Families can sometimes seem complicated. But the experience of family is really quite simple… and profound.
When we were married in 2004, Paul had a stepdaughter by his previous wife, who had died just two years earlier. While I wanted to be a mother to his stepdaughter, she was not comfortable with that at the time, thoughtfully asking that I not take it personally.
Six years ago, when Paul’s stepdaughter became the mother of a baby girl, her relationship with me warmed quite naturally and easily. I loved that baby girl, but I had to swallow my disappointment when Paul immediately received the title “Grampa”, while I remained “Carol.”
After a while, it occurred to me that it really didn’t matter what that little girl called me. I simply held myself as her “Gramma” and treated her as my granddaughter. Now this six-year-old has a little brother, who’s just a few months old, and, regardless of what I am called, I am being grandmother to both of them. And just recently, Paul’s stepdaughter has referred to me as her stepmother and as grandmother to her children. Wow!
So what’s in a title?
Nothing… and everything. We do not need to wait for an official title in order to be related. As long as I was waiting to be called stepmother and grandmother, it was unsettling and awkward. When l simply recognized myself as stepmother and grandmother, and let myself be that, I also recognized a deep connection and acceptance as family, and love and appreciation have swelled in my heart.
Over the past few visits to Pennsylvania, I have been teaching my six-year-old granddaughter to knit. We often sit close together, our hands intertwined as I demonstrate a stitch and guide her fingers around the yarn. She is surprisingly dedicated and joyful in imagining and creating something. She is excited and eager, and occasionally focused and patient.
After our first project, a three-inch square blanket for one of her little Lego figures, we set about to knit a dish cloth. As we completed the first few rows, it became clear that we would not have enough time to finish it during this visit. So we transformed that bit of knitting into a flower mounted on a drinking straw as a stem. Both of us were very pleased.
Thinking back on that time now, I realized that the game we created – the knitting that we did – was all about enjoying our relationship. The results were almost irrelevant. We were knitting love – experiencing a loving time together. We were knitting our relationship!
[Editor’s note: Carol’s story is an example of inventing a game in relationship, which delivers the experience of being related. Designing relationship games is an important part of our family workshop, and also our Extraordinary Relationships workshop.]