When people speak of the joy of kids, they talk of the "little footprints they leave on your heart". People talk openly about giving birth, or adopting the child they were meant to love. You hear people talk about the "perfect" family they hope to have one day. I remember talking with my friends about how many babies I would give birth to, and how many babies I would adopt, after I married the perfect husband that God had been crafting just for me. We would all live happily-ever-after.
I married my first husband at the age of 24, and when I did, I gained my first daughter. Jasmin was 2 years old when I met her dad, and 4 years old when I married them. I had my happy little family, through non-traditional means. We would continue to grow our family when I gave birth to Jasmin's 2 little sisters. Happily-ever-after was not meant to be for all of us as ONE family, however.
When I became Jasmin's Bonus-Mom there were struggles. Family members struggles with my new role in her life. There was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to others now, not just to Jasmin and her dad. I was 24 years old with no bio children. While I jumped right in to the parent role with ease (preschool pick-up and drop-off, play dates, clothes shopping, bedtime stories, kissing boos, holding barf buckets, etc.) there were the emotions which I was not prepared for. There isn't a book on how to be the most amazing step-parent. I hate the word "Step".
No one tells you that you will become the cement that holds EVERYTHING together if you are open and willing to be. You become the parent that makes the plans to bring all the parents together. You have your step-daughter's mother there for holidays. You buy her bio-mom flowers on Mother's Day, and gifts on holidays, yet you are the mother that is often overlooked, and you have to be OK with that. You have to be OK with handing over your "Step child" on Mother's Day to their Bio Mom, then spending the whole day with a hole in your heart. No one prepares you for that.
When others do not treat your bonus child/step child as if they are equal to your bio children, it hurts you, because you know it hurts them, and because you see all of your children as YOURS. Jasmin kept her distance from Joe's family, because she instantly felt that if I remarried, a new family would not accept her as my child. She didn't want to get attached, to feel a desire to be a part of a family, and then not feel the same amount of love in return. She has heard others in the past speak of her sisters as "my daughters" leaving her off the list. Nothing hurts more than knowing your child is feeling pain, and feeling fear. Joe and I have made it clear, that she is my daughter, and always will be. When asked about our children, she is always the first on the list.
She struggles with explaining who I am in her life. I am one of the mothers who raised her, but am no longer married to her dad. I am her Bonus Mom. I feel guilty that she has so much weight on her shoulders.
I went through my divorce from my daughters' father. The first year after, Jasmin lived with me (not her dad, or birth mother, but me). I felt happy and I felt balanced having all 3 of my girls under my roof. Jasmin made the decision to try living with her father when I moved from one town, to the town in which I now live with my husband Joe. Jasmin choosing to live 20 minutes away with her dad has been extremely difficult. Jasmin became very busy with cheer, with dance, with work, and with volunteering. She would miss weekends with me, and then months with me. I felt a big part of me dying inside.
When you love a child as if they were your own, and then suddenly they are not there to cuddle with every night at bedtime, your heart begins to break. Joe continues to hold me at night, when I breakdown, when I can no longer hold back the tears, and the pain takes over. I do not know how to explain the pain. People will tell me to just hang on, because in a few years, when she has coplete freedom, I will be there parent she comes to. They don't understand how much it hurts to be missing these past 2 years. A family vacation does not feel like a vacation with her not there. You constantly think, "Jasmin would love this" or you are thinking in that back of your mind how much you miss her. Life is not complete without Jasmin.
I was the mom that planned the play dates. I was the one who knew everything first. I was the parent that drove her to events, and made sure she had spending money in her pocket. Now I am the mom that knows nothing. I am the last person to know anything happening in her life. It feels like continuous stab wounds to the heart. At times it feels as if someone is crushing your chest. You find yourself sobbing until there are no more tears, and you feel as if you are going to vomit.
When Jasmin is here, I still tuck her in. She is 17 years old, and a senior in high school, but she still gets goodnight hugs and kisses. She is never here enough. I pray that the hours will drag on, and that she will never leave these four walls. I pray for another hour to talk to her. I pray for more cuddles on the couch. I pray for one more sniff of her hair. I want to breathe her in.
Now I also have Joseph in my world. He is my step-son, sandwiched right between my two younger daughters in age. I am once again the parent that keeps communication flowing, inviting his bio mom to holidays, and his mom's parents to birthday dinners (his mom and her parents are not communicating at this time). I am the one that is there to offer a "hello hug" to Joseph's mom, making sure she feels welcome. I am the one that has to watch as her only boy walks out the door on Mother's Day to spend the day with the woman who gave birth to him, but I still love him just as much as she does. I am the parent that will buy and wash the clothes that he will pack to take on trips with his bio mom.
I hide the tears I shed when it comes to Joseph. At times I do not want Joe to know my pain. I came into Joseph's life when he was at an older age than Jasmin was when I came in to hers. The "I Love You's" don't flow as easily from a young man's mouth. There are moments when he doesn't mean to hurt me, but he does. There are moments when wish there was a way to get him to understand that I realize he was a victim of his parent's divorce, but I was not the cause, nor am I the enemy. He love me. But as long as I am in the picture, in his mind, there is no hope of his parents EVER getting back together again. I am a wall. When he hurts me I go off and I cry alone. It isn't Joseph's fault he has so many pent up feelings.
The other day, however, I got to thinking. We want to know as parents that our kids realize how much we love them. We want them to look back and see all that we did for them, because we love them. And while Joseph and Jasmin have not always openly said it, I know they feel my love. How?
When Jasmin has been put in tough spots, the moments when she really really needs her parent, I am the one she calls. When Jasmin is scared, she calls me. When Jasmin is not feeling safe, and she needs to be picked-up, she has always called me first. She knows I will be there. This tells me that she feels my love for her. She knows she is a priority in my life.
As for Joseph, there was a little moment that got me thinking. You see, last week Joseph needed binder dividers for school. Joseph came to me. It was just, "Elisa, I need 8 binder dividers for school", but it held so much more than that. It was,"you are the parent that I can go to for this". I am not able to move mountains for him. I am not able to be a huge role in many parts of his life, but I am able to do the little things moms do. I am able to buy him new pants when he has grown. I am able to buy him the new shirts he really, really wants for the summer. I am the one who can cook him his favorite meal for dinner, remembering the stuffing as a side. I am the one he can explain a situation to, before he talks to his dad, helping him find the right words. I am the one that tucks him in each and every night in the exact same manner that I tuck in each of our daughters. I am the one that refers to him as my son, when I could very easily say "step son", but I feel that there is no "step" in our family.
I am the one that will teach him to use wrenches and socket wrenches to work on the handle of the lawn mower. I am also the parent that just spent the last few days with Joseph, gathering poster boards for his project for school, printing off pictures of him with his mother (and the rest of us), and discussing the outline for the project. He has had this assignment for over a week. I also am the parent that stood there smiling, as he described the project to his mother, as she forgot about it ( it is a collage about him), and she said, "let's go home and think about how WE want to do it. Let's go to Walmart and look at all the photos that are on my phone". It made me feel insignificant once again, but I am the parent that will swallow it down, and step back. I am the Bonus parent.
I am the "over looked parent" but I am also a parent my kids know they can depend on. I am a parent that will always be there when they need me, whether it be for something as small as sewing on a button, or something as large as running across the country to rescue them if something were to ever happen to them in the future. I am the parent that says "There is no STEP in our family description", and I mean it. I give it my all to all of them every day. Just as Joe gives his all to our daughters and son.
Being the Bonus Parent is the hardest job there is!! I will never step back from my Bonus Children. With me, they have a life long parent they can depend on, even if I didn't grow them in my tummy. I grew all of my children in my heart.
I have to take baby steps with my Bonus Children, sometimes walking on egg shells, and always thinking before I speak.
I may have missed their first steps, and their first words (We wont even get in to how much it hurts to not have those moments and memories with them) but the moments we have now, leave big footprints on my heart.
Joe and I with out blended family. Est. August 2016.