Children have eyes. They see everything. Their eyesight is even further honed when they don’t live with you and you have another child in your home. It seems as if my bonus children look for differences in how they are treated versus how their sibling, our in-house child, is treated.
It is already difficult to raise multiple children in a four-year age range with the “how come my sibling can do that and I can’t” argument. Couple that with differing temperaments, personality strengths, and weaknesses, a parent’s job goes from manageable to who’s-idea-was-it-to-have-children-anyway? Now, add all of that to a blended family and you have got some serious challenges to face.
When you are a single parent (single here meaning you are not married to your child’s other parent), you don’t get the complete autonomy of raising your child. This applies to the custodial and non-custodial parent. You have to share your child, you are subject to hearing the opinions of another, and you may not always get your way. Some would say that is the same here as it is for children born in wedlock living with their parents. I disagree. For one thing, in a marriage, both adults have already decided to be there for each other so there shouldn’t be a power struggle. Furthermore, both parents are there, on-sight, to oversee their children and be involved in their day-to-day activities and have the ability to equally assist in their child’s development. You simply do not have that in single parent households. I have talked before about my situation and said that my bonus children have two different mothers. My relationship with the one is stellar. My relationship with the other is not. As awesome as the stellar relationship is, it is not the same for my son as it would have been if he was being raised by both of his parents in the same household.
My husband is the non-custodial parent and we had a child almost two years ago. We get to raise her, together, as we see fit on a day-to-day basis. That means we choose what she watches, what she listens to, etc etc. We weren’t able to make those decisions for my bonus children and in some cases where he was able to make some decisions, it was never to the degree that is has been with our in-house child.
All of our children see this.
Within the last three weeks, my husband and I have instituted Family Fun Night at the Greens. It’s nothing fancy. Currently, we go to a free jump at a local inflatable spot and come home for dinner. (To be totally honest, the last two times, we’ve eaten out at Chick Fil A because I was t00 tired after jumping to fix dinner. But the plan is to have a Crock-Pot meal ready to eat when we come back from jumping) It’s just the three of us but it is very important. It was something I noticed a couple of months ago. When my bonus children would come over, we would make it a big deal and go out to dinner or have something special to do with or for them each visit. It was our fault really. Ever since my husband and I became serious about each other, we would treat each visit that my oldest bonus child had with us as super special. There is nothing wrong with making a child feel valued and loved each visit but we were going to super extremes trying to over compensate for things we could not control. I heard what things were said to my oldest bonus child about her father. I remember my husband being told in not so many words that unless their was a special event he wanted to bring his child to, chances were, he would see his child that weekend. We treated each visit as a chance to show the then three-year old that Daddy and Ms. Nessie (that is what she called me) weren’t who she was told we were. We set a pattern of behavior and expectation for us to follow way back then and today we are starting to rectify that.
I don’t want my in-house child to grow up seeing that we do special things when her siblings come over but we don’t plan anything special when it’s just her. We have to make that change now. In addition to planning Family Fun Nights for just us, we also have calmed down our weekend activities when my bonus children come over. We eat in. No more pizza or dinner out. We will still do that but occasionally. It won’t be the norm for them to expect that each visit. We will enjoy family time by playing games (Wii, board, or card games) talking, watching movies appropriate for even the littlest ears, and just being together. As elementary as this sounds, we had to refocus on that. It’s a no-brainer for us to do that with our in-house child. That’s just what we do. But because we dug this hole for ourselves with my bonus children, we have to deliberately choose to relax and not go into grandiose mode when everyone is together.
As an bonus mom, I feel like I am watched when my bonus children come over. It’s like every piece of affection I give to their little sister is scrutinized to the highest degree. I feel the looks. Either they look puzzled because I am not being as affectionate as they think I should be one moment to being scowled at because I they think I am lavishing extra affection on her the next. Sometimes, I feel like a prisoner. I don’t know how to explain to them in plain but compassionate English that their sister doesn’t have a Mommy waiting for her at home. I am Mommy. She doesn’t go visit bonus mom every other weekend or so. She doesn’t have an bonus mom! I am both for her. If I am not being Mommy to her, there is no other to do it.
It is relatively easy to keep a two-year olds love tank full. It requires a more keen eye and a higher level of observance to keep the love tank of a child older than five full especially if that child is not yours and even more so when that child does not live with you.
The tug-of-war came into existence as soon as both parents decided that their relationship was over. I refuse to participate in the tug-of-war. I will not participate in it in my household. I don’t have to answer the door just because the doorbell rang and I don’t have to participate in a war just because it came to my doorstep. I will continue to love my children, all of them, the way I have been. I will continue to look for opportunities to fill their love tanks. I didn’t carry my bonus children in my belly. I carried them in my heart. I will continue to hold them in my heart. I will be the best Mommy I can be for my in-house child (and any others that prayerfully come along) as God sees fit. I will not be torn between the two. I will just be.