A couple of weeks ago a reader in a situation similar to my own asked for my thoughts about step-parenting. Here is his question, followed by my response with only slight changes to protect identities. I have since received his permission to use this as the first post in a new series, which I think I’ll call, simply, “Answers.”
so how did you kind of “get over yourself” to start reaching out to your step-son when you kinda-sorta didn’t really want to? I feel like that’s what I need to do and I’m having trouble, partly because I feel like he doesn’t want it and won’t appreciate it. Sort of a, “you don’t deserve to be my friend” feeling on my part. Trust me, I know how immature that sounds/is. Any insights or suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
Here’s where I let out a big sigh. *Sigh.* The step-parenting stuff is difficult. I haven’t gotten even close to where I’d like to be as a step-parent! But I’m reminded often that a healthy step-parent/step-child relationship can take many years (average of 7?). And certainly your situation is different than mine for a few reasons. Jay is older than my step-son. From what you’ve told me, it sounds like he’s been in less-than-stable family environments, even if it was not pushed on him directly. He isn’t coming into a family with older siblings to look to for queues. Etc.
Those are the parts of the “illusion” that differ from my situation with L. But there are aspects of the illusion that are the same. (I have a tendency to get “meta” with my thinking, so I’ll try to keep it simple for brevity’s sake. You know, the whole, “We’re physiologically and genetically predisposed to protect our own offspring in a way that translates to unconditional love,” and so on.)
The illusion is that he belongs to someone else.
Not only does he NOT belong to someone else, but he is no less “you” than your own, biological children are “you.” We’re all fragments of the whole. We take on the drama in our lives so we can learn from them and benefit the greater consciousness. I have little moments here and there of seeing L as the individual that is L (this is difficult to put into words), and in those moments I feel compassion for him as a struggling being. I try to act on those moments as often as they come up because it is so difficult to “get over yourself” in those moments when you’re not feeling it.
Feeling the way you feel is no longer immature once you reach the point of realization and acknowledgment. I also think that reaching for something is less effective than allowing that something to come to you. Don’t force the issue. For me, the progression tends to go like this: I discipline as a parent, get frustrated with L, Karin and myself when it’s counter-productive, become aloof, “allow what is” for all of 5 minutes, then fall back on the over-bearing dad bit all over again. But I think the “allow what is” portion of the cycle gets a bit longer each time, if only by a few seconds, and I see the fruits of that here and there when he accidentally calls me “Dad” or hugs me before I leave for work. Yes, he’s younger and looks to my biological son for queues, but the underlying theme is the same. I guess what I’m suggesting is to let go without becoming detached. It’s less about getting “over” something, and more of a slide to the side. See Jay for who he is, not the mask that he wears.
Jay’s personality and motives serve a purpose, as does your presence in his life (and his in yours). Allow that purpose to unfold.
Dang, I need to take my own advice.
I hope this is helpful. It was for me!
So much for brevity…
I’d love to get your thoughts on this! Let me know what you think in a comment below. Thanks for reading and sharing!