This post is for all you step mums out there who feel like you are doing a terrible job when it comes to raising your step children.
For me, my self doubt had gotten so bad that lately I’ve come to think that when they wrote Cinderella they may have been basing that story loosely on me and my two kids… Not that we make Miss K mop floors or stop her from going to balls (on the contrary – we all head off to the school disco together) but there is definitely a them and us vibe that comes with blending families.
We go and see a family councillor at The Parenting Place – I’m not sure how people cope in our situation without seeing someone – and on of her pieces of advice was to fake it till you make it.
It just doesn’t all fall in place on day one – all the love that you have spent years building up with your own children from the moment they started growing under your heart – can’t and won’t be replicated in an instant when a new child comes into your life. That’s been the hardest thing for me to get my head around because I feel guilty and I feel like I should have that instant love for her – that’s how it goes in the movies right….
And the same goes for the child, in fact I would say this is even more true for my step daughter who is very careful about who she gives her love to – and I understand the reasons why.
So each night for the past 13 months I tuck her into her bed and I say, just like I say to my two girls, “Goodnight, I love you” and each night for 400 nights she smiles at me politely and says nothing.
We were both totally faking it to start with but over time the I love you from me became a little less forced, and the smile from her a little more genuine.
Now before we go any further lets preface this first by saying I’ve had about the most challenging week of our blended life in the last few weeks. I really felt like I hit rock bottom. I had convinced myself I was a terrible step Mum (I even wrote a list of the awful things I did!) and had even sent an e-mail to our councillor in a fit of severe un-coping saying I just didn’t know what to do anymore. It was sh*t – it really was.
And then tonight something changed. I do this weird thing where I have arguments with people in the car…. Not so weird you say but I do it when they are not in the car! It’s kind of like a way of trailing out the argument before you do it for real and the beauty of it is that normally you realise that it either a. is not going to go well for you or b. you’re actually being a bit of a d**k or c. you salvage a few of the good bits and have a far less heated argument. You should try it (or call someone to have me locked up as I am quite clearly crazy)!
So I was in the car having an (entirely imaginary) argument with my step daughter. I was mad and hanging on to a lot of things that really are too stupid to even write down and certainly it was an argument I would never have with her in real life. But as I argued to myself something changed. Because she wasn’t screaming back at me and telling me she wished she had never met us I started to see things differently. It was like the world was shifting ever so slightly and tilting my view past the angry words to a little girl trying hard to find her place in a new family. The more I argued that she had to meet me half way and try harder the more I started realising that I was the parent not her equal – if she wasn’t coming to meet me at the middle line then I had to step over that middle line. I had to stop over thinking it, stop fighting, stop everything and just charge over that line and go to her, just like I do with my two girls all the time.
I don’t know if what happened next had anything to do with that car trip home when I argued myself across that line or if it would have happened anyway but that night, after what would be one of our loveliest nights at home with the 5 of us, I tucked her into bed and said I love you and then… well then, she said she loved me back.
It came out so easily I think she didn’t even realise she was going to say it until it came out. She looked at me with a shy kind of smile and I smiled back and then I raced out to the lounge so she wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes.
James came out after saying his goodnights and I said triumphant – “Did you hear it?”. Turns out he didn’t hear it at all but then came out with his own piece of wisdom. He said (any I’m paraphrasing here but it went something like this) “It’s great that your happy but here is the thing, this blending is a bit like being on a roller coaster…. You were down at the bottom and now you’re way up at the top but I think there’s still the corkscrew to come”.
And you know what I think he’s right. We have a hell of a lot more ups and downs and sideways to hurtle though but we’re getting there right? Little by little, up and down and 3 little words.