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When Love Breaks Through
It takes time to build true trust with stepchildren. You can’t expect it to be there instantly.
I remember the early days with Todd’s youngest daughter, Cali. Like her big sister, she was infatuated with the new lady in her life. There was something exciting about getting to know daddy’s girlfriend. She wanted to be on my lap or next to me at meals. Actually, any seating arrangement needed to involve me being next to her. If I walked somewhere in or outside the house, two tiny feet pattered on the floor behind me. My outfits were amazing. My hair was pretty. It was awesome.
Cali looked at me a lot. I would be hanging around the house doing whatever (this was before I lived here)–cooking, writing, coloring with her, swimming in the pool–and all of a sudden I would feel two little eyes burning into me. I knew who it was. I didn’t even have to turn toward her to be sure. It was Cali.
A few months into our relationship (mine and Cali’s, that is), her excitement and curiosity about me transformed into more of a cautious hesitation that was to last for almost two years. As the grown-up in the situation, I held steady. No matter what her reactions were, or her ups and downs, the person who had to be constant was me.
There’s a lot to be said for endorsements. Most of us like to follow the leader, which is why celebrity endorsements are so effective (Clint Eastwood’s endorsement of the Republican candidate nothwithstanding). It’s natural to look for a stamp of approval from someone we look up to.
This is where we stepmoms have trouble, because little girls like endorsements to be issued by their mothers, and support of this kind is hard to come by. There are various possible reasons: the mom and stepmom (or potential/future stepmom) don’t know one another; the mom doesn’t much care for the dad, and therefore doesn’t support his family blending; or the mom doesn’t like or feels threatened by the stepmom. Whatever the case, the endorsement ain’t coming so you have to take the long road.
The long and winding road, I should say. Sometimes when you think you’ve reached a level of mutual respect and trust with your stepkids, the plot is thwarted by normal developmental stages or intentional meddling. It’s at these times that I’ve benefitted from being surrounded by a community of friends and family who are totally supportive of our family blending.
External voices The messages you want to be hearing from the people in your life sound a little something like this: Yes, I believe in you; I support you. What you are doing with your life is good. Stay focused on your family and it will work out. If this is what your friends and family are saying to you about your blended family relationships, you’ve got it good. Their words of love can help sustain you when the going gets tough.
Internal voice I really do think it takes a village for a blended family to be successful, but I’ve also learned that it all begins with me. If I’m confident in my journey, I’m able to give love to my blended family all-the-time-no-matter-what. Giving that love builds me up in return, which is the way of love. At what stage would I look at my life and choices and regret the love I’ve given? I haven’t ever reached that point.
My partnership For Todd and I, finding our path as a blended family has been more about building great memories rather than knowing exactly where we’re going. We haven’t seen models for successful blended families that are like ours. It would be awesome to sit down and have a chat with a blended family couple whose now-grown children have healthy relationships with their parents, stepparents, stepsiblings, their own spouses and their own children. I’m definitely on the lookout for a situation where each partner brought children into the relationship who then grew up side by side, and shared time with the couple’s exes–and it all turned out pretty good.
Instead of waiting around to meet the family we’d like to replicate, Todd and I are in the business of building good upon good. Each new memory adds to the monumental mass of love that is growing in our family. Its brightness outshines the hard times and makes it easier to bounce back from a setback.
This deep and wide catalog of memories doesn’t just keep Todd and I strong–it is nurturing for the kids, too, and their confidence in our blended togetherness grows over time. I’ve seen the effects.
One afternoon this spring, the kids were in the lake room watching a movie. I brought in a bowl of popcorn and set it down. As I walked away, I felt those two little eyes on my back. I turned around, and with her bright and shining eyes, Cali looked right into me. She said, “I miss you when I’m gone.”