What impact do stepmoms have upon us? An interview with Kelly Gray

We've heard from teens about life with a stepmother. We've heard stepmoms themselves discussingwhat it's like for them, trying to manage an instant family and competing loyalties, all while adjusting to a new marriage. I thought it'd be interesting to hear from someone who has the luxury of hindsight in this situation. 

Blue_sky_climber I met Kelly Gray while rock climbing down at the greenbelt one lovely, scorching day and I could tell his climbing mates were enjoying his infectious laughter and sense of playfulness. Before I knew it, I got sucked in too. Not many climbers like to sing while they're climbing—but he does. And if you don't mind making a fool out of yourself, you'll find that it actually helps both your climbing technique and your nerves….

I'm proud to now call Kelly a friend and I thank him for letting me pick his brain!

How old were you when your stepmom came into your life? How did that go for you? And any siblings?

My step-mom came into my life when I was about eight, though she was my Dad's secretary at the time and didn't become my stepmom until I was about 17 or 18. I was good friends with her son, too, so the transition was actually a little easier. You know when you spend the night with your friends in grade school, their parents kind of "mother" you or whatever, so I was kind of used to her being in a parental role by the time she became my stepmom. She'd also come to pick me up at school a couple of times when I was sick. 

Fence_kids I think the transition was a bit more difficult for my little sister because here was another woman with different ideas about what it means to be a woman. My stepmom's kids both basically turned their backs on her because she was dating my Dad (her employer), which made the circumstances surrounding her divorce suspect for her family as well. The situation was pretty insane for her, and at the end my sister and I both felt really bad for my stepmom because her situation was just so out of control.

Did your relationship dramatically change with her over time?

Not really. Well of course mine did—when I came out of the closet my very religious step mom got on the phone and told me that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Bob…. She kind screwed the joke up, but you get the point. Eventually, I felt like she was really hostile towards me and probably drove my Dad to disown me. My father and I had talked about my sexuality before that; of course anybody paying attention would have guessed, and he'd always promised to be supportive. So when I got dropped, I naturally blamed my stepmom. To this day, I still feel a little like she played a part in all that.

Did you ever feel like your relationship with her impacted your relationship with your father, for better or worse?  

Secrets This one is really funny, because my biological mother ended up with two step kids herself, and I'm really close to my step-brothers. We've all talked about this one –actually my stepmom acted sometimes as a mediator between my Father and I, and my step-brothers both said the same thing about my biological mom! We all agreed that it was easier to talk with our stepmom about some things we couldn't even tell our biological parents, and in some cases, helped "break" the news to our fathers. In a lot of ways it improved the relationship a lot. I did always kind of resent that third person being there, though. My Dad and I were best friends, and when my stepmom came along it added this layer of complexity, I think.

Did you ever feel guilty (in terms of your mom) about having a good relationship with your stepmom? 

Hell yeah!!!

Hey, when Dad marries the Secretary and I find myself being compassionate despite the fact that she's "the other woman", you can bet that the guilt is going to flow freely. In a lot of ways, I felt like was constantly betraying my mother, but I had to do it in order to be on good terms with my father. My mom was always pretty understanding, to a point, but there were times when she'd talk about my stepmom in a really negative way that really drove the point home.

Did you ever play the adults off each other for your benefit? 

No, our parents never really denied us anything so we didn't really need to do that. 

What are some good memories you have about the way the adults in your life related to each other?

Waiting_room Honestly? I think the best memory is when my sister's first child was born. The two sets of parents sat in the same waiting room and had their experience as if the other wasn't there. It was great, they kind of mutually agreed to ignore the other set of parents.

What's your relationship like now?

Pretty good, actually. My stepmom is more like a friend than ever, and when I went home recently, we even rode around in the same car together and talked about what all was going on in each other's lives, including the new guy I'd been dating and her drama with her kids. 

What are you most grateful for now with your relationship with your stepmom? How about then?

Now, I'm just grateful she's willing to be an observant third party. Then, I was grateful she didn't try to send me to military school!

What did you wish you had known before about how to better relate to her?

Ranch_fence I wish I'd have avoided venting to her about my mother, and to my mother about her. I treated my stepmom like a best friend, and in retrospect she really was, but I should have understood where to put boundaries. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her to hear me talk like that - or for my Mom to hear me talk about my stepmom, without commenting and getting involved. I wish I'd have talked to my friends about that stuff instead.

Anything you'd like to tell other stepmom's to reassure them, or help them head off problems at the pass?

Ivy_doorways Kids can be real shits, I know for sure that I was. My stepmom managed to stay ahead of the curve as far as level of maturity, and for that I'm truly grateful. I think my stepmom understood that my sister and I were both A) teenagers and B) insane after our parent's divorce, and honestly gave us unconditional love, even though we really made some attempts to hurt her as badly as we were hurting inside. I know that had to be so hard, I can't even imagine, loving these two people who aren't even your own blood, even when you're getting the absolute worst they have to offer.

Despite the ups and downs, I think that woman probably deserves a medal. And let's not forget that this very religious, very Southern Baptist woman now has a gay step-son (and all that comes along with that) and has found a way to make that OK?  She's a better person than me.

Thanks again, Kelly!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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