When I was younger, in an I need to try something new phase, I took classes to learn the Two-Step at a local country western venue. Though I was never a good dancer, I loved the grace of couples as they glided hand in hand down the wooden dance floor. With a good partner, dancing seemed effortless and though the twirling turns could make my head spin, they were a heck of a lot of fun.
Fast forward. I’m a stepmom, a former psychotherapist and the author of three heartwarming novels about a woman marrying a man with a twelve year old son. In this article, I’m not coming to you as an expert. I’m speaking with you stepparent to stepparent about the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years from taking on a role that can be both challenging and gratifying.
Several lessons I learned in my country music days apply to stepparenting.
1. You can’t learn to dance by reading about it.
You can’t read a book about the waltz and just swan off like Fed Astaire or Ginger Rogers. If you were like me when you took on the role, you read every book and article that you could to prepare to be the best stepparent in the world. (Ahem!) But no matter how conscientious you were in your preparation, you can’t learn stepparent unless you are doing it. You’ll think you know just how to handle the triangulating that children will do, and then you’ll fall for the old “But Dad always lets me…” or “At my Mom’s house…” You learn as you go. You’ll discover certain hard and fast rules but you’ll mostly end up doing what you find works best for you and your family.
2. Dancers glide and swoop effortlessly because they practice a lot, evaluate their performance and learn from their mistakes.
Because there aren’t many courses like Stepparenting 101, you learn many lessons by trial and error. You get consumed by parenting, and you learn to make a regular date night with your spouse. You start to lose your sense of identity, so you hatch a plan to reconnect with old friends. You try too hard and get resentful so you back off. You make a stand and decide next time to just let it go.
All of us want to get it right and to be the best spouse and stepparent we can be.
All of us want to get it right and to be the best spouse and stepparent we can be, but mid-course correction seems to be the norm rather than the exception in this role. For those of us who can be a tad perfectionistic focused, learning by mistakes is not our favorite thing, but it seems to be what’s real and what works best.
3. The best couples dancers are always communicating.
The leader gently presses your hand or touches your shoulder to tell you what’s next. The follower stays connected, because having spaghetti arms gets your partner confused about where you are.
In marriages you take turns leading and following, but the analogy still holds. Communication, both subtle and direct, is the key to operating seamlessly as a couple. It your partner is too strong in the lead, you won’t want to follow. If you don’t give enough cues about which way you are headed, he or she gets confused.
Stepchildren have the ability to sniff out situations when you and your partner aren’t on the same page, and nose right in to create conflict. When your teenaged stepdaughter back talks you, you give your spouse the secret high sign. If one of you is not keeping up, or veering off in a different direction than you’d discussed, your job is a gentle reminder. A facial expression, gesture, or quiet conversation in the next room can help you each remember how you’ve agreed to handle things and keep you both dancing in synch.
Read Part 2 here: Five Key Skills for Mastering the Stepparent Two-Step – Part 2
Susan Schild writes wholesome, friendly and funny Southern fiction. Her stories feature finding love after loss, the challenges of stepparenting, adventuresome women, sweet dogs, and happily ever afters at any age. Susan is a wife and a stepmother, and has a professional background as a psychotherapist and a management consultant. She and her family live in North Carolina. SWEET CAROLINA MORNING, Susan’s latest novel, was released August 2nd, 2016. You can follow Susan on Facebook, Twitter and on her website or subscribe to her quarterly newsletter for inside scoop, sneak peeks and giveaways.