Step-parenting in a military family often feels like Groundhog Day. Minus the witty remarks of Bill Murray, conversations are often repeated, mistakes are made, and sometimes the outcome can become a predictable routine. As Bill’s character Phil states, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
Let’s revisit the holidays.
Brightly colored paper, bows, and bags were strewn around the bedroom. Between coughs, I managed to wipe the sweat off my brow and write one more name on a tag. I had three more presents to wrap and then, so help me, my husband was going to carry the load and put it under the tree.
I traipsed down stairs and called my step-daughter into the room so she could wrap Daddy’s present. My mind was foggy from the medicine, but darn it, it was Christmas Eve and I wasn’t going to let a little cough and fever ruin the festivities.
(Two weeks prior, I had taken time carefully selecting all the family presents, wrapping them in our Arizona home, and organizing what needed to travel with my husband on the 12-hour car ride to Colorado. I would meet up with him a week later, but as I was flying, he would be in charge of hauling the bounty of gifts. The continuous demands of his MOS had left me with the bulk of prep for the holidays.)
H finished wrapping her dad’s gift and as we stood up, she bent over to assist with carrying the presents downstairs. A tag peeked out from the pile. “To H, From Santa.” I sucked in a breath. Maybe she hadn’t noticed. I casually covered up the tag with the present sitting on top and walked out of the room, calling her to follow. My husband bounded up the stairs and followed my directions to relocate the presents to the tree. Little did he know that all heck was about to bust open.
I once heard that if you read an hour a day in your field, you will become an expert in seven years. If that is true, I’ve been an expert in education and childhood development for three years now. Interacting with children comes natural to me. What I don’t research and find in books, I pull from my intuition.
No amount of research or gut feelings could prepare me for the fallout of that Christmas Eve though. From the moment H spotted the tag, she began to question the existence of Santa. And who was to be blamed? Me. I became the “stupid person” who ruined Christmas.
Parenting is difficult. The peanut gallery always has suggestions, tips, and cut downs. What one person considers the best way, another person will contradict.
This is similar in step-parenting. One huge difference: We did not give birth to these children. We have not formed the natural bond that comes with taking care of an infant. We are thrown into a situation with a child and expected to instinctively be perfect. Birth parents have the right to tell the peanut gallery to quiet down. That’s their child, after all, and they will make decisions as they see fit. Step-parents become the scapegoat for all that goes wrong—in our control or not.
We should have been smarter. We should have known better. We shouldn’t have left the Santa presents in the same room as the other presents. Who makes mistakes like that? Humans attempting to create a magical, memorable holiday. Military spouses who have to coordinate leave, trips out of state, and civilian jobs.
Here’s my plea—to all other military spouses with children, to step-parents, to biological parents struggling with sharing your children with a step-parent. Please do not judge. Please do not be cruel. And remember that step-parents may feel like they are in a rut, repeating over and over the same routine but without any change.
They try to make situations better, they truly do, but when others around them do not acknowledge the attempt and the intentions behind the faults, they often are left waking up each day feeling like a groundhog.