When I met my husband, Shaun, he was charming, funny and crazy; crazy enough to propose to me the first time he met me, jokingly of course. It is true though, he got down on one knee and asked if I would go on a date with him that night – I laughingly said, “Yes, only if you don’t have children” – because I did not like children. He then stood up and told me how great that night was going to be, but not before he looked me in the eye and said, “Oh you love children!”, and with that he walked away. I thought nothing of that little remark. Little did I know at the time, and I would find out soon enough, that he had a son from a previous marriage. When he did tell me that night I was actually fine with it, under the condition that I would not meet this child. I did not want to. I was 22, I had no love for kids whatsoever; I was not around kids very often. I was not interested in meeting this child. Seriously, none. Not that I disliked him specifically, I just wasn’t interested in spending time with kids.
Let’s jump to a week later, when Shaun was supposed to visit me for lunch at work. He came with a tiny, blonde-haired, 2 year old, little muppet behind him. I was not expecting that. I had no warning of it. I was just faced with it. The excuse was that he had to pick him up last minute and that he had nowhere else to go and he did not want to cancel lunch. I wasn’t angry. I went with it. The kid was cute. I played with him. I was fine. It wasn’t too bad actually; it was easier than I thought it would be to spend time with him and his son. Shaun and the ex-wife shared custody, approximately half the week each so I knew that the little one was around quite often. After meeting him once, I guess we had broken the ice, and since I had responded so well to meeting the little one, I didn’t feel like there was any reason not to hang out with Shaun and him on the days he was over.
What I didn’t expect was the very forward meeting I was going to have with his mother, when she obviously wanted to meet me because I was hanging out with her child. That was completely understandable. But now that I look back at it, and the nature of women – or maybe it was just the two of us – there was a slight stand off happening there. And I was young and inexperienced with these things. I mean, I had never had to meet an ex before, and she sure hadn’t had to meet the new girlfriend before either. We were both new to it and that first meeting…well, the fireworks weren’t exactly pretty.
She was his mum. She was fierce, determined, and stringent on her rules. I was young, spontaneous, fun and enjoying my new relationship. The little one was enjoying both of us. Shaun and I grew quite close quickly. Before we knew it, I was helping with the pickup from child care and babysitting and all was cosy and well. And once again, now I see it but back then I did not; I was treading on her toes. Putting myself in her shoes now, I would hate it. I would totally dislike this new woman –considerably younger than me – coming in and acting boss. Now, I wasn’t acting boss, I was trying my best to play by her rules. But I was, and still am, a strong personality and I don’t doubt my sense of right and wrong, and I don’t hesitate on acting on it. But now I see how I may have come off as very threatening and almost rebellious towards her. I wasn’t, but we weren’t exactly the best judges of character back then. There was too much emotion involved. She was trying to protect her territory, and I mine. We were both trying very hard.
The first time she invited me into her home, to allow me to be part of the discussion about the little one’s future, I should have kept my mouth more shut than I did. She was obviously doing something very nice, and it was a huge gesture. I see that now. It was huge for me too. I did not want to be a part of that but I went along for Shaun’s sake. But I couldn’t keep my sense of right and wrong to myself, I had to stand up for myself and Shaun when I felt we were being wronged. I can’t tell you for sure if we were all acting out of spite, or if we were hurt, but I know that a lot of things were being questioned that night. It didn’t end well. My involvement did nothing but fuel the fire. The hate really brewed then. If I were in the same boat now things would have been different. I would have said things differently. But back then, I didn’t know, nor did I realise, and neither did she; we were both in a hard place.
The hate took over everything. The relationship between her and Shaun which was civil before me was ruined. She didn’t like me. Phone conversations between all of us would turn into screaming matches and texts would become essays filled with pure hatred, loathing and insults. The stress level was immense. Everybody was feeling it. By now, even the little one was feeling it. Important questions about divorce arose; he wanted to understand why and how and whose fault it was, and what his place was in all of this. This was all over a few years so in that time, Shaun and I had gotten married and were living together. And she was also in a relationship, soon to be married. The little one had now spent a few years with all of this, enough to hear the quarrels, understand the different ways of life in both households and feel the animosity between the two sets of parents – no matter how hard we tried to keep him out of it. It was hard to ignore that he knew what was going on. Yet throughout our differences, I never felt like I needed to treat him any differently. When he was home, he was our top priority. But for me, it was also hard knowing that I was doing all I could for this child, who wasn’t my own, who I didn’t have any claim to, and still could not get his mother’s approval or appreciation. From her perspective I am not sure what it was, but I am sure it was hard watching another woman play house with her child. I know I would hate it.
As time went on, the little one started going to school. It became hard to ignore that birthday parties were different without school friends, and it was hard to face the disappointment when we weren’t welcome to his birthday party with his school friends. No matter how much we tried, the relationship between her and I was getting in the way of his happiness. By this time, we were not on speaking terms. We corresponded strictly through email and it was strictly business. Every time I saw her name pop up in my notifications I was anxious, I was nervous, and it wasn’t healthy. I think both of us were just waiting for someone to call it quits. Or call a truce. Something. Someone needed to extend that olive branch. I don’t think I was too proud, I think I had a fear of rejection from her. Thus far, I hadn’t received any validation from her that I was doing an okay job with him; that I wasn’t that bad after all. I don’t know if I even knew back then that’s what I wanted. I don’t know if I needed it. But I’m sure that I would have appreciated it. But she was probably seeking something from me as well, I don’t know, we never spoke of it. Maybe she didn’t need anything, maybe all she needed was time to get used to the idea of me. Who knows now!
It was only when I was pregnant that something clicked for me. And it wasn’t the hormones; I don’t think so at least. Growing up I loved having siblings. We have the best memories. And I wanted that for my unborn child. I wanted to make sure he (yes, he is a he now) would have the best memories to look back on with his brother. So I finally picked up that pride, shoved it in the back of the linen cupboard and sent her an email. It may not have been heartfelt, I can’t remember exactly. We were too strong to discuss emotion or maybe we were too stubborn, the both of us. I spoke with logic. I spoke with the best interests of the little one in mind. I spoke about the relationship that I want my child to have with hers. I spoke about her future children and the relationship he is going to want to have with all his siblings. I spoke about the importance of him being surrounded by EVERYONE he loves in his special moments. I spoke about a truce. I spoke about new beginnings. I spoke about moving forward.
A few years on, we both have a not-so-little one, we both have a child each of our own, and we both are able to have lunches and dinners together a few times a year. We manage to converse about the issues associated with raising him, we are able to joke, we are able to be there for him and each other, and we are able to actually, effectively co-parent this child. In this journey – and I am not sure about her – but I have learnt a lot about myself and my abilities to love and raise another child, to put differences aside, and the capacity at which my actions outweigh my intentions. I have also learnt that I will always be someone the little one loves, and I need to put that before my relationship with his mother. We may not be friends – her and I – but we made it. We made it.