Last week I wrote about how I kiss my sons freely and openly. But this? This is about something that is often fraught with emotional landmines. This is about sharing affection and love for stepdaughters.
It's second nature for me to be affectionate to our boys. I've been that way since the beginning when they were wee babies. After I divorced, I met the woman who would come to be the inimitable Clark to my Lewis in our travels throughout this life. As our love evolved and grew, there was a new challenge presented to me, with which I had no experience: Jillian has two daughters.
To me, raising sons was easy. I'm a man, and I used to be a boy. I can relate. Girls, though... Not a clue. I'm not ashamed to say it scared the hell out of me. I had immediate visions of emotional breakdowns, major attitude issues, not loving me because I'm not their biological dad, and not willing to accept my help as they navigate the peaks and pitfalls of dating when the time came. Most importantly, I was afraid they wouldn't love me and any affection expressed would be off the table. I didn't want to be this stepfather figure; I wanted to be a Dad to them.
Partly, this was me being competitive. I knew that their dad held to a more "traditional" father role, but I subscribe to a more open way of parenting. Being human, I wanted to believe my way is the best way. I wanted to be able to offer them all the fatherly gifts I had to give: tactile tenderness; an ear to actually listen to their thoughts, joys and fears; a haven where they could be themselves and free to explore the nooks and crannies of their personas.
However, I found that achievement of being a dad to two stepdaughters isn't that straightforwardly simple. What if our personalities clashed, which they did at times? What if they responded to my parenting methods with the same reaction to the strict discipline of the other household? There are a plethora of hurdles that potentially get in the way of this self-imagined utopia I sought to provide.
I decided I had to take the time to get to know these young ladies. I needed to invest myself in them. How else could I understand what they required of me as a man and a father? By investing my heart and my mind in each of them, I uncovered two utterly unique little humans. Our oldest daughter needs an ear to listen to her so she can rationally hash out her feelings and ideas. Our youngest daughter functions differently: she needs a physical presence and a quiet guidance with her feelings.
What I came to realize was my ego was getting in the way of me being the best possible father figure and showing them how I felt about them. I had to drop the part of my psyche that had to "win" against my wife's ex-husband and open myself up and be vulnerable to allow the girls to love me if they wanted to -- and more importantly -- on their terms, not mine. I let them control how much or how little they wanted me to love them.
I am very fortunate because my daughters -- I will not call them stepdaughters, even if I didn't contribute to their creation -- were craving that attention I relish sharing with everyone I love. They offer all the hugs and kisses I could want, and then some. I get that my situation may not be the norm. Not every situation with blended families is as smooth as ours has been. I know there can be so many challenges to loving daughters when you are not part of the magical procreative dance that spawned them into being. BUT... if you're genuine with your interest in who they really are, honest about whom you really are, and making sure you can be available to be there for them on their timetable while checking your own ego and expectations, then I believe there's an unfathomable amount of love you can share with your girls. The alternative is that you can choose to let your ego rule the day, or worse, force a strained relationship into being. However, you just might miss out on an opportunity to foster a truly unique, selfless love in your daughter and in you.