'Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!'

I reveled in my 16-year-old daughter's joyous words. She is my birth child, but my husband adopted her when she was six years old, a year after we married. She is as close to her dad as she is to me.

When he and I first discussed marriage, we explored ways to broach the subject with my daughter. He recognized that the two of us were close and wondered how to step into the relationship. Would she feel displaced? He reasoned that our marriage should enhance, not threaten, the relationship between mother and child. So she was included in our decisionmaking.

One evening, he took my daughter for ice cream. She ordered pink bubble gum ice cream and while they slurped together, he expressed his love for the two of us. He said he wanted to be her daddy and my husband. He asked her for my hand in marriage. Then he asked how she felt.

Eyes wide and cheeks stuffed, she told him that would be "OK." They finished their ice cream between hugs and winks and he asked her to keep their "secret" until he could ask Mommy.

I remember that crisp September evening as my daughter ran upstairs, clinging to her secret in silence. My fianc told me the story, culminating with a proposal on bended knee. It was a blessing to witness his respect and tender care for the family.

When my daughter excitedly asked if I would marry Bill, I asked her what she thought and she could hardly contain herself. "Yes! Yes!" Later, we three sat down to discuss our plans.

Since then, our daughter has remained in the forefront of our family and its decisions.

Inclusion of children in discussions builds relationships. Respectful family talks prepare children for life's changes, addressing boundary "dos" and "don'ts," or what is acceptable behavior.

Being included tells kids, "What you think is important," and "We respect you." Respect builds self-esteem and nurtures appreciation.

Consistently addressing family issues with children takes time, planning, and clarity. But parents first must be sure of their own personal feelings before confidently establishing family boundaries.

Families grow and change. Children are aware of the changes and need reassurance of unconditional love from parents. We owe children what we want from them: honesty.

I am grateful for these happy years and a fulfilling marriage.

Our daughter has blossomed into a respectful, appreciative young woman, full of compassion and love. And it remains our greatest joy to hear her say with each passing anniversary, "Remember, Mom, I was asked first."

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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