02. Don’t take it personally. This is really advice for you, your mother, your brother, your sister, your aunt, your aunt’s best friend’s cousin, the barista downtown, and your mailman. It’s not always perfectly applicable (sometimes, you are just being an asshole, and you should absolutely take it personally and change your behavior), but a lot of the time it is. Now before I go preaching on the merits of not taking it personally, let me state that this is something I continually struggle with and, more often than not, fail at entirely. Where it is applicable, 99% of the time, is with teenagers.
I have had very different experiences as a step parent. With Nathaniel and Jordan, who were 12 and 10 when their mother died, it’s looked one way. With William and Lindsey who were 4 and 2, it’s looked another way. And just when I think I know what to expect, everything changes on me. I think that’s just the nature of teenagers who are trying to figure life out, themselves out, one foot in childhood, the other in adulthood, and all of this with loads of chemicals coursing through their veins. Sometimes, depending on your situation, you’ll feel like it’s smooth sailing and you’re on good terms and everything’s great and you’re Mom. And then suddenly you’ll feel distant, and hurt, and like you’re suddenly not Mom, but step mom. And you’ll wonder, “Am I feeling like the step mom unnecessarily?” As in, they’d be going through the same stuff whether it was their biological mom or you. “Or are we in this place specifically because I am the step mom?” (I’m in my own head a lot.) It’s especially tricky to go through it when you’re sort of the only Mom they’ve ever known (but technically still hold the title of step mom–if we’re talking literally).
I’ve had to remind myself a lot recently that it is not personal. It doesn’t necessarily take the sting away, but it helps a little. And, when it is personal, and you do deserve it (which has been the case for me, more times than I care to admit), an apology goes a long way. Even if they don’t tell you so. Your child is on their own journey–so are you!–and perhaps more so in a step parenting scenario whether they lost a parent or have witnessed a divorce. They might need to pull away, to figure things out, to figure out your role in their life, to make you feel less than. They may be hurt by you too. Still, the adage remains, most of the time, don’t take it personally. Another old adage: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.