I loved my unattached, unburdened, and quiet lifestyle. But I fell in love with a sexy, Portuguese man and his kids were a part of his package (pun intended) So now what?
Me, We, And Us... Becoming The Girlfriend Mom
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
My mother never sat me down when I was a little girl to tell me what to do if I ever found myself divorced, childless (by choice) and dating a divorced father of two. Nope. We never had that conversation.
A year ago, my boyfriend and I moved in together and just like that, instant family. Before I could unpack my toiletries, I was watching his twelve year old son’s soccer games, planning ‘family’ trips with his seventeen year old daughter, and laundering tiny pairs of jeans. Along the way I encountered immense learning curves, and struggles straight out of a Lifetime movie, as well as honest confessions and beautiful understandings.
As long as my boyfriend and I were together, his children would always be a part of my life. I’d made the decision not to have kids years ago, which made this fact a difficult one to process. I loved my unattached, unburdened, and quiet lifestyle. But I fell in love with a sexy, Portuguese man (I know, ladies, what’s a girl to do?) and his kids were a part of his package (pun intended) So now what?
The kids spend every other weekend with us, and in those early months, my panic started on Friday mornings. I was confused by the influx of strange and sometimes ugly feelings. I worried I wouldn’t ever feel close to them. How could I love them if they’re not mine? I felt guilty if I didn’t want to play with them. I resented them for directing their father’s attention away from me. How do I relate to a prepubescent boy and why am I engaging in power struggles with his daughter?
I had to remind myself (and my boyfriend) that I had no experience with the day to day life of a child, where he had seventeen years to practice. During those early fragile months, I dug my heels in, purposely keeping my distance, in an effort to protect my independence, for fear of losing my identity. It was the only thing I felt I had control over, as the ground beneath me shifted, rocked and cracked.
“This wasn’t the life I wanted.” I repeated this daily. I had uprooted myself from all that I knew, to begin a life I knew nothing about. I looked for appreciation and acknowledgement from my boyfriend, for the sacrifices that I had made. I resented him for not having to make any compromises. I was lost, living outside of my comfort zone and not entirely sure that I had made the right decision.
My boyfriend and I grossly underestimated the transition. Our situation did not come with a quick and easy resolution. When I confided in family and friends, the advice was always the same. Time was going to help me find my way. Time? That’s it?
My boyfriend and I had expectations (perhaps unrealistic ones) of each other, when it came to the kids. This often led to fights. He wondered why I wasn’t more maternal, which I took offense to. What did he want me to do, whip out a boob and breastfeed?! So I wasn’t hugging and squeezing the kids, showering them with nonstop kisses. We hadn’t bonded, I wasn’t their mother, and more importantly, I didn’t want to. Women are not all wired in the same way, and I brought this fact to his attention. I don’t believe that being maternal is reserved solely for children. He should’ve seen me with my dog. I had to be patient.
I knew deep down in my soul (where the truth lies) that if I couldn’t make peace with having the kids in my life, then my sexy Portuguese and I weren’t going to make it. As soon as I acknowledged what was actually bothering me, and what scared me, everything changed.
I needed to know that I had choices. I didn’t want to feel obligated to join my boyfriend and the kids every weekend that we had them. I didn’t want the responsibilities that came with being a stepmom, but then again, I was more than just a girlfriend. My role was undefined and I felt uneasy. Who was I? How was I supposed to act? What were the rules?
I did have choices, but in an effort to be the good girlfriend, and prove that this major lifestyle change was no big whoop, I made myself miserable. I wasn’t honest with my boyfriend about my feelings and my needs. And because he was supposed to read my mind, and didn’t, I became resentful and angry, again.
I used to walk on eggshells when it came to talking about his children. I had opinions and thoughts on many issues but I tiptoed gingerly around them. Parents can be very sensitive when it comes to their precious offspring. I always asked if he wanted to hear what I had to say, out of respect and because I was testing the parameters of our relationship. Neither of us felt close enough, yet, to speak freely about his kids. That was also going to take time.
As the months passed, we gradually found our rhythm, and my Friday morning panics subsided. I stopped walking on eggshells as our level of trust and confidence grew, and I started speaking up, letting my boyfriend know what I needed. Now if I have to say no, it’s guilt free. We’ve both set boundaries, with each other and the kids, and we’re learning, together, how to be with them as father and girlfriend mom.
The key was sharing those things that did come naturally to me with the kids. Before I knew it, I was teaching them values, manners, proper television volume etiquette, and why comedy comes in threes. There isn’t a manual on navigating father/child/girlfriend waters. I’ve learned to surrender to what is and trust my instincts. I better be careful or I just may turn into a parent.
Finding a healthy balance between me, we and us will always be a challenge. By the way, I hug my boyfriend’s son a lot these days, which shouldn’t last long as he approaches his teens, and wants nothing to do with me.
And it is all about time.