This time of year, perhaps more than any other, lends itself to the consideration of tradition. Personally, until recently, tradition is not something I’ve spent much time contemplating.
My parents divorced around the time I was one year old. I have no memory of living in a house with both of my parents. I never felt bad about that growing up; it’s just how things were.
Over the course of my lifetime, my mom married two more times. That means that I was a part of a total of four blended families growing up: I had a half-brother by my mom and her first husband; I had two half-brothers by my dad and the woman to whom he was married before my mom and one half-brother by the woman to whom he was married after my mom; I had step-sisters who came with my mom’s third husband; and then I had an adopted brother by the man who was my mom’s fourth husband (he had adopted his first wife’s son, and then adopted me when I was a young adult).
With all of that family, you might think that I came out of childhood with more than my fair share of traditions, but none of them really rubbed off. And if this isn’t your first time at “Raising Someone Else’s Children, and Other Animals,” you know that not one of those people is currently in my life — some due to happenstance and some due to reluctant intent.
So it might surprise you, as it did me, that one of the greatest sadnesses of infertility for me has been not having the opportunity to create or pass on traditions. I do happen to be lucky enough to have my partner’s children in my life. It is the existence of these two Littles that put this particular loss squarely in my face.
Stepping into an already functioning (at whatever capacity) family unit is, to me, the most challenging part of step-parenting. Everybody involved has expectations. Expectations of how things should be, based on how things have been. There is constant negotiation between maintaining the status quo and continuous improvement [improving life, in general, and improvement over how the system used to run (something wasn’t working, or the original parents would not have broken up)].
Three Christmases ago was the first year I ever had kids in my life at Christmas. As Stacy and I were decorating the house, I started offering all of the things I wanted to do with and for the kids. He looked at me, then began explaining. Well, we (he and his ex-wife) did this. So this is what we (he and I) are going to do.
That sense of loss always blindsides me. You’d think after fifteen years, the blow would be blunted at least a little. It’s not.
I have these wonderful children in my life, but I wasn’t there at the beginning, so I didn’t get to play a part in “how we have always done things.” This is, in my estimation, one of the trickiest parts of step-parenting, let alone step-parenting as someone who hasn’t been able to have their own children (and who Has Feelings about that).
I hear you, I hear you. I can hear you in my head. “But you can create your own traditions with them!” Yes. Yes, I can. I can, and I have, and I am.
The traditions we have begun and will begin over the rest of our lives together mean a lot to me. They don’t replace the loss of the traditions I did not get to participate in creating. Both exist, simultaneously, no buts.
That paradox — that sense of duality — has been exceedingly difficult for me to come to grips with, and seemingly impossible to explain to those who do not have some type of a profound sense of loss in their lives: no matter how much happiness, awesomeness, and fabulousness I have in my life, the sadness and grief of loss are not erased, or even covered up in any way. Those feelings exist in parallel.
Like so many other things in life, it’s about the balance. It’s about balance and acceptance. Acceptance that my life isn’t like other people’s. My life isn’t like other people’s because it’s not meant to be. I’m not like other people. I’m nontraditional.
As always, your thoughtful questions and comments are welcome.