When we eloped this past New Years Eve, we always knew we would still have our wedding with the children. Not only because of their level of excitement…to be a flower girl and a cowboy (great story for another time), but we also recognized the importance of sharing an afternoon together- professing vows of love, dedication and family. I strongly desired an opportunity to stand in front of our children and share my commitment to them. For Landon, it’s a reminder that more people in her life equals more love and that my love for her could never change. For Anna, my stepdaughter, it’s an explanation of what she truly means to me, and what I vow to be to her.
As I drafted my vows to Anna, I kept getting stuck on this title… “step-parent.” That first part, the ‘step’ part of my title kept tripping me up much like the literal kind did as I awkwardly grew into my tall self. What is “step” parenting really, and does it differ from that of regular old parenting? And why are the step mothers all cast so poorly in Disney movies? I wouldn’t desire a step mother after watching Cinderella, thank-you-very-much!
I pondered for weeks my new found role. When you become a step-parent, and have a child of your own, you have a delicate balance to strike. How do you gain your step-child’s respect, trust, and love, all while making sure your (naturally born) child shares in your attention as well? You want to approach step-parenting somewhat lightly, allow it to develop naturally, making sure it’s not forced and they have plenty of space with their other parent. You want to explain that “nothing’s changed” all the while you know SO much has changed in their lives and it’s ridiculous to ignore the chasm that’s taken place. There is a new parent on the scene and you want nothing more than for them to feel loved and alright. All the while you are balancing their delicate emotions, you are also parenting. So there is discipline, there are rules, there are bedtimes and forced clean ups and the dreaded time outs. Basically I like to often call myself the “no fun police”. Go ahead and insert my step-mother wart here.
As a mother, I’ve known that you cannot be your child’s best friend. That title comes when they’re finally in their 20’s and you share wine, magazines and amazingly awful Bravo shows together. But now, while they are young, you are here for love, structure, guidance, rules AND fun… but mainly the other stuff. When you’re a step-parent, you are parenting and trying out styles of love, all while they’re still figuring out who you are and what’s going on.
As Anna and I built our relationship, I knew several things right off the bat. One, she’s incredibly smart both emotionally and intellectually. Two, she’s not Landon. Oddly that part was hard to figure out and then remember! She doesn’t process, emote, judge, respond, or even play like Landon. She needs a different kind of water from the watering can, as my friend likes to say. Three, our relationship grows only with time, not force, not sheer will, and I have to employ patience. So as I wrote her my vows of love, I kept these thoughts in mind.
Here is some of what I said that day, and more of what I put in a note for her to have.
Our new titles for one another involve this funny word… “step”… indicating possibly it’s one step away from a real mother or real daughter. This is why I’m writing, to make sure you know how I feel and that I plan to live and love you as if that first part of my title doesn’t exist.
You, my dear, have always been easy to love. Your laughter, silliness, propensity for knock-knock jokes, real and true kindness and your love of Landon made my love grow quickly. I’ll never forget when we first met, and you were so excited to show me how you could swing and climb and played so naturally with Landon, giggling all the while.
I love how proud you are of yourself when you figure something out on your own. I love how you carefully and thoughtfully teach Landon things that you know as well. I love your inclusiveness and how you have always just seen family – not two families, not two sets of parents but just one family. Leading with an open heart is such a beautiful way to live.
With your open heart in mind and as inspiration, I want to take a moment and vow to you the following…
I will always love you as if you were mine. I will continue to endeavor to earn your trust and love as well. I will also protect you, discipline you, encourage you, teach you, listen to you and learn from you.
I think you know how I feel about daddy, and I certainly see and feel your love for him daily. I will always support your very close relationship with him. I will also always love, respect and listen to your mother. We are all a team, you see, and that will always be the case. My love of you will simply be more love for you, and never in competition with anyone else’s love.
As we enter this new phase of family, I also want to thank you for loving Landon as you do. She has called you her sister for quite some time. You and Landon’s love of one another were our guide as we formed our family. She, like I, are wildly happy to be in yours and daddy’s lives, not as step people, but as your family. Thank you for loving us as you do.
I hope and imagine that she might re-read this when she’s older. By that time these titles or the cast of characters Disney gives us as step-parents will hopefully seem comical. Our love will be its own special unique thing, and for that I’m wildly proud and excited.
To all of you step people out there, I feel ya… and I’m here to discuss as always.