It’s not easy to part with the version of something you created in your head. I would argue that it’s even harder to acknowledge that you have created a scenario that your current reality is not quite living up to. This has been the hardest lesson for me to accept in my marriage. I married a wonderful man with 3 children and I put enormous pressure on myself to live up to the version of our blended family I had created in my head. The crazy thing is, the reality is quite pleasant. Everyone loves each other and has gotten along great from the very beginning. But I realized I had created some kind of fantasy version of who I should be in this new family construct and I was incredibly judgmental and hard on myself when I failed to live up to the version of myself I created.
I never had a hard line on whether I could or would date a man with children. The last relationship I had was after my marriage, my partner had 2 older children whom he had relationships with but didn’t see too frequently. He had strained relationships with both of their mothers and somewhat rocky relationships with the girls themselves. So I had dated a father but during our three year relationship I met his youngest daughter once and never met the older one. His kids didn’t play a huge role in our lives. This is not the case in my marriage. When I met my husband we started off as friends, I was not looking at him as a potential partner. I knew that he was coming fresh out of a 20 year marriage and had 3 children. I didn’t view him as “available” and truth be told I was dating and having fun and I didn’t have any desire to pursue anything with him. I never got the sense that he wanted more from me than to hang out from time to time and watch some football or go out dancing and shoot the shit. I had 2 close male friends in Vegas and I was missing platonic male energy so our friendship was filling that space.
After about a year and a half, things started changing. Most importantly he went from separated, to going through a divorce to divorced.Our conversations had grown from surface level to a little more depth and I felt comfortable sharing some of the more private details about my life. There was a distinct moment where we both realized, simultaneously, that we had feelings for each other. It was less than ideal. I had literally just proclaimed to my mother that I was settling into the idea of not having a “life partner”. I had a clear vision of living my life and raising my daughter without a significant other. I would have a small roster perhaps, to have companionship when I desired it and create a situation where each man could fulfil the need he was best at fulfilling, but I was giving up on the idea of one person being my everything. I was at peace with this revelation. Of course that’s when I realized everything I truly desired in a man had been standing in front of my face for the last two years.
Honestly I didn’t right away think, “oh but he has 3 kids”, I think the fact that they were all with his ex-wife and there was no chance of multiple baby mama drama made me feel better about the situation.When we acknowledged our feelings for each other it was the beginning of summer. His children were out of state with their moms side of the family as they are every summer and my daughter was also out of state with her father. Our “summer of love” was not a true representation of what life together would be like. Not in the least. I allowed myself to get swept up into that fantasy. Here’s the thing, my husband is a DAD dad. Not a kids on the weekend dad, not a come to some of the kids games & events dad, not a go talk to your mother about it dad. He is the point parent for all the extracurriculars, dentist appointments, summer sports, etc. The interesting thing is this was so endearing to me in theory. In my last relationship I was always a bit weary of the fact that my partner didn’t have a great relationship with his daughters and seemed to have missed out on a lot in thier upbringing. This was a complete 180 from that. A guy who was invested in family life, wow, now I really had it all.
The return of all the children and the introductions went smoothly. I liked them and they liked me, same with my daughter. With 4 kids there is a lot of potential for everyone not gelling but that wasn’t the case. Our family has blended beautifully, which makes it even harder for me to confront the fact that as seamless as it’s been, it doesn’t live up to the version I had in my head. Let me start by saying that I totally underestimated the adjustments needed to go from being raised as an only child to raising an only child ,to living in a house with 4- 5 other people. I didn’t realize how used to a certain way of living I was. I was used to space, quiet, walking around naked and not having multiple people to interact with. Perfect for my introverted soul. Now every other week it felt like I was removed from my comfort zone and needing to find a way to navigate my new normal.I thought to myself, ok, now that I have this bigger family I want to maximize it!
We’ll have family dinners with all of us gathered around the table at 6 pm. We’ll have weekend game nights where the adults drink wine and the kids drink Hawaiian Punch and we all laugh loud and tease each other. I’ll wake up on Sundays and cook elaborate brunches and the kids will marvel at the inventive cuisine that I’ve prepared. I’ll go to all of the sporting events and be a supportive bonus parent cheering them on in the stands.I”ll create a family chore list, with this many helping hands the house should be spotless. My teenage stepdaughter and I will go for mani-pedi’s every two weeks and bond, I will feel so blessed and grateful at having a house filled with the laughter of the youth. Family road trips will be a blast, we’ll play car games and eat healthy snacks. Christmas will be more cheerful and festive than ever now that there’s more children.
The reality is something like this: With the kids practices and our work schedules we rarely eat dinner all together and when we do it’s frustrating being limited to cooking something everyone will eat. No one is interested in my brunch delicacies, and honestly I don’t wake up on Sundays with an overwhelming urge to cook. There are more sports games than I imagined and I show up at some but I’m not a frequent fixture. The chore list never got off the ground, and I’ve tried several times. The house is always overflowing with laundry and is not spotless. My bonus daughter and I have gone on a few outings and it’s always pleasant but I’m not her confidant and/or spa partner. I hate the sounds of jumping, whining, video games, YouTube and all the other things I hear way more than the sounds of joyous childlike laughter. Family road trips give me anxiety and Christmas makes me feel like a soulless consumer as I scramble to check off everyone’s lists of things they’ll lose or lose interest in shortly.
This is where the guilt comes in. This admission of reality forces me to confront the fact that, it’s not just that the situation isn’t the way I thought it would be. I’m not who I thought I would be in the situation. I created an ideal that I don’t live up to and it causes tension in my mind. I think somewhere along the line I created a rationale that said “ I can deal with this but it must be perfect. That’s the only way.” It’s not perfect and it often makes me feel like a bad person. Why can’t I go to every single game? Why don’t I wake up every weekend excited to cook my family pancakes? Why do I get overwhelmed by having to consider multiple people before making a decision? It’s not because I’m a bad person. It’s because this takes some getting used to. I could let my mind take me down a rabbit hole thinking about the audacity I have to be anything less than overjoyed. After all I have this wonderful relationship, none of our kids are assholes, they all get along with each other and I have the nerve to complain. I have to keep coming back to the idea that maybe I’m not an exemplary bonus mom and this blended family doesn’t look like some Hallmark family movie and that’s ok but I shouldn’t let that stop me from being the best bonus mom I can be, in my own way.
Maybe my way isn’t pancakes and chore lists, but I can add to the fabric of this family in different ways that are unique to who I am. It doesn’t have to be perfection or guilt. All or nothing.
We often hear stories about men who find the woman of their dreams and the kids are seen as a “package deal”, baggage that they have to put up with.They joke about counting the years until they are out of the house and find themselves in male ego fueled pissing battles with the father if he’s in the picture. Women however, nurturing creatures that we are, are expected to be genuinely excited about the new blessings entering our lives and easily discard any old ways of being to make space for more motherhood! After all, it’s only the most important job in the world! We must demonstrate our love and commitment to our new partner by going all out for his children, outdoing the mama and upgrading the family dynamic! Imagine the tension this creates for somebody like myself who, a few years before meeting my husband decided that I don’t even really like kids. Yeah I said it. I’m not a kid person. I’m a loving mother who takes pride in being “ a good mom” but I’ve never been particularly drawn to children or thought that pushing a baby out of my vagina was the single best thing I will ever accomplish.
I don’t want to spend so much time in my head thinking about how perfect I’m not that I miss out on opportunities to build relationships with these kids. I’m envious of how easy it seems for my husband. He has created a bond with my daughter effortlessly. Granted she is only one personality compared to the three I’m navigating but he’s done it in a way that I admire. Being fully engaged with her but not trying to completely take over the role of father. I feel a little less graceful when it comes to my blend but I’m learning to stop judging myself so harshly and instead ask “ How can I best show up for this family in a way that feels natural and true?” I’ve begun to make my peace with the fact that I’m not the stepmother of my dreams. I’ve been so focused on what I’m not that I haven’t fully developed who I am in this new family structure. It’s a work in progress.