Graduation and the childless stepparent

It’s graduation season. Does the thought make you feel a little queasy because your stepchildren are graduating and you don’t know where you fit in? Welcome to the club. I know you don’t all have stepchildren, but enough do that graduation issues are starting to come up in the comments. Graduation can certainly magnify the awkwardness in the family when there are both biological parents and stepparents.

Let me share some of my experiences.

The first graduate was my stepdaughter Gretchen, who had dropped out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child and went to an “adult school” to finish her classes while she was pregnant with her second child. Her mother was living in Texas, so the “family” that attended was her father, her brothers, and me, the new wife. Honestly, it went great. I took lots of pictures and had this warm mushy feeling that I finally had a family. Whatever arguments we had had before didn’t matter.

I was also the mom on duty when Michael, my youngest stepson, graduated from middle school a few years later. Again, his mother was not there, but my parents joined us for the outdoor ceremony. I was working for the local paper and ran around taking pictures for a story, split between my roles as reporter and mom. I loved it.

Four years later, when that same stepson graduated from high school, everyone was there: Fred and I, Michael’s siblings, my parents, his mother and HER parents, all sitting in the bleachers on the football field. Now, this was June in San Jose, so we were dressed in our summer clothes. The few clouds overhead were a welcome relief from days of relentless heat. But shortly after they got through the L’s and Michael received his diploma, the clouds turned black and it started to rain, a hard soaking deluge that sent people scattering for shelter.

At that time, Fred, Michael and I lived across the street from the high school, and the party was happening at our house. I handed my mom my keys and asked her to put the lasagna in the oven while we looked for Michael. Soon we were all gathered at our house, and I was handing out towels. Although things could have been weird, we all got along and felt like one big happy family, laughing over the rained-out ceremony.

Of course there are always those awkward moments. “This is my mom, this my dad, this is my, um . . . .” Know what I mean?

Years later, when Gretchen’s daughter Stephanie graduated from high school, I wasn’t there. Fred was in a nursing home, and my nephew was graduating from a college nearby on the same day. I went to his ceremony instead. There was still time afterwards to get to Stephanie’s graduation, but I was riding with my dad and he didn’t want anything to do with my step-family. (Someday soon I should do a post on the relationship between our own parents and our stepchildren. Now there’s a tricky relationship.) Anyway, I missed it.

And when Gretchen graduated from college a few years ago, I was widowed and living in Oregon and was not invited. Nor did I expect to be, even though I’m very proud of her. I’m proud of all of them, but sometimes that “step” between us is huge, especially with their father gone.

None of the kids came to my late-life master’s-degree graduation from Antioch University in Los Angeles. Fred was the only family there while other grads had big groups, including their children. But then if I had children, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school.

Enough about me. Graduation can be tough. When your stepchildren graduate, whether it’s from kindergarten, high school or Harvard, are you pitted against their biological family? Are you not invited? Are you expected to smile, give gifts, and be the hostess for kids who aren’t your own? To make nice with people you can’t stand? Are you gulping back tears because you may never watch your own children graduate? When you hear the band play “Pomp and Circumstance,” do you think back to your own graduations and how you never imagined things would turn out the way they have?

Let’s talk about it. You can let it all out here. I look forward to your comments.

Advertisements

Childless Facebook groups: apples, oranges and potatoes

The different ways people look at not having children boggle my mind. I follow posts on three different Facebook pages devoted to childlessness: Being Fruitful Without Multiplying, Childless Stepmothers Support Group, and Childless Not by Choice. Trying to compare them is like trying to compare apples, oranges and potatoes. All of these groups are closed groups, but you can join by invitation. If you want to join, I’ll recommend you for membership.

Each group serves a different need, and I get something different out of each one. Being Fruitful Without Multiplying is the site for the book of the same name. Most of the participants are the editors and contributors who wrote sections of the book. Generally their viewpoint is that they don’t want children. Most say they never wanted them. They call themselves “childfree.” Therefore, the posts often talk about what a nuisance it is putting up with other people’s kids or complain about friends who are obsessed with kids or discuss how they wish the wannabe breeders would quit whining.
The Childless Stepmothers Support Group is for childless women who are married to men who have children from their previous marriages. On this page, most of the posters complain about how awful their stepkids and their husbands’ ex-wives are and how painful it is not to be able to have children. They use a lot of abbreviations, such as SS, DH and BM (stepson, dear husband, biological mother), which gets confusing for me. Sometimes the anger gets to me, but sometimes I can really identify with this group. It’s a safe place to talk about family matters without worrying that your husband or stepchild will read what you post.
There’s another group called The Childless Stepmom.This is also a closed group, and I have not gotten involved, but it’s another place you might want to look for someone to talk to.
The Childless Not by Choice group is for people who do want children and can’t have them for some reason. Sometimes the posts are so sad and frankly, yes, whiny, that it’s hard to read, but we all need someplace to go where we can share our anger, pain and frustration with people who understand.
Each of these groups has become a solid support group for its members. The participants offer comfort and helpful advice, but boy, are they different from each other. There’s such a divide between “childfree” and “childless.” I feel like those of us who are childless by marriage get caught in the middle.
What do you think? Poke around and see if you can find a place to land that feels good.
By the way, I have a Childless by Marriage Facebook page, too. Come “like” me there.

Are you a childless stepparent?

How many of you are childless stepmothers? Me, too. My husband came with three children. That led to two step-grandchildren. Now there’s a step-great-granddaughter, but I’m way too young for that.

We do not have a warm and fuzzy relationship. In fact, now that they’re adults, we don’t have much of a relationship at all. But at least when we do cross paths, we hug and say nice things, unlike some other steps.

I have been reading postings at the Childless Stepmoms forum. If you’re looking for company, you might want to check it out. Be forewarned: What I see there most is a lot of anger. The childless stepmoms often seem to be at war with the biological mothers and with the teenage kids. The younger children are usually all right, but there are constant battles over child support, visitation, discipline and other issues that come from sharing children. It’s a good place to vent with friends who know what you’re talking about.

What is your experience with step-parenting? Do you think it’s harder because you don’t have children of your own? (I do.) I’d love to hear what you have to say.