|He’s a good kid|
A stepparent-stepchild relationship is not love at first sight. In some cases, the genuine love that parents have for their biological kids is never duplicated with those acquired through marriage. I’ve known many other stepparents that will deny this but even with the best of intentions, it happens.
In my case, a bond with my stepdaughter came easily. She was going on two years old when I married my husband and she was still just a baby in many ways. She reminded me of my own daughter, but a year-younger version. It has been pretty easy to cozy up to her and I cannot tell you the exact moment when our bond was cemented.
My stepson has been a harder sell. He was already four years old when I married his dad, moved into his house and began insisting that he sleep in his own bed every night. He tolerated me because he loved his dad and my daughter. That tolerance grew a little bit in May when I brought his youngest sister into the world. Still. He and I have never shared a “cozy” relationship. After a year a half of being his stepmom, I would often wonder if there was hope for a genuine love between us outside of the silent territorial battles.
Then something happened two weeks ago. Ferris got home from school on a Thursday and immediately started ruffling the feathers of his sisters. After a relatively calm day with just the girls, his grumpy dynamic was especially noticeable. I simply did not have the patience for it — and was rather unsympathetic when either girl retaliated.
He started to cry a few times and I told him simply to stop and then I walked away. That is the normal course of action that my husband and I try to take during meltdowns — to walk away and ignore the bad behavior.
This went on for several hours and my husband witnessed some of it too. Eventually he looked at me and shrugged. He told me that Ferris “must be tired.” I nodded and decided that a good night’s sleep was what was needed. Then I watched the clock for bedtime.
When that glorious hour arrived, he went to his bed without complaint but pleaded with my husband to lay with him for a few. It took the better part of a year to break my stepson’s “must have dad in bed with me to fall asleep” habit, and even longer to break his regular arrival in our room in the middle of the night, demanding that “someone” lay with him. For a few months now neither thing has taken place but I know my husband’s gut reaction (and mine) was to deny Ferris this bedtime luxury anyway. Considering his attitude that afternoon, however, my husband obliged. I settled in on the couch, thankful that all three of the girls were asleep for the time being.
It wasn’t long before my husband walked back out of the room and Ferris was fast asleep. He sat down next to me and told me that he thought Ferris had a bad day at school. Immediately my stomach knotted. I know a thing or two about having “bad days” at school. My husband told me that Ferris said a few of the kids in his Kindergarten class had ganged up on him and screamed in his ear. Why? Oh who knows. During the few minutes that my husband laid in bed with him, Ferris repeated that he wished he could go back to preschool.
I wanted to cry. Not because the kids at school had screamed in his ear, though that was irritating. I felt heartsick because he had a bad day at school — followed by a bad night at home. My home. The place where he should be able to find comfort when those “bad days” at school happen. Instead of trying to provide that safe place for him, I couldn’t be bothered to deal with his bad attitude. I felt like a heel.
And then it hit me. I cared. And not in an abstract, “poor kid” kind of way. I actually felt sick that this kid — my kid — had a rough go of it at school and I had not taken the time to show him some extra attention at home.
I got up early the next morning to make him pancakes (usually not something that happens on a school day — cereal is the norm) and he was already awake, playing his handheld video game on the couch alone. I invited him to help me mix the ingredients and pour them on the hot griddle. He happily obliged and we spent 20 minutes getting ready for the day — just the two of us. I ignored my normal guarded stance and gave him a hug. He hugged me back and was excited when I decided to drive him to school, instead of my husband. I took the baby too — and he was thrilled to show her off to his friends.
He immediately started chatting with classmates when we got in the Kindergarten room. I don’t know which ones “screamed” in his ear, and those kids are lucky they didn’t get their own earful from me. I told him to have a good day. It was Friday so his mom was going to be picking him up from school so I gave him one more hug for the road.
I pressed my husband to ask for details about how his mood was at the end of the day when he spoke to his ex-wife. By all accounts, it seemed that Ferris had a much better day and was in good spirits going in to the weekend. The knot that had tightened in my stomach finally started to loosen.
I am relatively new to this stepmom role and sometimes it feels like I’m just stumbling through the dark toward whatever spot I will fill in their little hearts. I’m finding that there are no set rules regarding the whens and the whys of this particular parenting process.
I’m learning that you cannot timestamp the milestones that you reach with your stepkids because they don’t announce themselves grandly. Instead, the relationships are built gradually and without a lot of celebration. It is only in the act of reflection, and comparison to where you were one year ago, one month ago or one day ago that you truly realize how far you have all come as a family.
I may not be their mother, but I’m their parent. Always.
And that is something that must be lived — on the good days and the bad ones — to be fully realized.
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Tags: combined family