Be in it. Don’t overthink it. Savor the moment. Ride the wave.
All make perfect sense. We build together the shape of what we are becoming, like a barn-raising for two. I stagger a little under the rightness of right now. It is no small thing to meander through streets and chores and frost and night with a person who sees what you don’t and is thrilled to taste what he hasn’t before.
Kira the Fabulous says in Traveling Light,
You realize that they are choosing to show up in your life every day and create a relationship with you. That, my amazing friends, is the most incredible gift we can give another person. That shit is beautiful.
Then the stagger becomes a stumble. Because I am a mom with a bright and crackling boy and a shiny new mortgage. I scale a heap of bills only to look down on a career that might have plateaued. In a far-off canyon, I hear echoes of a story itching to be written. I haul my strong and aging body forward through this unexpected civilization. I find myself in a neighborhood with family and friends and an HOA in the village square begging for a new Communications Coordinator.
How does love fit into all this?
I crack my teeth on the stone in the middle of Kira’s admonition. “. . . create a relationship with you.”
What is this structure we are building?
Because it’s good every day with my Mister. Even when it’s hard, it’s good. Yet I still don’t know if I’ve taken enough responsibility for my own life to really draft a vision of a future and commit myself to the path. I spent so many years floating through things and just “riding the wave” that when I washed up on dry land, I found I was far from any chosen shore.
I am caught between competing imperatives. How does welcoming the rightness of what is here relate to being mindful of goals? We fashion the future with each step we take, don’t we? While shedding attachment to ideals and playing with the soil and sand of this moment, we are also molding the home we will inhabit tomorrow.
So I have to ask: Would I like Bug and me to be part of a new family someday? Do I want us to welcome a greater intimacy with a wider circle of people?
Maybe I am not ready to choose that. Maybe I want my son and me to cobble together our own modest dwelling, our mini-team of boy and mama and pooch. Or maybe I am working on some assumption that my Mister and I can love as two, independent from our children, and that what we are together gives us all that is necessary for an epic love story.
It’s frightening to ask these questions outright especially when I’m already in a loving, healthy relationship with a man who pours rum all over the already rich cake of our lives. Do I risk losing him by digging? By overthinking? Looking too directly into the glare must be foolish because when I do, I find I can hardly speak. The notions and narratives I carry about a post-divorce future with anyone all end in disaster.
These are some of the phantom ideas twining around my throat: Stepfamilies are fraught with trouble and conflict. Second marriages are more likely to end in divorce. Kids of divorce have more emotional and behavioral troubles. Children in blended families are pulled in too many directions for stability.
If my Mister and I are both showing up to “create a relationship,” we are inevitably weaving our families together. Two of us, three kids, four homes. Are we just blindly laying the foundation for a world of trouble?
It’s not that I don’t want to build a new, big, healthy family again someday. It’s that I don’t want to rush forward and erect some kind of particle-board-and-asbestos relationship that will fall down around Bug and me and anyone else who shares this journey with us.
To gain a bit of perspective, I dug around. Dipping into a few resources (some of this is covered nicely in a Psychology Today article, Lessons from Stepfamilies), here is what I found:
1. Yes, kids from divorce generally do have slightly higher rates of depression and behavioral problems than kids whose parents stay together. The key words here are “generally” and “slightly.” When you get down to specifics, you find the toughest issues occur in the first few years after divorce. This is when financial resources are strained, parents’ attention is distracted, schedules are disrupted by shuttling between homes, and conflict between parents is high. When those issues settle down (and if they are managed well in the early years), children of divorce fare as well as others.
2. Yes, second marriages do have a higher chance of failing. Again, however, the majority of second divorces occur during the early innings. Divorce is more likely when a couple tries to cook up Instant Family by blending everyone together too soon and forcing unexamined romantic ideals onto the new configuration. If folks in second marriages set up good systems for handling the communication and conflict unique to blended families, they often have stronger family relationships than first marriages. This may be the simple outgrowth of the reflection and adaptation that are necessarily woven into the fabric of their relationships.
3. As in point 1, children in stepfamilies have a measurably harder time than others. However, it is becoming apparent that a few (unfortunately common) conditions set the stage for trouble. Depression and other emotional and behaviorial issues occur in children of stepfamilies when:
- Conflict between the biological parents is high and persistent.
- The new couple is focused too much on each other. Parents do not put enough attention on communicating with their kids and creating systems for helping everyone thrive in the new family setup.
- Step-parents stray too far into their partners’ domain by taking on discipline and other sacrosanct aspects of the parenting relationship.
- Discord between various exes and spouses pulls children’s loyalty in too many directions.
Now, I breathe.
Three years have loped on by since my son’s dad and I separated. It’s been two years since our divorce. This long stretch is just a blink. I am still upended — not daily, but maybe bi-weekly? — by the challenges up there in point #1.
My financial situation is shaky which both stresses me out and limits Bug’s opportunities. Also, with the marriage behind me, I fling myself all too eagerly into the consuming swirl of new romance. I let it carry my attention off. Towards. . .? Or away from. . .? Maybe a little of both? My son, health, and work sometimes shudder and bend as waves from a booming intimate relationship reverberate past. And finally, while I have a blessedly cooperative relationship with Bug’s father, we have a tendency to wing past each other when tricky conversations are called for. This leaves us with holes in plans and schedules that can lead to overcharged interactions.
Yes, I have some work to do.
While I long to raise this barn with my Mister, we are only just now assembling our materials. Many of the choices rest in my hands alone. Yes, I do want a someday-family. It would be lovely to build that with this man who strikes my brightest chord. Nevertheless, laying the strong foundation for such a future paradoxically requires me to square my shoulders and widen my gaze. Beyond the silvery dance as we twine ourselves around each other, I have to nourish my bond with my ex-husband. Frame out a more stable career for sound financial footing. Keep Bug’s development at the dead center of my gaze. Seed my beds with lush friendships, juicy activites, and expansive commitments.
It’s strange to consider that the success of my most intimate relationship might mean attending to it less.
Forgive me if I need a minute or seven to wrap my mind around this.
I can hear his pulse just there on the other side of the door. I can taste on the air his eagerness to bite into the meat of this moment and feel for the stone with me. Yet somehow I have to temper my appetite. I have to trust that he will remain, as I will, within reach. Being good to him and to us means also staying true to a future self and to a someday-family because this is who we are now. It is probably who any of us has always been even though we didn’t know it. We are far more than two.
For tonight, I choose to feel us as sanctuary and polestar even as we stand outside, hammers in hand, affixing walls to the beams that may someday shelter all of us.