Blue Bamboo, a devotedstepmom to her husband's two young daughters (seven and nine), could use everyone's prayers at the moment. Last Thursday, the mother of the two daughters apparently accidentally smothered her seven-month old infant to death in bed while drunk. The daughters are in the custody of Blue and her husband, the girls' father. The whole situation is just heartwrenching, as Blue and her husband had long anguished over the neglect the girls were suffering while in the care of their mom. I know we're always encouraging both sides — the stepmom and the ex-wife — to develop a working relationship, but sometimes, obviously, that's just not possible. While perusing the world of stepmom blogs to add to our list of links, I came across several blogs where the stepmom genuinely seemed to be dealing with a crazy woman. How can we tell these stepmoms (or a mother, when the stepmom seems nuts) to just try harder? We can't.... But we CAN focus on the whole reason we've all been thrown together in the first place: the kids. One very large silver lining in Blue's story — the girls will most likely end up living with them permanently. A few days after this whole disaster unfolded, the girls went to the library, helped pick out bushes for a garden, and played with friends. Such simple actions, but so powerfully normal, and so wonderfully protective. We can nurture and support our children and stepchildren every single day by choosing to keep a few basic things in mind....
The way our regular daily lives unfold has a real impact on how safe and loved our children feel. When there's plenty of food in the house, it's relatively clean and orderly, when there are routines and predictable patterns — all of these things help a child or teen feel a sense of security, coziness and most of all, belonging. It feels good to feel like you're a part of a clan (however annoying those clan members can also be), like there's a puzzle that wouldn't be complete without you. No parent or stepparent's ever going to be on top of all the things that need to be done, such as shopping, laundry, pets, cooking, etc., but just know that if you've got most of the instruments playing (even if they're not always synched up), the song's being heard (and felt).
We've also potentially got work life, financial realities, and the eternal search for a tiny slice of down-time competing for brain space, energy and the finite number of hours in a day. And I think it's fair to say that most of us are pretty tired, but it only takes a moment to connect with a child or stepchild. You can soften and warm your voice when you speak to them. You can make eye contact, saying essentially, I see you.... You can touch a shoulder, the middle of a back, or the top of a head. You can do something thoughtful that only takes a second, like setting out a favorite shirt, cup or other possession.
I've recently been inspired by Eckhardt Tolle's book "A New Earth" (yes, yes, I know, roll your eyes if you want to, it being an Oprah pick and all). A thought-provoking concept: ask yourself at any given time, what is my relationship with the present moment? If you can make peace with many moments during the day, simply by tuning into that instant and nothing more, then you can build up a whole day of simple contentments. And from those little islands of common stillness and peace, it's much easier to look at your stepchild or child with a genuine expression of acceptance and gratitude for who they are, in all their flawed human glory. Can you communicate love and warmth in your eyes several times a day, instead of busyness and preoccupation? If so, those days add up to months, months to years and there you have it: an atmosphere of caring, amidst the chaos of life.
If you feel so inclined, please stop by Blue Bamboo's site and offer a word of support or encouragement — they've got some extra challenges ahead of them when it comes to helping their daughters heal (but I have faith that they will).
And I challenge you to see how many different ways you can love your child or stepchild throughout the day and the week, five or ten seconds at a time....
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved