I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot over the past couple of weeks. I want to write about those thoughts, but can’t seem to get them out without rambling. I want it to be honest, so I’m just starting stream of consciousness. Before I had Ellie, I married into a family of 3, a husband, and 2 little girls. One was 6 and the other was 8 years old. We’d a couple of times, but really didn’t have a relationship. James only got the girls every other Saturday and every Sunday, and I think I was also a little scared. I grew up an only child to a single mom and I always had jealousy issues with her boyfriends (though she didn’t have many because she was devoted to me). I didn’t want the girls to feel that way hence, the reason I was a little distant. I think it’s a very normal emotion to have as a child of a dating parent, but still no fun.
After we got married, I didn’t know how to build the relationship. I didn’t know how to be a stepmother. Am I supposed to tell them what to do, what are we supposed to do together, where does my place fit in with their father/daughter relationship and even their mother/daughter relationship? I was also scared. I’ve spent a lifetime building up little walls to protect myself, and kids are scary because they can see through them. Children represent such unconditional love and THAT IS TERRIFYING, to someone like me anyway. So it went very slowly. I think the easiest thing for me to do was be fun The more comfortable I felt, the more fun I could be. I started to feel more comfortable with them, and I think that overall, I’ve done a really good job of becoming a stepmom. I’ve got a good relationship with their mom, and I have a better understanding of my boundaries and where I need to assert myself.
What has changed for me since having Ellie is my parenting philosophy. So maybe this isn’t a post that’s as much about how I changed as a stepparent as it is, how my parenting philosophy changed after actually having children. I am the typical “thought I knew everything there is to know about how to raise kids without actually having any” person. If you know me, I think I know everything about everything until I actually experience it. I think a lot of people are, but of course, I’m also super vocal about my thoughts so I get to be a hypocrite all of the time – isn’t that fun! Anyway, whatever you want to call it, I had lots of thoughts in my mind about how children should learn to be responsible. They must learn to make their beds, brush their teeth, eat what’s been put in front of them, blah blah blah. Every time we interacted, there must be a lesson that we’re learning. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that (if it’s done in the right way). Where I believe I went off into the weeds was that I wasn’t listening to them and their little personalities growing. I was listening to my own character defects reflected in them, and then trying to correct that. While I had good intentions, it was more me lecturing vs listening. How annoying that had to have been. They both are very loving towards me, so I’m not sure that it affected our relationship too much (I certainly hope not), but I feel like my time could’ve been better spent just loving them and validating their emotions.
I have never in my life learned a lesson from someone else. I’m so hard headed. My grandfather used to always tell me “a hard head makes a soft butt”. I never knew what he was talking about, and maybe still don’t, but I get that I’m hard headed, a know it all, gotta learn it the hard way. And I’m actually grateful for that because I believe that I have turned out to be a pretty good person. I’ve gone through a LOT of stuff in my life, and it could’ve been a lot smoother, but who wants easy, am I right? How that translates to parenthood is this – instead of constantly correcting their thoughts and emotions, why don’t I just listen to them? If they ask for my advice/suggestions, I’ll give it to them. But if they’re just venting about why they’re frustrated, I don’t have to fix it. I can just be that ear they need at the time. I think having Ellie opened me up to a certain level of compassion I didn’t’ have before. I see the girls as 2 humans, making their way through life, learning all of the things I had to learn. My function as a stepparent for them is to provide a safe place to return to after making a mistake. As a parent, I provide security, a home base, so that they can have freedom to learn as I did. Yes they’re going to make mistakes, yes, we could’ve probably helped them not to, but isn’t it more important for them to know that they will always be loved in spite of what happens and the mistakes they make?
I feel as though I’m beginning to ramble, so I’ll end with this – I’m not saying that we should just let kids go and do whatever they want without consequences at home. But what I am saying is that sometimes, when they’re telling me something about their feelings or emotions, I should listen and appreciate that it’s happening. If every time they come to me and tell me something, and I tell them they’re wrong for feeling that way, are they going to stop that emotion? Or are they going to stop coming to me? I’d rather them know that I am always available as a sounding board.
The last thing I want to say is that having Ellie has increase my capacity for love a million fold. I know I’ve said this so many times but one can never understand the love of a child until having one. It’s greater than anything I’ve ever felt. Having Ellie opened my heart enough to see the girls in a different light, and having the girls prepared me to feel that love. For that, I am grateful.