Thursday, January 10, 2013
(Re)Married with Children
Dating in your thirties can be difficult. Dating in your thirties with 2 young daughters can be very difficult. Dating in your thirties with 2 young daughters while the person you are dating has 3 young children of her own... now thats just crazy!
From the very first phone call when I had asked Vee on a date we knew that our relationship would not be just between us. Like most people who date and also have young children, we needed time alone to spend with each other (and we still do) but we also realized the importance of seeing how well our two distinct families blended together as one. It wasn't just Vee and I who were entering into a relationship, but our decisions would impact our children as well. Vee and I made a lot of special dates for just the two of us to go out and have fun together but we also spent a lot of time where both of our families got together and "learned" each other too.
Our children had known each other for a couple of years already. They were friends, but hanging out and playing together a couple of times a year verses becoming family... these were two very different things indeed. Not only did our children need time to adjust to what a family of seven might look like, but Vee and I both needed the opportunity to explore those questions ourselves.
From the moment that Vee and I knew we wanted to get married we agreed that we also wanted our family to feel like a "real" family. We weren't blind or niave enough to think that the blending of our families would happen over night or that it would come without challenges, but we set the idea in our minds that we wanted our family to act, feel, and look like any other "normal" family you might meet. That may not sound like a lot to some, but when your world has been tossed upside down like our children had experinced, "normal" sounds pretty darn good!
Vee and I consciously looked at how we wanted our family to function and feel and decided on a few major ideas that we felt were most important. These were our "sticking points":
1) We wanted to be conscious about the language we used. Even though it may seem small, language can be very telling. We wanted the words we used, especially about our family, to bring about unity. We steered away from saying things like "my girls" or "your kids" and instead use phrases like "our children" or "the kids." Vee and I also agreed that the titles "step-parent" or "step-child" were not something we wanted to use in our family. We were committing to our family with everything we had and we did not want even something as small as the word "step" to show less love, involvement, or meaning. We have done our best to use a very inclusive language that shows our family and those around us that we love and care about each other.
2) We share our frustrations: Listen, parenting is challenging... but parenting a child who is already several years old and is not used to your personality and parenting style can bring even more and unique challenges. Vee and I committed to having a very open and honest communication about all of our frustrations, including our children. We recognized that although our parenting styles are similar, they were not exactly the same, so we needed some time to adjust, time for the kids to adjust, and an opportunity for each other to share frustrations along the way. If there is something that is bothering Vee about the way that Zada or Reagan is acting, then she shares it with me freely. The same is true if I have a concern with Faith, Caleb, or Carter. There is rarely an issue, but when one arises you can be sure that we feel safe enough to discuss it with the other person and are willing to come up with solutions to whatever challenges we face.
3) We are 1000% in it... when they are ready: With children there is only two options: all in, or all out. If you are not completely up to the task of being a parent, then the kids can see it a mile away. From the very start Vee and I decided that we were going to let our children know that we were more than ready to be involved in their lives and fulfill the role of "mom" and "dad" for them. At the same time, this takes grace and patience. We offered our roles, but allowed them to latch on to them as they were ready. Zada and Reagan began to call Vee "Mom" almost instantly and Carter began to call me "Dadda" pretty quickly as well. Faith and Caleb were somewhat hesitant to refer to me as "Dad" until the past few months. It wasn't something we pushed, but rather we let them get comfortable with it and let it happen on their own timetable. There are times when Zada or Reagan will still want me to do something for them over having Vee do it, or likewise, Faith and Caleb will want Vee to help them with something over asking me, but we have seen a significant shift over the last several months as they have slowly allowed us to take on the roles that we have committed to be for them.
4) They know we are a team: This may be basic to any parents, but in order to not let your kids take over the parents have to be unified. Vee and I seek each other out about everything before presenting anything to the children or making any major decisions... and the kids know it! If you ask our children they will tell you, mom doesn't make any decisions without dad, and dad doesn't make any decisions without mom. We let them know regularly that we are a team and that we handle things as a team. When they know it upfront it seems to thwart any attempts to play one parent against each other and allows Vee and I to gain trust and respect for each other too!
5) Sanity nights are a MUST: Don't get me wrong... we love our kids, but every so often we need a little break from the noise, the messes, and the questions and demands that 5 children can bring. Enter "Sanity Nights." Usually about every other week Vee and I go out and have time together just the two of us. It keeps us grounded and refreshes us and our relationship. It's time where we get to spend just with each other and no distractions. Sure, it can be costly with babysitters, and dinners out, etc.. but we feel like it is essential to our relationship and to our roles as Mom and Dad.
Being (re)married with children can bring some challenges. There are times you feel like your hair might turn gray overnight. There are times you feel like you are banging your head against a wall. There are times where you feel like you are getting nowhere.....but just when you feel that way you are reminded that the rewards are worth it all. Just the other night Caleb came out of his room after we tucked them all in for the night and exclaimed "Dad, you forgot to kiss me goodnight!" It's true, sometimes in trying to kiss 5 little heads as you tuck them in to bed you might just miss one... but this one was ultra special! For the first couple of months Vee and I were married Caleb did not want me to kiss him goodnight... it was really more of a game than anything, but honestly he couldn't have cared less if I kissed him goodnight. But time and love has changed all that. Now he wants it... he seeks it out... and if I forget, he is right there to remind me!