My step-son just left from spending his Winter break with us. Two and half weeks away from his school in Arizona and it was its typical roller coaster. We had the “Who are you again?” phase, which climbed quickly into the “How much can I get away with?” phase. It eventually evened out to be the “I guess it’s okay here” phase and finally plummeted at 200 mph into the “It’s hard to leave and I don’t know how to say that, so I’m going to be difficult” conclusion. I love this kid for so many reasons and this time around I love him even more, because I learned more about parenting and step-parenting in two weeks than I have collectively in classes and books. In particular, how to mind my F words. Get your head out of the gutter, I’m talking three common parenting F words we all deal with:
Frustration, Fatigue, and Fear.
Frustration is a constant companion to being professionally out of control, which, by definition, is Motherhood.
We run around cleaning poop, puke, drool, and asking things of our children that they aren’t yet capable of, in hopes of challenging them to BECOME capable of them. We are empowerers and educators, destined to set the bar a little higher than our kids can reach, because this is what helps them see their potential. With this comes jaw-clenching, head-shaking frustration. Did I mention I already get to this point with my bio-child, and he’s only 6 months old? My step-son on the other hand is 9. So while with us, I have to fight tooth and nail to hold my tongue, resist my eye-rolling, and fight the frustration. It takes walking away, consciously silencing myself and counting, or making sure to start my sentences with “sweet boy….” even through gritted teeth, just to get the posture of my heart back to one of kindness and love.
F word numero dos: Fatigue.
Not physical tiredness necessarily, because we recognized a long time ago that running on a half tank is the new norm. I’m talking about the emotional capacity and resilience to “stick with it.” I was notoriously awful as a new step mom, but God bless this kid, he still somehow thinks I’m a contributing member of society. A good part of the reason I was so terrible was because I didn’t think that we could make a difference in his limited time with us, so why try? (Clearly, my “Step Mom of the Year” award got lost in the mail…) I didn’t have the wherewithal to recognize that this child still saw me as an adult and looked to me for guidance. So even if every single time he goes back to his Mom, he forgets the things we fought to establish, it is worth every second of the fight. While with us, he gets to see a new family identity, one that is honest and wants so badly for him to be part of it, that it goes through the hard stuff and isn’t comfortable settling for what is easy. He means more to us than to shrug our shoulders and say “Well okay, I guess if your mom lets you.” We want our boys to know how important they are to the world, not believe that it revolves around them. So if his family identity is a little different while with us than it is with Mom, we will fight the fatigue and the desire to give up, knowing that the pay off will be worth it.
Final F bomb: Fear.
When I was setting out to be the biggest abomination to step motherhood a few years ago, I operated out of fear constantly. Fear and ambivalence are where some step parents (and even bio-parents) are comfortable, but I’m not. The stream of questions like “What will she say or do?” “What if she takes us to court?” “What if I’m stepping on her toes?” were DEAFENING and they had to go. If you are in this position, I urge you to take heart and recognize that fear or ambivalence can paralyze your family. As a woman, you are unique in your inclinations and perspective. You see things and approach things in a way that is different than every other mother, whether you’re a child’s biological or step-mother. So you have the choice to use your gifts to uphold and define the heart of your family or you can cower in fear, whatever the source may be, and deny your family the gift of your individuality. So I believe in whole-heartedly and sincerely parenting Brady, just as I mother my own son. Even if sometimes my first thought is of paranoia or insecurity, I have to remember that I was fortunate enough to sign up to love him with his dad. So long as these things are true, I will make my first thought of love and consideration for his best interest, as my unique perspective grants, not fear of what “she” might think.
These F words apply to our biological children, just as much if not more! Check yourself if you’re going into a parenting or step parenting situation and your primary motive or emotion is coming from Frustration, Fatigue or Fear. Avoid these F words and I assure you, the hearts of you, your children, and family will reap blessings as a result.
Once again, killin’ it, Mollie. You’re fighting the good fight. Thanks for, in the immortal words of the poet Mary Oliver for paying attention and telling about it.