A 💌 to my former step-daughterMay 15, 2022
Last weekend was Mother’s Day, which can be complicated. Not everyone has a mother still living. Not everyone has a good relationship with their mother. Not every woman has children and sometimes that’s a hard choice - or wasn’t their choice. And then there’s the zillion permutations of blended families, where divorce reshuffles the family deck, and in doing so, profoundly affects motherhood and childhood.
When I got married 13 years ago, I had no children of my own, but my husband had a smart, kind young daughter from his first marriage. She and I developed a bond that seemed unique—not mother/daughter, or aunt/niece—and pretty amazing.
It can be tough being a step-mom, the roles and rules aren’t always clear. Who tucks them in at night or goes to parent-teacher conferences? Every blended family has to sort out this dynamic for themselves. In our family, when my step-daughter had a skinned knee, she would run to her dad for comfort, not me, and sometimes it hurt to feel like I was on the sidelines. (But then again, I got out of those 3 AM puke cleanups, so there’s always a silver lining.)
All that being said, it’s even harder being a step child. Divorce brings big life changes which directly affect children: they may have to move, change schools, go between two homes, accommodate other adults or siblings in their life, explain to their friends what’s happening. It can be a stressful time for them.
But if you’re a parent facing a divorce, there’s good news. Child psychologist Paul Foxman explained to me when I developed my course Fresh Start, that a child’s health after divorce is predicted not by “the acute stress of conflict at the time of separation, but rather by the ongoing co-parent relationship after the divorce.” The children will be so much more resilient if the parents can put their child at the center - rather than in the middle - of their divorce.
My step-daughter grew up, graduated college, and moved out on her own. By the time her father and I divorced, she was a young woman with a life, job, relationship. We’ve had meaningful conversations about how she’s the child of two divorces. I don’t burden her with my venting (that’s what my friends are for!) and although I don’t always get it right, I try to speak maturely and compassionately about her father.
I know Mother’s Day was a week ago, and I’m not even technically her step-mother anymore, I’d like to say to her: we get to write the rules of our own relationship, and no matter what happens, I love you and you’ll always be my step-daughter.
Image: The Sick Child, c. 1664 - c. 1666, Gabriël Metsu, Rijksmuseum.
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