Learning how to love unconditionally.

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

“How are you feeling about them coming out soon? What are your expectations?”

I don’t know…I guess I’m not sure which kids to expect to pick up.

“Don’t worry about which kids to expect. See past all of that to who you know they are.”

Three weeks ago I had this conversation with my therapist. Yesterday it hit me: I don’t care how they act, I don’t care if none of it is perfect. I love those kids and I want to see them.

(By the way, if you’ve been wondering if therapy might be a good idea, the answer is always yes)

I’ve been on this journey of learning what unconditional love means as a stepmom. Both in the figurative sense, since the kids became a part of my life, and in the very literal sense over the past 6 months since I started therapy and began working on being purposeful about my relationship with them. I wanted to know what it means to love my stepchildren unconditionally and how to go about loving them. I’ve carried this worry with me for so long that I don’t love them enough or in the right ways. I didn’t give birth to them, how can I love them the way a mother should?

Andrew, my stepson, is so challenging. I felt like I fell in love with Olivia almost immediately upon meeting her. She was so young (just barely 5) and completely adorable. I think it would have been impossible to love her. She just came into everything wide eyed and open-hearted. But not Andy. He was so confused and unsure of what to do, who to trust, how to act. He fought, he tested boundaries. I worried that I would never figure out what or how to love about him. He was just hard work.

I worked hard on figuring out Andy. Through all the tumult, I fought my way into understanding him. I had to be consistent, tough at times, kind at others, but always consistent with my presence and my care for him. I didn’t understand what that care was in those early years, I just knew I had to be there with it. Fake it till you make it. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it mattered to him that I was in his life at all, but I understand now that his pushing was him testing my love for him. And thank god I did not waver. Fast forward to this summer and he’s confiding things in me that he won’t tell anyone else in his life. And tears spring to my eyes when I hear his voice on the phone, from 1500 miles away. It has been so much work, but I know him. I know his troubles, his outbursts, those are just expressions of the pain he feels inside. I just want to wrap up that pain and hold it in my heart. I can’t take it away, I can’t make it better, but I can love him no matter what. That I know how to do.

And Olivia, I might have let her drift a little too far in recent years, being so focused on her brother. But I know she is going to come to our house and look for her familiar things and know we are her family here, too. I don’t need to be afraid of how she’s going to react to me since she’s realized she has the power to refuse to talk to me on the phone. I know she’s trying to be a peacemaker, trying to keep her mom happy. And I love her for that. I have come to realize that her pushing back might look different from her brother’s, but it is the same pain and I can wrap it up and hold it just the same.

I love them both so much. I may not get to see them every day, I may not pack their lunches or know the names of the parents on the PTA, but I know these kids. I’m not going away and they’re not going away. They can push and push and push–and they probably will–and I will still love them. Every heartbreaking moment for the rest of my life.

In my wedding vows, I promised to love those two as if they were my own. That seems so foolish now. I can’t love them like a mom does, not at all. I love them like only a stepmom can. I had to work for it, to earn it. I had to fight to get to know them and I as a result I will never take a single part of them or their place in my life for granted.

I don’t love them because I have to or because biology tells me I do. I love them because they are a part of who I am.

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