A lot of times people forget that we’re a blended family. We don’t have custody issues to contend with. I don’t have an angry or vindictive ex. And my husband’s family loves on my older two kids with reckless abandon.
I was officially divorced from my first husband over five years ago. He was an alcoholic, which was the reason for our divorce. He had no custody rights and only supervised visitations—which he hadn’t used in months. My youngest turned two during this period of absence and my oldest was about to start kindergarten. She was heartbroken over her absent father, and thankfully my youngest knew no better.
Two months after our divorce, he died. His girlfriend came home and found him passed out on the floor, and she had to be the one to call 9-1-1 and his family she’d never met.
It was an odd time of peace in my life. I spent hours crying and praying before he died wondering what my future would look like with him, and with the finality of death, there was no more wondering. The kids would grow up with a parent who died, not a parent who abandoned them. I knew that if I was to date and marry someone again, it would be now while they were young. I didn’t want to put them through the added strain of a new man once they were older with more complicated feelings.
So when I met Josh four months later and we became serious, I knew that it was either going to be him, or it was going to be no one for a long time. My kids adored him. They begged me to marry him and make him their dad. It was actually quite embarrassing. I naively thought that we would seamlessly transition into this picture perfect family where they called him dad and everyone lived happily ever after.
You’d think I would know better by now to think of life as a happily ever after. Life is full of the most incredible highs and our days are filled with so much joy, but nothing is ever happy forever, all the time.
So where are we today, three years later? Generally great. Josh never misses their sports, and he’s a den leader for Ryan’s scouts. He’s home for dinner every night, and we take turns putting the kids to bed.
But the kids still don’t call him dad—something that always surprises me. Especially Ryan, who has had Josh in his life since he was only 2 and a half. But when they are around their friends or other adults, they always refer to him as dad. I’m sure there’s something there for a therapist to uncover. Trying to keep up the idea of ‘normal’ already?
For us, the kids idealize their time with Josh before he was dad. When he wasn’t responsible for discipline and they were small enough for be tossed in the air and thrown on the couch. They long for those fun times, and it’s hard for them to understand why things shifted as they got older (not because we got married).
Josh and I are generally aligned with discipline which has been helpful, but perhaps the hardest thing for our family is how quickly they will turn on Josh and how much longer they take to forgive him when he yells or disciplines.
My kids have always valued our snuggle time together, our hugs, and our bedtime routines, and that’s what Josh just hasn’t quite mastered. He’s not great at speaking in someone’s love language that’s not his own—which for my daughter is a combination of words of affirmation and touch. She’s particularly drawn to touch—hugs, having her back rubbed, sitting side-by-side—and as she gets older and hormones are starting to come into play, we’re watching her self-confidence fade and seeing the need for affirmation be front and center in how we talk to her. For my son, he values quality time the most—and he gets a decent amount of that from Josh thanks to Cub Scouts and a new love of fishing.
A few months ago, when we set our goals for the start of the school year, one of Josh’s goals was to dedicate 2 hours each week to each kid, doing something of their choice. He was good at sticking to it for a few weeks (playing video games, watching Liv & Maddie, etc), but I could tell he was getting dejected when it wasn’t quickly resulting in a more positive response from them. They loved that one-on-one time, but it was novel and hadn’t reached the levels like I’ve earned with them over the years. I can get away with the yelling or the impatience because they are rooted in my love for them. They feel safe and know it’s not going anywhere, even when I’m mad. We’re realizing now that Josh hasn’t earned that with them yet.
He has to keep scratching his way under their skin and into their hearts until they know he’s not leaving them. Again, something about which I’m sure a therapist would have lots to say! But until that day, I’ll say this—everyone shows up. We’ve got each other’s backs, and we all love each other. I can’t ask for more than that.
You can always follow along with our family over on Instagram. I’d love to have you here for the ride.