I remember exactly when I had the moment of panic. Carrie and I had juuuussst begun seeing each other as a couple. We were still in that really sappy, love-y dove-y stage that established couples either chuckle at or sigh at wistfully. We were cuddling on a single lounge chair (because, why sit on two lounge chairs when you can mash yourselves onto one and whisper sweet nothings in the process) out on the deck at Carrie’s (now our) house, and talking about our plans for the upcoming months. All the fabulous things we were going to do together. The places we would go. The things we would see. And then she said it: “the kids”. That’s when it hit me. Holy crap! We have three kids! Three! Kids!!! Now, maybe to some of you out there with three, four, five, or an army of kids this was not a big deal. But for me, this very much was. See, up until then, Abby had been an only child, and I very much liked it that way. One and done. Suddenly, “we” (and we were a very new we, at that!) were raising three whole kids together! Now, if that wasn’t challenging enough for me, I also considered the fact that for better or worse, Carrie and I were not going to be raising these kids alone. Oh no, we also had former partners to contend and share custody with for two of our three children. See, Parker is the product of a long term heterosexual relationship that Carrie had throughout her 20’s, and Abby is the product of artificial insemination during the time that I was in a long term lesbian relationship with my former partner. Carrie had Reese on her own while single, and conceived her through artificial insemination. Both Carrie and I share custody of Parker and Abby with our former partners. Really, I could probably do a dozen or so posts on the trials and tribulations of negotiating shared custody arrangements (and maybe I will!!). But at the time of the afore mentioned canoodling on the lounge chair, NONE of that was an issue- yet. I was just freaking out, if you will, over the prospect of being a parent/parent figure to not just one, but three children. Three VERY different children. If I had to list what it was that had me all “worked up” (as Carrie puts it when I get into those moods), it was these things:
- I had never done this before! Us humans usually have some fears and apprehension about things that are new to us.
- Were Carrie’s kids going to like me?????
- How was I supposed to behave with them? Was I supposed to act as a parent? Was I supposed to discipline them? Or just stand by and watch?? If there is a God, please tell me what to do!!!
- Was Abby going to like Carrie? Was she going to like Carrie’s kids? How would she adjust to all of this? Would she grow up to resent and hate me??? AAAAhhhhhh!
- Was this relationship going to initiate problems with each of our respective Ex’s? You know, of the “who the heck do you have my kid handing around” variety.
- How does one “manage” three kids?? I was used to cooking meals, picking up after, and dealing with the issues of one child. Now that had just been multiplied.
So, we did what has come to be what she and I just “do” as a couple: we talked about it. And talked, and talked, and stayed up late and talked and then talked a little more after that. I shared my fears with her and she did the same, though, characteristically of the two of us I was thinking and anticipating about 20 steps ahead and Carrie was more willing to resist getting her knickers in a twist and just figured we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. As issues arose, we talked, talked again, stayed up late talking and then talked a little more after that. In addition to building a strong foundation of regular communication, I also did what I do when faced with something that I don’t know much about: I research the heck out of it (and drive myself a little bonkers in the process). I scoured the internet. I headed to the library and took out just about any book with the words “Divorce”, “Children” and “Stepfamilies” in the title. I read them until I just couldn’t any more, usually because I was still carrying that truckload of guilt and shame that comes with a divorce. With lots of intention and forethought, Carrie and I did certain things in an effort to help ease the blending of our two broods into one.
We did lots of things together as a family unit. We went on trips- she and I LOVE to travel, so we dragged the kids along as much as possible! We took them all hiking in November (kids said: cold! too much walking! we want our electronic devices!), the five of us had some time together in Florida in December (beach was a hit, as was kyaking down the Weeki Wachi), in March we did a weekend of skiing (tubing was a HUGE hit), and in April we all went to Cancun together. Some trips were great successes, some were less so, but we learned a lot about each other in the process. We also did activities closer to home, like going to the symphony, the movies, out to eat, and spending time at home by the pool.
We purposely spent time with each child, as an individual. We wanted to ensure that they didn’t get lost in all of the changes that were underway. So, both Carrie and I carved out time to spend with each child individually. We asked each one to tell us some activity that they would like to do with us, and then during summer break we did those activities. Carrie also made an effort to talk one on one to Abby often, and I did the same with Parker. At first these conversations were awkward, but it got better over time.
We intentionally learned about each other’s interests and hobbies and tried them out together. Carrie loves to build things, so she showed the kids how to build a birdhouse out of scrap wood. I like to garden, so I had the girls help me start seeds and then all of the kids helped me plant things in the ground later in the spring. Abby is obsessed with dinosaurs, so we all went to our local Fossil Park and dug for fossils. Parker enjoys fishing, so we headed out to Lake Erie one day and let the kids fish. Reese was determined to learn how to ride her bike, so we took all three of them to our neighborhood Elementary school’s blacktop playground one Saturday and Reese, as well as Abby, BOTH successfully learned how to ride a bike!
We made sure that we built a solid foundation for our relationship. Let’s be honest: with this relationship, failure just wasn’t an option. Carrie and I have both been through rough break-ups of long term relationships, and they are zero fun. From the beginning, we knew that we were crazy in love with each other and were committed to making it work, period. We also knew that this would not be easy and would require some work. I felt very strongly that if we invested a good deal of time in us as a couple, it would translate into overall family happiness, because there would 1) be less problems that arose, and 2) we would solve what did come our way as the team that we were hoping we would be. With this in mind, we went on regular “date” nights (where we talked), we instituted and kept regular bed times for the kids so that we had time in the evenings to ourselves to talk (talk, talk, and more talk), we even went on a two-week, kid-free trip to Costa Rica in June (where, of course, we drank Imperial. And talked).
So, how’s it going? Well, I am not freaking out about it any more, that’s for sure. I am so glad that we did the things we did, because I really feel that they made a huge difference. We continue to do these same sorts of things as a family. As for the logistics and the practical stuff, like how do you cook, grocery shop for, and keep the piles of laundry under control for five people- that all came in time, and really, wasn’t the most important thing for us to get right in the grand scheme of things. It’s relationships.