I’d like to announce that, as of last year, Rich and I became full-time parents. Were we terrified? Well, not at first. How hard could it be, right? Fast forward to today…are we still confused as to how this all works? Yes. Have we developed a whole new appreciation for families who have been waking up every single blessed day for years and years and (my gawd when does it end)? years only to find that their children are, yes, still living at home. Like, they are just here? For 18 years straight? It’s not a newly developed appreciation. We’ve heard of these "full-time parents" for over a decade now. We’ve been peeking at their lives from around the corner with a combination of fear and awe.
So...when does our "Welcome to the Full Time Fray" basket arrive? Does it include a chart explaining how to fit in the goof-off times? When do we get to wake up and jump for joy, again, over the upcoming hours of total lack of parental responsibility? And, on a personal note, how does the whole dinner thing work? Do I just have to feed all of the people every single night? Including the weekends? Until the end of actual time?
If you’d asked me eight years ago how I’d react to hearing that our kids’ (bio)mom was moving out of state, I’d probably have answered with something along the lines of, “oh, thank you six pound baby Jesus.” But that was then. Eight years ago, I had just come on board as a fledgling (step)mother. I had no idea what I was doing, despite being quite sure that I knew exactly what I was doing. I had no idea what you did with two little people (or a husband, for that matter). I definitely had no idea what you did with a third parent who lived just a few miles away. I had no idea why I constantly felt like I wasn’t making any traction with the kids or why the ex-wife only looked at me with leeriness, side eyes, or glares. Of course, I was definitely aware that having two ‘moms’ must be weird for the kids but, back then, I really had no idea just how weird. Then there was that whole bit where I was trying to figure out this whole “mom-ming” gig while most of my instant family was nearly constantly being shuffled back and forth from home to home.
Yes, we had a rocky start in our blended family. And a rocky middle. And, frankly, it’s still rocky, just not always. So, yes, between that rocky start and that rocky middle, I really would have helped pack the boxes if it meant putting some distance between the kids’ (bio)mom and myself. It wasn’t a case of a “high-conflict” situation. There was no bickering or tension or awkward arguments in the driveways. It was more of a “nothing” situation, where I almost immediately (and unexpectedly) took on the maternal brunt of the parenting load and was rewarded with the brunt of misdirected anger from the kids. Back then, the distance of a (bio)mom move would have given them a chance to see my goodness and pleasant intentions…in my mind, of course.
Eventually, though, as I became more than a simple stand-in at school conferences or doctor’s appointments, I began to really love those little people. And while their (bio)mom continued to drive me bananas, I did realize that they needed her to be “just down the road” as long as possible. Perhaps she wasn’t abundant with stability or reliability, but she was abundant with biology. And the further my (step)kids worked their way into my heart, the less I wanted to seem like the best of the two mom options (which was weird for me because I really, really like being the best at everything I do). I knew that their (bio)mom’s struggles would become my (step)kids’ struggles and that hurt me as much as it hurt them. Except I knew that her struggles hurt them more than they would ever hurt me, really. It only made me feel better to think that I could really understand their angst.
When the kids’ (bio)mom announced, last November, that she would be moving to another state to be closer to her own parents, it was a bit of a stunner. We got the information in typical fashion when it came to our co-parenting communication lines…third hand and then in bits and pieces…trickled through texts over several weeks. My husband and I weren’t really sure what we were supposed to do. Over the last decade, I have learned that the children of split families keep their emotions as shut down as possible when it comes to parental disappointment. Each time we tried to get a gauge on how the kids felt about the pending move, we were met with “it is what it is” or “she’s gotta do what she’s gotta do.” No tears. No anger. No “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this.” or “I’m actually really sad/scared/nervous.”
Naively, my husband and I had moments in which we thought the bio distance would make our family life easier. After a full decade of shuffling, we were finally going to know, for sure, what the custody schedule was going to look like going forward. FULL TIME HERE. But that immediately felt wrong, too. The move was happening with no plan in place for visits with the kids? What? Even now, four months post uHaul, one child has been across state lines only once. The other child, twice. It turns out that this bio distance has not made our family life easier at all. It turns out there is more wondering and questions and confusion than before, something I’m not sure we thought was possible. There are already talks, from their (bio)mom, of a return to our area. We have no idea if, when, or how. Nor are we ready to add yet another emotional question mark to a fire that we are tired of stoking.
In the kudos-to-us category, we are adjusting fairly well to being full-timers. It helps that our kids are teenagers and basically run themselves. Still, it is odd to have no “kid-free” weekends on the calendar anymore. I’m not ashamed to say that they were bliss. Even our kids appreciated the sense of replenishment that used to appear in our parenting tanks post-parental-pause. In the “kudos-to-the-rest-of-you” category, bless you. This no-end-in-sight cadence is a lot. Maybe you haven’t noticed it because you have never had a pause, so just trust me, it is a lot.
Still, that hasn’t been the hardest part of the change.
There was a reassurance that we didn’t even know existed in having that third parent right down the street. We didn’t know it (the reassurance) existed because we rarely depended on her for the day-to-day bits of rearing our shared kids. Sure, we would get together a few times a year for a Parenting Trifecta Summit, just to talk about which page we should all aim to be on but that was more for show. We wanted the kids to have a sense of unity among their leaders. We were always lucky in that most decisions or consequences or directions involving the kids were left to my husband and I, as the primary caregivers. We appreciated that level of respect.
After the move, that was shaken a bit. Not a lot, but enough to be noted. I suppose it is natural - with the distance between she and the kids, there was an increase in this feeling of maybe we were not all on the same page anymore. This first showed itself most prominently during the Thanksgiving holiday. It was not our best moment. We reverted to old patterns - I felt old insecurities pop up, my husband slid back to being placed squarely between two moms, (bio)mom exhibited a bit of more desperation in a quest to be involved. We have made progress, but I wouldn't say it's been positive progress.
We are still figuring it out, this new version of “this is your life,” though it mostly includes daily questions that have no answers such as when the next visits might occur or if their (bio)mom will move back to our area at some point.
We are certainly aware of this debacle being far more difficult for the kids than it is for us, the grown ups.
And it is so, so difficult for the grown ups, so yeah, just imagine.
How hard could it be, right?
So stinking hard. So much stinking harder than we were ready for.