Our blended family: Sharing is hard to do—explaining it is even harder

On Friday, my two-year-old walked in the door still wrapped in his coat and boots, and after saying hi, the first thing he asked was, “Where is M…?” I quickly replied, “He’s with his dad.” Slow to respond, my young son turned away from me to my husband and pointed, “daddy.” My husband smiled and shot me a glance, “you know this is over his head,” he said. I nodded my head in agreement.

As our son quickly turned back around to face me, he pointed up to the “family” pictures on the shelf and said, “there, mommy and daddy, Rafael and Mason.” I understood his innocent reasoning. The picture seemed pretty clear, fairly simple right? That was a true statement he put together, but little does he know, it is much more complicated than that. And if this moment, possibly one of those loss of innocence type conversations, wasn’t first breaking my heart, I might have come up with something clever to respond with. But I wasn’t ready for this, not when Rafael is two, not when he is 12. I don’t know if I will ever have the right thing to say to him, but I want to always tell him the truth and I know that some day that truth may hurt a little.

That’s the thing about parenting—sometimes as adults, we make decisions in our lives and don’t know or sometimes even care at the moment exactly how they will affect our children. It is something that haunts me, but it is the truth of our lives and the consequences (good or bad) of our adult decisions—I can handle that. What I have a hard time handling is how to explain those more bitter consequences, those stinging truths to the younger and innocent, more vulnerable ones in my life—my children.

And as I thought about what I might say to explain this truth, this fact about our family to my two-year-old, I just couldn’t come up with the words. “Yes,” I said, pointing back to the family picture on the shelf, “That is mommy and daddy.” I smiled at my son and at my husband. I was at a complete loss for words but I was trying.

“Where was Mason,” I thought to myself. I knew where he was, and I had dealt with it all day at work. I had prepared for it the night before, and as we said our goodbyes and sent him off to school that morning, I knew that goodbye was until Monday. But my two-year-old didn’t have that time to process and because little people live so much in the moment I had no way to help him understand the time, the waiting, the fact that we won’t see Mason until next week. It was difficult to hear Rafael ask about his brother over and over again, it was painful to watch him try to process this at such a young age.

On Saturday morning, as soon as Rafael woke up, he asked again and again about his brother. I watched him stare out the window as if waiting for him, looking for him to walk up the sidewalk. As Rafael gets older, the effect of Mason’s intermittent absence shows more and more. And as I watch Rafael go through this, I still did not have the right words to say to him that will make this all better, make him more comfortable with the absence of his brother for a few days. “He went bye, bye honey, he’s with his dad,” I said. “Where’s daddy,” he said. “In our room,” I said. “Mason is visiting with his other dad,” “Mason is with his other family,” my husband chimed in. “We share him with his other dad and he is away for a little while o.k.” I said. “Ok,” he said without much expression and most likely without much understanding. “We share him,” I kept thinking to myself.

I imagine this conversation may get easier as the boys get older, but I don’t know for sure. This subject or better yet, this way of life is something we’ll just have to keep working on and keep talking about—our blended family is forever.

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Categories: Misc.

6 Comments on “Our blended family: Sharing is hard to do—explaining it is even harder”

  1. Brandi
    January 23, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    I had actually not titled the poem yet. However, I am toying with a title dealing with either spring and blooming, or something with a similar meaning to “unsaid.” Titles are always a challenge for me. I have yet to find one with which I am really happy. I would actually take any words of advice you have to give in that area. By the way, I did not know until reading your blog that you write poetry. Is that your preferred form? I guess that is also something we share. I, too, would love to see something of yours. I am sending you the motherhood poem via email.

    • January 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      Thank you, I look forward to reading your piece.

  2. January 23, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    It is difficult when they are so little and can not understand. Even as they grow it is a challenge. The issues change. I am the mom in a blended family of 7. I have had my step daughters in my life since they were 4 and 5- 12 years later it is still a challenge. It is hard when they have to go for visits and brothers and sisters left behind may not understand and then the struggle as they grow older and feel divided love and loyality. One thing I know helped with our son when everyone would go off to their other homes and he was too little to understand was we made those weekends a special time with just us.

    • January 23, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. And I like your advice…spending that “special time”, which is often difficult to do with a full house, is important. These are words of honesty and encouragement and I thank you for visiting my blog and sharing. I wish you nothing but the best as you continue to love all your children through this.

  3. Brandi
    January 23, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Dionne, this is something we will have to deal with as well when our toddler (20 months) gets a little bit older. I can empathize with your sentiment. My problem has been more in dealing with my older son (11). He has two families he feels he needs to please and love equally. I think it can be a real burden to him. In addition, when there are problems in his other family, such as his father and step-mother having marital issues, I don’t know how to deal with that from our side. It is hard to watch him struggle with the decisions we have made.

    I love your honesty when you say, “sometimes as adults, we make decisions in our lives and don’t know or sometimes even care at the moment exactly how they will affect our children.” I actually just finished a poem about this very thing. The guilt of raising children when our own lives are in uproar is sometimes taboo and difficult to verbalize. As you imply, I also feel I carry the burden of my son dealing with decisions that I made as a young adult.

    • January 23, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Yes Brandi, I do know that is something we have in common and while we have only spoken briefly about it (a while ago), to hear you understanding where I am coming from reminds me that I am not alone in this walk. I really try to talk about these issues and present them honestly and somehow creatively so that we can take the taboo and try to open it up for discussion. It is difficult to be this vulnerable in my writing but for some reason there is something very freeing and worthwhile about the process. I do know that others understand what it’s like to “share” a child. But what you have also eloquently stated is that we don’t always know what that child is going through running back and forth between the two families that they love, care about, and feel deeply loyal to. I’m the first to admit that neither myself or either dad has this experience. All three of us (me and his two dads) come from two-parent households, so we have no idea what my seven-year-old is dealing with.

      It is hard-breaking all the way around and there are no do-overs in life are there? But…in terms of talking with younger siblings, it really is day to day, week to week. This past weekend was the first time our two-year-old was able to actually verbalize and question where his brother was. I know that he has noticed that he leaves every other week, but it wasn’t until this weekend that he innocently demanded an answer, an explanation, and that was new to us and totally unexpected. I think in these instances we are tempted to gloss over these things with our little ones, but I want to help our two-year-old understand slowly and carefully that we “share” Mason with his other family and he will come and go in our household but will be permanent in our hearts and in our family–and ultimately is always with us even if he is somewhere else temporarily (physically). Also, we don’t use the term “half-brother” or “step-dad”, we just say brother and dad. And eventually, I hope that our two-year-old will grow to understand that his big borther has two dads and that is just the way it is.

      This is very complicated and delicate, but I want to write about it because it gets us thinking about these matters of our lives in such real and honest ways. I thank you for sharing your story with me and I appreciate knowing that we are both trying to navigate this delicate terrain together.

      Can I ask you to share the title of that poem with me? I’m curious about it and would like to read it.

      Thanks Brandi,

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