… from the bungalow

One at a Time

22 Comments

Last week I posted a question on my Facebook wall. “Do you have a limited amount of love to share (say, with your children/family members)?” I went on to explain just a bit: For me, the obvious answer is No, love is limitless. But then there are times when I seem to place a limit on how close I’ll allow myself to get to someone. It’s as if my ego self is saying, “that’s enough of that–you don’t want to take things too far…”

I got some great responses. Honest responses. Some admitted to feeling like they could never raise step-children. Others know the hurt first-hand of what it feels like to be treated as something “less than” the biological children. There was some discussion about continuing to love and accept step-children after having children with your new spouse. (I love this kind of dialogue, BTW. Thank you!)

Me reading to the kids

Bedtime book

To be clear, Karin and I are not married yet. But we’re engaged (as of March of this year) and I refer to her son as my step-son. It seems easier than “step-son-to-be” or “future step-son” or whatever. Plus, I’m trying to take my own advice to fake it ’til I make it. To further confuse the issue, Lucas is biracial. The funny part about that, though, is that when we’re out, people tend to think he’s mine instead of Karin’s. It’s the curly hair, I guess.

In an earlier post about step-parenting, I talked about fear. Fear of loss, fear of alienating my biological children, etc. But I didn’t really talk about fear of rejection. One reader posed a question that got me thinking: “Do you think that on some level you are afraid of rejection from Lucas?”

I would be hurt if I played a major role in raising Lucas only to have him tell me some day, “You’re not my dad.” That would suck. The more altruistic side of me says, try to love him like you do your own children and you’ll raise a good man, regardless of how he views you or how much he appreciates you later. My ego self says, his father doesn’t deserve any credit or love from his kid. I pay the bills. I discipline and encourage him. I tell him “goodnight.” Me, damn it!

Karin and I are making an effort to refer to each other as “Dad” and “Mom,” rather than “your dad” and “your mom.” (Hehe, your mom…) We feel it’s OK because Lucas refers to his father (who he sees once or twice a year) as “Papa,” and Simon (remember Finn doesn’t talk) calls his mom “Mommy.” (He refers to Karin as either Karin or Mommy, and his biological mom seems mostly OK with that.) We just wanted to get away from imposing alliances.

And while there have been a few times that Lucas has said I’m “the best dad ever,” he hasn’t really called me Dad. And that’s OK. He’s gotten used to calling me Chris. Maybe we can revisit the whole what-to-call-me issue when Karin and I are officially married.

Karin has said to me before that she wishes I could see Lucas the way she does: sweet and intense. It’s just that I almost always see him when all three boys are around, and he acts so differently around Simon–competitive, jealous, rebellious… And I get that. He hadn’t needed to share space with other kids before last fall, he’s exerting his natural, 4-year-old independence, and all the kids are vying for attention, acceptance and safety in a time of big transition. But something instinctual kicks in and I feel like I have to protect “my kid” from this other kid. And a barrier goes up.

Well, over Memorial Day weekend Finn and Simon went with their mom and step-family to a cabin, which gave me some time with just Lucas around. It isn’t the first time we’ve had Lucas alone for a couple of days, but this weekend was a little different. I must be making a difference, or maybe it’s Karin, or time. It’s most likely all of the above. But this past weekend, Lucas and I had a few minutes of cuddle time on the couch watching TV. It seems really simple, but it took us a long time to feel comfortable enough with each other to just sit and cuddle. It’s amazing how much a little physical heart-to-heart contact can do for changing your perspective.

Me and Lucas couch cuddle

Sleepy boys

I’m trying to be mindful of the way Karin sees Lucas–the way I see my own kids. I recently heard someone describe it beautifully. He said, “The moment I held my newborn child, I knew I’d die for him. He hadn’t been here for more than a few minutes, and hadn’t done anything to earn it. I just knew I’d do anything for him.” There’s never anything our kids do to earn that kind of love from us. And there’s nothing they can do to un-earn it. That’s unconditional love.

I may not have that kind of unconditional love for Lucas yet, but I’ll come to love him–one mortgage bill, “goodnight” and cuddle at a time.

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Author: Chris

A dad with a self-evaluation complex. Also a music therapist, college enrollment administrator, and hippie-nerd.

22 thoughts on “One at a Time

  1. Love it. I am so happy to know that you’re feeling better about your relationship with Lucas. If he feels you feeling that way, he’s going to feel the same. LOL I sound like Chrissy Snow.
    I love you, and I know we can do this! We’re a great team when we remember to stay a team, and not allow ourselves to be divided by the kids. ❤

    • LOL–Chrissy Snow.
      Yep, I’m also trying to remember that it starts with me. Kids definitely respond to those subtle feelings and vibes we send. We are a great team. 🙂

  2. Even the most loving, accepting, tolerant parents are likely to experience the dreaded, “I hate you,” moment with their children at some point. I think the step-parent version of that moment comes as, “you’re not my dad/mom.” Try not to be too discouraged if you do hear, “you’re not my dad,” from Lucas eventually. That is the moment you need to try to remember that all children lash out at their parents, step AND biological. A friend of mine once told me hearing my child tell me, “I hate you,” means I’m doing my job as a mother. It still hurts to hear, however!

    • True. Karin has to remind them sometimes that we’re not trying to be their friends, but their parents, and the reason we get on them is because we love them. If we didn’t care, we’d let them do whatever they want.

      I’m sure I’ll hear it at some point. I’ll just prepare myself for it. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jenna.

  3. That’s wonderful, Chris! Just by making the attempt to open your heart to him, you’re doing a great thing for Lucas, and I have no doubt that some day you’ll have a good, solid relationship with him. 🙂 And even when those rebellious phases come in, if he says cruel things, just keep in mind that after a while, everyone realizes how wrong they were if they’ve been treated with love and respect, so it can’t last forever~.

    • You’re so right, Cassie. I think that when you treat someone with love and respect, you can’t really go wrong. He’ll have his moments, and I’m sure I’ll have mine. But those moments will be temporary.

  4. I wondered if I’d be able to love and accept Lakyn, my adopted granddaughter.
    I found my heart goes out to her, because she was basically all alone in this world. She never asked to be born, but she deserves to be loved and cared for. So glad you are working things out for Lucas. (I’m glad I never met Lakyn’s parents)

    • It would be easier if his father didn’t pop his head in once a year, but he does have a father and it isn’t me. I’ll just do my best to be his dad.

  5. I’m a stepmother to two amazing individuals. They’re young adults (now) but when they entered my life 10 years ago, they were still at what I’d call a tender age.
    I found when I was able to just relax and let things happen naturally – they did – not always as I wanted them to, but always as they needed to. We’ve moved from having gifts I’ve sent, returned to me unopened – to having them confide in and look to me for support and guidance about life’s challenges.
    The journey has been magical though it never followed the route I planned.
    My advice? Follow your heart – stop putting limits or deadlines on things “when we’re actually married” and open your heart all the way – all the freaking way.
    You’ll never regret it.

    • I love it, Mary. Open my heart all the freaking way. No time limits or deadlines. Got it. I do believe life is magical and find that it almost never takes the route I expect, but always with great end results. Thanks for reading and for joining me on Facebook!

  6. Biological mom here—Just want to clarify the parenthetical comment “(He refers to Karin as either Karin or Mommy, and his biological mom seems mostly OK with that.) ” Simon and Finn have four parents now. They have two spousal relationships to grow up watching and analyzing. They belong to all four of us and not one person matters more or less than any other person. How silly it would be for me to take offense to Karin’s role of mother while they are in your care. Is it of any benefit to anyone for love and affection to be withheld? For me to take offense would be for me to, perhaps, feel threatened, as if I am less of a mom to them if Karin also is a mom. Do we love our first child less because we have a second child? No. The children cannot be with both parents simultaneously in a divorced family. That is tragic, but it is far better than growing up in a feuding household, which is also insecure and tragic. The best we can offer our kids in a divorce is PEACE, loving examples of compassion and forgiveness, and all the love we can possibly muster. If Karin is willing to love Simon and Finn and if Pike is willing to love Simon and Finn to the extent of taking on another child, to the extent of being mother and father, then our kids are so blessed. We are all so blessed for these additional relationships, this more love, these excellent role models. Thank you Karin. Thank you Pike, for making something better and more beautiful out of what could be so tragic. Christopher, I encourage you to take on Lucas as your son and omit the “step.” Language is powerful and love is plentiful. Aren’t all of these bodies made up of the same basic biology anyway? Slight DNA differences aren’t so very much to be concerned about.

    • Thanks, Colleen. I wasn’t sure how much anonymity you’d want to keep on my blog (hence the “biological mom” comment). You make some great points here. I especially agree with your statement that “language is powerful and love is plentiful.”

      “How silly it would be for me to take offense to Karin’s role of mother while they are in your care. Is it of any benefit to anyone for love and affection to be withheld? For me to take offense would be for me to, perhaps, feel threatened, as if I am less of a mom to them if Karin also is a mom.”
      Unfortunately, that is the way a lot of people feel. Part of my hesitation does come from a place of not wanting to cause problems for Karin (or for us as a family unit). There is a party involved who seems to have a very fragile ego and likes to stir up controversy and conflict whenever they feel threatened. But at the end of the day, how is withholding love and affection in the best interest of a child? It’s not.

      Going back to a previous comment, my thought on things changing a little bit once Karin and I are actually married isn’t so much a deadline as it is convention. I’m sure someone would find it their duty to remind me that Lucas isn’t actually my son if suddenly I started referring to him as such. Dur. I guess I should let go of that.

    • Colleen – you are my hero of the day. Exactly, 100% times eleventy billion agree with absolutely everything you said.

  7. Thank you, Mary. My dream is to receive that kind of acceptance from others in our lives as well.

  8. Chris

    Your post was very touching. I was raised by my step-father. Funny that I NEVER used that word until after his death. He was my dad, father, friend, my shoulder to cry on.

    Your connection with your step-son has been established and as he gets older he will appreciate and understand your love and sincerity.

  9. That picture is gorgeous.

    Ba.D. and I call each other “Mommy” and “Daddy,” although we just have Li’l D between us. What’s adorable is that Li’l D’s recently taken to calling Daddy “Mommy’s Daddy.” Apparently, in our household, everything is mine–including Daddy!

    As for the question of favoritism? My mom told me her mom played favorites in very extreme ways with her children, all of whom were biological. She described this as so extreme I thought she was exaggerating. I thought this straight till we went to her dad’s funeral, where her mom selected my just-younger sister as “the prodigy” and ignored the rest of us. I then understood why my mom took such great pains to reassure us none of us was her favorite, and that she loved us all immensely and equally.

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  11. This is a wonderful post…. all of you set an example to all of your childen by your willingness to accept the past and do what is best for your childen.. I applaud your efforts (oh and by the way biological children or not there will be times when you’ll feel like throttling them ;D I speak from experience but my children managed to survive me and me them. Now they are all round nice people of 31 and 27 )

    • Thank you, Hellen! I just noticed your comment. Sorry for the delay in my response. We’re learning about and implementing the Parenting with Love and Logic methods, and it’s having an impact on the entire family. I’m excited to see where it takes us (and me, specifically).

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