It is the most unnatural feeling in the world, to drive away from your children, leaving them behind with their dad and stepmother, seeing their little faces drop with melancholy. These are your children, living, breathing people and souls that came to life in your belly, that you nurtured; tiny people that you met and instantly fell in love with and knew with your whole heart and soul that you would do anything for them. They are a part of you, living outside of your body. You love them unconditionally and know that you will offer them that unconditional love for as long as you live.
I was once accused that because I was divorced I didn’t understand the concept of unconditional love and long term commitment. I beg to differ. She never had children.
Relationships are dynamic, as my ex-lover would state. Not permanent, as in nothing lasts forever. With a divorce rate surpassing the 50% mark, one would agree that romantic relationships could hardly define eternal unconditional love.
People mistake unconditional love for marriage and relationships but, honestly, having had both and comparing that to the unconditional love of your own flesh and blood child, there is no comparison. With marriages crashing and divorce rates skyrocketing, it is too easy now to walk away from a person that you once swore to love forever, unconditionally, faithfully and truly, committed for life... until you change your mind. We don’t really have that luxury with our children.
When you’ve felt them grow inside your body, welcomed them to this life, nurtured, fed, comforted them, been peed on, pooped on, vomited on by them, wiped their tears and then your own in times of exhaustion, joy and pride, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on their care, selflessly gave up a life that was your own to share with little people who demand nothing but time and attention, then we can talk about what unconditional love really is. Despite anything they will ever do, good or bad, you will love them the same. We can’t say that about relationships.
Parenting is forever.
I would say that I am lucky to have a good working relationship with my children’s father and stepmother. But, the reality is, I have worked so hard at building that relationship. It didn’t come easy. Our outcome is uncommon. My experience is that of an amicable, respectable, yet heartbreaking split.
My ex-husband and I had serious issues and when I left him, walking out with our children, I had crushed him beyond what I thought was any full recovery. He was emotionally destroyed, financially ruined, self-esteem and confidence shattered. His family hated me. His friends wanted nothing to do with me. I was ostracized in the worst way. My own family was devastated and questioned my sanity. I was called selfish and self-centered, stupid and stubborn. It was hell and I suffered with guilt and remorse and self-doubt. But at least I was living with authenticity and courage in doing what I knew needed to be done. Trying to convince myself and him we were happy together and in love and should be together forever was the biggest deception of all. We had to part, there was no other option, if I wanted to live with honesty, integrity and authenticity.
As unnatural as it feels to watch MY babies fall into the arms of another woman, call her Mom in my absence, tell her they loved her and know they enjoyed her, it is the unconditional love I feel for them that gets me through. It is parental compersion, I’m happy that my children are happy.
It hurts me as I drive off and see they are sad to see me go and my heart strains, tears instantly moisten my eyes, and my throat clenches. I’m certain they hate to live these separate lives, but we have tried to make it the best possible arrangement it can be for them. I’m sure if given the choice they would want their dad and I together, but they accept we are not and they love the extended family environment we have created. For me, it still hurts. They are my children but they are as much hers time-wise as they are mine. They love her and I’m grateful that she loves them in return.
It is in sucking up that pain and heartache and putting my own needs and emotions to the side, safely tucked away for just me to deal with, that I understand the meaning of unconditional love.
I hope my children treat their stepmom with kindness and love. I hope they respect her and never do or say anything to hurt her feelings. She has done nothing wrong and loves their dad deeply. She is kind and generous with time and attention. She and I share one goal, and that is their happiness, their emotional well-being, and safety. I will never put them in a position to choose but rather foster and nurture an expanded family model where we can all appreciate and respect each other and the value that we each bring to my children. I take comfort that if there is ever a time I cannot be there for them, in my presence or health, that they will have her to help love them through it all.
I feel a sense of kinship with her; from the bond we shared from loving the same man (albeit my time has passed) and shared love of these amazing little people. I worry that one day she will feel that she wasn’t appreciated for what she’s offered and given her own sacrifice of time and affection. I will not allow my children to ever disrespect her.
It’s a mature concept that I wish others could embrace as wholeheartedly. Fighting over who gets to love and be loved seems futile and depraved. The human heart has endless capacity for love. The need to love and be loved in return is a basic human necessity. To deny anyone that is inhuman and selfish.
This is what unconditional love looks like. It’s not the romanticized version of being someone’s one true and only love, but in the ability to evolve and share in a love that benefits those that we love the most.
photo credit: Criança feliz via photopin (license)