Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our dysfunctional family

When I was younger, as all little girls do, I used to dream about how life would be when I grew up. I never really bought into the whole Prince Charming delusion--dirty pirates and outlaw cowboys have always been more my thing. But oh how I loved to make believe! Sometimes I'd imagine living on a tropical island in a giant tree house. Sometimes I was a rock star's wife, lounging by the pool sipping a colorful drink from a tall glass as the maid asked "Is there anything else I can get for you Mrs. Bon Jovi?" And I'm pretty sure that once or twice I even imagined myself in a black leotard and red high heels dancing around on carnival rides singing to my leather jacket wearing, greasy haired, bad-boy-about-to-reform-his-ways boyfriend. But never, not even once, did I imagine that I'd be married and have a stepchild before I was 20.

Because the very nature of a stepmother/stepchild relationship is such a delicate thing, I've been hesitant to post about my stepdaughter, Shylee. But I think it's time to break the silence.

Confession: Being a stepmom is undoubtedly the most difficult challenge I've ever willingly accepted. It's also been one of the greatest and most rewarding experiences I've ever had. Shylee is, at the same time, one of the most wonderful and most frustrating people in my life. It's hard to explain the indignation I feel when she looks me in the eye and says "You aren't my mom so I don't have to listen to you". But it's also hard to explain the way my heart swells when she wraps her arms around my neck, kisses me and says "I love you Jenny-mom".

Shylee never knew her parents together. They were never married so I don't think she'll feel like I "stole" her daddy, which I believe is a significant source of resentment between children and stepparents. I have been in the picture as long as she can remember. I will be a part of her earliest memories. Even so, I can't help but expect things to get worse as she gets older. In the back of my mind looms this terrible image of Shylee at sixteen: the rebellious teenager from a broken home, always in trouble, always resentful. And of course this will be my fault because I'm the stepmom and all stepmothers are evil, don't you know?

"Dysfunctional families breed dysfunctional families". I don't even remember where or when I heard that saying, but it's tattooed into my memory. I come from what many would call a"dysfunctional family". But the dysfunction in our family tends to be a little different than the normal dysfunction, if such a thing even exists.  We don't harbor the hateful feelings that are so common in families of divorce. There has never been the fighting and backbiting that most people expect from a broken family. There are a lot of steps and exes in my family, but there's also a lot of love and quite frankly, people think that's odd. For example: my divorced parents lived three blocks away from each other for several years. My mom was right there in the sealing room of the temple when my dad and stepmom got married. My grandparents still consider my dad, their ex son-in-law, a part of the family.

The introductions at my baby shower went something like this:"This is my mom and my Grandma. That's my mom's half sister, Carrie and her daughter, Whitney. Over there is my stepmom, Candy and my stepsister, Mandy. My sister in law, Megan and my step sister in law, Ashley are in the kitchen with my sister, Teresa. Now here's where it get's tricky: This is Christy, my stepsister's stepsister-the stepdaughter of my stepmom's ex husband. And my stepmom's sister's daughters are pulling into the driveway as we speak."

And there we were, all the exes and the steps and the step-steps (or whatever), sitting in a room laughing and chatting over refreshments with absolutely no tension, resentment or discomfort. Um...yeah. People pretty much think we're either insane or high.

If the saying holds true and it's inevitable that we pass our issues onto the next generation, then THIS is the type of "dysfunction" I hope to breed into Shylee. I want her to know it's okay to love her mom AND her dad. To feel comfortable coming to me if she has a problem, knowing that I love her and want to help her but also knowing that I'll never try to replace her mother. I want her to feel that she doesn't come from a broken family-she just comes from a big family.

Although this life isn't what I planned or imagined, I love it and I feel that we try to make the best of our situation. I hope that, with enough effort and love, Shylee won't turn into that troubled teenager. I hope that we will always be able to maintain the civil and often times friendly relationship that we currently have with Jessica (Shylee's mom). I hope that Shylee will always feel secure knowing that she is loved by so many people and that she will never be asked to choose one family over the other.

I'll admit that after Shylee stayed with us last week and the time came to take her back to her mom's, I was more than a little relieved. I was completely exhausted after three days of hearing "I want a corndog. Can I hold the baby? How about now? Is my corndog ready? I'm really hungry. Will you get me a drink? Can I hold the baby yet? Can I have another corndog? I need more juice. Can I hold the baby now?". I was really looking forward to returning to a somewhat orderly house. One without a four year old jumping off the back of the couch or trying to feed the baby beef jerky.

But after Adam took her inside and we pulled away from Jessica's house, I found myself thinking...Come back to us soon baby girl, I love you.


  1. I think you're a good step mommy. But I can understand how hectic life must have been with a baby and a 4year old. I know a little about how that was. I watched my 1 year old (at the time) nephew once while Lil was only about 3 months old. It was so hard because he wanted to hold her and play with her and I turned my back for a minute to get him some juice and he was trying to pick her up by her neck!!!
    :) and those pics are so cute!

  2. Once, again, Jenny, that was so perfectly expressed. Shylee is so lucky to have you.


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