I have been step-parenting for almost 9 years to my daughter who is half black and has Down syndrome. So, if I’m being honest, becoming Ciena’s mom is one of the hardest things I have ever done – or at least, it’s in the top two. You see, my relationship with her has been strenuous, turbulent, indifferent and hard. There also have been moments of love, compassion and joy. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.
The hard times of step-parenting seem to stick with me the most.
I am beginning a journey called The Love Dare For Parents. This is a 40 day journey of daily “dares,” or, in another word, tasks, to help parents learn to build lasting relationships with their kids. While I will perform each daily task for all four of my kids, the real purpose is to allow God to perhaps change my heart a little bit towards Ciena. She is the reason I bought this book. It felt like the next step in this never-ending battle of what it means to be her parent.
However, before I can authentically share this journey with you, I need to tell you about how I met her, how our relationship progressed and where we are today. In other words, pull up your big-girl panties.
This story isn’t for the faint of heart.
Mr. Sexy and I were new friends and it was my turn to be with the kids during Care Group. Ciena sat in a rocking chair, holding a doll and singing loudly as she rocked back and forth. I was newer to this group and to this church and was worried about the noise. I suggested we all read a book together. So of course I sat on the floor with a book while most of the kids sat in front of me, ready for a story with all the pictures.
Ciena, an 8 year old girl with huge, thick, curly hair plopped down in my lap. No speaking required. Consequently, I was touched because she seemed to feel so comfortable with me. The story did the trick, too. Although I had to keep moving my head around her huge hair to read. Later I made fun of Mr. Sexy for this because… doesn’t he know about hair bands???
Before you blink, we fast forward to Ciena’s 9th birthday. Mr. Sexy and I were dating seriously and I aimed to be the best step-parenting mom a girl could ask for. I felt sorry for Ciena’s tumultuous life with her biological mother whom was unruly and unkind in every way. I spent hours and hours on Ciena’s birthday gift: A 5 minute video tribute to Ciena herself. It included home video I took and pictures Mr. Sexy gave me.
This was a love gift in its truest form.
Now let’s fast forward to a time when I had the engagement ring on my finger. And Ciena had done something again. It doesn’t matter what. The anger boiling inside me was the problem. The anger was familiar, too, a part of me I had since I was a young girl and never learned to deal with. At times the anger felt out of control and I wasn’t sure I could be a good mother to Ciena. And I told Mr. Sexy so. I told him twice, actually. And on these two separate occasions where I told him to break off our engagement, Mr. Sexy smiled, kissed me and said no.
He saw me in a way nobody else ever did.
And now we’re married. Our family is blended. And the anger I felt only seemed to increase. That anger was also compounded by the stress of being a newly wed and struggling financially. I felt alone in my frustrations of the disabilities and step-parenting. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it – not even Mr. Sexy. How could I? This was his daughter! And I was being a terrible person.
At least, that’s what I was telling myself, unfortunately.
So, Ciena had (and still has) a tendency to eat things she shouldn’t. She has a life-long habit of getting up in the middle of the night to raid the kitchen. And as she got older she learned to hide food for later or sneak to her room during the day. We currently use a doorbell on the stairs at night. This has been the one and only thing that keeps Ciena in bed.
Because of all of the antics Ciena has done over the years and the… oddities of Down syndrome, I often felt like I was lied to and manipulated by her – even though she wasn’t capable of it at that point. It all hurt just the same and that hurt turned into resentment which turned into not caring.
The thing is, I have never been able to stop caring.
And so I would try again and again and again and again to be better at this step-parenting gig. It was hard to see past all things she did that I didn’t like. I would invite her into a dance party in the living room. Sometimes I would take her shopping and things like that. The thing is, I suppose it was an issue of expectation… because it seemed every time I emotionally opened up to her, it went wrong. For instance, she would tear her buttons off a new shirt I bought her or take my ring I left in the bathroom and she would hide it under her pillow. Or she would take the new book she was given and color all over the pages.
I have never been able to figure out how to truly win in the step-parenting world.
And that’s what this journey is all about. In fact, I would venture to say this is more about me than her. I think I have a hard time loving the unlovable. And now I have to lay down a disclaimer: What you see is a “happy” down syndrome girl. In my world, she is not an easy person to love. Do I love her today? Honestly? Ya, I think I do. I know I do because I become so emotionally charged when I write about her; I do truly care.
Step-parenting is just not easy.
So, Friend, I would like to invite you to join me on this journey of Daily Dares; now, I don’t plan to write about every single Dare every single day. However, I can tell you that I aim be as vulnerable and authentic as I feel safe to be. Discussing my relationship with my daughter publicly again is scary. In fact, the emotions I have felt are very big and I may be working through some of those throughout this journey. What you need to know is that I have counsel and I am no longer alone in this. No, not in any sense of the word.
Let’s stay connected!
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