This morning I received a letter from a fan of my Facebook page named Bobbie Ann Phillips and as I read it I knew instantly this needed to be read by all of you. This is her story and its an honest account of how it feels, of what we don’t expect, our fears and our goals. Enjoy!
” I never imagined I would have to co-parent with an ex of mine, much less an ex of my new husband. I did know I would be co-parenting with my own husband. I never imagined my husband would be someone else’s ex husband. I never thought I would have to share some of “my” weekends and “my” holidays, separate, from “my” son. I never thought I would have to long for the chance to do those same things with and for a son whose dad is dead. I also never thought my deepest fear would be that my third son may someday meet the same fate of a broken home. I never thought I would be fearing completely loosing two of my children if my marriage ever did fail. I never thought most of my scheduling would revolve so much around picking up one set of kids at 6p on Friday, meeting to drop off another kid before or after that, and then meeting back on 6p Sunday for drop off of two kids and then meeting before or after that to get another kid back. I never thought I would both look forward to, and dread those weekends at the very same time. I never imagined I would explain to two of my three biological children why daddy can not be here, or does not live here and the reasons be because of such different circumstances. Circumstances that would cause as much hurt for both of “my” boys and myself as both situations do. I never even imagined my children would have different dads. I never thought I would have “other” kids ask me why my husband, their dad, is not with their mom. I never thought I would be making beds, cleaning laundry, preparing meals, buying necessities, and supporting “other” kids. I knew “my” kids may look past all I do for them and it would hurt some. I did not know having “other” kids look past those same things would hurt as much. I never thought I would have “other” kids sometimes resent me for my role in their lives. A role they only want their mom, and their dad, to have. I never thought I would feel so much hurt for them, and for my husband, because they too come from a broken home. I never thought I would love each person in “my” blended family so much that I would wish each child could have their mom, and their dad, in one home. If I had that wish though, several of my biological children would not exist, and I would never have a chance to even meet two of my “other” children. I would have never met my husband. I never thought I would have to accept that because someone I loved died, and because a different relationship failed I would find new love and create a new family. I never thought I would agree that when one life ends another begins. I feel as though I have personally lost two lives and began a new one each time. I feel I am on my third life, and feverishly pray for it to be my last.
I never thought I would be the “other” parent that another parent would resent. I am that parent whose mere presence in a child’s life causes another adult resentment, and pain. Though “her” family ended long before “mine” began, I never imagined my place with my husband would be a stark reminder of another woman’s lost place with her husband. I never imagined That my place with my step children would be a reminder of “her” time she “has” to share, with me. I never thought my loving them could hurt her as much as it would if I did not love them. I do acknowledge that my presence does cause these things, though completely unintentional. I never imagined two children who “are not mine” would have me so wrapped around their little fingers. I did not know I could love a child I did not give birth to so much that it literally hurts. I did not know I would want to fight so fiercely for my time, my bond, and my place with two children who I feel with every bone in my body are mine. I knew I would have children that would fill my life with love, joy, hope, chaos and clutter. I knew I would do everything in my power to protect, love and cherish every moment with “my” kids. I knew I would become a mom by choice to children I gave birth to. I did not know that I would have that same desire to love, protect and cherish children not born to me. I knew there would be times my children would be angry with me. I knew I would make mistakes and cause hurt. I knew I would mend the hurt, calm the anger and explain why I do what I do to “my” kids. I knew I would both reward and punish “my kids” with no remorse because that is my job as their mom. I did not know I would feel so guilty by my own presence that I would overly reward, and seldom punish the children I did not give birth to. I never knew I would feel I don’t have the right to demand and earn respect from “other” children as much as I do from “my” children. I never thought I would always worry my actions and words would favor “my” children over the “other” children so much that I actually show more favor to “other” children over mine at times. I never thought I would say I am an ex, a wife, a mom, and a step mom, All in one. I am all of those things and I am these things at the very same time. I sometimes struggle to decide which hat I am suppose to wear at which time. All of these inner struggles are real, and part of my life. I am exactly where I want to be. I realize I am exactly where God planned me to be. I do have the husband and children I did always long for. I am thankful for all the good and bad that comes with this life and these roles. Yet I have no idea how to navigate my happiness and love without someone else being hurt, or resentful, in some way because of it. I have no idea why I even care that my presence, my role, and my place effects any person other than my husband, and our children. I just know that I do care.
I do not co-parent with my ex’s new wife or serious girlfriend, not yet anyway. I do know that the day will come when I will. At least, I pray it does. I do want “my” son to have another parent love him. I do want him to have someone else he can learn from, respect, love and cherish. I so want him to know I am okay with him loving some “other” parent. I want her to know that while her presence may cause some stinging, I’m happy to share “my” son with her. I want her to know that he’s “our” son, and that “our” will include her. I know that during my time as a step mom I have learned many things to do, and not to do both with “my” son and towards the “other” parent. I hope I will remember to respect her, and to honestly cherish her. I hope I will remember I should view any person my son loves as an extension of himself. I love “my” son, and so I will love those he loves and that love him. I hope I can remember I should love “my kids” mom because they love her and she is an extension of them. For the love of a child even the most difficult situations on all ends I am involved in will be handled with love and care, by me, for them regardless of how the opposing end on either side of these blended families are behaving. That is my goal anyway. I know I pray daily that God shows me the way to do all these things with Grace in each of the roles I am fulfilling.
~ Bobbie Ann Phillips
In the shower (where it seems my clearest thoughts prevail) I was thinking about how many people lose out when they simply don’t allow, encourage or welcome a relationship with their step-children. Many times I overhear that they don’t accept them due to manners, dislike for the other parents, their behaviors etc. When your family includes either your own children and a new spouse, or the children between you only, that is not a family and you are not only hurting the children you are hurting yourself.
I have a friend that I adore, she and her husband were granted full custody of a boy about 10 or so, due to a mother that just left him one day. My friend was less than pleased, this boy dressed scroungy, he had different manners, picked on her kids, and she felt he was more of a hassle than a blessing. Her husband worked nights, and she would complain and feel that she was raising “his” child, and it wasn’t her responsibility.
She would come to me and ask how come it was so easy for me, with my prior stepson, and how did I do it without getting upset – her biggest question was “How can you love him?” My answer to her was that for me, it was easy to love him – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have hard times. We all come around to things differently. Now in my current relationship, I went from raising a one year old to a nine year old. HUGE difference, difference in parenting, difference in attitudes, lifestyle and to be honest he isn’t used to have a mother type figure – let alone a steady one. We have our days of where it is real work, and there are days I am sure he doesn’t like me. But, tomorrow is a new day and I am not giving in. One day, one step at a time.
While being able to understand her frustration, I never could see how she could dislike this boy, because she had such a wonderful heart. After awhile I noticed she complained about him less, and he appeared in more photos, and the stories she shared were about him and the great things he was doing.
Fast forward a couple of years, and she and her spouse are now divorcing. Something that needed to happen a few years back, but when I say she has a great heart, I meant an extremely forgiving heart. Of course, I asked about her stepson and her response warmed my heart ” He goes with me of course, he is my son — it is written in our agreement that when the kids are with me, they are ALL with me.”
She took on a situation that wasn’t hers, she often did it alone, however the resentment wasn’t put on the child, the discipline, the nurturing, the love and care that she at times wanted to withhold – she never did. In the end, this boy grew into a young man who gained a mother and a sense of worth because someone who he fully expected to let him down, instead lifted him up.
My point here I guess is not just to share how easy it was for me, or how difficult it can be these days in a new relationship or how she was able to come around. But, more in that you all stand to lose when you choose to divide your family, solely due to the differences in hygiene, clothing, manners, attitude, or because they are simply not your responsibility. The truth is, that any child inside your home is your responsibility – whether it be a friend of your child’s, or niece or nephew, or a stepchild. And, the real question is why would you choose to shut out a child in any manner any how? Simply because you don’t like him or her – a child is a product of their environment – show them a positive environment – and watch that child make positive changes.
If not, you and your spouse or significant other will have an endless battle on your hands, there will be underlying resentment around every corner, and hidden under every argument, every family discussion – because you are not truly a family. Being a family doesn’t mean that you will agree, or that everyone ends up happy – it means that all are considered an important viable interest in your choices.
If you get to the point where you don’t like her/his kids, and they never say thank you, they will never be as good as your kids, and your spouse will never be as good a parent as you are – Is it time to ask yourself a different question like what am I doing with this person, is this the relationship for me? Seriously sit back, and ask who it is that you are hurting, because no one wants to be with someone like that. If your complaint is constantly their kids, that is a problem that needs fixing instead of complaining.
Do you want to fix your relationship with a stepchild or maybe build one? If so, here are some great ways to do so:
Sit and talk – even observe – see what they have to offer, a talent they possess and get involved.
Listen – put yourself in their shoes, remember they are a child.
Go on a date together – you, your spouse and them. Just you – not your kids at first.
Then go on a date with them all together.
Then go on a date just you and them.
Eat dinner together as a family – sharing your day or something that happened that made it great.
Life blows us in directions that we never see coming – or that we see the possibility of coming, but believe that they will never get that bad. Finding out you are wrong, and that it doesn’t just hurt yourself but others – is a hard pill to swallow. My children have survived, managed, whatever word you feel best describes living through our divorce. There really hasn’t been a hard time, or adjustment period – there has been hard times – but mentally and emotionally they have remained intact. Until now…
Lately I find myself questioning if it is my fault that my daughter dislikes her father so much? Is it because I divorced him? Is it because I married my now husband, and he is more fun than her father? Should I have not remarried and stayed single until she was in college? If you find yourself asking these questions, the answer is no. Children need to see a happy, fulfilling relationship that works, that is stable and creates a safe haven for them. As for my daughter, she is simply an old soul – she is intelligent and very forthcoming, inquisitive and mature for her age. When she asks questions, I answer them – whatever they may be – and I tell her the truth, even if it makes me look bad. Personally, I think this is best way to be a parent, but it’s not for everyone.
If you saw my daughter three years ago, you would be confused by the difference. Her daddy was her world, he could do no wrong and if I said anything to contrary she was first to defend. This was 4 years after our divorce, she has always been a daddy’s girl. Now, she wants nothing to do with him – Odd don’t you think? How is that even possible? Not only does she want to exclude him from her life, she wants her stepdad to be her dad. Placing me right in the middle of CRAP no matter which way I turn. A wrong move, hurts both my daughter and husband, or my ex-husband – whom although contrary to his delusions of hatred I have for him – bothers me.
Sitting here, I put myself in her fathers shoes. What if she lived with him full-time, and she decided she wanted nothing to do with me anymore, who he support her in that? Would he go to court to modify visitation to ensure she didn’t have to follow the court order? What if she wanted her StepMom to be her mom, and they had the relationship we should be having – how would I feel, what would I do? Then it hits me… “What if’s don’t usually happen” and I know this wouldn’t happen to us. Is it because I am a perfect mother? Not even close. Is it because I am a better person than her father, No. Is it because I wouldn’t allow myself to be in the background and take a backseat to her life, whether I was the custodial parent or not? YES!!!
See, that’s just it. If in court that day, I lost custody of my children – and they went to their dad instead, I wouldn’t have let them go completely. My heart would hurt, I’m sure I would harbor resentment towards my ex, and even be depressed not having them as I had before. BUT, I wouldn’t allow that to come between us more. I wouldn’t miss a sporting event, a school event, a conference, I wouldn’t miss anything that I was allowed to attend. I would ask for more time, not less. I wouldn’t let my children down. When they look around a crowded room, or ball field to see if I was there, they would find me every time. If they were sick at school, and needed to be picked up, I would pick them up, no second thoughts about it. When my children tell the truth about illegal things, I would never accuse them of lying to cover my own secrets. My children would know I loved them, want them, miss them, everything, as often as I could tell and show them.
He didn’t do this. As soon as he lost custody, he checked out of his position of a parent, a confidant, a role model, even as a friend. Little by little, his lack of involvement, his distance and constant avoidance of activities and important events for the children caused both kids to lose respect, question actions and pull away from their dad. What happens in a home, where you are remarried, and the ex removes himself from the kids lives – and you have a husband who loves your children? Naturally, they fill in – they STEP up, and do those things that a father should be. Is that really so wrong? Should we stop a natural progression of a parent role being filled in the best interest of a child? NO!
For approximately a year, I emailed, texted, called, reminded, re-reminded my ex of every detail, every event, and tried my best to stop what I saw unraveling before me. Was it because I didn’t want my husband stepping in? No, it was because I felt like my ex owed his children more than stepping out. When I think of my stepson, I know I could never replace his mom – it’s just impossible. But, when I look at my daughter – I see that it is very possible for her to replace her dad, and that makes me sad. Not because he deserves my sadness, or because he just got a bad rap – but because I know my daughter lost something inside her – she lost her father.
I lost a father, it hurts really bad – it’s a deep inside pain, it’s a core shattering, confusing, left always wanting and never feeling good enough kind of pain. The thought of her feeling this – tops that pain. A father is supposed to love his little girl no matter what, to be the one man a daughter can always count on, a little girls first love, and the rock that pulls her through. I never had that, and now I see that she doesn’t have that with her dad. However, God must have seen it coming – because he sent in a replacement.
Replacement, may sound hard – Second string, alternative, Stepparent – whichever means that it wasn’t the first option – but it is now the permanent. My husband loves my daughter more than I could express. He puts his blood, sweat and tears into her for everything. He doesn’t let her down, he doesn’t try to be her friend, he doesn’t miss an event that he can’t avoid – he doesn’t break her heart, he simply does his best everyday to be a parent to her. He disciplines, he reprimands, he teaches, he practices, he listens, he snuggles, he shows, he provides, he protects, and for all those reasons and more – she respects him. She loves him, and she considers him her dad. As much as it pains me to admit it, I am thankful she has him. She doesn’t lose out, she doesn’t go without, she gets that role model, that picture of what a husband she be, a father should be – and I can’t pretend that I don’t appreciate him for that.
Who are we to decide who is socially accepted to be a parent? Just because my husband isn’t biologically her parent, doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t make him love any less, it doesn’t make him unfit, or inexperienced or less than any other father. It makes him better, bigger, more, it makes him a father to a daughter that loves him. Which is priceless if you asked me.
Does it make our situation magically improved and we can all ride off in the sunset together, unfortunately not. Life is far more complicated than that. I still don’t know how to react, or defend her in her choice to choose her stepdad. The law prevents me from many choices, and my conscience does as well. However, when I sit back and question the why’s and what if’s, I know the answer. GOD, he is why – he knows, and he knew she would need a father, and he provided that for her, for our family. The blessing of my husband didn’t just include the gift of my wonderful, loving, sweet stepson, it blessed my children with another dad. What could be a better blessing than that?
There are always those painful aching parts in a movie where they touch your inner most fears or make you relive a memory that you hoped so desperately to forget. Every scene in a movie about a parents relationship with their child, gets me. It’s as if the right side of my chest is being pinched, I sweat and my toes on one foot nervously press against the toes on the other. Then before I know it, I make that god awful noise that sounds like you just released the emotion stopper and now tears are flowing freely – but not the happy tears – the sad hurtful tears.
The relationship between a child and parent is monumental, its original, un-copied, unlimited, unedited and the most precious relationship to exist. When I see struggle within that regardless of the whose side, my heart feels every piece of that – movie or in real life.
Growing up with a un-supportive father, and an absent mother there are moments I will forever long for, knowing that they will never exist. Moments like having my father walk me down the aisle. Father /Bride dances kill me every time, and being able to say I was my Daddy’s girl and know it was true. Or, maybe to have been there when he passed away – But, you know life sometimes just doesn’t work out how you plan. Take this story for instance.
My husband was born of a hateful man – a man who abused his mother and left them both when he was a baby. I’m sure my mother-in-law hoped for something better, and when my husband was two, a man entered his life. My mother-in-law said she knew he was the one when she walked into the living room and saw them sharing a bowl of cereal with one spoon. She said from then on it was the two of them – she even took a backseat. They did everything together and he wanted to adopt my husband as his own – he wanted to be his father in every sense of the word. He had decided to adopt him even before they had plans to marry. My husbands biological father signed his rights away, and the rest was history.
Everything about my husband is his “dad” and when we talk about who his “dad” is, it’s never been the man who left his mother. Often times I think my husbands strong feelings towards respecting mothers stems from that. A couples years after his parents married, a little brother came into the picture – along with a lot of doubts. Many people thought that once he had a blood-child an actual biological child – my husband would get the backseat – be less important. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Their father loved them the same, he was just as involved, just as dedicated. My husband stayed close to his father and his brother was a mama’s boy – but the four of them were a family.
They hunted, fished, camped, boated, spent hours on end doing homework, shared the discipline and so on. The characteristics that used to irritate my mother-in-law like getting the kids all hyped up before bed – or being the life of the party that never wanted to stop – are all the things my husband is. He would stop and pick up hitch hikers, women standing in the rain, and would defend his wife in such a manner that women would die for. Sure he wasn’t perfect, I still hear stories today – and although I have never met him I still admire this man so greatly. Their family had it all.
One morning an impromptu hunting trip with my husband and some family & friends ended in a horrifying tragedy, where my husband at thirteen – heard a gunshot and his father’s voice for the last time. When I say that the loss of this father was huge, that’s an understatement – 600 people attended his funeral and I am yet to hear one person that didn’t love him. He still comes to life when we watch home videos of when the boys were younger, and my mother in law and I watched their wedding too. He had eyes that told you exactly what he was thinking, and when she walked down the aisle to him, he couldn’t have been happier.
Quite a few years later now, I entered the family with reservation because my now husband is my junior by a few years. Having two children of my own, naturally I worried about what his intentions were and as we dated more, I questioned how someone this young could know what he wanted. One night following an argument that mainly existed because of my fear of being left or hurt, and for the kids to go through that pain as well – my mother-in-law shared with me the story of her late husband. She told me after sharing all I shared with you above, that all my husband has wanted was a family – and that family to him has never been tied by blood. In fact at this point, my MIL was re-married with a step-daughter of her own as well. My husband was well versed in “step” life.
When I see my husband with my kids – it lights up my existence and their lives. He plays with them, he gets on their level, he does homework with them, and isn’t afraid to not be their friend. He is protective, loving, stern and a role model. Watching T.V. at night, I can look over and find my son snuggling with him, or my daughter with her head in his lap, and his fingers running through her long blond hair. My heart melts, my hearts happy and I know it’s all because his Dad loved him.
You see it doesn’t matter where the love comes from, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bio-parent or a step-parent – as long as there is a parent. Someone who gives their time, their energy, their love without any regard for a personal gain – solely to benefit the child. We all get some portion of this in life – if only for a small portion – or in our early years like my husband or in your later years like myself. Calling someone mom, was huge to me, and I never did it. Until my husbands mom acted like a mother to me, and at 31 years old I finally got the person that my husbands father was to him. A little piece of completeness.
In closing, tonight when you look at your child – look at them and see the child – not the other parent. See what needs they have, what talents they possess and can share with the world given that extra love, that extra time, that extra attention. Don’t be afraid or too busy to hug them, to discipline them, or to not be their friend. Because, inside of us all we have that small place that’s missing something? Don’t you?
See you next blog ~ Jess
Earlier this week if you follow my Facebook page, you’ll remember my posting about some educated and experience stepmother’s in this world have very firm ideas of where the line is drawn in parenting.
In The Erin Experiment, a blog post written in 2010 she writes:
“Regardless of if the Bio-Mom is a crack head and Dad is an emotionally unavailable dork, a very important rule to remember for stepmom sanity is that you are not Mom or Dad – do your best to not act like one. “
and goes on to say in next exercise to be a more content Step-Mom that:
“As women, we’re going to trend to want to swoop in and rescue the children when life has dealt them a blow. If you’re making phone calls to the doctor’s office because Dad can’t be bothered or remember, step away from the telephone and write down what it is you’re doing and how you’re feeling. What you may start to notice is how much you’re doing for them and not for you.”
While I can appreciate her point of view and can see a validity to a certain extent – respectfully I disagree. If you are a parent to another child besides your stepchild – don’t you do these things already? Don’t you schedule appointments, make lunches, take and pickup from daycare, feed clothe and bath anyhow? Wouldn’t it seem kind of bitchy to not do for all the same?
I couldn’t imagine having my stepson come to me and need something, and for my response to be “okay sweetie, well daddy is not in at the moment, but I will write this down and when he gets home I will let him know”. Fat chance, for three reasons. First – he is a child, and may child on our weeks, and I refuse to make him feel any less of a part of our family. Second, it’s not his fault his parents split up – he doesn’t deserve the third wheel treatment. Third, because I am an overachiever damn-it and I want to provide, support and love this little boy – who cares if I get stressed for 5 extra minutes – I’ll live!
In a home where they live by separate rules, separate families – in my opinion it does just that – Separates. Blending a family is hard enough without adding in what can and can’t be done, and by whom – its best to do your best, love your best and treat all children the same. The kids don’t know the difference anyways – they know that in this house there is you and they know you take care of what they need and that all that matters. And, our spouses need us too – we all need help from someone at some point.
I realize life isn’t fair or easy – but when it can be – it should be. When I took my kiddos school clothes shopping, the youngest isn’t in school yet and brother and sister were trying on shoes, he looked at me with bis big blue eyes and with his teeny squeaky little soft voice said “Mommy do I get new school shoes too”? When I said yes to him his heart damn near jumped out of his chest and he was so excited!! Now do you think that was because he got new shoes, or because he got to be involved and do what brother and sister were doing? I think it’s partly both, but more so the being involved.
How do you think he would have felt, if instead I said – “Oh honey, I’m sorry you’ll have to ask daddy when he gets home or have your mommy do it for you?”
See you next post – Jess
http://oivindhovland.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html image used for blog.