In today’s world, “parenting” has uncountable configurations or styles. The traditional paradigm of heterosexual, married, monogamous parents is fast becoming the stuff of legend, replaced by infinite and unique types of families. Blended families, adoptive families, single-parent households, interracial families…..The purpose of this blog post is not to make a moral judgment, but to describe my own experiences and hopefully gain some understanding as to how to adapt to the ever-changing family the Universe has blessed me with, and perhaps help others, too.
The majority of my childhood/adolescence was spent in a single-parent household. I was the eldest of five children so when my mother was working or not at home, I became The Babysitter. Making meals, housekeeping, helping with homework, and playing with my three sisters and brother, was simply what I did from age eleven until I left for college at eighteen. I became, in essence, a surrogate parent. Being a child myself, with little guidance, I am sure I made decisions that weren’t in anyone’s best interest. But I did the best I could. Just as any real parent, I did not have a training manual, coach, or Parent’s Ed class to instruct me on what to do. But we all survived, so I guess I didn’t totally suck at it!
However, it definitely had a long-term effect on me. My mother was in and out of relationships, even married several times (most of which were short-lived disasters). Thirteen- year- old me made a vow that I would date someone for a loooong time before I married him! And I would be married a loooooong time before I ever had kids, if I ever had kids! In reaction to my mother’s tribulations and the pressure of being responsible for my siblings, I rejected the idea of having a family of my own. The last thing I ever wanted to be was a single parent, forced to scramble on my own without the help of a partner. I would be independent, live my life my own way. If I ever had children, it would be when the conditions were perfect, or it would not be.
Fast forward to age twenty. I met the man of my dreams, and after five years of dating/living together, we were married. I still had not developed any motherhood instincts, had no ticking biological clock, and he was fine with that. He did not want children, either. He was an entrepreneur and workaholic, and so we settled into a life of working, playing, and pursuing our interests.
It was a pretty good life. We were childless by choice, or as someone termed it- D.I.N.K.S. (dual-income, no kids). We started a business, we traveled, and we kept nieces and nephews over the summer, just for fun. We never regretted our decision not to spawn.
But the Universe had other plans for me. When I was 47 years old, my husband died suddenly at age 50, of a heart attack. As a widow with no children, and no family living in close proximity, I turned to friends and coworkers for comfort and to help me get my bearings. After a year of mourning, I began to date. I vowed again to take my time before making any commitments, especially after being in a (mostly) happy relationship for so many years. And I was certain I did not want to date anyone with children.
What I quickly discovered was, most of the men I met were divorced, and had various custodial arrangements with their children. It was difficult to find anyone that did not have at least grown children, and some even had grandchildren. It was clear I would likely have to compromise on my “no kids” stance. But hey, I only wanted to date, not get serious! I believed the odds of finding “the One” again were stacked against me. (Cue foreshadowing music).
Nine months into my experiment with dating, I met a man ten years my junior with whom I felt an immediate and profound connection. (Not to mention profound Chemistry. With a definite capital “C”. Ahem). Everything about him was great- except the fact that he had a ten year old son, who stayed with him on the weekends. I was skeptical, but the relationship seemed so promising I decided to see where it went. I was unsure of how to deal with someone else’s child in a dating relationship, but I reasoned that it was only one child, and not full time. I knew I could not just walk away; I had to move forward and see if perhaps I was off -base in my assumptions about single parenting.
Fast forward three years-and guess what? I am married again, and became the proud stepmother of a thirteen year old boy.
Does life, or fate (or a higher power) bring to us the very thing we really need? I rejected parenthood because I feared the consequences. But in doing so, I also rejected the rewards. I ended up in a situation where I could experience having a family of my own, but in a way that I could handle it. We have been married a few years now, and there have been a lot of adjustments, struggles, and joys- but that is another blog post.
Many families are not “planned” per se- they just happen. And even when they are planned, they come with built-in surprises. How has your family dynamic shaped your choices? How has fate shaped your family dynamic?