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One of my favorite roles in life is that of step-mother. Any more than one can plan or train for motherhood, one can’t schedule the unexpected eventually of becoming a step-parent. The job comes with its own prickly difficulties, but also with a series of gifts that continue to leave me, by turns, breathless and grateful.
My step-son was on the brink of manhood when we met, the same age, in fact, as my nephew is now. Matt and his several-years-divorced dad were living the bachelor life, mutually protective and similarly skeptical. I took my time with this handsome, strapping young man, allowing him to keep his reservations intact while I interviewed him about what he wanted in his life. A few months after his father and I married, he suddenly began to drop by our house for dinner, feeling at home enough to share his hopes and plans. It wasn’t long before he met a beautiful woman, married and started a family of his own. But that brief chapter before he did, taught me the value of giving someone the space to find themselves and the importance of empowering a young man by trusting him to his own process. Some of what I learned emerges in the father-son storyline in my Milford-Haven novels. Interestingly, I was already writing about Joseph Calvin and his son Zackery before I met my husband and his son. Perhaps that was one way the Universe was preparing me.
Things couldn’t have been more different between my step-daughter and me. Our affinity was so instantaneous, there seemed at first to be no transition between “before” and “after.” We’re both actresses, sharing a particular love for Shakespeare and Ibsen, Celtic tales and Star Trek. Both natural leaders, we also both are advocates for women’s safety and well-being. In 2002 I was given a Woman of the Year Award by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women. In 2013, she has been nominated by Rocky Mountain PBS for their Be More Award as founder of Impact Personal Safety Colorado, a personal safety training program. When people meet us for the first time, they even assume we’re mother and daughter because of uncanny resemblances.
But before we could share the rare and beautiful woman-to-woman synchronicity we now enjoy, we had to go through a period of upsets and failures, misunderstandings and dashed hopes. From my lofty initial position atop a pedestal, there was no where to go but down. And as reality set in for Amelia—the reality that there was a new woman in her father’s life—for a while, fate seemed to have dealt her a losing hand. Compound this with the usual teen-years growing pains, and felt she was inhaling a toxic mix of vapors.
I’ve learned so much from my beautiful, talented and devoted step-daughter. First, I learned to reassure her she would always have a place in her father’s heart, and that we’d never compete for his love. We occupy different chambers in that sacred vault, and the more we let the love flow, the healthier are all our relationships. Second, I learned to set boundaries, clarifying what would be acceptable language and behavior. Though we only had to have that conversation once many years ago, I see now how it strengthened our bond, and how it helped to prepare her for her current role as the amazing mother of two precious, small girls. Third, I learned to let go of what she could not be to me, so that I could accept what she is to me. It was another lesson in giving someone the space to be who they authentically are. And this is a lesson I can’t learn too often.
Both my dear step-children have made me a step-grandmother, though, magically, the “step” seems to disappear with the generation jump. Interestingly, I had a beloved step-grandmother who was always just “Grandma Dorothy” to me. Now I get to be “Mamaw”, a special name that appears in both mine and my husband’s families.
Will there be a storyline in the Milford-Haven Novels about step-parenting? Oh, yes, it’s already underway. With it will come doubts and tribulations, but also well-deserved victories of love over fear. What I’ve really learned from being a step-parent is that progress comes step by step. While the head is trying to figure out strategies and make plans, the heart is growing more patient with each disappointment, stronger with each act of forgiveness. Were it not for my role as step-mother, surely I wouldn’t know . . . what the heart knows.
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