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.

Dumped because she wanted her own children

Dear friends, I’m still getting lots of comments at the old Childless by Marriage site. I’m trying to herd them over here, but I don’t want anyone to miss anything, so I’m sharing this exchange from yesterday. Anonymous needs some advice. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Anonymous said:

God, it’s been very comforting reading all the posts. The one thing that appears clear to me is we are scared if we leave we will never fall in love again. I’ve just been dumped and I’m brokenhearted, as I truly was with the most amazing guy. He had two teenage kids from a failed marriage over 10 years ago. I’m 38, he is 44, and on our first date, because I knew he had kids, I asked if he was open to having more, which he answered straightaway. A few months in, he had a bit if a panic attack and said he didn’t want any more children and needs to concentrate on the kids he has. He is dealing with a lot of guilt over his kids because he left. I think he feels he failed them and therefore doesn’t want to bring any more kids into this world but knows I deserve to be a mum. I am truly heartbroken, as we had an amazing relationship and deep down I know he doesn’t want it to finish but had to be honest and true to me. I don’t know if I do or don’t want kids, but I would like to have the choice,and if I do, in the next few years. I’m so scared if being on my own and what if I never meet someone, would my ex take me back if I said I gave up on the chance of having kids? I love him so much, but I know he had to be honest. I’m still questioning. Is he honest though and is it the guilt that he has over his two kids stopping him? Funny thing is they will be all grown up soon and won’t need him. He knows he will never meet anyone like me. It’s just so hard.

I replied: Anonymous, I’m sorry this has happened to you. Nobody really knows what will happen in the future. You might meet someone even better, you might not. Keep the lines of communication open with this guy. Maybe it’s not over yet. I hope things work out for you.

Anonymous wrote back:

Thank you, Sue, for your kind reply. I feel lost without him, but I guess it’s not our time right now and I’m very scared of being alone. He is such a wonderful guy, and I feel that the guilt has him torn inside. I thought I could help him deal with his demons from his past relationship, but I should have known better, he can only help himself. Sometimes I wonder would a baby be the making of him as he is a great dad to his kids when they allow him (teenagers!!)
Should I not contact him and let him be for now?

I replied:

Anon, I’d let him be for a while, but it would be okay once in a while to call to see how he is and how the kids are doing. After all, you were a family. But take some time to take care of yourself, too.

So, what do you think? Does this spark thoughts of your own situation? I look forward to hearing from you.

Sue