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!)
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.
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.