In typical school morning fashion, my son and daughter piled into my minivan and we headed off to school. Depending on how awake we are on any given morning, the kids and I either ride quietly while yawning and trying to wake up, or we will discuss anything from the week’s spelling list to politics and funny song lyrics.
On this particular morning, our conversation somehow landed on our family dynamics, in particular the romantic relationships of their parents. I believe this topic was sparked by questions about how or why their step siblings’ situation is so different from their own.
Their father and I have been divorced five years. They were about five and seven at the time we separated, so most of their comprehension of their parents in their lives has been with us in two different homes, living our own lives. I re-married their step dad two years ago, and they have become accustomed to our created family that consists of my new marriage and the four children they have come to accept as their siblings.
My children wondered why it is sometimes difficult for the other kids to fully accept or listen to me. I used the opportunity to try to reflect on the situation and hopefully come up with some brilliant gem of reason to explain why, in a nutshell, it can be so challenging for some kids of divorce to accept, even love, a new parent figure because of many things, including not wanting to betray a natural parent, not fully accepting their parent’s divorce, or simply not wanting to listen to another adult.
I found it kind of funny that they didn’t recognize the probable causes of this problem through their own divorce kid goggles, being that they had a step father of their own. Alas, they had pretty smoothly accepted his role in our lives and didn’t really buck against his presence in it. Perhaps this is why they found their step siblings’ reaction to me somewhat perplexing. In any case, I tried to help them understand that for the other four kids in their home, a step mom was a reality that the two of them did not have to contend with.
My ex has dated a few women since we broke up. From what I can tell, he was more driven to re-enter the dating market soon after we went our separate ways, but hasn’t been too active for a while. My daughter shared, without hesitation, that she has “hated every one of daddy’s girlfriends.” I was taken aback by her comment because she is an easy going child who seems pretty open to most people.
I asked her if she thought accepting a new woman would be disloyal to me, or was it just that she really didn’t like any of his dates? She quickly responded that it was “the first one” – she wasn’t allowing a new woman in. Interesting. This became an opportunity for a teachable life moment. I could don a black witch’s cape and cunningly convince my children that no one else will ever matter as much as me, and that it would somehow be wrong or a disappointment to me if they ever welcomed another mother figure into their lives. I could also try to set a real example of love and understanding in hopes of shaping them into compassionate and well-adjusted human beings. I chose love.
I’m not going to lie. I have had many a nightmarish vision of women of all descriptions who my ex could bring home to meet my children. Maybe she will be a bleary-eyed, crusty woman of questionable character running a drug lab from her basement. Maybe she will possess an icicle-covered heart like a step mother from the pages of a fairy tale. Maybe she will be beautiful and sweet, make better brownies than I do, and lure my babies away to love her more than me.
Any of these possibilities could be true of the future woman their father might introduce to them; however, some important facts about this situation existed. For one, I have absolutely no control over who he may fancy or decide to share his life with. He and I may not see eye-to-eye on very much (hence the divorce); but, I do have to trust that somewhere within that person whom I once chose to dedicate my life to and have children with is a human being who I should be able to trust to make responsible decisions regarding the influences on our children and the people he shares his life with.
Secondly, he has a right to love and be loved. Everyone deserves happiness and someone to share their days with. So what if he wasn’t the one I am meant to be with? Why should he be alone?
This was the message I selected to share with my kids. I explained that if they love him, they should be happy to see him happy and they should not stand in the way of his ability to have love in his life. This mystery lady that we do not yet know will never replace me. I will always be their mother, but she could be another person in their lives to love and care about them.
I admitted that I can’t help but be somewhat jealous of the thought of someone else getting to experience special moments with them instead of me, but the flipside of that is that when they need someone, hopefully she can offer a loving hand to give comfort or care when it’s needed. I told them it would bring me comfort and pleasure to know that someone nice was helping to look out for them when I couldn’t, and that so long as she was good to their dad, nice to them, and made him happy, they should be accepting and supportive.
I don’t want my kids harboring guilt or feeling that it’s their duty to vet potential partners or hate to be loyal to me. I also have to recognize the fact that I made my final decision to pursue a divorce from their dad because I believed that if we were apart we could be happier and stronger individuals, thus better parents to our children.
I have found great happiness in my new relationship and feel that I am in a better position to be the best parent I can be; therefore, doesn’t it make sense that if he is allowed to experience love and happiness that he, too, cannot only be his best version of a parent, but it may also help our co-parenting relationship succeed? I have to think that two people who are fulfilled and happy will have an increased capacity to cooperate, forgive, communicate, and all of the other things required of parents, whether divorced or married.
My challenge now is to work on putting aside any feelings of apprehension or even jealousy I could have in letting their hearts expand to accommodate a new family member or significant other. After all, love is not about control, but rather sharing and being willing to take chances for what could be better!