Monday, January 09, 2006

Parents Pick Your Battles

Been thinking about parenting a lot lately. I have new friends with a newly constructed family -- a single mom with a 13-year-old girl and an 8-year-old girl marries a great guy who's never had any kids. The three women move from the warm West Coast into the man's condo in chilly Boston. The new stepdad and the 13-year-old are really going at it.

And I was thinking about how tough it must be for parents in "blended" families -- always sounds like some blender drink or something -- especially for the novice parent who missed the first 12 years of a kid's life.

I don't know how you can just come in at "Chapter 13" and have a clue! So many of the battles are not about the new step-dad, but probably about her turning 13 and all the hormones colliding with her original personality.

Seasoned parents know it's just "a phase" and how to side-step so much of the drama. They've had 12 years to know what's really their kid, and what's the phase and which to ignore and what exactly to be concerned with.

A new stepparent who's never raised kids of any age is at a serious disadvantage. I like both the girl and the stepdad very much individually, and feel bad for both of them when they lock horns ... I can hear it all heading into the danger zone and I want to shout out "Wait! Don't go there! Come back! Don't fall in that hole!" The landscape is an obstacle course of hidden booby-traps and landmines which I can see with my parental x-ray vision. I know where NOT to step, but why can't they see it?

With my own kid, I know which battles to pick, which to avoid. Most of them are lost from the start if you dig in your heels.

The stepdad is doing a great job -- far better than I could do with his stepdaughter. And she's doing just what a 13-year-old girl can be expected to do ... I won't say more. I think both of them are terrific.

With my friends, I'm tempted to think, "What is it that they each REALLY want from one another?" I expect the stepdad wants a level of respect and cooperation that he undoubtedly deserves but is unlikely to get. I expect that the girl wants the stepdad to know (and every other adult) that "nobody's the boss of me!"

I figure both of them are actually grieving the loss of the way things used to be. Maybe both are grieving the loss of the ways things might have been -- having perhaps believed before it all happened that putting the four people under one roof would be fun and easy.

I know it will all come out in the wash. It's a fight to the end perhaps, but that level of engagement shows me that they really care about one another and that's exactly what should be happening under any roof, people caring. I'm waiting for that happy ending.