Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rule Number One

My sister Stephanie thinks that I should write a book or a guide of some kind on how to be a good stepmother. Part of me knows this is true and part of me feels terribly guilty because I have not always been good at being a step mom to my girls. This summer, Cadence, my oldest, and I came really close to the worst thing that can happen in family situations such as ours. A small blowup turned into my husband's worst nightmare as I came up the stairs at 11 PM one night to find Cadence throwing her essentials into a bag while muttering "I just can't stay here any more".

The conflict between us had been going on for years. What I discovered that night was that what caused and exacerbated the conflict was that we were both very hurt by each other's seeming lack of caring and that we BOTH wanted and needed very much to feel the love coming from the other. We were mirroring the same pain. Being fighters, strong, edgy, fierce types, with whom you might never wish to mess with under inopportune circumstances, our pain caused us both to shut down our hearts from the risk of wanting love and not getting it, and go straight to the fight at the drop of a hat. And this is how we existed for about five and a half years.

The breakthrough came when I realized what needed to happen in order to change Cadence's mind about leaving. I said, "what can we do to make this situation better for you, so that you feel like this is your home?" She didn't answer from her heart right away. She went on and on with her cold barrier still up for a while, until I let mine down completely and said, "I love you and I do not want you to leave. What can I do to make this better for you?" Slowly, her walls came down and I saw a child in need of my love. Let me repeat that. A CHILD was in NEED of MY LOVE. Even though Cadence is technically an adult, almost 21 now, she is still a child at heart and her wounds are childhood wounds. The solution to our conflict was simple, for me to receive love and warmth from her, my child whom I did not carry for nine months, nurse or who's diapers I did not change, I needed to first provide to her the unconditional, unwavering love that a mother provides, without strings or restrictions. Period. As the adult, it was up to me to offer the love up first in order to receive it mirrored back.

It is in this skill that I redeem myself. I am good at loving. I am good at nurturing. I told Cadence that night, "Now that I know that you want and need my love, you will have it ALWAYS. No matter what." Now I know.

I am still not perfect and do not claim to be the perfect step parent. I received some great skills from a very special therapist that have helped me get through the stuff that used to send me into a dark, cold, cranky place. One technique I now employ is humming. When my fiery girl is in a bad mood, I used to engage in argument, miffed that she was so bitchy towards me in the first place. Now, I when I see that she is having a moody moment, I let her words hang in the air and instead of responding to every comment that used to lead us into argument, I hum. Hmmmm Hmmmm HMMMMMMMMM. Not even a specific tune. Sort of a quirky hum. I I feel totally at peace, allowing my beloved to have her mood without trying to rationalize or change her. It's working. I don't take it as a personal attack any more and she doesn't feel attacked by me when what she really needs is my support.

If a manual is to evolve from my experience, I will begin with the first rule for a potential step mother.

Rule #1.
Love your (step)child. Make a list of the things you love about her. Spend time together to get to know all of him, his quirks, her gifts, his magic, her pain, his needs, her talents, his heart.
Take real time to do this before marriage. Love your child. For when you marry, the child is yours, if only every other weekend, the child, and her heart are your responsibility to care for so find the real, true love in your heart for him.


Anonymous said...

Love it!!! keep going!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Shelley. I love the humming idea...plan on trying that technique immediately. ;)