In a discussion about boundary setting, my sponsor tried to coach me through wording I might use to assertively and healthfully state to him that which was important to me: You can always approach the conversation by saying, “Honey, I love your kids and our time together, however…”
My throat tightened and my heart sank.
The truth is, I don’t love his kids.
The truth is, there are many days when I don’t like them at all.
During our affair, my opportunity to interact with his kids was very different. I first met them while his wife was out of town attending a funeral. I brought them dinner and while it cooked, I played with the kids. After dinner, I helped him cleanup the kitchen and read a bedtime story to the kids, tucking his youngest into the bed he shared with her.
Our kids played together after each church service, and we often ate Sunday lunch together. We attended a couple of his kids’ birthday parties, bringing gifts and conversations. At one point, his eldest gave me a broach with a quote about friendship etched into it, and expressed: I wish you could be our second mom.
And then, very suddenly, that was over.
When his wife discovered our affair, she forbade me from being around them. And then her attorney sealed the deal with a paramour clause. In court, the judge stressed to him: if your paramour has any contact with the kids, there will be a restraining order issued.
And so I didn’t. If they visited our home, I needed to be elsewhere. He’d take our only vehicle to spend the day with them at the beach, at the arcade, visiting his family. I sat at home and crumbled.
His kids were kept at a distance. Even after his divorce was final, he would not advocate for bringing me back into their lives. These were his kids, he stressed. He was going to make the decisions. And no, it wasn’t the right time.
When I pushed him on when the right time would be, he didn’t know.
And so I waited. And I hate waiting.
In the meantime, I became his right hand to send weekly care packages to his kids. Many weeks, I shopped for toys, books, and candy, packaged them, addressed them, and raced to the post office to ensure delivery by Wednesday of every week.
Initially, I was so afraid of the paramour clause, I refused to address the packages in my own handwriting. I handed the postal worker a paper with the names and addresses scrawled on it and asked him to write the information on the box. Eventually, I let go of that fear, but often wondered what his wife would think when the weekly package arrived addressed by not him, but me. I felt somewhat ashamed. I felt somewhat the doormat as his involvement in these weekly deliveries became less and less. Our weeks revolved around them. Did you mail it? It needs to go out today. They’re expecting it. They’ll be disappointed if it’s not there.
Meanwhile, for a short time, my kids were still here. They came to our home a handful of times. We took them out. They knew him. And then, they were gone, too.
In one year, I lost 10 kids from my life.
What followed was codependent crisis ad nauseum. It was only until I sought counseling from our rector who, in turn, encouraged him to advocate for his kids and my reunion that anything changed. And he resented me for it.
After 18 months of separation, they were strangers to me and I to them. They eyed me curiously.
Are we allowed to be around her, they asked him.
I was still grieving the loss of my children. And here were five more, unfamiliar to me and skeptical. I did what I felt a good partner should do. I threw myself into making plans for our time together. I cooked elaborate holiday meals. And every time they rejected or criticized, I personally felt it.
One time, I spent all day making a special stew. He and I both loved it, but the kids did not. They each took a few bites, pushed their bowls aside, and then dumped the uneaten portions into the garbage.
I was furious. I worked hard. The ingredients were expensive and our budget was tight.
He and I argued.
They didn’t like it, he would tell me. I asked them what they thought of it and they stuck out their tongues.
I stopped going to great lengths to cook for them after that. We agreed that he’d provide snacks for them during their visits, maybe have a few kid-approved meals at the ready.
As time passed, their visits became irregular for a while. They think you’re bipolar, he’d tell me once.
Eventually, visits from all five became rare. Now, it was mostly groupings of two or three. And these visits, I enjoyed.
I enjoyed watching he and his sons do “boy” things. And I enjoyed doing his daughter’s hair before her school dance.
I enjoyed being in a movie his son made. And hearing them excitedly knock on our door Christmas morning. For several weeks, I picked up his girls from school and we enjoyed going to Starbucks or ice cream or getting our brows waxed.
And yet, there were several times when he cancelled plans with me to pick up plans with them. Our weekly date night became kid-centered. When we had a fight, he took his daughters out for shopping and dinner. Even now, I cringe when his sons are yelling at each other over a computer game while a paying house guest is trying to sleep.
I equate their visits to our home with loss, I told my sponsor. Loss of time with him. Loss of peace in our home. Loss of food. Loss of organization. Loss of cleanliness.
Loss of…my own voice.
When they are here, I have no voice. It is not my job to parent them, and setting boundaries with them is the best way to uncover his shortest fuse.
They’re my kids. I will make the decisions. Don’t you see what a hard spot I’m in?
He’s gotten better at giving them alternatives. She bought those brownies, he’ll say as they hungrily eye them over half-eaten dinners, why don’t you have one of these donuts I just bought?
And now, one of his daughters wants to move in to our home next school year. She wants to live with us during the week and live with her mom on the weekends. And before he spoke with me about it, he told her he thought it was possible.
Thank God I’m not responsible for my first thought–my always codependent thought.
And then my second thought came: This isn’t happening today. We can discuss it later.
Can we talk about this first?, I asked him.
I wrestled with my thoughts, chastised myself for asking his permission to talk about it, felt the flames of my codependency threatening to build, and then I went to sleep.
Because it’s not happening now.
Because the next healthy choice was to rest.
Because my sponsor wasn’t available until morning.