In typical school morning fashion, my son and daughter piled into my minivan and we headed out 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 discuss anything from the week’s spelling list to politics and funny song lyrics. On this particular morning, our conversation landed on our family dynamics, in particular the romantic relationships of their parents. I believe this topic was sparked by questions about why their step siblings’ situation is so different from their own.
Their father and I are divorced and have been apart for five years. They were 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 husband and the four children they have accept as their sister and brothers. 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 reason to explain why 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 accepting their parent’s divorce, or not wanting to listen to another adult. I found funny that they didn’t recognize the probable causes of this problem through their own divorce kid goggles, since they have 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 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 separated, but hasn’t been 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 open to most people. I asked her if she attributed this to what we speculated about her step siblings: that allowing herself to accept or get close to another 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. The analytical me kicked into gear to try to make sense of this information and to present a teachable life moment. This was an opportunity. I could don a witch’s cape and cunningly convince my children that no one else will ever matter as much as me, and that it would 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 watch movies, TV, and read the news. I have had many a nightmarish vision of women of all descriptions who my ex could bring to meet my children. Maybe she will be a bleary-eyed woman of questionable character running a drug lab from her basement. Maybe she will possess all of the dark qualities of 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 woman their father might introduce to them; however, some very important facts about this situation existed. For one, I have absolutely no control over who he may 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 within that person I once chose to dedicate my life to and have children with is a man I should be able to trust to make responsible decisions regarding the influences on our children. Secondly, he has a right to love and be loved. Everyone deserves happiness and someone to share life 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 care about them. I admitted that I can’t help but be somewhat jealous at 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. I told them it would give me 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.
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. By the same logic, 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 significant other. After all, love is not about control, but rather sharing and being willing to take chances for what could be better!