In the first month of meeting Morgan, I knew, instinctively and deeply, that we would end up getting married. I don’t know exactly what it was about her, but there was a profound sensation of “I know this person” and more importantly, “this person lets me be completely who I am.”
In a world where we trained to hide parts of ourselves in order to function, she not only made it feel safe but demanded I show her all of me. Some of the parts she liked, some she didn’t, but in our revealing our ourselves, I never felt so seen by a woman.
One month quickly turned to two then to three, and she then asked if I was ready to meet her children. I had known about them from our first meeting and understood that this was a crucial step in our relationship. The two young ladies were 5 and 7 at the time and still in turmoil from their parent’s separation and moving out of the family home.
While Morgan’s marriage had been over for years, they had not consciously known that I would be the first man besides their father who they would see kissing, touching and loving their mother.
I had never been in this situation before, and I was nervous.
When I arrived at the house, they ran and screamed away from me, half in play, half in something else, but I remained centered and clear. I made a vow to myself: I would treat them well, I would treat them as my own, and I would allow them to come to me in their own time. I would not make demands of how they would relate to me.
Our courtship turned into a relationship and then nine months into knowing each other, on a crazy night of spaciousness, I unexpectedly asked Morgan to marry me. She smiled and said yes and we were engaged.
This step surprised no one beside me, and I was thrilled at our level of connection. I also realized that I had never taken a thought to what it meant to also take on the role of stepfather. As a man prone to extensive strategizing about everything, it was unusual for me not to calculate the depth of this choice. However, without hesitation, my YES to Morgan became a YES to her two little girls.
I didn’t realize that with this YES, I was taking on one of the hardest challenges of my life.
I had never been in a parental position to young children, and there was much to learn. I was going to have to learn new skills on loving, relating, and being a role model to two dynamic human beings who both owed me nothing and had no motivation to follow my rules. I learned this the hard way.
At the beginning of my experience, I felt moments of intense frustration and anger. I was a child of the 1970’s and was taught by my parents the lessons of discipline, consequence, and punishment. If I stepped out of line, I could lose my TV rights, my allowance, or my lower garments to feel my father’s belt.
I learned to color inside the lines because going outside of them would cause me pain. I pressed those lines a few times. I took out my father’s car to Burger King and stripped the bumper of a white Corvette in the parking lot. There goes my saving account. I had a party with high school friends while my parents were away. There goes that right of freedom. While I was all and all, a pretty good kid, I learned the results of doing “bad things” and getting caught.
Morgan is a mother of the 21st century and has a different methodology.
She is a student of Hand-in-Hand Parenting that advises parents not only to not send kids away during tantrums but actually move towards them and embrace them. She offers her children the chance to make their own choices about their diets and TV-watching habits and the detrimental effects. When the kids don’t listen to her requests, she repeats them until they do.
If I were in charge, I would be getting up and sending much more threatening signals. I might pull the cord from the back of the laptop to enforce my point or even threaten them with corporal punishment like my father. I know this part of myself because I am 50% of my father’s DNA. I also know that I’ve learned that while I can honor my father’s path, I don’t have to follow it.
So, I sit mute and study Morgan in her parenting of the children. I sit in awe of her patience, her insight into their psyche and the way she offers them a safe shelter from life’s storms. I mock up in my head how I would respond to their “bad things” and notice how much different Morgan responds.
In my imaginary scoreboard, Morgan’s parenting skills have all the points while mine has the lovely goose egg. I feel inept often in her skills but am always watching on how to improve.
I’ve learned some crucial lessons along the way.
Parenting is about patience, not power. It is not about the lording over or the fear tactics. I lived in a house where I was afraid to step out of line. Morgan teaches them to live with their consequences. She is teaching them skills that many of my clients do not have. She is showing them how to know their emotional make-up, how to feel their feelings, and then make decisions from a combination of emotional intelligence and wisdom.
In my watching, I am often haunted by my shortcomings as a man. I remember all the times where I enforced my masculine ways onto the women in my life. I see how I used my wits and intellect to gaslight my previous partners so I could avoid my own emotional obstacle courses. The powerlessness I feel in watching the children is a mirror to my own. I have to explore all the things I didn’t feel as a boy. I can’t shut it all down because I feel uncomfortable.
There are days when I wish I weren’t in this position of co-parent. They are the rough days of long drives on the 405 with screaming kids in the back because we don’t go to Justice or the anger when one child has a sleepover, and the other feels jealous. I am woken up by their midnight requests for Morgan’s attention and feel the impact on her. I can feel Morgan’s lack of attention on me while she just tries to get through the day. It sometimes feels like the worst straight-jacket of my life.
And… and… and…
There are those days when the younger one wants me to play soccer, or the older one wants to show me her latest artwork. The moments when I have to adjust my behavior with them, and I learn an important lesson that helps my role as a life-coach.
I get to see in these two human beings a new way of living where power is not something to be used to limit another to my own belief systems but a source for them to be their fullest self. I am pushed daily to become a bigger and better man.
For those in the role of a powerless stepfather or parent, I nod my head in understanding and respect. We are men trying to be good role models in a sea of confusion. However, just saying YES and surrendering, is the path to enlightenment.