I sit at the kitchen table holding hands with two children, one on each side. Seated directly across from me is their father, the man I love. As we pray giving thanks for our day, their little hands in mine, it hits me, much like a piano hitting the pavement - I am sitting in "Her" chair. The chair she sat in when they were a family...the chair she chose to leave. I am baffled by the perfection of this situation I am lucky enough to have found myself in...and equally perplexed by how she could have walked away...from him...from this family...from this picture.
The seat at his table was not given to me lightly. He is a man with a steel center core of integrity who loves and fiercely protects his children as I do my own. When he offered me the chair at this table to break bread with his children, I was honored and grateful for the invitation. This was no light matter to either of us. He knew I was worthy, and also ready to put in the time and get to know his children at a slow pace. You see, I knew my place - sit back, enjoy the view and join in when invited.
After a divorce it can be a daunting experience to get out in the dating world. When finally meeting the right person, many struggle when introduced to the children of the other. Some walk in and take over, others hang far back. The steps we have taken together, some deliberate and some by happenstance, have contributed to the growing relationships I now enjoy with each of his children.
First and foremost, we did not rush. Not only did we wait until our relationship was absolutely ready, but I stepped slowly into their world. I knew they had no idea what to do with me or what place I was to hold in their lives. I never wanted them to feel like I was crowding in. I also respected that the chair I occupied once belonged to their mother and I had no intention of stepping into that role.
As things progressed, I checked in with my boyfriend before I stepped forward each time. It sometimes seemed a bit ridiculous, since I usually received the response of "Of course!" Before attending an event, carving a pumpkin, or even coming over when the kids were around, I checked in. For instance, at his daughter's first Communion I was unsure if I should join the family at the altar. While I would have been fine watching from the pew, I was thrilled when he asked me to join the family. Now, the kids ask if I am going to be around and even suggest I come over if they hear I am alone at my own house.
I always keep in mind that I am not their parent. There have been many times when I have been with his children alone, and sure enough, they have pushed the limits much like a babysitter. They stalled doing their homework, devoured extra dessert and stretched bedtimes. Sometimes I have to remind them of chores or to get homework done. But, they have two parents to handle the discipline and I have my own children to raise. I find common ground in board games, exercise, and nail polish. My job is to be fun aunt!
I have also encouraged my man to have alone time with his children. They have gone off with him alone on dog walks after dinner and runs down the ski slope. I want his kids to see that I support the time they have with their dad and I am not attempting to step in the middle of that relationship.
And lastly, I am grateful. When first introduced and for many months later I thanked him for allowing me into his children's lives. Being part of their family is a great honor. Ya know what? I do not think I have thanked him in quite a while so...thank you honey.
Since that first dinner I have sat in many chairs that previously belonged to her. The seat beside him in his self-proclaimed 'sexy two-toned minivan,' side-by-side beach chairs in the OBX, on roller coasters and chair lifts. Sometimes the kids sit between us and other times swirl around us. Our hearts and eyes are always centered on them. As I have previously written, getting to know your partner's children is an extension of the love you have for that person. It is a privilege to be asked to the table and your responsibility is to keep the children the focus of your actions.
In the coming weeks her chair will find a new home. His kitchen will require a new larger table and new chairs so our blended family can gather together for meals. Stay tuned for updates on Operation Brady Bunch.