Last evening, while I was driving my little family to an elementary school fundraiser, my 9-year-old daughter, Bryn, piped up from the back seat and said, a propos of nothing, “You know, Mommy, when you get remarried, it’s going to be awkward at first because we’ll have to get used to having two daddies.”
As is typical of our most serious discussions, my daughter had caught me completely off-guard. My head was pre-occupied with work issues and worries about finding parking at the mall amidst the onslaught of holiday shoppers, and this was when she chose to have this all-important conversation? Very well. I drew a long, deep breath, slowed down to give us more time to talk, and thought to myself, “Stay focused. Here we go.”
First, I tackled the question of “two daddies,” by pointing out that she already had one really good dad and no one coming into her life was ever, ever going to replace him. That’s simply not how it works. I used myself as an example, pointing out that I have a variety of mothers — a birthmother, an adoptive mother, and a step-mother — all of whom I love in very different ways and with whom I have varying degrees of closeness.
At this point in the conversation, something surprising happened — my elder daughter, Sabrina, interjected and began explaining to Bryn that any man in my life (and by necessity, theirs) would be their good friend and maybe even super-close friend, like an uncle or something, but not a dad. Because their daddy was and always would be their dad, but they could have lots of great friends who cared about them and supported them and taught them things. Furthermore, she pointed out to Bryn, the girls have a couple of step-grandfathers and that doesn’t make them love their other grandfathers any less.
I was rendered temporarily speechless. Clearly, Sabrina had given this considerable thought, and reached some remarkably mature conclusions. To be honest, she was handling it better than I.
Next, Bryn expressed her fear that I would marry someone that she didn’t know very well, and what if she ended up disliking him? This is, of course, a common fear of children in divorced families. And here, I again, had my own example to share with her, since my mom had married my step-dad after knowing him for all of 9 (yes, that’s a 9) months total. While he is a good man and she a good woman, it was a terrible match, and certainly set my 13-year-old world a-spinning. My daughters know the story of my parents’ marriage and how miserable it was, both during and as it came apart. So, once more, Sabrina spoke up and reminded Bryn that, having gone through that, I would never do that to them. Sabrina and I also reminded Bryn, by way of concrete example, that James and I had dated for nearly 9 months before he spent any real time with my girls and it was a whole year before he spent the night at the house with all of us. Going “too fast” is not in my nature.
I could feel Bryn relax in the seat behind me, but not entirely.
“But Mommy,” she insisted, “it would still be awkward at first, wouldn’t it? I mean, it would be strange to get used to a whole new member of our family. It would change things.”
I paused, trying to figure out how to address this. She was right, of course. Anyone who’s been through the effort of blending families knows that it has its very specific challenges. The Brady Bunch it is definitely not. So how to acknowledge the validity of her concerns while still assuaging her anxiety?
Again, it was Sabrina to the rescue:
“Bryn, of course it would be a little strange at first. But if Mommy marries someone, chances are good that we’ll like him. And we’ll just figure it out as we go along. Together. like we always do. Because we’re a family.”
I reinforced what Sabrina had said and noted that I couldn’t have said it better. I could feel and hear Bryn relax completely.
The girls then spent the remainder of the ride contemplating whether their parents would ever get married again to other people (they decided probably yes), and, if so, which one would be the first to do so (they decided their dad would).
I drove the rest of the way through the dark, saying a silent prayer of gratitude. That we had come so far since the divorce. That we could talk so openly and comfort each other about the big, hard questions. That it seems that I was doing an okay job of this whole “mothering” thing. And that the universe had allowed me a hand in raising these two amazing little humans.
Yes, especially that last one.