Saturday, November 16, 2013

You're Not My Mom!

In a blended family, sometimes the relationships between the step-parents and step-children can be fragile. If the relationship has never been firmly solidified, changes can sometimes weaken the already delicate link.  In the same respect, time can also stabilize a relationship that was once flimsy.

As I may have alluded to in past posts, we had a big change in our family earlier this year. That change is that in May, after finishing her second year of college, our daughter, Alex, decided to go live with her mom, rather than move back home to our house.  We weren't sure if at first the move was temporary, as in just for a few months or summertime, but it seems to be that this is a more permanent move.  When my husband, Roger came home one day and told me the news, my mouth literally dropped open.  Considering Alex's age of 20, it wouldn't have surprised me if Alex had decided to go live with some girlfriends, but it never crossed my mind that she would go to live with her mom.  I guess part of the surprise was that this has always been home.  Since the kids have been little, and even before we were married, both Roger and I have always been the primary caretakers, and primary parent for our biological children. Then, once we got married, the kids were always here more than they were at the other parents' homes.  As much as I was surprised, I was both sad about Alex not living with us but also happy for her at the same time.  See, Alex has never had that one-on-one time with her mom, and I can only imagine how much she has craved that time with her and sharing all the things that mothers and daughters do. Alex and I have always gotten along, but our relationship has never been so immeasurable that we share all that a traditional mother and daughter would.  I think part of that is me and part of that is Alex.  For me, I see that Alex and I have some very different interests. I like to run...Alex, not so much. Alex loves to go shopping....for me...online shopping is an answer to prayers.   I think for Alex, building a relationship with me is betraying her mom. I think that since she never had that day in day out mother-daughter experience with her own mom, to live that with me, would mean betraying her mom.  With that being said, let me make one thing clear, I know that I am not a replacement for Alex's mom.  My desire to cultivate a relationship with her is in no way to negate the relationship she has and wants with her own mother.  I am her step-mom and I recognize my place.  She is however, the only daughter I will ever have, and therefore, very important to me, regardless of if I birthed her or not.

So, as Alex has moved in with her mom, our relationship has begun to diminish.  I rarely see Alex these days, and my offers to get together with her often go unanswered.  It is sad, but I at least hope that she is getting what she needs. 

On the contrary, my relationship with our son (my step-son), Adam, has only solidified. In fact, in the early years of our marriage, my relationship with Adam, was not always the best.  He has always been such a fun loving young man, but his personality is so different from my own.  I have struggled with his selective memory and traits much like that of an absence minded professor.  This year, Adam has stayed home from college to pursue some different interests.  Since my son, Christian, is away at college, it has just been the three of us, Roger, Adam and me, at home.  I like to believe that my relationship with Adam has flourished.  I am learning more about him and am truly enjoying having him around.  As time goes on I feel as though we are growing closer together.  Just like with Alex, however, I am not a replacement for Adam's mom, but yet I truly desire my own relationship with him.

These intricacies are so different than those in a relationship with a biological child. With Christian, I already know where I stand.  We might not talk for a week and then we pick right back up where we left off, or sometimes, we communicate every day for a week.  Our relationship is just always there because he knows he can count on me, and I will always be there.  With a step-parent/step-child relationship, sometimes that isn't always obvious and the waters need to be tested. 

I once heard that it takes twice the age of the child, at the time of the marriage when the family is blended, for the step-child to accept their step-parent in their life.  For Adam and Christian, that time is less than a year away; for Alex, I'm still looking at a couple of years.  I hope that one day our step-children will fully accept us into their lives, because both Roger and I are here to stay.

If you are a step-parent still building that relationship with your step-child, know that you are not alone. It is not an easy challenge many times, but more than anything, they need to know you will be there for them.  Just keep on course, keep loving them even when they don't seem to want it.  One day they will accept that you are there for them too and I guarantee - it will be well worth the wait.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Just Show a Little Respect

I think one of the easiest things to do when you are involved in a blended family or divorce situation is to talk bad about the other parent.  It is so much easier to think of all the things you don't like about your ex or your spouse's ex, then to think of something nice.  If it was easy to think of something nice, you probably wouldn't be divorced in the first place.

I recently met a lady whose divorce happened only within the last year.  When learning about her and her family, it was quite evident how she felt about her former spouse.  She didn't necessarily say anything specifically negative about him, it was more of the tone in her voice when she spoke about him and his relationship with their children.

In contrast, my husband, Roger, recently met a man who is also divorced, and although he had ample opportunities to deposit a jab against his former spouse, he never did.  The obvious respect that this man had for the mother of his child was more pronounced than any negative feelings he may have about her.  In telling me this story, Roger mentioned how refreshing it was that this man didn't say anything bad.

After hearing the story, I turned to Roger and said that I wasn't sure if I have always been so eloquent.  In fact, I am sure I haven't.  Roger agreed that he too has had plenty of times when he wasn't nearly so positive about his former spouse.  Now, I don't know how long this man that Roger met has been divorced, and I believe that as time heals the wounds of divorce, it becomes much easier to not say anything negative,  but I have to admit, there are still times today, that I will make a comment or two. 

I will not, however, make comments to, or in front of, our children about their other parents.  At this stage of the game, since they are all young adults, I will talk with them and listen to them about the other parent. I might agree or disagree with what they are saying about the other parent, but I will not make negative comments about the other parent.  When the kids were younger, I tried my very best to make sure that my negative feelings and comments did not cloud their vision of the other parent.  What does that mean, you might say?  It means that I let the kids draw their own conclusions, whether that be good or bad.  When the other parents were late picking them up, or didn't make the time for them, instead of jumping on the negative bandwagon, we just embraced our kids with open arms as if nothing was wrong. I didn't let them see my anger about the situation.  In times when the other parents did something that meant a lot to our kids, we supported their enthusiasm and joined them in their joy.  If something didn't go the way we hoped with the other parent, I didn't put our kids in the middle or make them choose our way or the other parent's way.  I was not going to be the reason my child or children didn't have a relationship with their other parent.  Rather, I needed to encourage that relationship when they were younger.  "Yes, you should go see your dad or your mom."  And, when they would go, it was a wish to have a great weekend or to have fun with the other parent.

By encouraging the relationship when they were young, the kids were able to make the determination of what is right for them as they've gotten older.  It wasn't always easy for us, because we didn't always agree with what we saw.  In addition, our choice would have been to keep our family together all the time, and not have to share on weekends or holidays, but sharing is the right thing to do.  My hope is that by doing this, we've created a safe place for our kids.  A place of comfort where they know they can come and go and feel able to share about what is going on in their lives including their relationships with their other parents.  Because no one wants to hear bad things about their parents, no matter who you are or no matter who they are.