On Stepfatherhood

Since this isn’t supposed to be strictly a music blog, I figured it was high time to shift the focus a little. Over time, I’ll be looking to write about film, other writers, poetry and other literature, as well, as my last blog was a small attempt to do, some cultural commentary as viewed through my own lenses.

This latest post, however, is going to be my most personal to date, so I’ll lay a few ground rules for these types of posts that should continue to hold true whenever things of this nature come up.

First, I’m getting married this summer (that’s her in my profile photo with me), but for the sake of keeping things at least somewhat anonymous, I won’t divulge the date or location or time or any other elements like that. My fiancé will also remain nameless, as will her daughter (whose face also won’t appear anywhere on the blog). Instead, they will be E and L, respectively, and I think all these stipulations will be best for all involved.

With all that said, I can now press forward with the topic at hand: namely, that in just a little time from now, I’ll be at least partially responsible for the upbringing of a small child.

L is almost 3 and she’s a spunky, smart, thoughtful and stubborn little girl. None of these traits is lost on her mother or anybody who spends any time with her at all. She can be sweet, and often is, but can also be a typical two-year-old, pushing back on expectations, testing the waters of how much she can get away with, and trying to use the tools at her disposal–things like being cute or her innate ability to whine her way through things if she wants to–in order to get what she perceives she wants.

And that’s the kicker: she’s two and in many cases doesn’t really know what she wants, and certainly can’t tell us, at least in the long-term, what she needs. This is about as difficult as you might expect, but thankfully it isn’t L’s normal modus operandi. She is, more often than not, a good, cheerful child, and I’m proud to able to help continue to shape the person she is going to grow up to be.

All that said, parenting of any kind is a difficult thing, and I’m saying that having not really been fully invested in the process with E and L for very long in comparison. It requires a lot of thinking on your feet, flexibility and the ability to, ironically, simultaneously stick to a plan and schedule, skills that, in large part, aren’t ones I’d call “areas of strength” if asked. Making it even more complicated is that our present situation is a busy one: E is student teaching, all while trying to plan a wedding, take care of L and deal with my neediness. Oh, and she lives at home with her parents, which is a gift for her in many ways, but also means those relationships are more at the forefront of her life than they might be if she were living on her own. As for me, I teach full-time at a community college, but otherwise the rest of my life is focused on E and L and making sure the rest of our lives are ready to start once the wedding festivities are done.

I should be clear that I don’t mean to disparage any of this or anyone here. Relationships are complicated and life is busy and difficult, no matter who they are with or how much you love those people. But the situation brings in a lot of voices into little L’s life, and as the person who entered into the picture most recently, I find that I’m okay with getting pushed to the back of the line in terms of who should be heard. And this isn’t because I don’t want to be involved or that I don’t believe I can handle things, but because I am constantly aware of the eyes and ears on me, and my perception is that as they are watching and listening, I am being judged.

This may be incorrect. For all I know, the other people in L’s life could be cheering me on, encouraging me to step up and take over responsibilities (and, if I’m honest, many of them often do so), but I’m so stuck in my own mind, it’s difficult to ignore the voices and be confident in my role. The truth is, when I’m on my own, I mostly feel in control, so why I am unable to take those feelings, that confidence, and translate it into the rest of my experiences, no matter who is around, is baffling to me. My guess is that like most things, this issue is multifaceted and too intricate to cover in this space.

The biggest thing is the confidence issue. I depend on my intellect a lot to get me through life; it’s why I’m in academia for a career, and why jobs like waiting tables or schlepping coffee never really appealed to me. The problem is that child rearing isn’t always an intellectual thing. Sure, you can know things or believe things are true about children, but since they are human beings, they can’t be boxed into expectations all the time, and that’s where the feeling of the raising kids comes into play, and where my confidence becomes fully shot. Add to that a room fully of people who have raised more kids than I probably ever will or a person who I think probably has more “right” to discipline L or take care of her needs, and suddenly I even lose the intellectual side. Suddenly I’m left feeling pretty helpless about it all.

E and I talk about a lot of subjects fairly regularly, and my role in L’s life is one that comes up rather often. She, being the best person I know, reassures me that I’m doing a great job, and this is what I try to keep in my mind as I’m interacting with L and other people in her life. But my mind, I’ve started to realize, isn’t my ally very often, and the sabotage that takes place in these moments is deafening and debilitating. This is not good for anyone: L loses a sound adult mind, E feels like she has to take care of me when it’s really L that needs the attention and I am frustrated because damnit-I’m-an-adult-and-this-shouldn’t-be-happening.

I do not expect there to be a quick fix on any of this. My mind has spent a lot of time building up mechanisms that it thinks might be beneficial to me, but more often than not become detrimental to my being a successful human being. And so there’s this:

26 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

“We have a strong city;
    he sets up salvation
    as walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
    that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3 You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:1-4)

I’m not very good at remembering this, especially the emphasis (mine) in verse 3. I’ve known this verse for a long time, but I’m not even moderately proficient at implementing it into my life. And here’s the craziest part about this: God trusts in me, and yet I am unable or unwilling to trust Him. If anything, the opposite should be true.

And so in reality it is far less important how I feel in these situations with L and really all about who I lean into when the confidence is shot and I have no clue what I’m doing. It’s about trusting that He is who He says He is, that He’ll do what He says He’ll do, and that He’s got all of us–myself, E and L included–under His perfect peace.

One thought on “On Stepfatherhood

  1. You got this, Mr. Anonymous. I know you have a big heart and love God. That’s the right place to start. Plus, in my experience, parenting is all about doing your best, asking for help, loving like crazy, making a lot of mistakes, and learning from them.

    Like

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