Stepping Consciously

These days step-families abound. Step-moms and dads and all of the kids in-between who are connected by marriage have to navigate the waters of family with more rules than usual. Unfortunately, those rules are often times left unwritten and these relationships hit major ice-bergs in icy seas of misunderstanding due to plain lack of caring and love. Blending a family is not as easy as placing the ingredients in your vita-mix and hitting start, resulting in a perfect, good-for-you concoction. Nope. It takes a lot more than that. In the process of blending a family, moms and dads should never ever walk away from their biological children and replace them or ignore them. Moving on never means moving away from our children. But I am guessing for too many, that behavior is the easiest. Since the subject is complex, my focus is on the children and their vulnerable hearts and souls.

I feel for the children left behind. When I was nine my father called and told me that he had a cute little girl who was my age sitting on his knee. I was replaced in my world view and this moment seared my soul and heart. Many children don’t get that literal call, but they get the call- their father or mother have moved away and other children sleep in the rooms down the hall. Other children are getting the attention, the face-time, the relationship. No mater how healthy the split, the child will feel pain. It is the nature of the beast.

In my line of work I see the failures much more often than the blueprint for success. Since humans mess up a lot on being human which makes us human, melding a family is never an easy road. In the biblical sense we are taught that the number one relationship is with God, then the marriage, then the children. But what if the marriage is asking a parent to place the biological child further down the scale? That is a heavy load to put on a child’s psyche. I personally cannot understand or comprehend a parent looking at their biological child and loathing them due to the fact that half of their DNA comes from their enemy. Adults need to separate the emotion and place it in the correct boxes, some with a lock and key. So often the new spouse is given the control to dictate the rules of the new home’s relationships. Though spouses are second on the list after God, we must remember that The Word was geared toward the two and the two’s children; not  the second, third and fourth and so on.

Your babies need to be loved and feel safe and should never be used as a weapon, pawn, tool or rag in the melding of the new relationship. Ever.

Marry into a teenager and life may throw a big rod in your engine. What to do when the teenager you now refer to as step-daughter or step-son hates you for being step-parent and for no other reason? What if they are being schooled by the parent left behind on how to feel and act in their new situation? It gets trickier and trickier the more people there are in the new melting pot. Some are content to the mix and others fight the family recipe and the batch is bad twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.

The easy answer is to actively parent no matter the circumstances. Kids know when an adult cares- when they really care. Humans have innate mechanisms for survival, and step-family survival is tactical. Do they have to fight for attention? Beg for it? Become a problem and get it by default?

They should get unconditional love and attention. They should be parented; period. That is the key…parenting; it unlocks doors to life relationships which is an ongoing transference of energy.

Step-moms and dads need to step back and allow their new spouse to be the most important person to their children. I have seen adults become jealous of a parent/child relationship and it is the ugliest of faces a step can wear. Can the biological parent become over-permissive to make-up for the pain of the broken home? Yes. Can they become overly giving in money, lack a bit in saying no when they should? Yes. Even when the step-parent sees this it is possibly not the battle to engage. Talk it out, present in an adult/parent space and maybe both in the new-couple bond can learn.

But I know that for many step-families there is no thoughtfulness when it comes to creating a healthy mix. Socio-economicly speaking, even the haves do not. I watched a little boy be completely ignored by his father after he married a woman with no children. The new family, one that could make the cover of  Christian Living, excluded in every way the first born biological son of the father.

There was no room in her heart and she was never confronted with the prospect of opening a space for him at all. I often wondered how she has reconciled the pain her step-son felt while his siblings literally had the best of everything? The child who was left out found a nice home in jail as dad and step-mother shook their heads and placed the entire blame on biological mom and of course the child himself.

Not every abandoned child becomes a literal prisoner, but many are held hostage to their own emotions. They feel not good enough, shame, less-than, invisible. These thoughts do not magically disappear at age 18. No, they may become the corner stones for their lives.

If you have a child, raise them. It is not the step-parent’s job immediately upon saying “I do.” They need to grow into the new job and learn their new children. They may need help, counseling, prayer, understanding. You see, Steps, it may not be God first, then you then the children from the other marriages, and it may seem unbalanced at first, BUT, if the step-parents learn to love and desire to protect these children, order will be restored to the Universe.

I am Mommy

imagesToday is Mother’s Day. Some moms were woken up by their children who lovingly prepared a breakfast for them to be served in bed, like a royal woman should be served. Hopefully, if you are a mom and  you received this gift, it was edible: the cliche being burnt toast with cereal, given with love and hugs and a hand made card, and Dad standing in the background all smiles and proud with his tutelage.

The truth is, we moms love that scene yet secretly wish breakfast was a bit more edible. It is awesome when the kids are older and they pick you up for brunch!

Breakfast aside, Mom’s Day is a nice thing to celebrate. If mom is giving it a go at being a mom, she has truly had a adventurous ride. From the moment the baby is laid in her arms there is this overwhelming feeling of protection and “keep IT alive!” I personally had no clue as to what  to do with my newborn baby, other than the books I read, hands on experience was null.I don’t remember even holding a baby before this beautiful 6 pound 13 ounce girl was placed on my chest. I kept books in her basket which were “how to” books for those first months. I used a book with illustrations to give her her first bath. I had to read where to place my hands and how to bathe her tummy with that cord so…there. I read how to feed her, thanks LULAC. I read how to hold her, how to how to everything those first weeks. I had a c-section and when I came home with her I was sans mother to give advice or rest. From the beginning it was me and her. I believe God knows which kid should come first. This girl certainly was getting my best experimental attempts at keeping her alive.

And I did it.  I kept her alive. I kept her well. And I fell in love with her which continues to this day.

I had a second daughter and she reaped some benefits from the fact her mom had just gone through the drill nineteen months earlier. I recall thinking how much I loved the first one and I really wanted a second one. I am blessed to have them both. Same family, same parents but such different souls. Both, however, are of the ‘strong willed’ variety. Now, 30 years later, I can look back at our time together, and with mixed emotions I honestly offer that being a mom was and is hard. There, I said it Mrs. Duggar who showboats having 19 kids and a soft demeanor and a reality TV show.

I work with families and I get it when I have a mom in front of me who is confused, angry, scared and did I say angry? I don’t get it when I meet a mom who is of the shrugging-shoulders tribe. Many many times I have heard in defense of the shruggers, “they are doing the best they can.” No, they are not, and not every one does their best. This is a fallacy in our country today. We need to get real and note that some moms suck at being a mom. Yeah, I am talking to the mom who lets her kids make all their own decisions. Thanks to so many who practice mothering in this way, we have some real issues in our society with our children: Very young girls getting pregnant, so many young people on drugs, perpetrating crimes and hurting themselves and others. Rude little monsters who need sane guidance are too many these days. Mommy is not just a difficult job, it is down right one of the hardest jobs to have, and by the way, there is no clocking out, no retirement fund, no breaks, no advancement. I think ‘doing your best’ would entail learning what to do and like my favorite place to get my hair colored, where the cosmetologists are constantly being schooled on the newest innovations in their field, so should the mom who wants to get it right.

News flash: If mom doesn’t even attempt to teach and grow their children the end result is usually not very good. And, yes, there are exceptions!! And to the amazing exceptions, I am sure you did a better job and are truly doing the best you can! I am one of you!

It is important as a counselor to consult, consult, consult. It is important for mothers to do the same. Consult and find a great group of moms to laugh, share and cry with on a regular basis. Moms need moms. Most moms I know have wept about their inadequacies, their failure in circumstances that required her to make a hard choice then she second guessed it and then she felt like she just ruined her kids life. Oh, and that could be something along the lines of should she let her son play football, or her daughter go to a sleepover with some kids she just doesn’t feel are good mixes for her angel. Not trivial, just life and all the emotion that comes in the mom package.

My ‘how-to’ books showed me how to bathe and care for my newborn, but no book prepared me for the personalities and the clashes of will. Yes, mine included. I was told that I should raise a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.(Proverbs 22:6) Lucky for me I also read that could be interpreted as a way to work with your child’s personality. For instance, if I had an artist in my home, I should help them become all they can be, and not push the artist into being an actuary, unless they wanted to do so. I do have two artists, and yes, they are more than that in many ways. It was this fear of sucking at being a mom, that made me want to be a good mom, to not let my kids down.

But, I still did.

What keeps me sane is that I am still learning. It wasn’t an easy transition from mommy to mom/friend, because I am still mommy inside, big time. And, I think with all of my mistakes, the insistence on my part to not give up on my job which has always been in constant change, is what will give me a sense of peace in the end. Mother’s Day celebrates the job of mom. It is our yearly nod to the mom-archetype. Ahem, I think we deserve the moment.  And to those of us who did and are trying to get it right, salut!

I think back on my burnt toast and eggs with raisons and my heart and eyes leak with emotion. I miss those little girls, but am now blessed with amazing women who call me mom, but in my heart I will always be their mommy.

I can hope in their hearts as well.