When I met my husband’s daughters they were age 14 and 20. He told me that they would embrace me quickly, which they did. It felt good but I was also on guard internally. “It’s great” I told my husband….”but beware, that if someone will need to fall someday it will be me.” I had heard horror stories about how the step-parent can sometimes be the scape goat of the past/present or future dis-functional family stuff they just inherited!
As the years past…I was idealized a bit and yes…did mange to fall off that very temporary throne…thank goodness for that! The girls and I needed to hit our edges…talk it through and sometimes just accept our passing disapointment that the “other” was in fact not perfect…thank goodness again! Thankfully they have a mother that has been totally supportive of my relationship with them which not only makes in easier to join the family, but makes it so much easier for the children….young or adult, to integrate and come to terms with the nature of their changing and growing family!
I was just asked by a client to share any “step-mama tips”, since she is moving into this role herself. Here are but a few of my tried and true suggestions:
- Give it Time: Like any relationship, you and your inherited “kids” of any age will need time to get to know one another. There may be assumptions, perceptions and projections that need to get realized and sometimes released. Give it the time it deserves. The raw truth of who you are will reveal itself and if you stay present, the relationships will naturally unfold and evolve.
- Expect Waves of Intimacy. Because it’s a layered and sometimes complex relationship, there can be moments when your step kids come very close and then pull away. It can be similar to their relationship with their biological parents, but with Step parents there is a different layer of ambivalence that is just par for the course…especially in the beginning.
- Be true to yourself. You cannot control anyone else’s feelings or behavior. Sorry! The only train you are navigating is your own. You may have impact and influence on your partner and your children…in whatever form they come to you…but you have zero “control” really. “To thine own self be true” is the way to remain balanced, centered, and in your own integrity…no matter what is going on with any member of your family. Even if and when they don’t like it, they will ultimately learn to respect it and actually trust you more.
- Express that truth to your partner, step-kids and their other parent if they are involved. “Communication 1A” is still the most important class of life. As far as I’m concerned, when you have two or more willing parties that love each other and mean well…anything can get cleared, healed and transcended with open, honest and direct sharing.
- They are not biological children. So don’t hope for or expect them to be. There is an innate and primal difference. You can love them, be there for them, spend time with them, but there is a distinction. While you may “mother” them in the beautiful “verb” sense, they don’t call you “Mom”. You are not there to be their Mom or to replace the one that had or have. You are there to be an adult solid and loving presence in their life, should they choose to embrace it.
- Put your relationship first. Children want to see their parents happy. Period. Even if it appears they want their biological parents back together, what gives them the lasting role modeling strength and support to “be true to themselves”, is a parent who leads with their courage, maturity, and integrity to take responsibility for their own happiness. The more they see the parental unit as a unit, even if it’s their second go around, the safer they will feel in your presence. It also gives them the proof that committed relationships can remain committed…when it’s the right time with the right partner. And of course, all children grow up and fly the coup, as they well deserve to. You owe it to yourself and your beloved to remain true to one another…remembering that “home” most certainly IS where the heart is.
- And finally…Come up with your own special name…My older Hayley came up with “Fairy God-Mother”…I was all over that…and it has sprinkled us with fairy dust blessings ever since…;)