Once upon a time, things were going very badly in our home—lots of anger explosions and Exie breaking items and toys and pet abuse and pushing and shoving and kicking the children and yelling and swearing at all of us and death threats and apologies and then the cycle would repeat and on and on and on.
I never thought I’d be able to find a new way to live, to show my girls a better way to love, that we could construct a new home and life without violence full of hope instead of fear. Until we did (therapy and measured work on healing notwithstanding!). And it is wonderful and joyous and liberating and loving. And at the same time, filled with new frustration and stress because Exie continues to manipulate and emotionally pressure and meddle with the children, and we have to figure out how to be the stable ones, the ones to allow our girls, especially DD1, to have the space they need to sort it all out. To learn that loving A doesn’t mean they love their dad less, that by having fun and joyous times at our house, doesn’t mean they are betraying Exie, that they have room in their hearts for ALL the people they love.
This is a difficult journey for A, who has never been a parent before, who loves our girls, and I say “our” because he has opened his heart to them completely and lovingly. He looks forward to seeing them every day, he thinks of ways to create special step-dad bonds, loves to surprise them with special treats, is part of our daily parenting grind routine that every parent knows—the trenches. In sum, he wants to be a presence in their lives that will be strong and loving and kind, a counterbalance of what went on in our life before. And I love him and get teary-eyed just thinking about it. Of our future together for the long haul, or just ruminating on our big family trip that’s coming up next month, where we will have two and half weeks of uninterrupted family time together, traveling on “the big plane” to our families and beyond.
It’s natural that A struggles when DD1 is conflicted and shows her conflict through obstinance or prissiness for lack of a better word. He’s hurt when we are going out to dinner and because we’re going to a place that he picked, suddenly DD1 wants nothing to do with him, no holding hands in the parking lot, no tic-tac-toe like they normally play before dinner arrives at the table. And it’s a struggle to pick the battle—is this plain elementary schooler showing early onset tween rebelliousness? Or is it a sign of inner conflict because of dad? Considering all the emotional pressuring that’s gone on lately about the phone calls and “daddy being sad” and “daddy doesn’t want to disappear,” I’m betting the latter, and confirmed it in a revealing conversation in the bathroom of said restaurant. Because by the time dinner arrived, everyone was laughing and eating and prissiness had evaporated. Until I mistakenly said something (out of divorce poison, where you set markers on positive experiences), “It’s nice having fun out at this restaurant, right?” which I think reminded DD1 why she was upset in the first place. (Awk, parenting fail.)
Keep in mind, earlier that day, the girls were excited about the presents we had for A, about going out, and they both created cards and DD1 made a loom band bracelet for A, to replace the one he’d broken from wearing it every day. I sensed no reluctance in any of that, especially with DD2, because she is happy and bubbly and oblivious to the unfortunate “battle” that Exie is determined to wage. Had I thought DD1 did not want to participate, I wouldn’t have pushed her, and she seemed fine with all the fun and plans.
So when we were in the bathroom in the restaurant, I asked DD1 what was going on and to tell me if she was having a hard time. To which she responded, “sometimes I feel uncomfortable around A.” And I said, oh darling, it’s okay to have your feelings, can you tell me more about this? And then I had a mommy ESP moment, from all the things that the play therapist had told me about DD1 wanting to take care of her dad, of her worrying that he is sad, etc. coupled with her sudden resistance about going to a restaurant where we had recently spent an entire night eating and laughing. So I offered, “Is it because you’re afraid if you have fun with us, it means you don’t love daddy as much?” And DD1 gave me a huge hug, out of relief, and said, “that’s exactly it, mommy.”
Oh I hugged her so hard. And I said, “sweetie, your heart is big enough to love everyone in your family—and it doesn’t mean you love daddy less.”
In the meantime, back at the table, A had engaged in a power struggle with DD2, who had gotten the “no dessert” for not finishing her dinner (parenting trench!), to which DD2 wasn’t even batting an eye. I swear if there was such a thing as a yoda-energizer-bunny, that would be DD2. At any rate, since DD1 had finished her dinner, off we went to the ice cream store to get her and A some ice cream and onward home we went. So after a quick conference in our bathroom between me and A about DD1 while the girls were brushing their teeth, DD1 picked out their bed time story and we all cuddled up on the bed for A to read it—since it was Father’s Day after all.
Before reading it, A took a moment and told a story about how he had a mommy and a daddy and a brother and a sister, and that he loved them very much. And now that he’s married to me, he loves mommy and DD1 and DD2 and that doesn’t mean he loves anyone in his family any less. DD1 hung on his every last word and nodded her head. We read the book and then it was all giggles and squeals as he put the girls to bed, and he said goodnight and my heart felt full. And kissing my girls and after our bed time prayer where we thank God for our whole family, including dad’s family, our step family, and our family near and far, I reminded them that our hearts are big enough for everyone we love.
DD1 repeated to me, yes mommy, my heart is big enough to love everyone in our family.
Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there who love and cherish your children. And Happy Father’s Day to A, who is doing everything he can to learn “on the job”—made more challenging by the co-parenting shenanigans.
p.s. I’m also so very thankful for my dads who are watching down from heaven. Somehow, I feel like they are angels looking out for us, and maybe had a hand in leading A to me and vice versa, so my children could learn what it’s like to have a father figure love them the way they loved me, especially my latest stepdad, who offered nothing but unconditional love for my mom and me and my baby DD1, before he passed on from this complicated world. <3
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