What’s in a name? If you had to ask that question 50 years ago, chances are you’d likely get a much different answer than you would today. With blended families increasingly becoming a larger part of the, “American Family,” landscape, the various titles worn by family members can be a tricky obstacle course to navigate. There is Mom. Stepmom. Dad. Stepdad. Brother. Stepbrother. Half-brother. Sister. Stepsister. Half-sister. Grandparents. Stepgrandparents. Is your head spinning trying to keep up? Well just imagine being a kid!
In today’s society, our children are constantly inundated with mixed messages. Although we often attribute such messages to the media, more often than not, the most impactful messages come directly from those closest to our children. That’s right – we parents!
We constantly preach to our children that fast food is bad for them, yet we find it a justifiable necessity to pull into a drive-thru for a quick happy meal (complete with sliced apples, and 2% chocolate milk so that we feel a little less guilty about our choice) several times a week.
We tell them not to talk to strangers, yet insist that they smile and say, “Thank you to the nice man (or woman),” who gives them a compliment as we exchange small talk while waiting our turn in the checkout line.
And perhaps worst of all, we tell them that they are the most important “things” in the world to us, and that their needs should always come first, yet we look for ways to use names to drive wedges between them and the new, “family,” members that we’re unable/unwilling to accept. We treat our children as exactly that, “things,” – our personal possessions – not for their sakes, but for our own.
Part of the beauty and uniqueness of being human is supposed to be the fact that we have the capacity to love and form emotional attachments. Perhaps even more beautiful is the fact that most of us can do this in duplicity, loving many different people very deeply at the exact same time.
Growing up as children, our hearts had the ability to love both Mom and Dad at the same time. Loving one didn’t in any way preclude us from loving the other. We were also taught to love our siblings (while at the same time, still being able to love both of our parents), and sometimes, we even found ourselves surprised at just how much it turned out that we loved them despite our actually believing that we despised them for being the constant, nagging, annoying little pain that only a brother or sister could be.
At the end of the day though, we grew up learning an important lesson – the eternal, very special bond that comes from being a family. We learned that above all things, family was sacred, and should always be held in the highest regard, with each member being treated with perpetual love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Until we grew up. Then all that changed.
As adults, we loved and lost. We rose from the ashes, and learned to put the pieces of our shattered lives back together.
We learned that those closest to you have the ability to hurt you the most. And we learned that no matter how much we loved someone, it didn’t mean that they would always be by our side, “Until death do we part.”
And as we learned the harsh reality of how these changes could affect our life, we also learned that accepting every member of our family wasn’t something we were really willing to do. Through these new realities, we came to value another feeling more than love…
In order to protect ourselves, somewhere along the way we decided that it was of the utmost importance to us that the people we love the most share our same feelings about love, and family, and loyalty – not the magical, mystical principals that we ourselves learned as a child, but the harsh, cold realities that we learned as adults.
Instead of affording our children the luxury of forming safe, secure attachments to those they love, and who love them in return, we instead demand that they refrain from making the same kinds of connections with other family members that they have with us because our worn, tattered, and insecure hearts can’t handle such a brutal betrayl.
The idea that our son could grow to love his, “stepbrother,” with the same adoration that he loves his biological brother offends our senses. Realizing that our daughter could care in the LEAST that she shares less than 50% of the same DNA with the new baby that she proudly proclaims as her, “new baby sister,” to any and every ear that will listen drives a million little daggers through our heart.
And while we want our children to be just as head over heels with our new mate as we are, we DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, want them feeling a motherly bond with the new woman that our ex remarries. Instead, we enlist a new list of irrational, childhood contradictions. Be polite, but please don’t really like her. Be respectful, but do NOT love her. And above all things, always remember, she is his wife, but she is NOT your mother. And the mere thought of our child(ren) referring to her as such is enough to start an all out war.
What’s in a name? The truth is, it depends on who you ask. While most modern research suggests that it is in the best interest of a child to be allowed to define their familial relationships for themselves, and more (perhaps “enlightened,” or dare I say it? Yes…more secure *gasp*) Moms are realizing the positive benefits that come from truly letting go and trusting that our children love us unconditionally as their mothers.
The bottom line is simple. As we take the steps necessary to truly heal ourselves, we can learn to let go of our fears, our anger, our disappointment, and our resentment in order to reclaim our ability to teach our children – and ourselves – another valuable lesson that we learned in childhood: that while the world can be a big, scary place, you don’t have to go at it alone. And why is that? It’s because at the end of the day, you are a part of a FAMILY, and above all things, that is the one name that truly means everything…