Being a [Step] Mom I’ve found that transparency is one of the best tools in my belt. Being a parent, in general, is totally fucking hard. It is also terribly humbling and even more rewarding. Recently I have come to realize that one of the best tools for teaching your children how to be humble is to yourself be transparent.
Last week was an exceptionally hard week for my husband and I. The big kid’s biological mother was in town for a court date as a result of the custody battle she recently began. It’s the second one in two years that she’s initiated. I’ll say nothing more there other than it’s completely exhausting and terrifying to deal with. My husband and I work really hard and do well at shielding the kids from this type of thing. This time, however, there were two things that made it different.
First, they all had to be interviewed by a court-appointed social worker at their biological mother’s request. Second, they’re older. The question eventually becomes, “how do we protect them without completely lying to them?” While trying to manage our own fear, anxiety, and honestly anger, we were also trying to help them manage theirs. Which leads to the more important question, “how much of your own emotion do you allow them to see?” In other words, when should you be transparent with your children?
Walking on Egg Shells
I was walking around just pissed off and so angry. I have been a step-mom for 4 years. None of this was new to me. Why was I so angry this time around? The short answer is that I felt like I had killed myself to make things better for this woman for so long. Done so much to accommodate her. I could write an entire post on that alone, accommodating her only to be bitch slapped in return. But, that wasn’t it. I mean I had been pissed off before as a result of her entitlement. So what? I realized it was because as they’re getting older, they’re speaking up more and what they’re saying is they’re unhappy with the way things are. And I, their mom, can’t fix it.
So here I was internalizing this, unable to put it into words, just walking around pissed off. If someone in the family sneezed, I yelled. Plans changed or didn’t go exactly to plan? I was convinced the world was ending. It was horrible. Three days of this. And then I snapped. I’m talking full-blown postal. I was just yelling incoherently in the direction of my husband. Nothing violent. Just word vomit. Really loud. And then I cried. For like an hour. I cried. The puppy licked my face and I cried and cried. Then I slept.
When I woke up, the kids were up already getting their breakfasts and I stroll out in my bathrobe all puffy-eyed, full of shame. I was so unhappy with myself. They all slept through my word vomit. Thank god. But all the same, I was disgusted with the type of person I had been the last few days. Somewhere in my word vomit, my husband said, “we’re all walking around on eggshells afraid to do anything wrong for you.” That was really hard to hear.
Should I be Transparent?
There I was puffy-eyed looking at my children getting ready for school and I thought, maybe they should know how I feel? Maybe I should be transparent? I wouldn’t want them to see the crazy that I was the night before. I also couldn’t tell them everything. That’s not fair to them. Or honestly their biological mother. I always tell them, when they ask me why their mother stayed when they moved, that that is her truth to tell someday. All that aside though, I thought, I should at least tell them why I was so angry and I should give them the opportunity to do the same.
The kids had recently asked their biological mother to stay here for Christmas to be with their baby sister. Our oldest daughter had also asked, when that was met with a resounding NO, to at least stay for her soccer games. That too was met with a NO. Each of them was crushed. They were pissed. They could not understand why she didn’t want to support their love of their little sister. The kids could not understand why she could not support their love of their activities. And they had no idea how to express it in a way that helped them heal. Add to that this crazy woman, yours truly, running around the house pissed off at everything.
Owning my Shortcomings
As a family, we sat at the table after school that day. I started by saying, “You know how I always tell you guys it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling, but it’s not okay to act like asshats because of it? Well, I have totally failed at that myself these last few days. I’m sorry.” Have you ever tried to fess up to one of your biggest shortcomings while looking your children in the face? It’s so hard. Or at least it’s so hard to do and not immediately follow up with some sort of excuse.
I had to stop myself and literally counted to 10 before moving on. I explained to them that their mother will always be their mother and I will always respect that. And said that sometimes when their mother is here it’s difficult for me to let them go, even though I want them to have fun with their mother. Then most importantly I explained to them that I feel as though I’m failing them because I can’t give them what they want.
When I told them, I was sorry I was failing them, I saw something in their eyes. It was as though they understood. It was as though I had given them permission to feel similar. They knew they weren’t alone. They knew this totally did suck. And they knew I had their backs. And the craziest thing happened, they told me it was okay. It’s laughable really, my kids were trying to comfort me. It wasn’t the intent of my conversation. Nor was it what I needed from them. But there they were, compassionate and understanding. We were all totally transparent and in that transparency, we felt as one.
We always say that we don’t want our kids to grow up too quickly. I feel that all the time as I see them growing by the foot in front of me. But sometimes we don’t have a choice, I guess all the time really. And in these really defining, incredibly difficult moments, the last thing you want is for your kid to have to grow 10 years.
What I’m learning though is that they are far smarter, far more in tune, and far more resilient than we give them credit for. It’s not that I want to take this for granted. I don’t. I don’t want to lose sight of their youth and their innocence. But in these moments, these really difficult moments, I want them to grow up in a meaningful way. Not alone. Not with poor coping mechanisms. But in this emotionally intelligent way that’s going to help them move on from this and conquer anything they want.
The answer to that question: how transparent should we be with our children? It’s as transparent as we feel we need to be to make them feel heard. To make them understand we have their back relentlessly. Maybe I can’t give them what they want all the time. Maybe that’s a good thing? Because the truth is that’s not how the world works and it shouldn’t be. I don’t want my children to just know how to get through the next difficult thing. I want them to know how to get through all the difficult things. And I want them to know that no matter the difficult thing, even if I can’t or won’t fix it, I will always have their backs. And I’ve learned that the best way to demonstrate this to my children is through transparency.