“I wonder if we’ll ever have a stepdad.” This sentence occasionally escapes my 8 year old daughter’s lips, and it takes my breath away every time.
The first time she said it, I thought she was worried that there would be a stepdad one day, but after a conversation with her, I learned that she was kind of hoping there would be. I’m not sure which is worse.
I mentioned it to a single father friend whose kids are about ten years older than mine. He said they used to ask him the same question a lot when they were little (swapping genders, that is). He suggested that the question may be her way of saying she misses having a dad at home, or missing having two parents living together. Her way of coming to acceptance about a less than perfect family situation.
There is a stepmom. She is awesome. She knits them beautiful stuff (I can’t remember the last time I handmade anything). She makes them clean up after themselves on the weekends they stay with she and their dad (it’s all I can do to get them to put candy wrappers in the trash can and laundry in the hamper). Mostly, she and their dad are doing a pretty good job of modeling what a healthy married couple looks like, and for that I am grateful. That was and still is one of my biggest regrets in dissolving my union with their father.
Ironically, my daughter’s “stepdad” comments are now my opportunity to model healthy marriage decision making. Every time the topic surfaces (this week it was in the car on the way to the baseball game) I get the chance to tell the kids that the decision to get married is a very serious one, and that even though I may have some very nice male friends, it takes more than just “niceness” or even love to make a partnership that is supposed to be forever.
This week I had the chance to take the conversation a little further. “God brings lots of interesting people into our lives,” I said. “As you get older and you want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll learn about this, too. You’ll learn what you like and don’t like about lots of different types of people, and sometimes you’ll like someone a lot as a friend, but you wouldn’t want to share a house with them. Or you might like them more than they like you and your feelings might get hurt,” I continued. My inner child was listening to the monologue, too; I wish someone had said these words to me. Not that I would have heard them.
“Here’s what I’ve learned. When God brings someone special into your life, and you start to have those feelings, there are three important things to do. First, be honest with each other. Always. Second, don’t ever change yourself to please the other person, or ask them to change for you. Finally, keep God in the middle. Pray for knowledge about what kind of relationship God wants you to have, and God will let you know.”
I wish I could say I came up with that on my own, but I didn’t. It was the advice my own “spiritual mama” gave me recently. It’s what she and her beloved did when they found themselves falling in love, and apparently it worked. They are now married, but I’m sure if God wanted their relationship to be just a stop along the journey, they would have handled that scenario with just as much grace and witness to God’s guidance.
I know some divorced people who do not allow their kids any view of their romantic lives. For good reason. Why have a revolving door into their home and their hearts? When I first ventured into post-marriage dating, I kept my romantic life completely secret. I was very skeptical when their dad wanted to introduce them to the woman who (unbeknownst to any of us at the time) would become their stepmother. After all, what if this was just a rebound? What if they got confused?
He had a different attitude. For him, keeping a relationship secret would be the worst thing he could do. If someone was special to him, he wanted to share that with the kids and share them with the person he loved. I’m glad I didn’t stand in the way of that, even if it did require me to suspend my judgement and my insecurity, and trust that whatever the outcome, my kids would be okay.
I may not be able to model a healthy marriage to my kids, but I can model healthy dating. I want to teach them there is nothing shameful about having romantic feelings for someone. I want them to know their “single mom” is also a woman who believes men are generally good. I want to demonstrate that friendship is the best foundation for “something more.” I want them to see it’s okay to feel excited about someone’s attention, and I also want them to see having a “significant other” doesn’t have to mean you “have” to get married to each other or the relationship was a failure. The only failure is in not learning from each other. I want them to know it’s normal to feel sad when special relationships come to an end, and I want to show them that goodbye can be just as healthy as a lifelong commitment if it’s done with love and grace.
It’s Saturday, and I’m a single momma. This is not the path I would have chosen for myself 15 years ago when I started dating my children’s father. But it’s the path I’m on, and I’m going to make the most of every lesson I get. For me. And for them.