I wanted to give my son what I didn’t have: the feeling that he didn’t have to choose, and that he had one big family.
“Why would you not get a dog?” My friend is asking this because I was talking about wanting to adopt a pet. “Well, my son is allergic to cats and his sister is allergic to dogs.” “But she is not your kid.” The sentence is correct, but at the same time the sentence is wrong. My ex-husband has since remarried a wonderful woman and they have had a beautiful, smart, and feisty little girl. My son and his sister love each other and are very protective of each other. I am also very protective of her. I call her my “bonus baby” and if she is allergic to dogs than no dog shall enter my home.
I am a child of divorced parents. I grew up in a home with my mother and my brother (different dads) and I have a sister (different moms) along with two step-sisters who lived with my dad and stepmom. I was never directly told that my families were separate but equal, but I am the one who had to deal with two separate homes. I had to deal with a brother and a sister I loved, but who had no relationship with each other because my parents didn’t prioritize it. They were two separate families raising two separate sets of children. My parents did their best with the knowledge and maturity level they had, but they never brought my two families together outside of my birthday or graduations. I never spent a holiday with both of my siblings in the same room. I never went on girls’ dates with my stepmom, sister, and step-sisters, and I never had a family vacation that included all of my family.
When I found out that my ex-husband and his wife were having a baby, I think people expected me to get extremely protective of my son and my role in his life. To exert my dominance and “dominion” over him. To draw the lines in the sand that said, “this one is mine and that one is yours.” But I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it because I remember the feelings of separateness I felt between my families, and I didn’t want to do that to my son or his sister. I know how hard that is.
As his sister got older, my ex-husband and I had discussions about how visitations and vacation could look. Would I take them both? Would she spend an extended about of time with me? How does the separation affect them whenever my son stays with me for an extended amount of time. When I first told my ex-husband that if he and his wife ever wanted a date night or just some time without children, “bring me the baby,” I meant every word. I wasn’t being fake or trying to be nice. It wasn’t an empty promise. I wanted to spend more time with the person who my son loved so much and I wanted to get to know her as well. I wanted to give my son what I didn’t have: the feeling that he didn’t have to choose, and that he had one big family. I also didn’t want his sister to feel that her brother had a family that she wasn’t part of.
Although this choice seems easy and 100% natural to me, it amazes me how many people don’t think so. Not only am I friends with my ex-husband’s wife, but now I’m also bringing their child into my home. I have two children and I treat and protect her like my son. My son’s stepmom treated and protected my son like her own since the beginning. She always respected me as my son’s mother even though she has been his primary caregiver since he was a few years old, so of course I am going to do the same thing for her child.
“Mommy LeoLin” is what I hear every time I see her. She runs up to me and gives me a big hug. She sometimes calls me during the day just to see what I am up to. I am excited about being a part of her life and I am thankful that my son doesn’t have to feel like he has to keep his families separate. If this means that I can’t get a dog because she is allergic, then so be it. Two kids are demanding enough.
LeoLin is a writer, public speaker and a mother of an 8-year-old son. She currently resides in Texas by way of Chicago and you can usually find her with her face in a book or on the sidelines of her son’s soccer game. She likes to write about personal finance, family, and relationships and you can see all of her work at www.leolinbowen.com.
This piece is co-published with Family Story, a think tank founded to recognize, validate, and protect the many ways individuals form and re-form families.