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Monday, October 20, 2014

Confession of a Weekend Stepmom

Of all the many things my mom has been worrying about me, her greatest uneasiness was when I choose to marry my (then) boyfriend. Not only that my husband is divorced (which is considered a bad trait in Indonesia, if he could divorced once he could divorced again), he also a father of two children. With two different mothers. In two different states. "It will be very difficult for you," my mom said one time, trying to made me come to my sense. I was adamant though. To me, his previous failed relationships are proofs on how badly he wanted it to work, how badly he wanted a solid relationship. If anything, his dedication towards his two children showed his real worth, and I liked what I saw. I was all too ready to give him what he wants, to make 'us' work. As for his children, I really wasn't calculating much. They are with their moms, and the only responsibilities I have for them is merely on the weekends, even then I would only be an aide for my husband. It's not  like I was going to be their stepmother or anything.

My mom, bless her soul, was right. It wasn't easy being 'the other woman'. Even though he has been divorced and was not in relationship for some years, the mothers of his children were still prominent in his life mainly because he needs to constantly communicate with them regarding the children. I was fully aware that they have been a part of his life for a longer time that I have been, with their own stories and intimacies and griefs. I accept that, yet at times I still feel sad and jealous that I am not the only one that 'owned' him, that I have to share him with the mothers. Even with his constant reassurance, the ugly me still doesn't want to share. And it cannot be helped. The mothers opinions and requests are considered and even contributes to decision making between me and my husband since they are the one with the children, including decisions about daddy-time and money. Sometimes it gets so intense that I feel as if they are living in the same house as we are; that I am not only marrying my husband and his children, but also his exes at the same time. His rant and sadness when the mothers give him a hard time regarding the children, just as the pictures of him and his e-wife and their child hanging in his family's house, they are a constant reminder that there is a part of his life that is not mine. Which is only natural, I keep telling myself, even twins don't always share the same life. That doesn't stop my heart from aching occasionally, or quenched the fire of jealousy that sometimes rage in me.

You might think that I would treat the children with indifference, and you are quite right. At first, I did treat them with indifference, that is I positioned myself as a spectator and let the daddy did all the work. It was a decision made not because I hate the children, but because I don't know what to do with them. I was so worried that, since I grew up in foreign country and was unfamiliar with US parenting type, I would 'handle' them incorrectly and infuriate the mothers which then can lead to them giving my husband more difficulties to meet the children. I would asked my husband for the littlest detail regarding the youngest child: "Can I give this? Can I do that? What should I do?" to the point that he started to think I was too passive and unable to make my own decision. As for the eldest child, I tried to look as distanced as possible with my husband because I didn't want her to feel I took her daddy away from her. I did not dare to scold or be strict with any of them, when I felt they are over the line I would tell my husband and let him do the disciplining and such. We only have them for weekends anyway, what's the point of trying to 'better' them if it's only going to be unraveled during the next 5 days?

That was what I thought. I couldn't do it though. I come from a big family and I have seen my mum rearing my younger siblings (and then rearing my nephews) since I was twelve years old. If there is anything that I am proudest about my mom, that would be how good we've all become. All of us (my nephews included) are sharp, problem solvers, strong minded, and full of love and kindness; everyday is an adventure for us and we all have a pretty satisfying life. This might just be in the gene, but I suspect it is because we are copying our (grand)mom's own strength and her view of life. She let us be what we want to be, and only interfere when she think it is necessary to, all while letting us know that she is there for us. This is the kind of life that I know and love, and eventually this is the kind of life I encouraged my students to have when I work as an English teacher: "Go out there and enjoy the world, never fear because I am always here for you." It makes a whole lot of difference in their confidence and how they see the world. This belief, and the fact that my husband's children are roughly the same age as my nephews, make it difficult for me to turn blind eye and pretend I don't care. Little by little I began to be more involved in the weekend parenting. 

I shared the joy of new discoveries with the children since I am too a newcomer in this (part of the) world; this include food, museums, trains and buses, and all the weird and wonderful things this world has to offer. I explained them things like why some objects (fan, fire, electricity) can be dangerous, why they have to clean up their toys, why they should be considerate to people's feeling, or why they should try new things; because I want them to understand the whys instead of following the order. I gave them love and affection when they wanted it, always so careful to not trespass their privacy or touch them when they just want to be left alone, but letting them know that I will be there for them when they need me. What began as an effort to help my husband with the children grow into an effort to help the children get the best of their childhood years. I don't even consider myself as a stepmother. Just because I am married to the father doesn't mean I would instantly become the mother. Only the real mother, in my opinion, deserve that badge of honor. The reason why I am here with them is because everyone can and deserves to be happy, and I wanted them to know that and preserve that thought in their mind. It is a cruel world out there, and children's sense of adventure and happiness are the sword and shield that will enable them to slay the dragons of wickedness and the hydra of despairs in order to find their happily ever after. And I wanted them to know that they are precious, that they are worthy; because self confidence without looking down to others is the most important thing a person could have. I wanted them to be someone who love their own life, and be joyous of it. 

Granted, this is not always easy. There are times when I just need to have a time out and let my husband deal with the child(ren). There are times when I get annoyed with their behavior and attitude, which is not only because of different rules and upbringing at their mothers' but also because children can be really annoying at times. There are times when I asked myself, "Why am I doing this?" or "This is not even my children! I don't even share a drop of blood with them!". I never let it out in front of the children though. My mom had taught me that the most selfish thing you could do to children is letting them see your tears and ugly emotion. It makes the children unrest and insecure and helpless. It is not the children's fault that life can be very tiring and very emotional for their parents; especially since it's not even their decision to be here in this world, it is their parents' decisions. As I read this paragraph, I realize I sounded like a really horrible stepmother/dad's wife, and I am half convinced that if the mothers ever read this article they won't allow the children to be with me anymore. But if you are a parent, a biological dad and/or mom, don't you also feel this way sometimes with your children? The tiredness, the need for 'time out', the annoyance, the denial and exasperation ("Why do I even have this kid(s)?!"), aren't those a part of being a parent?

More than a year has passed since I first entered their life, and they have changed mine. Weekends are something that I look forward to, since it means we will have our adventures together. I look forward to hear their happy laughter and to see the awe in their face as we present them with the little wonders of the world. I look forward to hold them in my arms or at least to tickle them and run my fingers through their hair. Children's little bodies are amazing vessels of love: they are created from love and they can accept, and equally gives out, a limitless amount of love. Anyone who love children with agree that being with children is like getting a fuzzy-rainbow-colored love recharge. The feeling will get duller as the child grew older and more mature, as they would lose their childhood wonder and take a more defensive/aggressive stance against the world in order to protect themselves, even if deep down inside they are still only a scared little child (aren't we all?). This threat of teenage angst (and adult madness) is the more reason why I want to give the best for my husband's children. Looking at them now, I realize how precious they are to me. Whenever I see the mothers' face/physical characteristic in their face, instead of the usual fiery jealousy I feel a strong desire to protect them. They are made from my husband's love and pure intention. I wish, I really wish it would work well with the mothers, so they (or at least one of them) can have the beneficial effect of a real family without the hassle of weekend commutes. Since it is not possible, all my husband and I could do is love them and care for them as good as we can during the short hours we are together, to show that them love and happiness and fun are attainable, and to prevent them from making the same mistakes and going through the same hardship and sadness that me and my husband has to go through before we are finally together. At this point, I couldn't care less about their mothers. The children's little hands and bright smile has killed that monster in me, and made me and my husband loved each other even more. To this, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

I have always thought that would be the end of it. I always thought for them I am 'daddy's wife', or 'daddy's sidekick', a cool person that always care for dad and always in for a good (and silly) time. Yet a couple of weeks ago my husband's youngest child rushed from his playroom to the kitchen to asked my husband: "Daddy daddy, where is my Ibu?". We did teach him to call me Ibu, which means mom or older woman in Indonesia language, since he is too small to call anyone by first name only; but we did not teach him the 'my' part, it is his own preference to think I am 'his' and that I am a part of his world. And last weekend his oldest child demand to sleep in my arms instead of with him and told me "You look like mommy" with adoration and love in her eyes, which is, to me, the highest compliment a child could give to a woman who is not his/her biological mother. Their acceptance and love, given to me when I didn't expect nor request any, is my own badge of honor. Time will come when the childhood wonder wanes, when the grief of real world take charge of these innocent children, and when we have to face each other as adults. When that time comes, I just want both you to know: Me and Daddy love you very very much, kiddos.  

1 comment:

  1. kata kata seorang Ibu entah mengapa selalu benar ya. Keep fighting sis! i know you can do it


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