be ok with me calling her Mom.

My dad is married to his third wife. I'm not close to his current wife, though. I'm pretty sure she doesn't like me.
My step-mom is also remarried. Her husband is a wonderful man. He has two kids from a previous marriage - an amazing young woman in her early twenties, and a wonderful young man about my daughter's age.

So, whenever I've said something about my step-mom, I mean the woman who is technically my ex-step-mom, but who is far more like a mom than any other mother-figure I've ever had.