Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Autonomy Under One Roof: A step-family story

So this weekend was action packed. I and my youngest modeled for a bridal expo, and my fantastic partner took my eldest to two different 2hr away venues to play volleyball. All while his children awaited my return home to be fed and to go shopping. What is funny is in our years together there has never previously been a time where we solely "flipped" our children, leaving responsibility on the "step parent" for the complete well-being and needs assessments, structure, etc. He was responsible for my child all day both days with minimal contact with me, and I responsible for his kids (and my little one) for a good chunk of the weekend.

Back in December, I had asked him if i should commit to the bridal expo as this was my 7th year doing it and I do enjoy it, but I knew it fell on a tournament day for my child in a national volleyball league, for which we are newbies and are learning the process. He said I think I can handle it for a weekend. We were told that the games would be in and around Chicago, IL approx 1hr or so from our house. Funny, this weekend they were about 2 hours away, way west of Chi-town and way south of Chi-town. Needless to say with a game time of 8am they left the house shortly after 5am sat morning. Both crabby, tired, and irritated. But they did it. And they did it again the next day with a bit later departure time. What was significant is they fact that Shane prepared, made sure he know where he was going, he sacrificed his time and sleep, not for his child, but for mine. We jointly, sacrifice a lot for my kids, mostly for the overcommited Jolie, but still. We both were aware what we signed up for when getting involved with one another-but knowing about it and living it are two different things.
I have in the past asked their actual father to take them or pick them up from things, once in a while I get a yes, if it is in town, but most of the time it is a list of: oh I have plans, dinner plans, or "school." And i understand that i am the one responsible for them, by the court of law, and by my own doings that allow them to participate in the multitude of things they do. But there are two of them and one of me and a million things they want to do, and they did not ask to be here-my decisions put them here-and so I do everything I can to allow them to live full lives.

But with all of this said, we live in a situation that blurs the lines of "family." Shane and I brought in to our relationship two independent and fully functional families, complete with rules, expectations, commitments, etc. The only part missing was the other adult partner, role model, and support beam of the home. And this is just the internal dynamic of the home/home life it does not account for the extended families and friends who now were being asked to include someone(ones) new. A huge key to know if/when the timing is right or will work at all to combine families is simple-is everyone facing the same rules and "path." Simply put- if you and your partner do not have similar goals for yourselves you won't have them for your kids- and if it is not uniform-angst and competition brews.
Shane and I knew this, but we also have very different parenting styles. This being said i took a good long observation of his parenting techniques, and he mine. We sat down and went over our own individual household rules and we set the stage for what we wanted as a whole, what parts he felt were important that he wanted to keep of his, what parts were important to me i wanted to keep and we sat the kids down. All children follow all the household rules/chores. My kids follow additional/separate rules/expectations of my choosing, and his, his over and above uniform. But they all know the rules, and each others rules, and the reason why it is what it is. This structure and consistency helps keep things solid. We put a lot of time and conversation in to the preplanning section of our commitment and relationship-and because we do not have any children "together," we are/were the bond it was important that we provided to them a structurally sound foundation. Now don't get me wrong- there are fights, there are tears, whines, and power struggles, attitudes and the like-but given we have 5 kids ages 8.5 to nearly 18-4 of them girls-we definitely have a handle on things and nothing is ever that bad. One we can't get out of the house, and two we cannot keep home...they are all polite, and for the most part mild-mannered and considerate.

One of the issues I personally have, is I feel guilty for bringing my children in to a less than perfect, unplanned for their arrival, environment. Because of this, I strive, for the 18 years they are under my guidance and protection, for there lives to be honorable, committed, upstanding, responsible, and all round, strong, good, and considerate children, who will act upon the benefits granted to them and know how lucky they are. It baffles me when parents are selfish, won't drive 8 extra min. a morning to keep their kid at their school when a move occurs mid year, wont send their kid to a school because the govt doesn't pay for it, or can't look past religious affiliation, when it is one of the best local private schools and would get the child out of the less than stellar local public school environment-regardless of "how much better it has gotten." Old hard dog shit is still dog shit regardless if it is past the point of stench.

I also choose the environments I do for myself and my children in order to remove us to a tier of people we want to be like, associate with, and learn from. I lived in moderate wealth as a child, made some decisions that rendered my broke, poor, and slum bound, and pulled myself up to where i am now. One main lesson i learned: You are with whom the company you keep. Regardless if it is right or wrong-that is how it works. This being said- Shane and I both got to each other at a very opportune moment in both of our lives. Both of us were facing an uphill forward, climbing an educational hill, and digging ourselves out of a shot-gun life that seemed like a good idea at the time. Over the course of our friendship that later turned to relationship, we were able to avoid a learning curve and to keep our eyes set on our own educational "prizes" that really were one in the same for each other and ourself. To this day the substance of our relationship-the glue that holds our two autonomous families in one house together is the fact that we both live by the examples we want our kids to follow. Mainly, if you make a mistake in your life (which we all will and do), what you do after, (i.e take responsibility or blame another) shows who you are and what you can become. We both made mistakes. We are not shy about them or in explaining them to our kids when they inquire. But the difference is we learned. We know we made our bed, we laid in it- decided that the first step to change is looking at oneself, cold and hard, actions/inactions and we took responsibly instead of victimhood, and we took the steps to change for the better.

Now here we are. And things are good.
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