One of the hardest parts of raising non-biological children is fitting into their narrative of their life. Humans are story-telling animals. For thousands of years, we have used stories to teach, learn, and make sense of our reality. Our children have done the same thing from their earliest days. They have learned through fairy tales, cartoons, and media. They are hard-wired to think in stories. They build a narrative of their life, and when we enter it, they have to figure out where we fit.
Our problem is that there are only two places where we can fit. Stories take many forms with hundreds of thousands of plots and almost as many characters. All stories, however, have at their heart (1) a hero who is trying (2) to reach a goal, (3) a villain who is trying to stop the hero, and (4) a wise mentor who helps him or her. Our children’s narrative will follow that same pattern. Every child is the hero of his or her story, leaving only two slots for us. We will be either the villain or the mentor.
There is a strong temptation for our children to cast us as the villain. We start as outsiders. We are the people who are not supposed to be there. On some deep level, they understand, either consciously or not, that if the world worked as it should, we would not be in their lives.
Moreover, for centuries, the outsider has been the natural villain of stories. When my stepsons were younger, I used to joke with them that I had read all the stepmother manuals. Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel & Gretel – I had learned all of the techniques. Fortunately, it was a joke in our family, but the template is an ancient one. It is only modern stories that portray stepparents as kind and loving people.
The place that we want to be with our children is the wise mentor who helps the hero. To get to that role in their narrative, we need to learn from mentors in famous stories.
To read more in this series, see Debbie Ausburn's blog at otherpeopleschildren.org for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, and a follow-up post about connecting children to the stories of their family history.
You're invited to participate in a conversation with Debbie about parenting other people's children on Friday, May 14, 2021. The event is free, but zoom space is limited, so register now HERE.
Debbie Ausburn is a social worker turned lawyer who has served as a house parent, foster parent, and stepparent. Her forthcoming book, Raising Other People’s Children, tells the lessons that she learned about being the person in her foster and stepchildren’s lives who was not supposed to be there. More information is available at DebbieAusburn.com and RaisingOtherPeoplesChildren.com.