Everyone in my life before I met my fiancé would tell you that I did not want kids. I didn't. At the time. I didn't want kids with my controlling, aggressive, manic depressive ex-husband. Taking care of him was a full time job. I used to wonder if I wanted them or had jut resigned myself to not having them because of him. After things got out of hand and we divorced I remember thinking "If I never have kids I saved my babies from a man like him." I justified my choice and I justified my feelings in the most honest and truthful way possible.
Flash forward two years and I met a man and fell in love. He was separated pending divorce because, in the state of Connecticut you must be able to prove you lived separately for a year before proceedings move forward. My baggage was plentiful. Poor self esteem, insecurity, occasional swings of depression and anxiety, and the loss of my perpetual positive attitude. His baggage? Little humans aged 6, 8, and 10.
There are times, countless really, that I have wondered: if he had just wrapped it up or the ex had just said "no glove, no love", if the shotgun wedding never happened, if fate had brought us together anyway... would the kids I have today have been the same of they had been babies that grew in me? Would they have still be the children I am so in love with? Would we have created a stable home for them from the start where they could grow up to be the same fundamental people but without their self esteem issues, self doubt, and insecurities from the ex? I know DNA matters, I know the science. But I wonder and I dream.
Having an ex-wife in the picture isn't always like this. I get it. I read every stepparenting book I could find when we first moved in together. But it didn't matter. I met these kids and we were all mourning. All 5 of us. Mourning different things. My fiancée mourned the thought of a family life where he got to see his kids every day. The kids mourned the death of their first family. And I mourned the death of a dream, because for the first time in my adult life I was so deeply in love that I wanted to make a family. I wanted it all. I dreamed and dreamed of our future and this was not it. So we mourned together.
The 10 year old, she was different though. She was the oldest, the one who they got pregnant with and married for. She was the only one who realized her mother was openly cheating on her father in front of them. Three times. She was the one who heard one of her mother's boyfriends beat her dog nearly to death. She was the one who cried herself to sleep quietly so her little sister wouldn't hear. She was the one who got up in the middle of the night as her nearly crippled dog got locked in his crate and stared down her mother, willing her to do something. She was traumatized by life.
I found her a therapist. I forgave her resistance to me. I ignored how she remarked that her mother could do everything I could. I went to movies without her when she told me she had plans with her mother . I let her be. I let her mourn. I also taught her things. I taught her about internet safety and about her period. Convinced her mom she needed glasses. Took her for her first haircut in 5 years. Her first manicure and pedicure. Her first trip to Disney World. I was everything her mother wouldn't be, couldn't be, and didn't care to be.
To this day I am not truly sure if she loves me. I know she loves her Dad immensely and that I am an extension of him to her. I go back and forth with it. Some days I think we might be best friends one day. And other days I dramatically envision that one day at my funeral she will realize everything I was to her but it will be too late and unrequited. Oddly I don't think I've settled on a middle ground. I know somewhere deep down she loves me and I also know somewhere deep down she resents me whether I deserve that or not. What gets me is that I can't fix it. My own therapist once said to me "why do you settle for people who don't show you their best but then put all this pressure on yourself to be everything to everyone?" Well, doc, I guess I have inadequacy issues.
Before you scoff at the idea that maybe she doesn't love me, let me explain. Coparenting with her mother is literally like coparenting with a teenage older sister. She is a definitive example of arrested development. She's still the scared, knocked up highschooler so she doesn't have real rules or punishments or even standards of cleanliness. She fake buys her eldest clothes that she wants so they can share them. She fakes everything. I've never met someone so fake and she taught her eldest child by example. So here I am. Does she love me? I would like to think so because of all the kindness I show her. But she has gotten good at faking things too. She's lied to us over and over, ignored our rules, disregarded our advice. This once upon a time 10 year old even (with her mother) destroyed my relationship with her youngest sibling. They brainwashed the naive 6 year old who only now at 8 realizes that I'm going to be her stepmom and that might be awesome.
I realized not long ago that I am not actually someone who gives endless chances. I do not fully trust my oldest kid. I guess it was a series of things really. Truthfully it was that I realized my expectations of her are to be treated like crap. We had a blizzard up here on my birthday. They were with their mom for two snow days. Her brother and sister made me birthday gifts, albeit they likely took 10 minutes at least it was something. They sent me a voice memo singing (before their mom woke up). When my fiancé picked the kids up after school the next day the oldest only had excuses. She left art she made me at her mother's. She handed in my card by accident with her homework. Lies. "How dare you assume that, wretched evil stepmonster!" you say. Well, my birthday was 20 days ago and I've had the kids 13 of those days. Still nothing. Not even a note or rushed card.
If psychologically for every negative interaction we have with someone we need ten positive ones to create equilibrium, how does a stepparent ever get back to her happy place? I have had so much negative from my eldest that I forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive only to have to forgive again. And now, here we are. Without trust, without the bond I've worked tirelessly to forge. Is it because she's twelve now and tweening? Is it because she actually treats me like her true mother? Is it that I am too sensitive and honest with my kids?
I am not sure what it is but I can only say, the struggle won't stop me. I will not compromise just because lowering expectations or removing consequences are easier paths. I love the kids that much.
I love my fiancé that much.
And maybe, at the end of the day that could actually meant that I love myself that much?