Today, I want to talk about the Gospel of John 8:32.
I am not religious, that is to say I do not follow organised religion. But, I do admire and revere Jesus Christ, as many other figures in the great history of our world, who had a mission to make the world a better place for others. Today it is his words that ring in my head, after reading this post from DragonflyMama
Jesus said "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free".
I've always admired Dragonflymama's tenacity in the face of complete and utter hostility and contempt from her stepdaughter's mom. She has resolutely tried to do the right thing, to shield the child from any hurt or conflict, and to love Buttercup despite the obstacles in the way. It is how so many of us try to be as stepmothers, because we DO want the best for those kids. Especially if we have grown up in the blender ourselves and experienced family conflict as children. We continually put our own feelings aside, time and time again, and put ourselves in the firing line, sacrifice ourselves rather than let the children suffer. We smooth things over when there is conflict. We back down rather than make a scene. We let the mothers walk over us and our families time and time again, and still we try to put on a brave face, treat them as we wish they'd treat us. And to love the kids, even when, in Dragonfly's words "she feels saddened by her love for me".
My SD does not get much joy from her relationship with me, because she is not free in it. The loyalty bind her mother has put her in leaves her wary to discuss things we have done together, admit that things she has gone home with have been bought by me, and means that as soon as she leaves our house, she is self editing constantly lest something slip out that BM may fly into a rage over. She does love me, I think, but I don't think loving me makes her very happy, because she has been told that to love me is to love her mother less.
I was very moved by both of Dragonfly's recent posts, because I have got to the same point myself with the step game. The point where I am no longer willing to pussyfoot around BM or appease her in the hope that one day she might see that DF and I are not bad people, that we don't want to "steal" SD from her, that all we want is peaceful co-existence and for SD to be able to enjoy and love both families equally. I have never had a lot of communication with BM, so I wouldn't write to her telling the truth about what I think of her and what I think of what she's doing to her daughter, but I can see how cathartic this experience must have been, and how much stronger you sometimes feel for just admitting the truth instead of trying to play the game by the unspoken rules that we feel we "should" play it by. Why on earth should we put up and shut up and keep going back for more? If you put your hand in a fire, it burns your skin and it hurts, doesn't it? Would any sane person, once they had realised what fire does to the skin, go back and do it again?
I too am done respecting BM and her precious role as mother, because she does not respect DF as SD's father and she does not respect me either. She does not respect our home, our rules, or the fact that we care for and love her child. To her, SD is a possession and weapon, wielded as leverage and power over her ex husband. She thinks she is fighting some kind of war - well, BM, you can only fight a battle if you have an opponent who is willing to engage you, and if you don't, you'll be standing on the battlefield alone looking pretty damn silly with all your armour on while your hated enemies are off enjoying themselves and getting on with their lives.
Like my fellow steppie warrior Dragonfly, I am done shielding my SD from her mother's actions. I am done trying to fight for extra time with SD, to take her on holidays, to do the things that kids should be able to do with their families. From now on, we are simply going to say "sorry, we can't take you on holiday, your mum won't let us have you" and she can take it up with her mother why she's missing out. I am done bending over backwards to provide the kind of life for SD that I think she SHOULD have and her mother isn't providing, and trying to cram all that into 7 days a month. I actually have my own life to get on with. There, I said it. I'm done fighting.
Sometimes you have to do this in order to let the battle wounds heal. When you no longer know WHY you are fighting this war, what the outcome of it is meant to be, and whether it is even a just war any more, you have to put down the weapons and actually figure out if the reasons you are still there are the same as when you entered it. None of this means that I will stop loving or caring for my SD of course, but it does mean that I'm going to do the one thing you're not supposed to in Steppiesville and put myself first. Because if I don't, I've realised that nobody else in this game will if they're too busy on the battlefield to see that there's life beyond hiding in the woods in your camo gear waiting for the next attack.
The uncomfortable truth for so many steppies is that we have little control over how the step-life pans out for us. We can be Mother Theresa-like beings who never say a cross word to the kids, but that won't help if the kids are in a loyalty conflict, in fact as Wednesday Martin has pointed out on numerous occasions, it may actually make it worse. We can set the best example to the kids, but that won't help much if the kids are spoiled and indulged by guilty post-divorce parents. We can insist on respect from the kids, but if kids are being told by their other parent that they don't have to respect you and the parent you live with isn't challenging it, you're the lone voice.
So here's the better truth, and this is, in those immortal words, the truth that will set you free. We still have control over OUR lives, and there's no rule book that says you have to keep putting your hand in that fire. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of that truth when we're deep in our steppie trenches, that actually, we do have the choice to let it set us free.