Six years ago I became a step parent. Already having two children of my own, I was confident about taking on another. I was excited to include this funny, talented, well-behaved child into my life. In reality, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
At first, my new stepson Luke was accepting of forming a new family. This lasted almost a year. After having some time to try out this new family Luke became certain that things needed to be rearranged. He wanted things to return to how they were before my children and I came along and he was very clear about this. The situation progressively deteriorated as he realized that we were there to stay. It became frustrating to this pre-teen child that he had no control over the new family structure. We seemed to be living the same scenarios, conversations and events endlessly. It began to wear us down to a place bordering on a rift in our marriage. I found myself drowning in stepparent hell.
This strain on our marriage took a couple of years and much perseverance to overcome. Looking back, there are things I wish I had known.
The title of step-parent is deceiving and is often associated with negative connotations. It is a completely different role than being a parent. As parents we are part of a miracle. There is not a comparable feeling, or a stronger connection the first time you see your own baby. Parents are part of an amazing and joyful experience of a new life they have created. Children are extensions of our very soul. This is a relationship built milestone by milestone from the beginning of the child's time. It is sacred. Children may see a stepparent as a violation of this natural sacredness and have great difficulty readily accepting change of such magnitude.
As the adult, I felt the responsibility to navigate was mine and I tried to remedy this painful situation by continually working on the relationship. My efforts were met with anger and left me confused as to what else I needed to do. I put so much energy into this challenge that it began to run me. I kept up this pace for a long time until I became completely drained. I felt like I had failed.
I started to disconnect myself from the puzzle in order to regain my energy and protect my own feelings. I was forced to start letting go of the situation to avoid exhausting myself mentally. This was the best thing I could have done.
I felt like I had been trying to roll a large boulder up a steep hill. I finally let the boulder go because of its weight. I had no choice but to watch it roll away into the distance while I caught my breath. I tried hard to remember why I had insisted on bringing the boulder with me, but could not. While I was resting, off in the distance I was caught a glimpse of a hill that looked much easier to climb and gave me a feeling of serenity.
When I stopped trying so hard the progress began. I started learning. I reluctantly surrendered trying to parent Luke. He had two parents who were as much a part of his life as they had ever been. He didn't need another - especially a stranger who just dropped in half way through his childhood. The seed began to grow in my mind to allow him lead in our relationship.
It made a significant difference when I made it clear to Luke that I was not there to take the place of his Mom. I wanted to get to know him, have some fun times together, and be part of his family. I began to form another role for myself with Luke that wasn't so threatening to him and involved very little parenting. This was difficult for me to do, as my parenting style is well defined and assertive. Luke was determined. He continued to repeat his message in different ways until I understood.
It was as if he had a sign hidden behind his back that he brought out when he/I needed it. As many of us do, I learned the hard way. The sign said: TREAD PASSIVELY YOU ARE ON SACRED GROUND. I saw the sign many times; it just took a long time for me to read it.
It was complicated for me to let go of treating Luke in the same manner as the children I had given birth to. I came from a family where fairness was practiced religiously. Everyone got the same. After becoming a stepparent, I adjusted my value of fairness to every individual gets what he or she needs. Luke needed me to take a back seat as a parent in his life. Even though I had entered the relationship thinking I was going to parent Luke as well as I possibly could, I had to accept that parenting him wasn't my job. In my own mind I changed my title of stepparent to one I feel is more appropriate - Family Ally. As I began to practice this our relationship improved. The success of this new approach centered on Luke's age and that fact that he had two involved parents. Every situation is different according to circumstance, age and personality of the child.
My relationship with Luke is like no other in my life. It is a quiet and unique understanding. I have learned to assume my role as Family Ally. On occasion, I am forced to take the parental role out of necessity but I am careful in assessing these situations. He has learned that if he ever needs anything he can come to me. If he ever has a question I will tell him the truth. We have established an unspoken, caring respect.
I am proud to say that with many tests of patience and courage we are now on the same hill.
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