Another school year has begun. Which means the holiday season is soon approaching. I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I’m looking forward to it.
We scheduled a vacation house where we’ll have all of our grandchildren in one place at the same time, and we’ll include all their parents too! Five couples, four grandsons ages 3-7, and “baby peanut” who is staying quiet until after the new year. It will be the first time we’ve had everyone together in one place at one time. I have a bunch of ideas and excitement around this plan.
On the other hand, I’m trying hard to not set myself down by building expectations that I keep telling myself I don’t have.
I remember last year. After the busyness of Christmas was over and right before the new year started, I was reflecting on the previous weeks. Although we enjoy the holiday season, both Mark and I, for various reasons, notice that each year we get a mixed bag of emotions throughout the time. Last year during Thanksgiving and Christmas there had been the usual ups and downs from numerous triggers.
But I don’t think it was ever been more clear than last year the differences in family dynamics.
Specifically, with all the kids.
Last year I felt more strongly than ever what I know about the different “layers” I have in my family.
I can, and do, call them my family, my daughters, my sons, my grandsons; I can, and do, feel love for each of them. But there is nothing I can do about the reality of how they interpret that, what they do with it, and why. And honestly, I don’t even know, because although I observe and can make my judgments and draw my conclusions, none of them, except perhaps my biological daughters, have shared with me what they feel in the dynamics.
And here’s another truth. I realized last year more than ever, my heart doesn’t feel the same towards my kids as it used to. Oh yes, I definitely do love each of them. But the truth is, most of the time, I don’t really try to build a relationship. I still do with my biological daughters, but the others, not so much.
There. I said it. There is a difference. Why? Did I want it that way? Was I just lying to myself or hoping for something unreal?
No, I didn’t want it that way. I was not lying to myself, and I didn’t hope for something unreal.
The difference is there because of the reality of identity. There is a question of where do I fit? What is my identity in this family? Because who I am in this family determines how I interact in the dynamics of the family.
I get it. I really do. So here’s how I describe the difference.
I am 100% connected to my biological daughters. I am 100% invested.
Mark is 100% connected to his biological daughters and is 100% invested. Because Mark is my husband, his daughters are mine. But without the biological connection, my investment in his daughters is not the same. It can’t be. Just like his investment in my daughters is not the same. It can’t be.
We have two sons who were adopted. Neither of us is biologically connected, and so the investment for both of us is not the same as with our biological daughters. It can’t be.
“Investment” and “love” are not the same thing. Investment percentage does not equal love percentage.
I remember teaching a class to prospective adoptive parents. I like to keep an open forum, and a lot of discussion typically arises. A young couple without children was having difficulty with the idea that the children who came to their home might challenge their parenting ability in unique ways, and they made the comment to the effect, “well if we love them all the same it will be OK.” My response was to turn to another couple there who had four biological children. I asked them if they loved all their children the same. They responded immediately in unison, “No!” The discussion then continued along the lines of how there really is no way to love each child the same, and why, no matter how they come into our families.
Comments or circumstances happen that can bring guilt, sadness, and sometimes anger. In fact, I find myself having to frequently get back into my head to remind myself what I know, because what I feel is hard. It hurts. A lot. For different reasons at different times.
I am learning how to accept and be OK with my realities. I’m learning that being honest about it helps me deal with it better. Which brings a type of freedom. And with all of my kids being adults now, I am willing to have a discussion with them about any of this at any time they’re ready. But I do not always deal with it better, and I am not always free. It is a continuous battle.
Because there will still be times when feelings get stirred up. There are times when I feel guilty, sad, and angry. That’s when I need to step back, even when I want to step forward into those feelings.
That’s when I need to remember that none of my relationships with my kids define me,
and their relationships with me do not define them.
And we are family. Because family comes in all types and styles and shapes and sizes.
So as I prepare for the upcoming holiday season, I’m going to remind myself that I’m ready. And I’m going to keep working on my ideas and plans. It will be hard at times, but it will be worth it. Because I’m going to enjoy it!