Saturday, January 16, 2010

Talking NFP

This family Christmas star was my eldest stepdaughter's idea. I'm embarrassed that my toenails aren't prettily painted like the girls'!

I was so surprised last weekend at how easy it was to begin a conversation with my teen stepdaughter about natural family planning (NFP). I spent the whole weekend worrying about how to begin, and then poof! we were mid-conversation. There wasn't much time before she had to go back home, so we started off with a bit of biology and we'll continue with philosophy and ethics next weekend, then conclude with how to interpret it all.

One step forward: as a Gen X girl, I'm a lot more open to discussing reproductive "stuff" than my parents were with me--this is not such an socially embarrassing topic! Second step: looking at my stepdaughter's generation (is she still considered a Millennial? She's 15 yrs), there is a great deal more openness to NFP than when I was her age. Even apart from morailty, there is such a trend toward the natural that I now benefit from an easy conversation opener. I've known an atheist and a Jewish friend who also have used NFP because they recognize some of the side effects of hormones.

At any rate, it was a real pleasure and true bonding with my stepdaughter. I'm nervous about the rest of the conversation... especially about repeating the moment when her dad walked in on our discussion... but I'm really looking forward to hearing her point of view.

Off to paint my toenails!

What should my step-children call me?

At the rehearsal dinner on the eve of our wedding (the best days of my memory!), my soon-to-be stepson asked me what he should call me.

When King Solomon was presented with a choice between two “mothers,” he suggested that the child be split in half. As a child I always took this story literally—I read about Solomon taking up a knife, and was properly horrified. As a stepmother, I see this lesson in a new light.

The Church’s First Council of Ephesus as early as 431 A.D. concluded that in truth, a mother or father is the parent of the whole person. A child cannot be divided in identity or in ancestry body from soul, any more than he can be cut bottom from top. Calling me “mom” would associate me with motherhood of his soul or his mind, even though I am not mother of his body. To treat a person as if he is divisible is not only false, it also sets the child’s “parts” against each other. And let’s be honest: any attempt to talk about a child in terms of divided parentage most likely is intended to be an insult to one or the other parent. It certainly isn’t intended to foster a complete, fulfilled child.

In light of this understanding, I see what a great offense it would be to allow someone else’s child to call me “mom,” no matter what percentage of the year they are under my guidance. If I am to truly love them, then I must love them wholely, for who they truly are, body, mind and soul.

Who would not cringe at the thought of a child torn in two parts…yet how many of us do exactly that?

So my stepkids call me by my first name. We took the first steps with honesty.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Introducing my family

A year ago, I read a book about step-parenting in preparation for my marriage.  I have three beautiful stepkids, two stepdaughters and one stepson, and I'm so proud of my husband.  We first participated in marraige prep (pre-Cana), and we took a Natural Family Planning (NFP) class.  I then took two stepfamily workshops through my employer, and I read up on the challenges of being a stepmom.

Notice the separation.  I tried and tried to find a piece of writing that combines the two topics: Catholic advice on becoming a step-parent.  The closest I came was a question on our marraige prep test that asked how we each feel about caring for other children.  That's it.

So, I returned to psychology and other writings.  Secular writings are well-meaning, and Christian writings are better although they don't approach the depths of this beautifully Catholic understanding of marraige.  Troubles are often treated in terris tones--well done, and completely truthful, but you'd think that the goal of every situation is "to make this step-family successful" until the kids are grown.  I say the goal is much deeper and longer-lasting: the goal is to get us all, lovingly, to heaven. 

So here I am!  I know love, hope, and frustration. I know the rosary and a few things about guilt and responsibility! If there are any other Catholic stepmoms and stepkids feeling bereft of Catholic advice, you and your insights are welcome.