What happens when you and your Exceptional Other aren’t the only considerations in your blossoming relationship? When your one-plus-one equals an immediate four (or five, if you count the on-the-periphery parent that helped make yours or your love’s children possible)?
When it comes to coupling the second time around even simple math can be tricky math…but it doesn’t have to be. Especially if we’re willing to lean on the openhearted bees in our hives who are equally willing to share their been-there-done-that-and-here’s-how-to-nail-it perspectives.
So in the spirit of this, our back-to-school issue (#FallIsTheNewNewYearAfterAll) comes a narrative from TJS Content Director Jen Chase that might not have been possible without TJS Co-Founder Marcella Williams’ gorgeous advice in her June editorial on blended families.
Two weeks ago, I posted that pic of my love Parker and me on Facebook with the following caption:
Who could’ve known that glances across a college acappella stage would lead to the love of my life. Anyone who questions life’s inexplicable tribulations: This.
(And…since hashtags make me laugh:)
As a stand-alone post it was a far cry from earth-shattering. Or so I thought. In my short 3 years on Facebook I’ve seen lots of folks post endearing pics of their significant others. At face value, I didn’t think mine would seem so special.
But it was.
It was, because just as I’d carefully tappa-tap-tapped out my post seated so paper-close to Parker you couldn’t have slipped a sheet of Dunder Mifflin between us, he thumbed his side of our story on his iPhone. And in the aftermath of digi-inking the carefully chosen words we read aloud to each other before becoming Facebook Official, we received a ton of likes and some of the kindest comments imaginable from friends and fam who supported this very public yet very technical announcement that we are in fact a couple.
(And.good.effing thing we went public when we did. Because being overshadowed? By these two overachievers? #CantCompeteWithJamKat.)
On the surface our pic looked like two goofs in love. But the reality behind the smiles and social media was that they represented nearly 20 months of balancing a relationship we’d kept on the down-low with some and out loud with others. The “others?” Folks we’d methodically chosen to unfurl our relationship with: mums, sisters, BFFs you can’t hide jack from, and a few who could tell at first blush that after our starts and stops with pivotal people in our former lives, we’d quite obviously found our personal holy grails.
But the “some” who’d had zero idea that Daddy was dating? Parker’s daughters, ages 8 and 5. And they’re the “some” who made our e-reveals so sweet, since we wrote them the night of the day Parker painstakingly curated as the day to say that while Jen’s fun in a pool, a sucker for a “spa day” and the maker of uplevelled almond milk…”she’s not my friend; she’s my girlfriend.”
While our future talks had been appropriately tempered with both #daydreaming and #HopeForTheBestPlanForTheWorsting (as only the formerly spoused, difficultly uncoupled can relate to), I’d been readying for my hopeful new role for a long time. From child development blogs and evil-doer step-parenting articles to my mind’s constant screening of Stepmom, being 42 and still (yet?) not having my own child has made me highly attuned to absorbing all I can about co-parenting kiddos who aren’t mine.
I’ve known I have the tools: former nanny; younger sis with several significant special needs. I dated a wonderful man with equally wonderful twins. I love children and know my proverbial mommy gene runs hot. But it’s never run hotter than during this relationship with the man I show daily, somehow, some way, that I was put on this earth to love him, admire him, respect him, and care for him. And, for his kids.
Don’t gag. Like most
grown-ass women little girls I’d fantasized about my future love. Wherever we went, harps were gonna play, haters were gonna hate and we were finally gonna hear what it sounds like when doves cry. It took about a decade of significant loss—a parent; a marriage; intimate friendships and relationships—but I was gifted. And he’s dreamy.
It didn’t take long to become hard AF to temper waiting to game out what I could already picture as our family-of-four’s future. That is, until the perspective of Marcella Williams.
(And for those who knew I’d get here eventually, thanks for sticking with.)
When I met Marcella in 2013 I admired her graceful juggle of life, independence, #mompreneurship, and deep commitment to motherhood. And like the attuned confidante she is, she listened and advised on the topics she could tell were important to me…suggesting I get tested to ensure me girly pipes are whistle-clean in case having a baby is in my future, and not to forget adoption and fostering. Yaknow. Just in case.
Marcella’s advice always insinuated that “knowledge is power,” and that partner or not, a woman’s future is in her own hands. When she learned Parker was my future and that he has two little girls, our convos deepened. A step-mum and a birth mum, she’s also helped her own step- and bio-kiddos navigate their relationship with their new step-mum, too. And when she spoke, I soaked in her best practices for navigating what one day would become my blended little family:
Be forgiving. Be thoughtful. Be grateful. Be respectful. Be kind. Be patient.
Followed by be patient. And more be patient.
You can actually read her editorial about blended families right here. I’ve read it, like, 20 times, because it typifies the kind of co-parent I want to be for and with Parker; for his girls; and alongside the girls’ mum whom I’ve yet to meet. And knowing I can only control my behavior, I feel deep peace in knowing that already in the young history of this growing foursome, Parker and I are committed to showering the girls with as much positivity as possible as we show them that the addition of someone in their life doesn’t subtract someone else. In fact, joy multiplies when we groan-ups remember those tenets above and kick our egos’ collective ass.
I’m beeyond grateful I have a true north for my step-parenting compass and that I received it from a beeautiful woman who was willing to open herself to help open me. Marcella is why I wanted to share this with you. You know. Just in case you need it. Because as we like to say around here at The TJS (wait for it), #ItTakesAHive.
In the last 20 months, building a relationship with the love of my life and preparing to co-parent beside him has at times broken my heart as much as it filled it. Lots of stealth tears. Intimate eyelid kisses. Pep talks. Kajillions of texts and memes to pave the way for it all to start coming together. And like Game of Thrones and killer pour-overs—#thingsworththewait—the girls’ well being had to come before our ache to spend more time together. It took faith. Lotsa fucking faith. Faith that wasn’t about staying positive until there was an outcome, but staying positive no matter the outcome.
And for us, the outcome’s still a-coming! We still live an hour and twenty apart but are committed to “more time together than not.” We’re super conscious of everyone’s need for Daddy Time (and the occasionally requested time with me…*blush*). And, we’re striving to see all sitches from all angles since we won’t be the only two parents in the game. But in this world that, in my opinion, views openheartedness as weakness—where success often means being tough, tired, busy, and worst of all, just a little bit hangry to get.shit.done—we vow to project love, and meeting each one of us exactly where we’re at. I want the girls to see Parker and me navigate our relationship and our corporation of four with genuine lightness, positivity, patience, faith, and respect. I want them to see us touch. Laugh. Kiss. Be silly. Be willing to drop everything for each another as fast as we’d drop it for them. I want them to see that I unabashedly love them. And when they’re old enough, I want them to understand it’s hella easy for people to profess love from proverbial rooftops (and for lotsa folks that works, so no judgment, Hunnies); but that in Daddy’s case, his forever keeping their best interest in mind and my implicit trust in him was the best and only path for us…20 months of waiting or not.
So many core relationship values go unlearned until the ink’s long dried on a divorce decree. But if we can model love for our kids from the get-go so they may learn to apply, appreciate, give, and demand love and respect from their first coupling or marriage, not their second or third, we groan-ups have a shot at changing what love looks like. In our case, now that the girls know Parker and I are a team, they’re finally getting to see what I’ve known since my reconnecting with their father 18 years after we first met singing at Wheaton College (the one in Massachusetts): I was made for him, and he was made for me.
So were they.