what i learned as the invisible parent: a conversation with a fellow parent

“So how are things these days,” she says. And she is sincere in the question. So I talk to her.

Some things are amazing, wonderful, even nearly unreal and euphoric. Sure, it’s a tough time for us all these days– but the truth is my life is better for the quarantine than it was even before.

And my life wasn’t exactly thorny and desolate pre-Covid (I had just returned from a literal world trip. Actually slightly nervous I might have been exposed on the journey, but thankfully, no.) And one of those is that the munchkins get to live with us half the time (why not, learning is remote, anyway).

And then the inevitable comes up…

“I could never do it. I don’t know how you manage,” her tone reflects both pity and envy. And almost…wonder?

I hear that a lot in my somewhat unusual life choices. “I could never do it.” Not just choosing to be a stepparent, but living a poly or M/s 24/7 lifestyle. Not necessarily to me personally, but it’s part of the conversation and rhetoric around me. And it’s true, raising a non biological child– let alone MORE than one!- isn’t something anyone could do. It takes a patience and a self assurance that not everyone possesses. My friend, too, knows how difficult their mother is being right now.

But she doesn’t see everything…

I reply, “Well, yes, it gets hard. I deal with a nasty ‘baby momma’ and seemingly endless court battles. But in many ways, it’s no different from the challenges you face. Maybe you have a nasty mother-in-law who is constantly undermining you with the kids. Or there’s that group of judgy moms at the school who exclude you in so many subtle, but hurtful ways. And, unlike me, you don’t get to drag your mother-in-law to court and get them to make her do what you want. It’s expensive and a hassle– but it’s effective. Guess who’s doing half the driving for the kids now?”

But also, I get recognitions you never will. You are expected to do things that I am not (and it’s the same amount of work, but I get credit). I get thanked in near countless ways. I often do it ‘on my own,’ as in I do not know a lot of folk in my position that truly enjoy it, but my village? My support? They are numerous and enthusiastic.” And something else, which I will do my best to explain.

I get children that CHOOSE to love me.

So I tell her, “You see, my munchkins have to fight to love me. They risk being glares, yelling, being punished for months on end…just to have me with them on one of their special days. Just to have me in their lives, sharing moments with them.

Every single hug, kiss, soft expression of ‘I love you’ holds a weight to it, one that isn’t attached to someone you can love freely. You heard “I love you” sooner and more often than I did, yes, but for them to say it to me took a strength beyond what any adult, much less child, should be asked. For them to break past the disloyal feelings of “I’m worried if I love you, it will hurt my mommy.”

Every day I wonder, a little more than most, do they really love me? Yet every day, when I see them do something for me. When they hug me or say, “I love you, too!” and I know that nobody is pressing them to do that. Especially when they do so publicly, as a small act of defiance. Because that’s what it is. Rebellion for a greater cause.

But it’s different for you.

You’ve always had it given to you, which is wonderful, of course, but I know how love works. I know how the brain works, and, somehow, when we are freely given love, we actually get more worried. Do they really love me? Do they mean it? After all, so many will tell us “I love you,” very quickly–but just because they are trying to take advantage or use us in some way. So, even if those gestures flood us with warmth, a tiny niggling part of our brain says, ‘Do they mean it?’

And, of course, I feel the same even with my munchkins! I worry if they mean it, just like I worry about every single person who ever said they loved me. No matter what they say or do…or how long they keep it up. You know? No matter how much, say, our girlfriend or husband or master tells us, “I love you,” some days our brains tell us they don’t mean it at all. That we’re wholly and utterly unloveable.

But that doubt is tempered by constant, consistent reassurance.

I get daily little emotional boosts with my little ones that most mothers do not. And it helps when I get insecure, sure, but reason tells me, ‘Why would they lie? Why would they fake it, when loving me means they have to put up with so much crap? So much guilt and day to day hassles? When they know all they have to do is so, I don’t want you around, and I’d be gone?

What…are they just doing this as some elaborate ten year, lifetime plot to secretly jump out and say, ‘Hah! Fooled you. I only was nice to you for ten years so that I could really…uhhh…shock you! Bet you feel like an idiot now, huh?” Yes, I’m the idiot. The one that accepted love for a decade and lived this great life, while you spent it plotting to achieve a fleeting moment of smug victory. So, yeah, I sort of have reasons to not doubt that love.

I wish I could share that feeling with you, because I’m sure your kids love you just as deeply. But I can’t. Anymore than I can convince you that the rest of the people you feel are obligated to love you (they aren’t, but that’s how you feel some days) really DO love you. Because you can always say, well, they have to love me. They’re my mom/my dad/my siblings/my partner.

“So knowing makes it all worthwhile?”

I would like to say, yes. I like knowing. Except some days, I don’t want an objective third party with professional credentials telling me I’m an “angel.” I just want normal love and recognition and appreciation (which admittedly is almost none.). I don’t need to be the supermom. I just want to feel normal. Just go to a parent teacher meeting or have lunch with the kid at some stupid school event.

You know, you can have it all. But you can’t have it all with EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. So the truth is I’m supremely grateful for what I have with my munchkins. And maybe I’ll have that normal relationship with a child one day– but I won’t have the things I get in this special, unique relationship with the children I have now.

And I guess that’s okay. Because I’ll have new special things with the child that grows up calling me mama.

Tonight, this evening when the kids are rummaging through the house doing their things, I think about all of this. Reflect on this conversation I’ve had time and time again– but I never responded like this, but usually more of a “Well, you know it has it’s perks.” And how I wish I had the courage or confidence or whatever to say all of what I said here. Because what I get from my munchkins is incredible, and I deserve to be able to say it all.

And then one of them wanders into my room to use my facilities and brings me back to reality. I open my mouth, but all that comes out is,

“You know you have your own bathroom that works now, right?”

fear of being you, the

“What about this theory: the fear of not being enough and the fear of being ‘too much’ are exactly the same fear. The fear of being you.” – Nayyirah Waheed

As I sit and begin to wake up this morning (no, too early for me for coffee or any solid food), I come across this quote. It’s probably true, too, whatever way we swing on the pendulum. Some of us worry about not being enough. Others about being too overwhelming. Some of us manage both at once!

I am not afraid of being me.

I’m…annoyed some days. I wish I knew more. Could adult better. Could do anything better! I’m peeved by the little pain in my finger, or the ever so slight off feeling under my left breast, or the chronic pains in the rest of my otherwise quite lovely body.

But I am not afraid. I complain about myself, yes. I neg my own qualities. I’m not good enough/strong enough/smart enough/pretty enough/whatever enough. I am trying to be better at this, but I slip up. A lot.

Because, you see, that really is the secret of life.

You do well, you mess up. You get something oh so perfectly; and then you totally lose it. Life is a series of problems. You solve some, you don’t solve others. There’s another quote, attributed to Winston Churchill,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

I believe that I am doing my best.

Sure, some will hold your failures against you for the rest of your life (no, they really will!). Some will, conversely, hold your successes as your end all and be all. The latter are kinder, but both, ultimately, are just as wrong.

So, this morning, I’ll remember this. I’ll think about just how good a friend I was the other day. What a perfect mommy I was when kid was scared and upset yesterday. How I didn’t lose my cool once.

Because some days I mess up. The day before I had, just a little, and the kid started crying because they thought they were such a bad person for breaking something of mine).

But yesterday, I didn’t mess up.

Yesterday, I was perfect. I won’t be perfect everyday. I am going to try to be, today, because it’s nice to be on a roll. I will do my chores; do my work; figure out a few puzzle pieces; make a perfect dinner; get everyone to bed; make sure master is taken care of before falling asleep (goddamn it, I didn’t do THAT this morning, oh, well, streak over! But the REST of the day I will be perfect!)

…so I guess what I’m saying is I’m okay. And so are you 🙂

we teach our children to love..and we teach our children to hate

Something I saw from a friend,

We teach our littles to be strong, we teach them to be brave, we teach them to get up when they fall and never give up on something they want. But there is a moment, it’s coming for all of us, where they walk confidently away from you. They will walk bravely forward and they won’t look back to you for reassurance.

Author Undisclosed

And, oh, we do! Even when we think they aren’t watching us, they are observing all the little details. They are mimicking us, trying to figure out what they are supposed to do by doing what we do. And they learn from us. But, momma or papa, please remember this,

We teach them to love, but we also teach them anger, fear, and hate.

Children are not born hateful, prejudiced, or broken. They want to love, they want to think the best of those who take care of them. But they all too quickly learn to be petty, angry, and hurtful…and they grow up to pass those traits to their own children.

When we scream at them, they learn to respond in anger. When we scream at our partners, they learn that this is acceptable. When we punish them, they learn to expect punishments for making mistakes.

They won’t always say something. They won’t often say anything. But they remember everything. And, as time passes, they’ll say less and less, and we’ll say, “Oh, what a bad child! There’s nothing we could have done.” Maybe that’s even true.

And it’s not only our words to which they listen. “Mom says I’m a failure.” “She wouldn’t say that.” “No, but I heard it in her tone.” And that’s what they remember. The tone. The message conveyed, more than the message spoken. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” is only too true for children.

We think they are not listening, sometimes, but they are always listening. To our worst, as well as our best.

But, please, do not berate yourself, but rather be aware.

What you say, what you do? It matters. Always. There is never a moment, for better or worse, when your child does not look up to you. Does not listen to you and follow you.

I believe our first duty, as parents, is not to worry if we’ve made them a healthy, color coordinated Pinterest meal every night (yes, do your best, of course, but hey, a pizza night once a week will kill nobody!), but to strive to model the behavior we want them to have for themselves. Because we will fail at times, we will mess up. But the more we try, the more they will learn to try as well.

So, ask yourself, please. What are they hearing? What are they seeing? The good, the bad, and the ugly. What are you showing them? Because one day they will grow up to be “just like you.” Ask yourself,

What kind of person will that be?

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

how to be a great parent AND a fantastic partner

“[My] kids come first in everything…We live and breathe for our children. When they are grown and have families of their own then we will have our time together again….No exceptions. I love my children far more than I love my husband!”

“We raise our children to become independent, to leave us and make their own lives. If we wish to have a life with our spouse after the children leave? We have to put the marriage first, nurture it. So there will continue to be a marriage when they move on.”

“No babysitters. Our children are TOP priority and we haven’t been on a real date since before our oldest was born. It’s rough but it’s our reality. And neither one of us trust just anybody with our children.”

I read this article, “Put your spouse first, kids second!” The article claimed this to be the way to ensure a happy family and marriage.

Of course not everyone agreed. Some vehmently objected and said their kids always came first! Others said, yes, if you don’t take care of your spouse- the one who will be there for you when the kids are gone- you will end up with nothing. Most took one side or the other.

I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that not everyone lives this way, because, well,

What about the crazy idea that you put both (kids and spouse/partner/insert any other appropriate relationship title) first?

Is it truly that hard? I understand for some it can be…they don’t want to put one above the other, but they don’t always know how to make it happen.

Some parents do understand this, of course.

I’m currently trying to balance this in my own marriage. After we had kids i feel like we kinda forgot there was an us first. My first child was always there (she was 2 when we started seeing each other) but after we had our son our marriage kinda got put on hold. We had to take a step back and remember WE were important too!”

Facebook commenter

I’m tired of the idea that it needs to be a competition between spouse and kids.

I don’t want that life. I didn’t agree with the person who said that they never went on a date, because they had to be with their kids every second. Or the person who said you had to put marriage first. Their argument being that kids would grow up and leave, but the marriage would always be there. Because parents need date nights and an identity that isn’t being a parent. And kids need attention, too.

I’d like to propose a modest solution: find a way to put the FAMILY first.

Which includes YOU as part of the family. I have no intention of my kids growing up and leaving me, anymore than I left my parents when I left my family home. Of course I’d want our kids to be independent and living on their own– but I don’t want them gone! I am still there for my parents on a near weekly basis. So, no, I won’t find myself in the position of having my kids gone and only my spouse left.

I don’t think you should choose kids now, spouse later OR spouse first, because kids will leave, spouse will stay. I think you should have date nights and be there for your kids. Take care of everyone’s needs and wants, as well as your own (theoretically your spouse and even, to an extent, your children, are doing the same for you; it’s not just you giving and everyone else taking).

There must be a way to live that doesn’t make either feel “second place.”

Because that’s what I have with my partner and family. And I wouldn’t ask anyone else to accept less.

I’ve always felt lucky in that my primary partner has always made me feel valued and prioritized in our relationship, not despite, but because of the fact we have kids that we are raising together.

And to be quite frank, while it is hard work, I don’t think it’s any harder than trying to make your spouse happy at expense of children (or vice versa.) Having a family and raising kids? It’s hard. But that doesn’t mean it has to be painful and miserable. (And if you want an easier life, which is PERFECTLY fine, don’t have kids! It’s avoidable these days, and if you are unable to access these options, CONTACT ME and I WILL help you! You do not have to be a mother unless you want it! I cannot entirely say this about fathers, so please be smart about this!)

What if life was more like this?

“I love my kids with all my heart. I do everything for them. But if I have the opportunity to leave them with family and take my husband on a romantic vacation? That’s happening. If my husband and I are having an argument that’s difficult to come to terms, you bet my kids are being sent outside. Or to their rooms, until we have both resolved our issues. Prioritizing my marriage isn’t about putting my kids last, it’s about keeping their parents happy, and their lives stable.”

Facebook commenter

And this,

“I always feel these articles should be worded more along the lines of “Don’t let being a parent completely overrun your relationship.” As in, I am always a mother first, however I still am a human seperate that with hopes and dreams. You are allowed time to be just yourself. In the same way, we should remember that it’s okay to leave the kids with someone and go out with your SO. It’s okay to occasionally “put them second” in this sense, to make sure you get to remember who you are as a couple as well ♥️ but, no, I couldn’t imagine saying they come first all the time.

Facebook commenter

Because that’s how my life works, and it actually does work, and everyone is pretty happy. No, I’m not saying that everyone is happy all the time and always gets what they want. But the compromises work well for all involved and aren’t usually much of a compromise. And it isn’t just me. Just from the support of comments I made on the article, I know that many find ways to balance the needs of everyone in the family.

So how do we move away from this competition between making the marriage succesful and making the relationship with children successful?

Because, while some have found their own solutions and balance, this remains a problem. Many couples with children do choose to neglect one or the other and make one come “first.”

I noted this statisic from the article,

“[M]ultiple researchers have shown a precipitous drop in the level of marital satisfaction in the first three years of a new baby,” says Liz Colizza, a licensed professional counselor and head of research at Lasting, a relationship counseling app. In fact, 67 percent of all couples experience a drop, while only 33 percent maintain their level of satisfaction, according to research published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

“Why My Children Will Always Come Second to My Marriage”

I don’t know what to do about solving this widespread problem. But I do think we can encourage some- in my opinion- healthier behaviors. Perhaps ask your non monogamous friends in healthy, happy relationships.

Some of my non monogamous/poly friends in the healthiest relationships I know also have some of the best relationships I know with their children; because they’re already used to balancing multiple priorities. They already learned those “relationship skills.”

Similarly, I wonder if that makes -good- parents great candidates for polyamorous relationships, “I can treat both my spouse and children well, of course I can treat a new partner well.”

Or…here’s a few suggestions. Such as:

It’s okay to go on a date night and leave the kids with Grandma.

Or with any other family member. Or with a babysitter. Or at a sleepover with friends. Your kids, in fact, need to develop good relations with people that aren’t you. I think it’s much more selfish to make your children dependent on you and only know how to interact with you– than it is to allow them some time away from you. You get time for date night with your spouse (or whomever)! And Grandma has the chance to get to know her grandchildren. Win-win-win.

Develop friendships, close relationships, with other adults who can help you as you help them. I am my kids’ “friendmom.” My family wouldn’t know what to do without me. Can you find a friendmom for your family? Someone like an aunt, but closer to you emotionally (or perhaps you do have an aunt that is an integral member of the famiy, rather than a distant, or even loving, relative)?

Because I promise you that you don’t want to end up having it so bad between the two (your children and spouse) that you are forced to choose the happiness of one or the other. Because their wants and happiness are so divergent that you cannot possibly make both happen.

Or let’s say you absolutely cannot find a way to make both parties happy and prioritized.

You never have a date night, because your kids need you with them every second of every evening. Or your husband tells you that you need to move to a home that is more convenient to his work, even though that means uprooting your children for their friends, life, and the school that they love to a school with which they are incredibly unhappy (yes, sometimes moving is necessary but the children should benefit from the move, too).

Well, that is a sucky situation. I, personally, would choose my children in that case and find a new partner to help raise them. And I think, often, most others do, too. Or maybe they just make the best of it for everyone, with nobody really getting what they want. But I don’t think anyone would say that’s a great situation.

Please try and make sure that you and the mother/father of your children are on the same page as to A) how to raise them and B) how to balance your family life! Failure to do that (and, yes, life happens) can have miserable consequences.

The rest of it?

A good relationship counselor or marriage counselor can probably help you figure out the day to day issues, if you have trouble with time management, etc.

It’s not at all impossible to reach that place of happiness and contentment among your family; it’s just a life skill that some haven’t learned (like any skill, it’s hard until it’s not hard).

How do you balance YOUR family life?

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P.S. Are you trying to find a way to balance your spouse and children AND considering entering a polyamorous relationship, too? Not sure how you’ll manage it all? Stayed tuned for my next piece on “scheduling poly dating life and childcare: how do you make them both work?”!

Photo by Burak K from Pexels

memorial day weekend epiphany on labels!

Labels are such an annoying little fact of life.

Some days, it feels like no label means anything.  “Everyone” says labels merely mean what a person wishes the word to mean.  Which means many are diluted the the point of vaguely lemon tasting lemonade.  Sounds tasty, no?

I’m funny in that I believe the purpose of a label is communication to OTHERS, not a way to validate oneself. I’m polyamorous because it’s obvious to anyone who meets me. Not because I need that word to understand myself.  And, well, it means something to me.

Perhaps it shouldn’t, but if it didn’t, I wouldn’t use it.  And this idea that poly can refer to anything not strictly monogamous?  I guess that works for some, but ignores a plethora of manifestations of non monogamy.  Not monogamy != polyamory.

Or worse, in my opinion, when someone picks up the label because it’s become trendy (did you know there are actually monogamous meetups now in certain areas where polyamory has become the default? How crazy news is that for us non mono/poly folk who struggle to make contact with the <5% of the general population who will even CONSIDER us for a partner?)

Sometimes, I wish I had the perfect label(s) for myself.

Especially when it came to my partner’s kids. What could possibly communicate the right ideas to them about the relationship between the kids and I?

I’d just been calling them “my partner’s kids” and I hated it.  So distant and impersonal for children I love as my own (and have told them this).  They are family to me, more than family, when I think about it.  I like my cousin’s kids, but I am not particularly close to my nieces and nephews.  I couldn’t tell you- right now- all their names, ages, and birthdays.  I just…am not that close to most of my religious, conservative family.

So, one day, I’m at the pool with my youngest– and it comes to me.

They aren’t, for what it’s worth, the only kids with whom I’ve grown close.  I helped raise our family friends’ twins.  Not to mention that two of my current partners have kids. I have never met my play partner’s kids.  Nor is that something that will likely ever happen.  But these kids are my family.  And I wanted…a word to call them.

Almost ten years.  I’ve known them nearly their whole lives; in the case of the youngest, for her whole life.  We have traditions we’ve created together. And yet I couldn’t think of a better term than “my partner’s kids.”

I could just say I’m their stepmom and they are my stepkids.  Except I don’t want that to be our primary relationship.  Sure, I’m basically their stepmom, but so much more than that…

And then, she says, “Can I call you my friendmom?”

We had a long weekend together, because of Memorial Day weekend.  Even got a whole day just with the middle child.  A rare treat.  We got tons of pie and looked at the trains at the end of the line (like we used to do when he was very little).

So then she says this, and I’m like, “I love it!  But I think it’s weird to call you my frienddaughter.”  She agreed.  We talk and try out a few words and then find the perfect one,

“What about munchkins or minions?”

I liked munchkins best. At first she objected. “Munchkins are donut holes! I’m not a donut hole!” But eventually she came round and said as long as I called her by her own name, and only referred to her and her siblings as ‘munchkins’ to others, that was okay.  At least until we thought of something better (and she’s been scrunching up her face about this problem every time I see her for months now).

So now they are my munchkins, and if I refer to them later, you’ll know who I’m talking about.

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eight years later, or how I grew with those I love

This is about romantic love.  Should you not care for romance, I hope you don’t feel unseen.  Love can be for family, for friends, for self, for so much more…but this is about my romantic loves.

Eight years ago,

I met my first partner to share my journey. We agreed on three weeks, then the summer….then…

Seven years ago,

I made up my mind that I’d actually give this relationship a real shot, no matter how hard it got. That I wouldn’t put an expiration date on it.

Six years ago,

I agreed to be his slave, for ever and always.

Five years ago,

I introduced my master to my family by rolling him into our New Year’s Eve celebration— only myself, my immediate family and my brother’s girlfriend— at my apartment. My longest relationship before that had maxed out two years, and they’d only ever met one of them (to the best of my recollection). (And I still had to actually TELL them, this is my boyfriend, cause they assumed I just invited a good friend over to spend the night with me on New Year’s. My dad had no clue.)

Five years ago,

he introduced me to his immediate family, as well, in time to be formally introduced to his father. He didn’t care that we weren’t married, only that we made his grandchildren happy.

Four and a half years ago,

we took our first selfie on the way to a Fourth of July party. It was so unexpected, I didn’t even recognize what he was doing at first.

Four years ago,

I moved in with my master. We were basically living together after the first two years, but I gave up my own apartment at that point because it didn’t make sense to pay two rents.

Three years ago,

he told me “I love you.” He’d shown it since the first day, but the words came slower. When I’m really down, though, he goes back to using the code phrases he used to say. Because that is the easiest way to cheer me up. Not that I don’t like hearing the three little words.

Two years ago,

I met the rest of my current little polycule—my now girlfriend and my…well…we still haven’t really put a label to it— and the last two or three past years I’ve built friendships with most of the people I am close to in the community.

Just a little over a year ago,

I formally asked my girlfriend to be my girlfriend.

Last weekend,

I stood with my partner and his family while his oldest recognized me as an official part of her family, to her whole family that she brought together. I am not sure I have ever been prouder of a human being. Today, his family told me how happy they were that I am theirs (well, they’ve done so before, but they reiterated today.)  I looked at my partner and I felt loved.  I felt accepted.

And I still have my biggest milestones ahead of me. I may move slowly, but things keep happening!