It has been a long time since I wrote here. While I always have the desire to let the creativity flow, I don’t always have the energy or the inclination to do so. However, I received a note not too long ago – a message from a complete stranger… a lady in Winnipeg – that touched my heart and gave me enough of a nudge to come back and spill the contents of my heart.
It has been 2 years since I married Big Mack. We just celebrated our anniversary in sunny Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico… 10 days alone together indulging ourselves, reconnecting… resetting.
It was so nice to have that time to spend side-by-side, talking, enjoying one another and contemplating where we’ve come from and where we’re going. See, when people get married for the first time they get to spend time basking in the newlywed bliss. They get to spend quality time together at home with no distractions. They get to go out to social occasions and events together and show one another off, flirting shamelessly and just generally being a little sickening.
Second marriages – with kids involved – are different. Very different.
As much as you can read about the challenges of blending families, I don’t think anything can ever really prepare you for it. It’s sort of like having your first baby. You read the “What to Expect” books and every other resource you can get your hands on. You have your birth plan ready to go, you know how you’re going to feed your baby, put your baby to sleep and where he’ll go to college before he’s even born… But then that baby arrives and you’re thrown into the 24/7-ness that is parenting and you’re thinking, “Wow. This is just generally more/bigger/harder than I imagined.” But you learn… and you grow… and you adjust.
Blending a family is a little like that.
Now this post isn’t a grand confession or anything. I’m not on the verge of divorce and I’m not crying out for help here. It’s just some ideas… some thoughts… some things to consider. Some things for others to ponder. I’ve always found honest, raw, real sharing to be the path to healing even at the risk of putting it all out there. What comes back to me is always worth it… advice, messages from others experiencing similar things… prayers, new ideas, new hope…
One day, not too long ago, it dawned on me: A family is like a marble.
When two people get married and have babies together, not only does that marriage join them together, but even more so the very fact that they create a life (or two, or three or more) between them just solidifies that bond. They will never again be completely separate from one another or from their children. They will always be family together in one way or another. That family – the natural family… the nuclear family – is like a marble: smooth, perfect, structurally sound. And it’s beautiful.
When a marriage ends you’re left with half a marble.
You can find another half marble that will complement your half marble really well. In fact, if you find just the right other broken half, you can stick the two halves together very carefully and end up with something very similar to a perfect marble… it’s round, smooth, looks like a marble… but in that crack – where the two halves have been glued together – is a weakness that can never be as solid as the original two marbles those broken pieces came from.
That crack requires maintenance, extra care, and a lot of extra grace.
Extra glue must be constantly applied or the two pieces will continue to come undone at exactly the same place as they were when they were two broken halves. Sometimes it just feels like as much as I just want those two halves to fuse together permanently, they’re just not able.
The marble is not the marriage. The marble is not the parenting. The marble is the household… the family. The parenting cannot be separated from the marriage. When you marry someone with kids, you marry their kids too. You take on the responsibility for parenting in some manner at the very least. You make a vow to those children to love them and care for them and help them to grow into who they will become.
With our own children, we give of ourselves every last shred of energy. The tasks are unending: we love them and feed them and clothe them and wash them and buy them things and read to them and teach them and discipline them and clean up after them. We potty train them and teach them to ride a bike. We teach them to read and to clean up after themselves. We teach them how to become who God created them to be and we hope that one day we will get to look at them and stand in awe… pleased with the result… knowing all our tireless hard work has paid off.
Giving that kind of energy to another person’s child requires an almost supernatural kind of selflessness that, to be honest, I don’t always have.
Step-parenting is not the same as parenting. In some ways it’s easier. As a step-mom I’m free to just enjoy the Mack kids. I bear no ultimate responsibility for making decisions on their behalf. Also, because I am neither Mom nor Dad, I have an opportunity to be a (perhaps) slightly more neutral third party… an ear to listen and be an objective advice-giver without being as emotionally invested in the outcome of the kids’ choices. I talk to them, I ensure they’re fed, have clean clothes, get to their extra-curricular activities and get to bed at night.
I want to be VERY clear here… I LOVE these kids. They are awesome kids. Having said that, I know at the very least Miss Mack will read this post and she must know with all certainty that I care VERY deeply for all three of them and I am in this for the long haul. But I’m kind of extra. That’s what it feels like. I’m a spare… a backup. A bonus parent. And where there is a freedom that comes from a lesser emotional investment, there is a lesser reward to be gained from the sheer work involved. I am not the one they want to celebrate with. I am not the one they reach for when they need a hug. I am not their first choice.
But I am a plain old ordinary human woman with a need to feel appreciated for my efforts. I need to feel encouraged and loved and supported in the midst of the chaos. I need to believe I’m doing things well. I need to know someone else believes in what I’m working for and trusts that my heart is genuine. I need to know the time and effort and energy I’m pouring into this broken marble is not pointless.
With everything in me I need to be my husband’s first choice.
And since no one is the perfectly-supportive, ever-loving, always-gentle, kind and patient spouse, the glue begins to weaken. The two pieces begin to slip apart and the only thing that holds them together is hope… trust… forgiveness… and grace.
That’s what the glue is made of.
My prayer is that as the years go on, we’ll find the glue does, in fact, get stronger and stronger… that the weakness fades and the marble can be appreciated for its own merits – even if it a little damaged. It is, after all, very beautiful and I love it very much.