Stepparenting: An Exercise in Taking What We Can Get When We Can Get It

Stepparenting: An Exercise in Taking What We Can Get When We Can Get It
Stepparenting: An Exercise in Taking What We Can Get When We Can Get It

My stepdaughter, a freshman in high school, began taking some first steps into the realm of young adulthood and special occasions by recently attending her homecoming dance at school. It seems like a lifetime ago since I attended my own school formals; but, I can still recall the excitement of selecting from dozens of lovely dresses, fixing my hair and make-up in glamorous ways that I never had before, and joining my friends for a special evening of dancing and socializing.

I can understand, then, why she was so excited about her own first foray into new experiences and fancy gowns!

My stepdaughter and I aren’t as close as I would like. It pains me that she and I, for at least the last couple of years, haven’t been able to have “girl time” together like we used to. She used to enjoy hanging out with me and my daughter doing arts and crafts, painting our nails, cooking, shopping, and other such activities. She became a teen, and I became the enemy.

She is very close to her mother. I can’t blame her. Her mother will always be her mother, and her parent’s divorce will never change that. I have always been very clear with her that I would never try to take her mom’s place, but I would love to share a special bond with her, if possible. Her loyalties toward her mom have grown deeper, and she seems to believe that she must choose one or the other of us. At times, she loosens up and allows fondness for me that she keeps under wraps to show, then she catches herself and withdraws her affections like winter air shuddering through the trees.

The homecoming dance arrived, and wouldn’t you know it fell on her week at our house. I was glad because, otherwise, we would probably not even get to see a photo of her dressed up and ready to go out with her friends. As it is, we had the pleasure of seeing her off to her special event. Before she returned to our house for the week, her mom took her dress shopping, so she returned home with the prize of her fancy dress draped over her arm. Of course, it would have been a joy to take her dress shopping; but, I understand that’s a “mom job”; and I wouldn’t have dared trespass into that territory.

 I am discovering that part of the role includes a willingness to be flexible, forgiving, and available.

Quite honestly, I didn’t expect to be awarded any role in the occasion. I resigned myself to the sidelines, wondering if I would even get to see her dressed up. I let my husband discuss the logistics with her, and lent my support to him in the form of feminine knowledge that he needed in order to make sure she was actually prepared. Did she have the right undergarments? Did she even have shoes to coordinate with her lovely black and white frock? What was she doing with her hair or nails? She’s much more of a jock than a girly girl, so having known her since she was eight, I knew she would need some help.

I was pleasantly surprised, though nervous, when she actually asked me if I would do her hair for her! I’m ashamed that my first reaction was, “how desperate is she if she has to actually ask me?” I’m no hairstylist, but I decided that instead of avoiding another interaction with her for fear of rejection, I would welcome the opportunity to share a very special experience with her and walk through any open doors I encounter to try to bond and re-build our relationship.

It was my honor to be the one to zip up the back of her first formal dress and help her decide which necklace to wear. It was a labor of love to curl and arrange her golden tresses and adorn them with a sparkling barrette I wore on the day I married her father. It was my pleasure to help my husband enjoy the feelings of pride and adoration for his little girl who was, Saturday night, transformed into a lovely young lady!

Even if next week she regresses to the version of herself that would rather not have a stepmom, she and I will have shared these irreplaceable moments, and my heart is warmed in knowing that I helped deliver treasured memories to my husband and stepdaughter. Being a stepmother is not always made of the light and happy moments that I wish it was. In fact, more often than not, I find myself feeling isolated and frustrated. However, I am discovering that part of the role includes a willingness to be flexible, forgiving, and available; and, I will take what I can get when I can get it.

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