A dear friend recently lost her grandmother. The funeral was well-attended, as Grandma Ruth had lived a long life and endeared herself to many. Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Al had eight children, and four of the eight children were divorced, remarried, and had stepchildren. When my friend described the funeral, I was envisioning a giant picture of a family tree with branches upon branches connecting the entire cast of characters. At the top of the tree was Grandma Ruth, who opened her heart to her entire family, whether related by blood, adoption, marriage, remarriage, or simply kinship. I was delighted to hear that her step-grandchildren paid tribute, recognizing that Grandma Ruth accepted them as her own when they often felt they were merely part of their family’s “baggage.”
Too bad this is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve heard many stories about evil stepmothers or stepfathers and unfair treatment in blended families. It’s a fact of life in the 21st century that our families no longer consist of a mother and father of the same race and religion, with 2.5 children and a dog. Family is complicated. It’s messy. No two families look alike. And everybody thinks the solution is unconditional love. I can write about unconditional love until my fingers fall off, but sometimes it’s not realistic. How can a daughter unconditionally love her stepfather when he molested her? How can a son unconditionally love his mother when he thinks she abandoned him?
In theory, unconditional love is absolutely the answer. Just read “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom if you need further proof. To me, unconditional love can be as complicated as your family tree. The biology factor in unconditional love is easy to understand, but what’s not so easy is when there’s no biology. Your parents got divorced when you were young. Each of them remarried people with children from prior marriages. Are you supposed to unconditionally love your new stepparent? Are their kids supposed to love your mom or dad unconditionally? I think that’s a lot to expect.
Then factor in grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, step-cousins (is there such a thing?) and family friends who are honorary aunts and uncles. The branches of these family trees are so intertwined they look like spaghetti on a plate. Complicated is an understatement! Can you imagine their holiday newsletter? Hundreds of people on the email list, and footnotes galore explaining who’s who. Yet everybody loves everybody at least once a year, right? Ha! Certainly not in the case of the families who have asked to sit at my conference table.
Maybe what’s needed instead of unconditional love is unconditional acceptance. That’s what Grandma Ruth did.
Thank you Nancy. Your insight has helped me a lot. 💕
What a great article. When my stepmother passed away, by father soon married my aunt. (His late brother’s widow) We have all kinds of jokes about me having an auntie-mom and her not needing to change her last name. She brought into the mix her 6 children who used to be my cousins and now became my step brothers and sisters along with all of their spouses and children. What quickly happened, was I was no longer important. My fathers life became the dotting grandfather to all of their children, whom I did not even know. I lived 1000 miles away so for good reason, he would become close to all of them and become Grandpa Don. When I did go to see him, the conversations never included me, I was lost on the subjects they were talking about and they never made me feel included. But it got worse. When my Father passed away. I was his only blood relative, yet I was not in the front row of the funeral home. In fact, no seat was reserved for me at all. I found myself in the back row in silent pain as I bid my father a goodbye. When we went on to the cemetery it was a raining and wrapped in a blanket I was left to stand in the rain as the graveside service took place. My ray of sunshine was when the funeral home guy (not sure his title) who actually was my step-uncle from my mother’s side. Saw what was happening, he went to the “family” that was sitting in the chairs under the tent and told them. This is Don’s Daughter and she needs to sit right here and made one of the other family members vacate their seat. I am not angry about this situation, as I honestly do not think any of them in their time of grief even thought of me since I was an adult with my own family living far away. But it did teach me to be sensitive in times of need for families that I have become a part of. I have a wonderful person who has taken me as a daughter to her. However, when her real daughter comes to town, I step back and let her have the proper spot in the family becasue of this experience.
In sharing your pain, I’m certain that you’ve helped someone else. Thank you.
I like that thinking.