There is genuine beauty in the mobile symmetry of a marching unit. Be it a band or a brigade, the simultaneously duplicated movements are captivating. When I was in the military, I had the great fortune to command an Air Force Basic Military Training Squadron. Twice weekly the unit, along with all the other Basic Training squadrons, would march in parade for family, friends, and distinguished visitors. The Military Training Instructors, in their uniquely soft spoken and encouraging way, would work with the Basic Trainees to perfect the art of marching in step. The best training instructors will tell you that, for optimal marching results, getting the entire group together (as a unit) at the beginning, is the best way to build the habits required for marching in step. Later additions to the group, folks who were not part of the original unit, can throw things off completely. The later additions can eventually catch the rhythm of the original group but it is decidedly harder. Staying “in step” is a tough gig for the newbies.
Which is why I wonder why they call it “Step Parenting.” Because this step parent is very, very rarely in step. Step parents are from the outside–grafted into an existing family system that already has its distinctive movements and patterns and speeds. Depending upon the ages of the “step children” and the whereabouts of other biological parents, step parenting can be a seriocomic marching disaster. Zigging when needing to zag; zagging when needing to zig. Marking time when everyone else is at double time; double timing to catch up to everyone else marking time. It’s enough to make a seasoned marching veteran run for the hills–if only one knew where the hills have been hidden in the land of step parenting.
There is, in my step parenting experience and observation, rarely such thing as a “unit”–what usually exists is a series of momentarily coterminous “family-like” entities that bang into each other for relatively short periods of time. Those collisions can be innocuous or they can be toxic. As the outsider–the step parent–knowing which result will attain is tough to predict. And, more importantly, knowing the cadence to try to help ensure a better outcome (to try to get in step) is nigh on impossible to predetermine. More often it’s like playing Russian Roulette–only this revolver has a round in nearly every chamber instead of just one. With each pull of the trigger, the step parent realizes, again, how out of step he or she really is.
Boundaries, other parent complications, schedules, tentacles of other step family connections, and financial issues all combine with some eerie atmospheric to make staying “in step” a challenge.
I know that there are step parents who have meshed really well with their step children and their other step relatives. I marvel at the seeming miracle of it and applaud the sense of relational cadence those “in step” parents have achieved. And yes…I have read the books (well, ok, I have looked at all the book titles on Amazon.com, skimmed some of the material, and read bits of it); I know that step parenting is much more art than science. This particular artist is just desperately hoping for the “paint by number” version of the picture so that he has at least a fighting chance of getting one or two colors in the right places before it doesn’t matter any more.
I look to the Scriptures to see Mordecai becoming an effective step (and later adoptive) parent to Esther and, of course, Joseph becoming the earthly father to Jesus; I am genuinely awestruck by the devotion to someone else’s children–a level of devotion that seems out of reach when one is so hopelessly out of step.
Here’s praying for the grace, the perseverance, the fortitude, and the devotion it takes to keep trying to get in step for this particular step parent.
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
© All rights reserved. Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.