My first marriage ended almost before it began. It probably SHOULD have ended before it began.
In hindsight, I didn’t even know my ex husband, though, after 19 years of not being married to him anymore, I know him quite well now. The thing is, when you have children, you don’t get to just walk away. Even if you are running (as he was) straight into a new family and new marriage. You still have to deal with each other, not only in the big picture of how to raise your children. The ex impacts on everything about your life going forward.
Even if they vanish completely, walk away and never come back; the proverbial cliche of “going out for cigarettes and never returning” changes the financial, emotional, mental and physical circumstances of the abandoned children and the left behind parent forever. That didn’t happen to me. My ex husband is a loving father, who, despite the many challenges of our young beginnings, tried his hardest to do the right thing by his children always. The fact that we sometimes (often) disagreed (fought) about whether his vision of “right” was more or less appropriate than mine, not withstanding. I will say clearly, and publicly, that we both negotiated, sacrificed, compromised and tried our hardest.
The problem is, that we had new partners, new children, new lives. And we never really had a single day where we were on the same page when it came to raising our daughters. And when you are raising children together apart, at the same time as raising children together with someone else, every decision has an impact on someones life. My decisions impacted my exes step children’s worlds. My exes existence confused and confounded my son (at three he was really confused as to what he should be calling his sisters dad!) and his new wife’s parenting ideals did not match at all with my new husbands.
For twenty years, give or take, we have traversed the rocky peaks and craggy depths of knowing way too much about the lives of people who you would really prefer not to know. We know intimate details about each others lives. We have fought about almost every possible permutation of how to be a parent and how to manage a situation. We have loved our kids differently and raised them in a way that none of us would have chosen had we been free of each others thoughts and feelings.
But, I was so very lucky. I met this amazing guy, who at only twenty years of age, chose to join me on this journey. He has actively chosen not to be a step father. He refuses to explain to curious parties how exactly he came to have our daughters. He doesn’t call them his step daughters. He calls them his daughters and treats them as his own. He loves them as much as I do. He has loved them even when he maybe didn’t love me so much. He has worked with people he would never have even met to raise our daughters and has done it with me not always recognising the challenges of that to him.
I have never been a step parent. I have been frustrated and angry with my ex and his actions, but how much worse to be dealing with your partners ex, at every single major event in your children’s lives? Birthdays, parent teacher interviews, performances, Christmases, Easter, Holidays. Either he was physically there and needing to be interacted with, or (sometimes worse) he was NOT there, leaving kid issues lying around all over the place.
He stayed calm when I became enraged. He maintained relations when I was incapable. He talked the girls through their teenaged angst and anger and always offered their dad as a viable parenting option. He supported me in not bad mouthing the ex (whilst still letting me vent when I needed to). He did all of this by choice.
Now, some of you have met my husband, and you may be wondering at this point if I have lost my mind. we don’t usually sing each others praises so highly. We are offhand about our relationship, we jest about how we are stuck with each other, we try and talk it down. But this is less about how much I love him or he loves me, and more about what a hard role step parents have. I am pretty sure that my ex would have different things to say about my husbands role in parenting our kids. But, for me, I like to try and stay mindful that he has done his best to be a fantastic parent, even though his first kids were 4 and 5 years old before he even met them. He gave up so many opportunities, so many choices that just went away because he chose us. And he has never ever made me feel bad about that, never regretted that (at least, not to us, not where we could hear him!)
I looked so much less doubtful when I married the second time.
Because the second time I was completing my family.