Before Thanksgiving, many people were posting and blogging lists of what they were thankful for and how they were counting their blessings in life. While thankful for all that I have, I was actually filled with a bit of Thanksgiving angst.
I love traditions: the annual picture with Santa (my kids hate that one), dressing up for a holiday, the order presents are opened under the tree, going to Aunt so-and-so's for Thanksgiving. And a few years ago, due to my divorce, some of those traditions disappeared for my children. And I was ok with that. While my original plan was for my children to have long-standing traditions at the holiday times, we would cement new ones.
This year, as my third post-divorce Thanksgiving rolled around, I found myself making a set of plans different from the past. In fact, for each of the last three Thanksgivings, we have celebrated with different people. My kids and I were having yet another Thanksgiving experience with a different group. And I sat and thought, where is the tradition in that?
Don't get me wrong, I was very excited. My boyfriend Ed and I were hosting Thanksgiving at his house. We have been dating for about a year and he has invested significant time in getting to know my girls. He proved himself worthy. My children were meeting his family for the first time. We had planned a very traditional but casual event. I spiffed up his bachelor pad a bit with some new house wares and had a meticulous plan of attack for food preparation. Our two type-A control freak personalities had joined forces and were committed to not killing each other in the kitchen (the wildcard of the day).
But my kids have been through this before with my ex-boyfriend's family. That family welcomed my girls and I with opened arms. We were part of all holidays, vacations and birthday celebrations. My daughters were close with his nieces, attending each other's events and having sleepovers. I thought it was great that they got attached because in my mind, the relationship was going to last forever. And then that relationship ended. We were so tight with the relatives that the family wanted to keep us (rather than my ex-boyfriend). But when I searched my soul, they were not our kin, they were his. They weren't our family, no matter how much I wanted them to be. And given the split, and for many reasons, those relationships couldn't continue.
So this Thanksgiving, I was wondering if my children were thinking, "here we go again." Was this "another year, another boyfriend?" Were they reluctant to get to know Ed's family because of the pain they went through when they lost friendships the last time? Did they trust me enough to know that I trying not to make the same mistake again? Was I making a mistake in bringing them in before a bigger commitment had been made in the relationship? Perhaps the greatest question of all -- was I overanalyzing this situation?
However, as the food was passed around the table, what I came to realize is that in all of my analysis, I failed to consider that there actually was a constant for my girls' Thanksgivings. The tradition of the holiday, that thing they will remember above the other people at the table, is the fact that they have been with me each Thanksgiving; that we were together. The other players, the table and the house where we break bread may have changed a few times, but the four of us were a unit.
Just to be clear, I didn't bring them into this Thanksgiving lightly. I do consider this current relationship to be the one for the long haul, far more than the last. But the mistake of the last, and how it affected my girls, still stings. It doesn't happen often, but I sometimes slip into that dark place wherein lies the question: "How did I get it so wrong and was it worth the pain I put my children through?" Well, as Wayne Dyer says, "the wake can't drive the boat." So I move forward.
From the very minute I became a single mom, I have struggled with my children meeting my new relationships. How far do I allow them to go in? Given the wreck of my last relationship, I actually talked to my current boyfriend about all this on our first date. I remember mumbling something about how he wouldn't be meeting my kids for a while... I had to go slow...my kids had been hurt (heavy first date stuff -- it's quite shocking there was a second date).
But, even when you wait an appropriate amount of time to make sure the relationship is on solid ground, when you are ready to bring your children in, you could be making a mistake. And that is ok. Expecting perfection from yourself is unrealistic. If you correctly set your intentions, all will be fine. You'll stumble a bit, but it is good for kids to see their parents self-correct. And if your kids get hurt in the process because of attachments they formed, do the right thing and apologize and promise to learn for the next time.
My kids get it. They know they are by birthright on my path with me, whether they like it or not. Sure, they have their own lives, but those are intertwined with mine. And since they are my daughters, my decisions affect them. At the end of the day, they know I don't make any decisions lightly. We all move forward together, stumbling over one another, but remaining a strong unit. We are not the traditional unit I had in mind long ago when they are born, but I find us to be quite awesome just the same.