I know it sounds funny: Permission? To love?
But it’s exactly what you’re going to have to give yourself if you want to be successful in your new ready-made family.
If you’ve ever had a child of your own, you know the great love that begins to grow inside your heart with every kick, every ultrasound, and every purchase of itty bitty shoes. The forty weeks of pregnancy created not only a full term baby but also a full blown mother’s heart. By the time you finally held that baby in your arms, you would do anything for them to the point of giving up your very life. It was a no brainer — you were in LOVE!
Bonus children don’t come with that kind of love lay-a-way plan.
They’re usually the part of the package deal that you could have done without. You would have preferred if the man of your dreams was sold separately and not part of a ready-made family kit. But what can you say? You’re in love with him. And so, with that revelation, you reconcile your mind to the fact that he comes with his ex and his children included.
I had a really hard time adjusting to having three children instead of one
I felt very put out by having to raise someone else’s children. I’ve never really felt like a very maternal sort of women in the first place. I didn’t even desire a child until seven years into my first marriage. Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved being a mom, after it finally happened, but signing up to live with kids that I shared no DNA with made me feel like I was babysitting kids that were never going to leave. I loved the shared parenting agreement we had in our early marriage because it meant that every Sunday they were going to leave, and I wasn’t going to see them again for three whole days. I remember encouraging myself with: “Just one more day, just one more day!” I dreaded Wednesdays like some people dread Mondays because that was the first day the kids would come back to stay at our home for the week.
“Now, were they bad kids?” you may ask. No, not really.
They were just a regular nine and eleven year old. They were trying to adjust in the same way I was, and they had moments of sass and attitude; but, for the most part, they were good. None of that mattered. It was the very fact that I had to “deal” with them. Of course, as the woman I felt responsible for them and was compelled to mother them and see to their needs and I resented it!
After about a year, I thought we had fallen into a nice routine.
We seemed to iron out all the rough spots and things were moving along pretty smoothly. I didn’t feel particularly close to my new offspring, but there was no drama and I thought that was enough for me. Every now and then I felt a pain of guilt that I didn’t really feel very loving towards my bonus kids. I had tried, I reassured myself, but every time I tried there would be a bump in the road. They would act out, I would feel rejected or have an issue with their mom, and we would get set right back into our formal relationship of caretaker and dependents.
Then it happened! I had my game changing moment.
I stood at the sink washing off a dish and noticed it was nearly time for the school bus to arrive. I worked from home at the time, and I was in the routine of going up to my room right about this time to take a shower and getting cleaned up after working in my pajamas all day long. Yes, this is what it really looks like to work from home. It always surprises the UPS guy when I open the door at 1: 30pm looking like I’ve just crawled out of a box somewhere. You can see the question in his eyes: “Are you sick?” I always want to say “Hello, this hairstyle is called: “And I didn’t brush my teeth either.” But this day was different. I had what Oprah calls an “A-HA” moment. I realized that by waiting purposely until it was time for the kids to come home to get cleaned up I could put a bedroom door between me and them. I wanted to hide from them, withdraw, so I didn’t have to interact. I wouldn’t have to figure out what to say to them, and I wouldn’t have to feel that guilt inside I always felt when I realized: I just really wished it was any day but Wednesday. I had this sinking feeling in my stomach now that I had to come face to face with the truth about my situation. I dreaded my own life. I dropped the dish in the water and began to cry. I can’t do this, I hate feeling this way. I wish I could just love these kids. Then it happened, a thought, a little ray of light breaking through the black clouds of despair: “Why don’t you give yourself permission to love them?” What? What was that? Permission? And then it hit me: it was me, not them, who was keeping this relationship from progressing. They weren’t holding back; after all, they’re kids. They wanted my attention, my approval, and my love. It was me. I was afraid of them. I was afraid they wouldn’t love me back because I’m not their “real” mother. I feared they might reject me as they got older in favor of the people they shared DNA with, and it scared the hell out of me. “Don’t get close! Just keep your distance!” This was the solution my unconscious mind came up with to solve the problem. And up until this moment, it had worked.
Love is always a risk
No matter how safe you feel in any relationship, loving someone is always taking a risk. People change as time goes on and sometimes not for the better. The relationships you once thought were so strong begin to show signs of weakness and fragility and, sometimes, they even fall apart. I’ve experienced this my entire life while watching as the grownups in my life came and went. I never really felt like I could get close to anyone in case they wouldn’t be there tomorrow; or, even worse, they would be there, but wouldn’t want me there anymore. I never thought these childhood experiences with my own parents and family would affect me as a parent myself, but they had and I had to do something about it.
I made a choice that day. A choice that has changed my life forever. Not just as a blended mom, but in all the obstacles I face every day. The choice was to no longer give myself permission to be a loser and miss out on all the beautiful gifts life has given me including a second chance at marriage and the opportunity to raise a beautiful family in a loving home. NOPE! I was going to love these kids and not just half- heartedly, but with everything I had inside of me. Well its fine and dandy to say you’re going to do something, but execution is everything. So instead of going upstairs to hideout, I stayed in the kitchen that day. I sat down at the table and waited. After what seemed like an eternity, 3: 15 PM finally came and the first and oldest of the children came home from school – my bonus son, Jaren. You could see his surprise to find me sitting there (or it might have been the hairdo and pajamas). I began to engage him in conversation about his day and joke around about this and that and, before long, the other two kids were home as well. We all sat around and talked before they headed off to do homework and chores. I wish I could tell you that was it and, after that day, everything was different… but I can’t and it wasn’t. I had a couple relapses and retreated to the safety of my room; but then, I tried again and again. Now I can say, five years later, that I’m pretty comfortable in my love for my bonus kids. I keep giving myself permission every day to love them, and they keep loving me back. In fact today as I was coming up to my office to finish this chapter, my bonus son (now almost seventeen years old) said, “I love you mom.” “Well, what’s that for?” I said, surprised. “I don’t know. Just thought I should tell you that today.”