My kids are my biggest teachers.
All three crazies bring a little something special, make me think a little harder and love a little deeper.
My oldest sticks in my mind today. She is 16; I met her when she was five. Bouncing and shining hair, friendly, and a huge smile. She was the same then.
I never thought I’d be a stepmom. I never actually thought about it at all. I wonder if anyone does.
I’m a much better mom to the young crazies because of her (and I’m a better stepmom to her because of them).
On the blended family end, I have no doubt each child and relationship is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all model (is there really one anywhere in life?). I know I’m not her mom; she has a great one. I’m her stepmom, and it’s a different role and I don’t take it lightly. I’m appreciative of the chance to be another person adding love and support to her life. I don’t think it’s possible to have too much of either.
I think the biggest and most unexpected gift has been how much I learn about myself and my life with being in hers.
Sometimes something will rise up in me unexpectedly that seems to be in relation to her (teen choices can be different than my own!). I’ll feel an eyebrow raising or a sudden lip-pursing “I would never!”. I previously would have sided with my opinions and choices without much thought (because obviously they’d be right). Today, I’m (slowly) getting clear that 90% of whatever comes up (and probably more) — it’s about me, it’s my stuff. And I’m getting a chance to work on it.
A neighbor recently wondered if my stepdaughter would be interested in participating in a local teen pageant. My first reaction was “Heck no, she shouldn’t participate in something like that; there’s something wrong with anyone who does!” (which I managed to not say out loud).
I mean, how degrading are pageants to women, and what about body image and the sort of messages about beauty that are surely doled out? (Note: I’ve never participated in a pageant or had dealings with one. But I’m an expert on the probability that they are bad news.)
I like to think my listening skills have improved over the years, so I tried hard to be open-minded and listen to my neighbor rather than the chorus of “heck no!” in my head. I asked some questions, voiced my hesitations and fears. My neighbor offered some food for thought. (Image — pageants may have some self-redeeming aspects: confidence building and learning to carry oneself, interview practice, camaraderie, scholarships.) On the body image end, yes — some people choose to go the unhealthy route. However, many others do not and even strengthen the message to young girls of healthy bodies and minds and the beauty in our differences.
Oh, the discomfort of an expanding mind.
I mentioned it to my stepdaughter because I said I would. Several interesting conversations followed. Then it hit me. My “heck no” wasn’t about her at all (or others who participate). Yup, it was my stuff, things I had somehow decided along the way I “shouldn’t do” and that were somehow “bad”. Things I didn’t think I was allowed to do (for whatever reason), even if there ever was interest.
Realizing I was on the brink of urging my stepdaughter to remain small because it was an area where I kept myself small? Oooff…not cool.
Who knows what will come of it all, if she’ll want to participate in something like that or not. And really, that’s not the point here.
I’m appreciative of the chance to be in my stepdaughter’s life and participate. I appreciate the chance to learn what she likes to do for fun, the kinds of books she likes to read, the meals she likes to eat, and hearing about her daily goings-on. She is a patient big sister to all of her younger siblings, and she is kind to those she meets. If I was 16, I’d want a friend like her.
I also appreciate the unexpected opportunity to learn so much about myself (complete with proverbial slaps in face to get my attention in the areas where I need to clean up my sh*t). I’m getting to be a kinder, more open, and loving person because I’m in her life.
Stepmom 101, in the Parenting Department? I never thought I’d learn so much.