Monday, September 22, 2014

Walking The Step-Mom Tightrope

Usually when people ask me how many kids I have, I say seven.

Sometimes it feels like a lie.

But saying eight feels like a lie, too. Because I didn't give birth to my step-daughter, Karina. I'm not really her mother. I don't even play her on TV.

When Dominic and I married, she was already nine.

I did not want to alienate her by trying to step into shoes that were already filled, and by someone who was doing a really good job.

Karina's mother clearly loves her and is an excellent mom. And as a mother myself, I didn't want her to feel like some woman she barely knew was going to step in and try to parent her child. Really, isn't that the mistake we've all seen people make before?

I thought I was so smart, and I was sure I could do better. Looking back, I was kind of arrogant for 24. But, at least for this, I think I was on to something.

I told Karina, really early on, that I would not try to be her mom, but would try to be another adult in her life who loved and cared about her, whom she could trust, and who would be there for her. That felt like the right balance to me.

That doesn't mean it's been easy.

Often I have wanted to mother her so much. I mean, really, I love this kid. And I am a mom, after all.

Motherhood, by the way, can be sort of like having a virus. A virus that makes you sniff newborns, and coo over kitten videos on the internet.

Anywho, I'm still trying to walk that line where I don't try to do her mother's job. But I also don't want to give her so much space that she thinks I don't care.

And now, on top of both wanting to mother her and not wanting to cross the line, now she's an adult.

Which came on ridiculously fast, by the way.

I don't want to make her feel like I don't trust her, or like I don't think she can't take care of herself. She's an amazing person, caring, smart, responsible. She's everything I could have wanted her to be and more.

Honestly, sometimes I'm jealous of my bestie, who, not ever having to be concerned about those boundaries, just gets to mother her and love it.

Karina had a pretty crappy day, today. so I took her out to get some food that she wanted. Then I made her run an errand with me. We ended up talking about how she hasn't named her car, and I started throwing out suggestions.

"Maybe Geraldine," I said, "and she can be unrepentant, like a Tori Amos album."

Somehow, this was hilarious, and we just laughed.

The joke was terrible, of course, as were most of my jokes tonight....or ever. But she laughed, and I hugged her. I was so glad I could be there for her, right then, in some small way.

Whatever I'm doing, however many mistakes I've made along the way, I've been incredibly lucky to be a character in her story. And maybe that's how we step-parents need to look at it. They're not characters in our stories, but we are characters in theirs. What do we want our impact to be?

If you're a step-parent, I know it can be hard to find the balance, and I know it can be challenging. But if we can get this part mostly right, there are some amazing relationships to be had, some amazing people to get to know.

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