Last summer, one month after we got married, I messed some things up. Richard and I went to Michigan with my two kids. With just my two kids. Because my kids and I had been going to Michigan for six years and I believed the tradition should continue for their sake.
As soon as we got there though, I felt regret that I hadn’t invited Richard’s three kids as well, and I told myself that the following year would be different.
But I didn’t only mess that up on that trip, there was more. My then 18-year-old wanted to go home early (we had driven separately for logistical reasons). I said no. I’m not fully sure why. Not wanting a teenager to drive home alone, perhaps? Stubbornness, maybe? Trying to force something into the image I had in my head? I don’t know. But I messed that up too. And feelings were hurt. And I get it: because I was wrong.
So this past summer, I made some changes, and it still felt weird but it felt better, closer to what it’s maybe supposed to feel like. (And I’m hoping beyond hope that next year it will feel a bit less weird and even a bit more better, as time and Jesus do what they need to do in all of us.)
But all of this, plus a year’s worth of mistakes – of me handling our children’s feelings poorly and trying to manage and manipulate (all with the purest of motives, I promise, but manage and manipulate nonetheless) – and this controlling momma has come to a conclusion. A hard, hard conclusion.
A new world order is needed, a new mantra:
ALL ARE INVITED AND WANTED, BUT NONE ARE REQUIRED OR EXPECTED.
When I say invited and wanted, I mean to anything and everything. Any and every meal, any and every outing, any and every trip, any and every family gathering, any and every time we go to church, any and every anything and everything. All five (and their significant others or friends) are more than welcome in our homes, in our hearts, wherever we go and whatever we do. Because we love them and we want to be a safe place for them.
And yet, when I say not required or expected, I mean to all of it as well. I will never again tell any of our children that they must attend something (which I’ve done). Ever again. Because I do not want to be accused of trying to create an “insta-family”. And because I want to honor that they are each their own people, with lives and hearts and feelings and hesitancies and baggage and things to do and people they may rather be with.
This is my attempt at helping our five between 15 and 25 simultaneously feel a part of something, feel loved, and yet letting them all go, letting them all live their own lives.
I have been getting this second-wife thing, this mothering young adults’ things, this step-mothering thing, this pulling in/letting go thing pretty darn wrong so far. Lord knows, not on purpose. Lord knows, all of my mistakes have been prayed-through, thought-through, sometimes agonized-over choices. Lord knows, I love each one of our children deeply, protectively. Lord knows, I mentally line up each one of them and their significant others in our living room every morning and say their names out loud and lift them up to Jesus and ask God to pour out strength and healing and purpose and joy, and beg him to draw us closer to each other and beg him to show Richard and me how to love each one of them deeply and better.
And yet, I have not done this well, and I have hurt each one of them, left them out, been too controlling, all at the same time, never once meaning to.
So I’m leaning on Jesus to walk us through this, trusting that time will knit hearts together and unravel some of the kinks, and imploring him to help me focus on what’s in front of me – my walk with Him, my marriage, my home, my work, my friends, and supporting and praying for our children without meddling/controlling or excluding.
It’s harder than I thought it would be. But, thankfully, God always has been and always will be bigger than my whatever my hard is.
If you’d like more support in your parenting, you can purchase Elisabeth’s e-book, Moving On as a Christian Single Mom.