I stand there as my daughter catches up on the phone with her dad. With a warm, huge smile she says to him, “Tell Mom I said hi!”
She calls his new wife “Mom.” I smile approvingly in case she looks up, so she won’t catch me feeling pain. There’s an ache of hearing someone else bear the affections of a name I thought I’d earned. I keep thinking I’ll get used to it. I’m still surprised by the sting sometimes.
I’m the one who endorsed it in the first place. I wanted my daughter to have full permission to call her stepmother “Mom.” I didn’t want her to have to separate herself from the people in her family because of a parental split she never asked for. She didn’t ask for her father and me to fail at figuring out how to stay in the ring together. So I smile and embrace the little normalities that crack my heart a little instead of making her tiptoe around the consequences of complicated choices that were made without her.
I’ll be real honest. It rocks me that I’m not the one my daughter gets her picture of “family” from.
I’m the trying really hard, kicking ass, lone soldier mom (who I’m sure she’ll one day be really proud of). And in another home, where I don’t exist, she gets her picture of “Mom and Dad;” the warm and fuzzy, bike-riding, road-trip taking concept of a familial unit. I wanted to be able to show her that life. I always envisioned creating such a palpable, passionate love with a husband for our kids to witness and be catapulted from. But instead, it can feel like I’m just the hard-hustling, always overworked single mom I never wanted to be.
It is both easy and unhelpful for me to assume that I’m the less celebrated part of my daughter’s story, to believe that I’m the struggle bus and the other part of her life is the warm hug on weekends. The truth is I actually DO hope the other family of hers is the hug I imagine them to be for her life; I just also want to be that for her, too.
Never have I been “above” feeling ache, bitterness, or bewilderment; I just refuse to let those feelings be what directs my stance and steps. Every single day brings reminders that there’s a life out there that couldn’t bear joining with me, yet has managed to join with someone else. On days when I’m drowning in tackling my daily tasks, I feel resentment that the pair on the other side of my daughter’s life has a partner to help get it all done.
It sucks not having my daughter with me all the time. I hate missing her on birthdays and holidays. But this story I’m creating with the life I give is not about me having my way. If it’s about me at all, it’s about living in a way that reflects and mirrors God’s ways. So, often, particularly in conflict and trial, it looks like sacrifice, humility, hope, forgiveness, pursuit. If I’m willing to put looking like God above fighting for my desires and feelings of offense, I might actually yield a life that ultimately gives my daughter the kind of lavish love that only God can bring forth. The more I put God’s agenda above my grudges, the more I open the door for God-breathed freedom and healing to reign in both our lives.
God talks so much in the Bible about the vital dedication to the renewing of our minds. And I have found in the hard walk of divorce and co-parenting that allowing Him to give me new viewpoints for the things I’m experiencing has changed it from “tough”’ to “beautiful.”
Every day I get to make choices that can either make my daughter’s life as great as it can be or worse than it has to be.
I choose not to poison my daughter with the aftermath of my own harbored bitterness. Her story already involves coping with parents who couldn’t stay committed to each other. I don’t have to hand her the burden of suffering through the tension between a mom and a step-mom. She didn’t ask for this to be her reality.
I am not the only avenue through whom she can, should, or will experience love. And I don’t want to carry that load alone. I want her to know from experience, how to receive God’s love from all sorts of personality types.
So I decided I didn’t want it to be my daughter’s job to protect me from the fact that she loves her dad and his partner. It’s not right for her to have to guard me from the truth that love exists in her life on both sides. My role is not to puff myself up and feel significant. My role is to disciple and raise up a heart that is tender to God’s perspective. I cannot spend my years requiring my daughter to be the most sensitive to MY insecurities and sensitivities. I need to do my own work of renewing my mind around my new reality and free my daughter up to be occupied by learning God’s voice, perspective, and desires. I don’t want a daughter who walks into a room and thinks, “Who I do need to be to make this and that person happy?” I want my years of discipling her to yield a human that walks into a room and feels immovably in tune with what God is saying and doing so she can follow His leading.
I chose that my priority in co-parenting would not be about me feeling good, chosen, or favored. It does not make me any more legitimate as a woman or mom if my child has no other mother figures. It does not make me more connected to my daughter if she never loves anyone else. I can still be an incredible mom, even if there are two of us.
I work hard on my heart and mind so that my daughter knows what it looks like in the trenches to live forgiveness. I want my daughter to know that a person can keep walking on after their life has fallen apart. And when her own painful days come, she won’t research suicide methods like I did when my world crumbled. I care more about a clear path being laid out for her to hear and walk with God, than I do about my right to be obsessed with and commended for my wounds.
It’s not wrong to hurt. But it’s a shame to wear a lifelong garment of pain when there can be life after it.
Did I want this situation? No. Can I still be grateful for a scenario that I didn’t want to exist? Yes.
So I choose the right train track for my heart, even when it’s still healing, sometimes frustrated, tired, and overwhelmed. I can’t make another human choose to stay married to me, but I can create the most beautiful outcome possible for my daughter. And in this case, beauty looks like offering peace and kindness toward the people in my daughter’s sphere of influence, including her other mother.
At the end of the day, I can see that my daughter now gets one more person to love and care for her needs. If I’m willing to drop my pride, I can look at this other woman’s presence as help. I want that connection for her. I want her to have a safe woman in both homes. I can rejoice that she has someone making sure she gets what she needs even when she’s not in my home. She doesn’t have to have two depleted, single, and drowning single parents. She gets to be part of a household that can embody partnership. I want her to know that she’s allowed to hold expansive love for us both.
I don’t need her to choose me. She can have us both.