Managing expectations

My Monday got off to a anger-fueled start … not a good boost to the new week. Here is the reader’s digest version of the why:

My kids’ dad widow has a blog. Every couple of weeks I check in over there, just to see what she is writing about and if it includes any disparaging remarks about my kids. It’s activity akin to repeatedly shooting myself with a half-loaded gun and waffling between relief when the firing pin clicks on an empty chamber and hope that it will not hurt when it fires a round into my foot. This morning the stepmonster is cruel, one-sided, and out-of-context in relaying events about my children and a vacation in Hawaii. It infuriates me, because no mother likes to read tales reflecting her beloved children in an unflattering light or described with questionable or compromised truth. The only course of action is to simply stay silent and hope my kids are living by their vows to not read her blog. Engaging her in a debate of facts is pointless.

But I’m still angry with her. My kids are grown adults and choose to have no contact with her, and I am supportive of their choices. If they chose to make peace with her I would be supportive of that as well. M is not so sure, being a stepdad. He imagines himself in stepmonster’s shoes and how they kids might treat or speak of him outside our presence. While I can understand his concerns and actually I have no words of comfort of confidence for him on this topic, I encourage both of us to manage our expectations and to have faith in their character.

Our life as a family is completely different from M’s family or my own growing up. M and I, with the kids … we are closer. We are more honest. We actually enjoy being together and hanging out. We air our grievances and fight our fights. Loudly sometimes. We hurt each other’s feelings, we apologize, and we forgive. And there have been hurtful words that are forgiven but difficult to forget and completely put behind immediately. Despite that, our relationships as a family are scared, and that means everything to us. M and I both have our issues and scars from our upbringing and it influenced our choices as parent and co-parent as well as our anxieties and fears now. As we get older, M seems morew aware that these are not his biological children, and there is some distant, unacknowledged fear of being alone in some home somewhere surrounded by other abandoned old folks after I am gone.

Things can change, but in truth I do not imagine C or G talking smack about us behind our backs. They probably share all sorts of goofy tales, because we have a long and storied history of superbly goofy moments. I can think of several examples my son and my daughter love to share about their upbringing that make me feel like moonbeam mom. But it’s okay; I can always break out the naked baby pictures.

With my history as a horrible daughter learning to manage my expectations for my children is important. I did not have a good relationship with my parents, particularly my mother, and I can see how she would have felt abandoned at the end of her life. Let me be clear that I did the minimum expected for her and I was humane in my dealings with her, but there was no comfort, no affection, no enduring sadness from me other than basic human compassion of what I would feel when another person is at the end of her days. It is striking to me that the difference with what I feel and how willing and how far I am will to extend myself for my kids, my friends, my adopted family members. I came to realize that I was more willing and did not have to force myself to be patient and kind in assisting even the neighbors I barely know is more than what I felt and would willingly do for my own parent.

The reasons for the difficult relationship is a deep, life-altering wound. It is unfortunate that I could not overcome and be more to mom at the end, but I understand my limitations and accept them.

M’s concerns about the kids and how they speak of him and/or how they feel are real and I understand where they come from and what contributes to the low-level anxiety. But we have a lot of future left in front of us, a lot of time to overcome past disappointments and manage our expectations. While my daughter may still have some lingering resentment and reserve toward him for being a stricter and blunter parental authority than she would have liked, she is now an adult and recognizes the value and the reasons why we both parented the ways we parent. Truth be told she has always been the more emotionally volitile, absorbing the worst temper and emotional overactive genes from both her father and I. Time and maturity help even it out, find the balance, and I believe there is still time ahead of all of us. I know in the clutch she’s there to the best of her ability. Where M and I tend to stongly disagree is that “best of ability” from my upbringing and parenting does not meet his ideal standard. M is a rescuer and a warrior, someone with a big heart, strong spirit, and an unfortunate self-righteous streak that must be constantly monitored and managed.

Through the years his stance has softened, his black-and-white melded into a larger swath of gray. The breakdown and estrangement from his father and family has been truly liberating, and the “shoulds” he has held onto for most of his life are melting away into something more realistic. It was hard for him to breakdown the pedestal upon which his father stood, to see the harshness in his behaviors and actions. His father is a good man, but his hard pragmatism eventually eroded and burned out most of his compassion. By the time I met him 20+ years ago I found a generally nice man when things were going well and a hard-headed emotional abuser when things were not going well. As the years passed the line between going well/not going well moved significantly in the negative direction. I know M misses his father and will grieve when he does pass, but I think he truly sees how skewed the vision of that idolized man and the real man I could never truly warm up to as I would have liked.

From his family of origin, M has struggled with not demanding respect and fealty from me and the kids. I am with him by choice, and the kids have always demonstrated appropriate level of respect, which unfortunately fell far below what his family tended to demand. It has been a push-pull adaption through the years, because being a stepparent is not an easy or cushy role. It sometimes seems that we, as a blended family, have had to learn how to manage our expectations in a more meaningful and practical manner, but I know that it is true of everyone, everywhere. To expect perfection is to be constantly disappointed, and to expect nothing is to become cynical and lose capacity for gratitude.

As the years have passed and we grow older I can feel the changes and adjustments in our family life. The kids are now adults, with independent lives. Now more than ever, managing our expectations for our relationships seems even more important. I always hope that the stepmonster will not live up to her private nickname, yet I am never surprised when she says or does something deliberately provocative and hurtful toward my kids. It infuriates me, every time. If it were shaded more truthfully or with more balance I would be far more rational about it. Because it is expressed to show the worst sides of my kids without any context makes want to slap her.

Thankfully I cannot think of a single occasion where I will have to see her again and have to restrain myself.

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