Have you ever seen that movie? The original one? It’s very sweet. It has to be one of the first movies about blending families. Filmed in 1968, it would have been too scandalous for the parents to be single because of divorce, so instead, it’s the love story of two widowers who marry and combine their total of 18 children between them before they (spoiler alert) create one of their own together.
Of course, our situation is much more of just “yours”. We don’t plan for an “ours” and the “mine” I brought to the table is mostly made up of lots of clocks, books and a pretty comfortable couch.
The last 18 months has been an interesting study in pronoun usage. Before we married, I referred to them as “his kids” or conscientiously, “the kids”. Soon after we were married, I gingerly tried the phrase, “our kids” in conversation. And you know what? It works. It feels right.
Occasionally in conversations with the kids’ mom after we were married, she would use the phrase “my kids” and then be apologetic. I assured her there was no need to be apologetic; they ARE “her kids”.
There have been a few reality checks lately, though, where I realize how very much they AREN’T “our” kids or “my” kids. Undoubtedly two people who marry and each already have kids meet a unique set of challenges. No denying that. But when you show up as the new person in a parental role, it has a whole different set of challenges. And it seems like each time we get settled in to a routine or new normal, we run smack into one of those challenges.
One of the first was as we began doing new wills and assigning beneficiaries, etc., I realized that if something happened to Tim, I have zero legal rights to see the kids. For a while, that made me pull away from the kids in fear. I’m a worst case scenario person wrapped up in a cynic (some days it’s REALLY hard to live with me), so I had this great sense of trepidation that something was going to happen to my beloved husband and then I would also lose these little kidlets I had grown to love. Of course, all of this is incredibly unlikely. But it crossed my mind. Let’s be honest, it didn’t just cross my mind. It dug a hole, planted seeds, watered and nurtured them until they grew into the most tangled mess of brambles and brush through which I couldn’t see. That was over a year ago, though, and I’m (mostly) through that.
Tim and I share the same general philosophy on a lot of child-related things, which is great. But we don’t share the same philosophy on child discipline tactics. They’re not my kids; so we do it his way. And sometimes, that is incredibly frustrating to me. I wouldn’t force a 6 year old into a sports activity when he complains about it weekly. It doesn’t mean my way is the right way; it just means that sometimes I feel like a nanny who is executing a plan left for me by the parents.
Another “yours” reality check is health-care related. The divorce decree states that medical care for the kids is something that should be mutually agreed upon. So Tim and the kids’ mom each do their best to loop the other in on decision making.
I’m not a huge fan of flu shots, but fulfilled my role as stepmom last fall (because my schedule was the most flexible that day) and took Yoseph to get his flu shot. The doctor recommended it and his mom wanted him to get it. More recently, I proposed a course of treatment for one of the kids for a chronic issue. But I was the only one who wanted it, so we didn’t pursue it. In a separate, unrelated health issue, their mom is pursuing a course of treatment for the other kid for something I don’t really think is necessary. It goes on and on.
It’s hard to constantly redefine my role. When Tim and I planned our life together and discussed parenting styles, we shared a vision for equal parenting roles. But it doesn’t work like that; it can’t. And people tried to tell me that. I listened and nodded, but thought they were wrong. But they weren’t, and that’s been hard for me to come to terms with. I’ve been working through that over the last 16 months. And just as soon as I think we figure it out together, something else blows up.
I think it would be different if they were teenagers. But there are so many years of parenting ahead. It’s hard to maintain a healthy teamwork and partnership mentality in our household when it has its own built-in limits for such a large part of our life. I’m thankful that Tim listens to my opinions (I have many) and gives them consideration in the kid-related things.
But it’s hard to be on board with doing the grunt work of parenting without the decision making. It’s hard to be on board with a more limited advisor role when you have to live daily with the consequences of decisions that others make for you. So. I’m open to your words of wisdom. Meanwhile, I need to go figure out the car pool line and take a little boy for a haircut.