Distracted listening. Selective hearing. Ignoring. Add to that list, incessant texting, phones ringing, doors knocking, IMing, video skyping, email beeping, timers dinging, clocks ticking and there’s a pretty good chance that someone somewhere is going to misunderstand someone else, in their own family. Shocking, I know. Nevertheless, true. Information, emotions, needs, wants, deadlines, logistics, wishes, fears all flow between husband and wife, step-mom and stepchild, brother and sister. Communication is as important to success in daily living as breathing. In and out, in and out, in and out. Respiration can’t stop if you’re going to to see another day. Conversing is the same. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Communication can’t stop if you’re going to participate in this team sport called Life.
In the big picture, everyone communicates. Some do so with words or the lack thereof, pictures, facial expressions, body language, posture, speaking, writing, singing. This list could go on and on. But how do you know if you are CLEARLY communicating? Did the person you exchanged information with understand your intent, explanation and involvement in the subject at hand? Do they know how you communicate? Babies desperately want to, tweens don’t, teenagers see it as life and death, employers judge your performance with it. Hearts can soar by it, dreams can be achieved by it, needs can be met by it, discoveries found by it. It’s the center of all we do. It deserves some consideration.
Open communication between parents and children is something that is fostered from an early age. Little kids tell their parents everything because life is their oyster. Slowly they individuate and begin keeping their thoughts to themselves and parents have to be clever and intentional in drawing their kids into conversations. So how do stepmoms lay the groundwork for open communication with their stepchildren when they are entering the picture “late”? Since every family has different dynamics and “unwritten” expectations when it comes to communication, perhaps going back to the beginning would be helpful.
In my growing relationship with my stepdaughter, I have found that it is crucial to remove her from the “house” or any “expectation riddled environment” in order for us to have meaningful conversations. A walk at a park, a volunteer activity, or simply riding in the car running errands all lend themselves to conversation that is not face to face or in your face. It also allows for thoughts to be shared without fear of others listening in or judging the interaction. No matter their age, they need to feel special enough to receive one-on-one attention from you. Help them share by asking positive questions. It may feel awkward, but what have you got to lose? Kids want to talk about themselves, where they fit in, what they like, so just go with it. What’s your earliest memory? The coolest thing you’ve done? A place you want to go on vacation? The best book you’ve read? The biggest worry on your mind? Listen. Don’t pass judgment. Don’t give advice. DO share. Let them hear about a funny story from your childhood, your scary first day of middle school, a favorite movie or a day you got in trouble. Sharing makes you human. Real. Approachable. Stepmom, trust me. You are both going to have to be able to hear and listen to each other from this day forward. Taking the time to model clear communication now means there’s a better chance they’ll actually be listening later. That, my friend, is priceless.
How do you keep communication open with your stepkids? Are they listening? Are you?