3+ME: Cry and observe

From a stepmom’s mom, some notes on life

I was bawling my eyes out in the middle of the driveway.

Because that’s what I do. If I’m overwhelmed (as I was in that moment), the plumbing in my eyes bursts a leak.

And there was my mom, coming over to give me a hug.

Because that’s what moms do. If their kid is upset (even if said kid is 30 years old), they comfort.

The reason for my crying isn’t relevant, but my mom’s reaction is.

Because since I became a stepmom, I have a whole new perspective of my parents. I try to pay attention to what they say and how they handle things, because now, I actually need to know this information.

My stepkids have crying fits sometimes, too. And more often than not, I’m completely awkward about it. I’ll stand at a distance and listen to them and try to come up with something not-entirely-stupid to say, but it’s always a shot in the dark.

So as I stood there crying myself, even through the haze of my tears, part of me was paying attention to how my mom was handling the situation. Calm, confident, not hesitant or apologetic. Giving me a hug, knowing exactly what to say.

(Basically the opposite of how I handle things.)

I have a lot to learn about being an Adult With Kids. But spending time with my mom and dad helps.

Not all parents are created equal. (Neither are all stepparents.) But in general, if you’re ever looking for an experienced view of life, and you’re lucky enough that your parents are still around, talk to them.

It might mean a lot to them, and you might learn something, too.

You might learn random things, like that not every parent fears their kids’ teenage years.

My stepson is almost 12, my stepdaughter is 7 going on 17 — and both have moments caught between being adorably childlike and quietly (adolescently) distant. What happens when they’re full-fledged into the latter, I asked my mom that day.

“Those years are hard on every parent,” my mom said. “But I don’t think most parents live in fear of it, because they’ve been there through all the stages leading up to it.”

She pointed out that I, having jumped in when the kids were older, might have a different perspective on it. “But it isn’t something to fear,” she said. “It’s just another stage. We all get through it.”

You might be reminded that your relationship with your spouse always comes first.

“The kids are watching how you guys are together,” she said. “They lived through a divorce. Though both their parents (and you) love them, it’s good for them to see how you and their dad love each other, and make time for each other.”

You might get some other marriage advice, too.

“You both have different strengths,” she told me. “You don’t have to apologize for yours, and you should support him in his. He relates to the kids differently than you do, and that’s OK. He was a single dad for a while. It wasn’t easy.”

You might hear about parenting successes and slip-ups they had when you were a kid.

“There was that time we took you to the beach, and walked right past this surfboard propped up against a sign. The waves were so rough they were knocking you all over the place, and you were laughing so hard — you thought it was hilarious, but it was a little scary. When we left, the surfboard had been moved — and the sign behind it said, ‘No swimming, dangerous waters.’ (Oops!)”

(You might also realize where you get your glass-half-full-ness from: “But the upside was, we left that beach with the same number of kids we’d come in with, so that was good!”)

You might get an inside scoop into the rest of your personality, too.

“You really are a total combination of your dad and me,” she said. “You have the whole emotional spectrum, which is all Dad. And you also have the drive to do, which is me. And those two things conflict sometimes — like they did this morning.”

Our conversations might not have been earth-shattering, but they were comforting. And being reminded that my parents already went through whatever I’m going through — and survived — is a pretty reassuring thing to remember.

Originally published in The Herald News on Jan. 20, 2019.

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