I was thinking about my first marriage the other day. I remembered at one time telling my then-husband, “I could never marry someone who was divorced. Especially with kids.” I was young at the time, twenty-three, and it was hard to wrap my head around the idea of caring for someone else’s kids when I didn’t have any of my own.
My judgement came from watching my older brother leave for weeks at a time during the summer to go spend time with his father in Las Vegas. To me, my brother was part of MY family. My family only. He called my dad “dad” and he was my brother–not “half-brother,” brother! I wasn’t born when his father was married to my mother, and his dad never came to visit him (I don’t remember one visit). So to be told that he was going to see his dad for a few weeks was a strange thing for me and hard to watch.
Fast forward 20 years and here I am, married to a man who’s been divorced. And he has 4 kids…3 by one ex and 1 by another. The math and the logistical issues can sometimes be hard to swallow for some people. But we make it work. It takes some creative scheduling, but we do it.
When Brandon and I were first dating, my heart ached for Brandon’s youngest son. He was only a year old, and drop offs and pick ups broke my heart. You could tell he was so confused and saddened to leave his mom when we picked him up, then sad to leave his dad when we dropped him off. It wasn’t easy. I just wanted to fix things for him so he wouldn’t have to be so confused.
I remember on a few occasions I told Brandon he should try to work it out with his ex–for the baby’s sake. He needed both parents, and in a strange way I felt like I was in the way (even though they had broken up months before we got together). Brandon would grab my hand and remind me that the water under that bridge was too deep and there would be no chance of reconciling.
As a step-mom, seeing those tears has been one of the most difficult things for me.
I have loved Brandon’s kids as my own for quite awhile now. I respect their mothers and the relationships they had with Brandon, and I hope they know I care for the kids. I’m right there in the trenches through broken teenaged hearts, potty training and other issues that the kids face. I may not know what it’s like to have my parents broken up, but I do know the hurt that kids go through during the back and forth.
The shuffling from one house to the other is something they’ve known since they were all small. Unlike my kids who ranged from 12 to 6 when I was divorced, they’re quite used to this arrangement. That doesn’t mean one way is better/easier than another. It’s all hard. And it’s hard as a parent to watch. I’ve learned to empathize with the kids, and let them know that I know it’s hard. And I’ve also reminded them that even though we don’t see them all that much, we still love them and are their parents who are here for them just like the parents they live with.
Being a step-parent has brought me blessings I cherish and I’m happy I can play a part in Brandon’s kid’s lives. It’s taken some time for me to understand my role, but I’m feeling like I’m settling in.
Today, Brandon’s youngest (who just turned 3) heard me telling my daughter that Brandon and I may go out tomorrow for our anniversary and said, “And me too!”
I laughed and asked, “You want to come too? How come?”
He looked up and said, “Cause I love ya…I love you, and my mama, too.”
“I love you too, buddy,” I told him.
The back and forth may be hard, and it may be hard for me to watch, but he knows I love him and I know he loves me. I’m a pretty lucky girl.