Four spiritual practices have helped me grow as a stepparent. Remember that a spiritual practice is anything we do that draws us closer to God and helps us become more loving toward ourselves and others.
Trusting the abundance of God's love. Before my husband and I were married, Paul asked his father if he would love me more than him and his brother, Jamie. He was afraid there wouldn't be enough love to go around. But he wasn't the only one who was afraid. In those early years I wondered if my husband loved me as much as he did his sons, and I found myself actively competing with them for his attention.
As I clung to my faith in the infinite nature of love, I was more able to live and love from that belief. I think we all came to realize there was enough love to go around.
Discovering humility. I understand humility to be a radical dependence on God, plus the ability to recognize one's own and others' gifts and limitations. All parents need to depend on God, but stepparents in particular need to honor their gifts and limitations in regard to the other parents in the family. We all have qualities and talents to offer the children, while at the same time recognizing when another is more suited to the child's needs.
Jamie needed help with a costume one Halloween. I started to jump into the plans, thinking this is what a good stepmother should do. But I soon realized that I really had no interest in the project and that his mother, a theater professional, could fulfill this need much better than I. "Call your mom," I suggested. He did and we all were happy.
Practicing self-care. Although I felt loved and cared for in my new family, at times I needed to care for myself. I had lived alone for 15 years before my marriage and was used to silence and solitude. I could sometimes snatch moments late at night, but my soul needed more. I began to go on retreat by myself once or twice a year. My husband understood my need for this time away and supported me wholeheartedly. But Paul always wanted to come with me. "I'll be very quiet and really, really good," he'd say. It took awhile for him to understand that I wasn't leaving him so much as returning to myself.
Another way I cared for myself was to take time to be with my women friends. In this household of masculine energy I needed to be surrounded by the feminine. I was part of a women's group for years, traveled occasionally with a female friend and made sure to stay connected to the women who had been my family during my single years.
Learning to let go while staying engaged. There is a fine balance between attachment and detachment, a vital third place between those two extremes that I've come to call "nonattachment." The ability to live more and more from this place is particularly important for stepparents, as we recognize and embrace our position on the margin. I was easily pulled away from nonattachment when I tried to move to the center and do everything I imagined was expected of me. When that didn't work, I was tempted to flee beyond the margin and detach from the family. This could happen in large and small situations.
One day the boys asked me to make corn bread like their beloved grandmother made. When I complied they were quick to tell me it wasn't the same and not nearly as good. I remember thinking, "They don't appreciate anything I do. I just won't cook for them anymore." In that one incident I swung quickly from my attachment to pleasing Jamie and Paul to my desire to run away and take no part in nurturing them. What I needed to do in that situation was to find the willingness to cook with love what I knew how to cook and accept the fact that they would like some of my efforts and not others.
Letting go and staying engaged is a lifetime practice.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers