When we started having regular visits with my (then) eight-year old step daughter last January she was extremely clingy. She hadn’t seen her Dad in over a year and you could see the uncertainty in every part of her. When she was at our house for these visits she would say, “I love you Daddy”, at random intervals throughout the visit. Proclaiming her love for him no less than a hundred times in an eight-hour period. When she would leave our house, my husband would have to carry her to the car and seat belt her in. Sometimes when her mom would come to pick her up it was a struggle to get her to a place where she was okay leaving.
By the time we had a temporary order of custody, in March, she was still just as excited to see her daddy and just as demonstrative in her love for him, but there would be some days that the adjustment was hard for her and she missed her mom. During this time, she would be very reserved when she first got to our house. This would always go away within an hour or so but it would take her awhile to relax and adjust to being away from her mom. When her mom would come to pick her up she would fling herself at her mom for a hug and tell her repeatedly how much she loves her and missed her.
This would continue for the rest of the year. Going back and forth between missing her dad and missing her mom was visibly stressful for my step-daughter. For the most part she was a happy child and enjoyed the time she spent in both homes. But it was a struggle for her. One that I know we all saw and felt.
Today the difference in her is incredible. She goes from house to house with ease. She is used to her routine and knows what to expect. She is happy to see the parent who is picking her up and good bye’s are quick and drama free. She is almost ten now and not a huge fan of hugs and “I love you’s.” While she will still give you a hug and say “I love you, too. I miss you, too.” She has the attitude of a “big kid,” who is too cool to be overly affectionate with her parents.
But she will still climb into my husband’s lap to watch TV. She will still cuddle up on the couch when she’s tired. And on Tuesdays following her mom’s weekend, when it’s been a week since her last visit, I notice that her hugs are a little longer. And she sits almost exclusively on her daddy’s lap. But when it’s time to go, she gives hugs and leaves with the confidence of knowing she will be back soon.
I struggled to put into words this change in her. How did we go from a child who needed to be carried, to one who bounces with ease from house to house? Besides the fact that (in her words) she is practically a preteen? Then I remembered something she said to me last year the night before Father’s Day.
My Daddy keeps me safe.
And I realized the truth behind this simple statement. A daddy does keep you safe. Safe in the certainty that he is there. And for my step-daughter? She is now safe in the knowledge that she can say good-bye to her daddy knowing she will see him again soon.
This is why co parenting is so important. Children need to know they are safe. They need their mommies for so many things. But they need their daddies too. Because all kids deserve to know, my Daddy keeps me safe.
Whitney is a newlywed and new stepmom to a beautiful nine-year old girl. Being a child of divorce and a stepdaughter four times over, she never expected to one day have a stepchild of her own. She blogs about this new-found role and her perspective as a stepdaughter on: www.stepwithcare.blogspot.com. You can also follow her on twitter: @stepwithcare