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I AM the StepMonster – How to communicate when we don’t speak the same language

27 Feb Posted by in Family Life, Language | Comments Off
I AM the StepMonster – How to communicate when we don’t speak the same language
 
Normally I try to keep my posts on the light side with a bit of humor, but today I want to delve into some of my experiences as being a Stepmom. Hey, don’t click away yet. I have included numbered bullet points below if you’re already bored.

Being a step-parent in and of itself is always a bit of a struggle depending on the situation. I have seen instances where it runs smoothly, but more often than not, it is a
bumpy road.

I grew up with a Stepdad and a Stepmom and I don’t remember having any major problems. But, I mean I was the perfect child so of course there weren’t any problems (insert angel halo here).

And being a perfect step-child for my entire life, seeing what it means to be a perfect step-parent, I thought this would be a piece of cake for me. I mean, I know exactly how to deal with these things, right?

(Time out – Game OOOooooffffff)

Firstly, about the term, Stepmom…it has such a bad connotation and quite frankly I don’t like adding “step” in front of any family term.

I understand without the “step” it’s hard to explain why my “daughter” isn’t always with us, and the term always ends up rearing its little head eventually. But from here on out in this blog, I will refer to her as my daughter.

(And…Game OOOooooonnnn)

Um, now throw into the mix different languages to this perfect new family scenario.

Apparently my calculations from my childhood were way off; not only did I miss what went on beyond the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, but I hadn’t configured a foreign language into the equation.

I can’t just say whatever I want to say to our daughter, let alone understand what she is saying all the time.

My biggest problem is when she starts crying and I don’t know why. There are the hurt cries, there are the whiney cries, there are the tired cries, and there are the full blown meltdowns. I know how they sound and yet, I can’t solve them myself because I don’t speak the language.

Below is a list of things that help me cope with most situations:

1.)    Eye Contact – Don’t let the little one intimidate me. Our daughter is smart…very smart, which means she likes to negotiate, and like any child, she can and will take advantage of the situation when she wants. She may not know she’s doing it, but when I keep eye contact, I can see it…and she sees that I mean business. We don’t speak the same verbal language, but she understands my body language. Too many times in the past I have tried to pretend that the other wasn’t in the room because I wasn’t sure how to deal with the language barrier. Then I discovered the power and universal language of the German Mommy Stare.

2.)    Use Both Verbal Languages – From what I’ve learned about raising bi-lingual children, they tell you that each parent should always speak in their native tongue to the child. Well, my daughter was six when I met her and is now eight. I entered her life too late and she isn’t with us all the time. I’ve given up only speaking German or only speaking English. It isn’t a level playing field at this point; either I’m frustrated or she’s frustrated. I’ve found that when I do both at appropriate times, this seems to bring the most success.

3.)    Patience – I am one of the least patient people ever. I get frustrated when I don’t immediately understand the situation and must wait for my husband to have the time to translate.

4.)    Persistence – Even when I feel like our relationship has no hope for growing, I tell myself I must keep trying.

5.)    Keep Smiling – No matter how angry or frustrated I become, I always try to keep smiling when it is appropriate. First thing when she arrives, and last thing when she leaves.

6.)    Being Creative – Many, many, many times there are misunderstandings and flat out no understandings at all. When I don’t know the words or when she is frustrated, I try to find a different approach. Even if it means playing Charades.

7.)    Make Time – This is the most difficult for me since we also have a baby, but I try to make some one-on-one time as well as family time by finding an activity that she likes to do. No matter how scary it may be, I know it is the right thing to do.

8.)    Use a translator – There have been maybe two or three times when I have asked my husband if we can all sit down and have him translate for me. For serious situations when I want to make sure she completely understands, I let my husband know I want to truly be “heard.” I’m sure I should use this more often then I do, but I know it is difficult…more like, boring for my husband. Way to feel used, huh?

9.)    Don’t make assumptions – I am the adult and I must remember to act like it. Too frequently, I get frustrated when there is a “situation” (aka the child meltdown). All I hear is screaming and crying and most times it looks like a temper-tantrum. I have to remember not to assume I already know what happened…or what might have happened while my husband is busy putting out the fire.

10.)  Accept her for who she is – Many times I get frustrated and compare her to other children of her age or how I used to be, and I think she should be that way too. But I must remember she is her own individual and has different likes and dislikes. And a different threshold for when the meltdowns occur.

11.)  Respect the fact that she has a biological Mother – She and I may not always agree or see eye-to-eye, but, “She will always be her mother.” A good friend once said that to me. At first it stung; I wanted to just forget about that other person. Out of sight, out of mind. I had been hurt too many times by this other person’s actions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and have made mistakes too. And I’m definitely not trying to play the Saint card. But since then, I’m over it. The answer is, she wins. I can’t control her actions. Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better lately so I can’t complain too much.

In the “About Me” section, I wrote that I am a 1 and-a-quarter mom and I’d like to explain that better. My daughter already has a biological mother; I am not and will never be her mother. We’ve already established I don’t like the term “step” anything…so how do you classify this relationship? I try to be a quarter of a mom, and mostly an adult in her life who loves her very much.

I guess I must be doing something right because today she showed up after school with handpicked flowers for me. We may not speak the same language, but she already knows actions have the power to transcend words.