Everyday we fight the battle to keep our disappointment of our stepdaughter from being brought upon her children. The day-to-day drama that she chooses to create and dwell upon make me cringe. We save the children most of her histrionics, instead making excuses for her broken promises to call, write or visit. Every day we wonder what she may do or say, but are comforted at least by the fact that she lives three states away.
Since getting custody of the children we worry that choices she made when the children were with her (stealing, drug use, abuse of the welfare system etc.) will be choices they will make. Consequently, we are ever on guard against them. They tell stories of watching out for the police while she went “shopping” and selling items that she “found”. I often wonder if I am less tolerant of some of their behaviors because of her lifestyle. I am less likely to allow them a treat of soda or candy, because she had such poor parental control they were accustomed to it every meal. My biological children have more treats between meals and more freedom with snacks, but they have never been food hoarders as my grandchildren are.
I know there are days when we are harder on the grandkids than we are on our own kids, but my kids are quick to point out the times we give into the grands for infractions which we would have punished them. Sounds like standard sibling complaints in a big family. The only difference is that we are still in a constant flux. Trying to cope and combine the families is a daily struggle. I have a bond with the teenagers that has come from knowing and raising them from birth. We can crack each other up with a single glance or a phrase from a movie. We have memories and shared experiences that I don’t have with the little people. It’s not their fault. It’s not ours. It just is the way it is.
The struggle is most keenly felt when we hear from the biological families. The children each received ridiculously large parcels from their mother for Valentines Day, full of candy, arts and craft supplies and money! These are the first packages she has sent in a year, each item marked with the child’s name on it. The children were overjoyed. I wanted to be overjoyed for them, to enjoy the surprise packages as much as they did, but I was bitter. I tried not to let them see it, but I did a poor job. We had found out just the week before that she had been receiving a social security check each month, which was support for one of the children. She has never sent us money to help purchase clothing, sports equipment, scout uniforms, or any of their day to day needs, but a box full of candy and treats, and they were over the moon.
My youngest grandson gushed “Isn’t she the GREATEST MOM EVER??” I had to walk away. I couldn’t contain my anger. I know in my heart that he doesn’t understand what a good mom really does. He doesn’t judge her for all the time she has wasted, the money she has stolen, or the trauma she has put them through. He just knows that she loves them so much she sent them each a giant heart-shaped box filled with candy.
A few days after the packages arrived one of the fathers was able to come up for a quick visit. He brought with him, his mother (their grandmother) his new girlfriend and their new baby. It was a lovely visit. Despite bad weather, the exhaustion of driving all night and strained finances, the love was undeniable. Late in the afternoon, the ladies and the baby retired to their hotel for a rest while the dad curled up on our recliner with his two children. I watched with tears as my granddaughter snuggled deep into her father’s side more content than I have ever seen her. They have no malice or jealousy toward the new baby sister. They didn’t question why he could raise her, but not them. They just reveled in the love he had for them.
As the days pass, I pray for patience. I pray for forgiveness and I pray for both my step-daughter and her ex-husband to become the parents these children need them to be. The truth of the matter is that she will probably go to Federal Prison for fraud and the children may never get to see her again. They may never remember the horrible nights of sleeping in a van, wondering when they will eat again, and watching their brother die. They will remember that Momma sent a big box that year for Valentines Day and it was wonderful! They may not be able to fully appreciate how much safer and more stable their life is now, but I do. I know without a doubt that God gave me these children to care for and give them a second chance. I need to be the one asking for forgiveness for my own sins of jealousy and rage. I have been blessed with my own wonderful husband and children. It is only right that they get to experience a safe loving family life too.
We have come to our one year anniversary. We work to keep everything fair, to fully incorporate their lives into our lives, and our lives into theirs. We remind ourselves daily that we aren’t sharing our home with them, this is their home too. They are forever more, our family. We have started making the shared memories and through those will create a lifelong bond of love.