Last month, Hope wrote a blog post about the first time she met my boys, and the subsequent journey that followed. I’ll never forget that day, it was filled with expectation and excitement, as well as some nervousness on my part. I watched as my boys met the woman who would end up becoming their stepmother. We didn’t know that would be the case at the time, but nonetheless, I wanted this first meeting to go well both for her and the boys. This was a meeting that Hope and I had discussed at length in the previous three months, deciding to wait until we knew there was something serious about our relationship before introducing the boys into the dynamic. I often tell people that I knew I was falling for Hope in the months leading up to this meeting, but the day she met my boys was the day I knew it was a forever kind of love. The following weekend cemented this for me. Allow me to explain…
She met the boys on Sunday, October 6th. About midway through the following Friday, October 12th, I received a call from my brother. He explained to me that our mother was getting ready to have emergency surgery to amputate her leg below the knee. From the tone in his voice, it was evident that I needed to make plans to get there. With my custody arrangement at the time the boys were with me every Friday through Monday. This meant that the boys would also be making the trip from North Carolina to West Virginia. I picked up the phone, called Hope to let her know what was going on, and asked her if she wanted to go. She didn’t hesitate (at least verbally). Yes, she would be going on this unplanned trip, both of us heading into a situation that was uncertain. With three boys that she had met only one week prior. Before we departed, with all three boys strapped in the back seat of my Nissan Xterra, I looked at Hope and said “You ready for this?” I was halfway joking, halfway not. In some way, I believe I was also asking for the long term, because I knew that how this weekend went would reveal some things about how things would go in the future. The pictures below this paragraph are from that weekend. The boys asleep on the way there, then spending time with Hope while I was at the hospital with my mom.
To direct this back to the point of this post, there is one thing that every divorced parent needs to determine before considering remarriage. You get a glimpse of someone’s character when they are placed under pressure or in an unfamiliar situation. That is exactly where Hope found herself on that weekend in October of 2012. She was with three boys that she had only met one other time. Three boys whose grandmother was in a very bad place with regards to her physical health. She was in a place she had never been. She had never met my Dad, yet she would be spending the weekend at his house without me around for the majority of that time, as I was at the hospital with my mom before and after the surgery. (My parents had divorced years ago but still lived in the same geographic area.) Hope displayed an amazing amount of poise and patience as we navigated that weekend. How that weekend played out was no surprise to me, I had seen her character long before we ended up on that unexpected trip. It did confirm that there was an obvious ability on her part to be along for the roller coaster ride that comes when you sign on to be the stepmother to three boys.
To provide some perspective, it is essential to rewind to an earlier time. I can’t type this blog from the perspective of an expert without sharing my failures. Before Hope and I met, I was in a relationship for about 6 months that was becoming serious. This relationship was moving along with no major issues until the children became a bigger part of it. As that happened, things began to surface that made me come to a point of decision. Despite my compatibility with her, I had complete peace when I decided to end that relationship, because I could tell that those things that surfaced were a sign of much bigger things to come.
What I learned from both scenarios is that as a divorced parent, when it is time to introduce the children into your new relationship, take special care with the hearts of those young ones that have been entrusted to you. It is one thing for your romantic interest to be compatible with you, but a completely different thing altogether for them to be compatible with you and your children. You must seek wisdom to see the things about that other person that could be detrimental to the raising of a child. If you’re still in the “warm and fuzzy” phase, the temptation is to try to explain or rationalize those things away by saying “it will all be fine once we’re a family.” Or “as the kids get older these issues will go away.” To be blunt (and to use a great hillbilly term), that is hogwash. Those issues that you see will only be magnified when placed into the crucible of a stepfamily. They will only get worse as you deal with the home of the other bio-parent and those weaknesses are exposed. Trust me, you’re better off walking away when you sense those things. They will not go away. The direction of your child’s life depends directly on the kind of person you choose to bring into their lives as a step-parent. There is no way to avoid this.
You must also seek wisdom to see the things about your romantic interest that are positive when it comes to raising children. It is a must, an absolute must, to talk about parenting styles before things get too serious. This is a good way to gauge their impact on the lives of your children. To succeed, you have to be on the same page about this before you even consider talking about marriage. You don’t need to seek perfection in that other person or perfection in your relationship. What you do need to seek is how to effectively resolve conflict between the two of you that involves the children. What you do need to do is to play out some difficult scenarios that could come up and see how the two of you would handle those situations. No, that doesn’t make for lovey-dovey dating conversation, but it is necessary if you even have remote thoughts of walking down the aisle with that person someday.
Our journey continues with its ups and downs, and I’ve learned numerous things along the way. One of my greatest joys is knowing that the trajectory of the lives of my three boys has been affected in a positive way because Hope has been along for this crazy ride. I can look back know and remember the things we considered when we were dating. We had no clue what we were getting into, and we knew we were going to get dirty. Just like any other blended family, we’ve had our fair share of tough days, but we’ve had plenty of amazing days to cherish. It is worth it all to be able to look at the lives of three young men and know that we considered their hearts long before this journey began.