Me again, chatting about the adventures in step-parenting. Full-discalaimer, I have zero clue what I am doing and just shooting from the hip. I talk to professionals. I get advice from seasoned parents. I do my best to apply it.
My husband pulled me in his shop a year ago.
“Whitney. I think she has a boyfriend.”
She being my step-daughter. Me, being the person I am, stood in the middle of our wrap around porch and waited for her to scooter on by. I smiled, looked at her and said, “Got any secrets that I totally want to know?”
Her face turned red, she knew I knew, but wasn’t giving up the goodies. She moved so quickly away from me. She came around the porch again. There was no getting away from me.
“Don’t tell DAD!” she shouted.
“Okay, tell me all about this boy. Is he like totally cute?” I always go over the top cool pre-teen when I am discussing this. It makes her laugh and roll her eyes. I am, as the kids, would say “on fleek.”
We talked all about it and made a plan to invite her new boyfriend to our Halloween party. Since then they have been in love, and she has come to me with questions on how to hold his hand to those of more personal in nature regarding changing bodies. I don’t think I ever really appreciated what a privilege it is for her to come to me. I am not entitled to her secrets of crushes and first-loves.
As per my last post, my step-daughter doesn’t like me all the time, but above all else she knows I won’t pull any punches and she can trust me. Gaining that trust was not an easy task and is easily lost in any given moment. Some within my control, some far out of it.
These are four hard-fast rules to establish trust with my daughter (step and otherwise).
Set the Boundaries
Early on, I shared with my step-daughter when I would “break the trust” and share with her dad and/or her mom. They are the secret boundaries.
Boundary one, health. If her health is at risk or she is making a decision that affects her health, I would share with another parent.
Boundary two, safety. If at any point she shares with me something that will affect or is affecting her safety, I would, have, and will share with another parent.
Inform Before you Snitch
Before I share anything, I inform and explain why. Do I owe my child this? I am torn on this, but I do know she is human and deserves to be treated as such. If I want to maintain trust, it is important I establish my parental role here. She doesn’t always understand, but it is my hope that she will look back as she gets older and understand.
What Upsets Me Versus What Doesn’t
“I’m not mad. I am disappointed.” It is like nails on a chalkboard, but we have all heard it. I have had the conversation with my preteen about really private things (like sex) and really angry things (like lying about school). We discuss what upsets me AND HER, and what is just really uncomfortable but not upsetting at all. It helps to proactively establish this so she can prepare for the “fall-out.”
The BIG Stuff
That really uncomfortable stuff is usually stuff that can affect her health and safety. Ehem … sex. So it is important when the topic came up for me to create a safe place that is free from shame. Let me repeat, FREE FROM SHAME. It takes a lot of proactive preparations to create an environment, now more than ever, that our girls and boys can come to us. Do not shy away from the really uncomfortable. They are the most important conversations you will have with your child.
This is a tricky one. I loathe some of the styles she comes out with, but hey, it’s not my style. She is operating with a bit of tact and I do my best for my face not to say, “Your outfit be whack.” That is not the brutal honesty I am speaking of. Remember how she called me a witch? Man, what a lesson that was for me in humility. I wanted to tell her how proud I was that she exercised such a healthy form of releasing her anger. I wanted to share with the world that this mommy thing is hard, and sometimes, you are going to be the witch. I just knew I wasn’t the only one that needed to hear this, but in order for me to tell her how proud I was, and tell you that you are in fact a witch, I had to tell her I read her journal. So I did. It was awkward. She felt terrible and I moved quickly to remind her she shouldn’t feel terrible. In the end she asked, “Why did you tell me? I wouldn’t have known,” and Mamas, here in lies the gold ::