#30in30 Day 12: Where Do Step-Parents Fit In?

Sometimes as a writer, you have a topic that’s very personal and you struggle with how to address it without making it personal. I’ve been wanting to discuss the responsibilities and boundaries of a step-parent for awhile. But the Trayvon Martin case seemed to put it into a wider scope.

I’ve consciously refused to watch the trial because it’s just infuriating. From the bits and pieces that I see highlighted, I can’t fathom how George Zimmerman sleeps at night. That’s neither here nor there though. The aspect that seems to be lost in this entire tragedy is Trayvon Martin’s step-mother.

Alicia Stanley did an interview over the weekend with Anderson Cooper. In case you missed it, here’s the full segment.

As vocal as Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, has been about the tragic death of her son and seeking justice in his name, we’ve all neglected the perspective of Ms. Stanley. All along, that’s been a head-scratching detail to me. His mother was not there and according to this interview, Trayvon had lived with Ms. Stanley and Trayvon’s father, Tracy Martin for more than half of his life. The assumption is that Trayvon was loved and embraced by his step-mother. He lived happily as a part of a blended family. So why then have we heard so little from her?

Without reading too deep into this particular interview, it seems like the role of step-parents are summed up accurately. In the death of a child, as long as both biological parents are living, they’re going to be grieving in the exact same way. Even if Trayvon’s mother wasn’t always around or as involved, he was still her son; a child she carried for 9 months and brought into this world. I feel like his parents want to remain a united front because this case is of national interest. With respect to telling the story that Trayvon could’ve been your or my son, continuously showing a pair of grieving parents connects with everybody. In that narrative, there really isn’t room for a 3rd party, that being a step-parent. However, on a human level, it has to be extremely hurtful.

When you raise a child from such a young age and have a huge role in their development, you eventually stop seeing them as “my husband’s/wife’s kid”.  Out of Stanley’s own mouth:

I want people to know that he [Trayvon] wanted to live with me and his father…I don’t know what type of relationship they [with his mother] had, but being with Trayvon, he didn’t speak of his mother a lot…but I want her to know that I never tried to take her place. Never.

As I watched the interview, I sympathized with her pain. I’m involved with someone who has a young child. I’m growing to love her child as if he were my own. From experience, I can say that being in a relationship with someone who has a child/children can be taxing. You don’t want to make it seem like you don’t care about their child/children. At the same time, you don’t want to overstep your boundaries. This is where communication has to be explicit and straightforward.

The narrative surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death is extreme, the narrative behind his life isn’t. He was the product of a relationship that didn’t last yet 1 parent went on to find someone to love. The new person in turn loved Trayvon as her own and is just as much a parent as his biological parents are. Admittedly, I’m too lazy to look up the legal responsibilities of a step-parent. But I would assume they have little to no rights in the lives of children that they are helping to raise full time.

Some people probably feel like Ms. Stanley is trying to make this about her or dealing with her hurt in an inappropriate manner. This goes back to my post about empathy. How would you feel if you’d raised a child and then was told that your opinion and input didn’t matter when that child got sick or at worst, tragically passed away? It’s a dichotomy that isn’t easily understood unless you’re a product of it or have experienced it yourself.

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One comment

  1. As a person who is a product of and cause of a blended family, the dynamic takes a while to understand. I’m not the stepparent, but seeing how my stepmother has always treated me (as her own), and my stepfather as well (pretty much the same), I can figure that it’s not easy. I had a child before I got married, and it took me a while to understand that my wife had to be included in the decisions that I made regarding my kid. The only way for a stepparent to truly feel part of the family is to be made to feel like they are 1, and 2 be consulted about decisions. The decisions affecting the kid will affect the parent too.

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