How does it feel when your oldest child graduates from high school?

I have friends who have kids older than mine, heck even Karol’s kids are older than mine.  Her kids graduated in 2011 and 2013.  I didn’t attend Katarina’s graduation, but I went to Brandon’s.  I cried.  I cheered, I got emotional.  I was so happy for him, but in my experience there is a slight difference between the love for bio kids and step kids (at lest in my experience),

So, when it came close for Zachary to graduate, I started thinking about it and getting emotional at least a week prior to the event even happening.  I was at a makeover event on the 29th of May, and was just not in a good place during the day.  I couldn’t pinpoint what was bothering me, and all of a sudden it dawned on me that it was because of Zachary’s impending graduation.

The tearing up and emotion would come and go, but I was just overwhelmed by it at times.  It is hard to explain exactly what the feelings were about.  I was sad that he was all grown up and about to embark on that part of his life that would move him towards his own life and farther away from me.  But at the same time, I was happy that he was graduating, and had made it through high school with little or no trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, this kid was NO angel.  We fought about his schoolwork and grades ALL the time.  We fought about him making Eagle Scout (he told us two months before completion he really didn’t want to do it).  We were like, “WTF? Hell no kid, you ARE going to finish it.” Either that, or pay us back for EVERY summer camp we had ever paid for….

But we missed BIG problems. No drinking, no sex, no drugs, no truancy. No driving his parents car into a fence by the football field when he was 14 and took the car to school while they were on a trip…….oh wait, that was me….

Yes, I was a bad kid, so I was always expecting Zachary to do the same dumb shit I did.  But he never did.  Thank the Universe!!!  So I was totally happy about that!

But there are definitely feelings of joy, pride, and for sure sadness in the emotional mix of graduation.  Zachary is my oldest.  I wonder if it will be even harder for me when the younger one graduates in  years?  The baby of all 4 kids…..

Well, we got through it, and I only needed to use 4 of the 50 tissues I packed in my purse.  (I decided to go bu a new dress that morning, so I didn’t have time to stop and buy tissue packs, so I just shoved a wad of tissues in my purse).  I had to give two tissues to Karol. Zack’s dad was stoic, and didn’t need any, although I saw a tear in his eye at least once.  To be honest, I was maintaining pretty well, only a few tears here and there.  But when the principal got up to speak, he choked up, and that made me lose it.  My carefully applied makeup ended up being streaked all over the place.  Good thing I didn’t wear my contacts.  I had a feeling it might be a bad idea.

So how does it feel when your oldest child graduates from high school? Bittersweet, to be honest. Bitter that they are moving closer to complete independence, and sweet that they are moving closer to complete independence.  (I never said it made sense).

In the fall, Zachary will be attending the local Community College, and working. And moving closer and closer to that independent life away from us.  I have come to terms with that, and am okay with it!

In grad attire after graduation.  He lost his tassel somewhere....sigh....
In grad attire after graduation. He lost his tassel somewhere….sigh….
Crossing the stage to get his diploma
Crossing the stage to get his diploma
Getting that bad boy in his hands!
Getting that bad boy in his hands!

Do parents love their biological kids differently than their step kids?

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a few years, but I have been very hesitant  to write about it.  Partly because the title may offend some people, and partly because it is a very touchy subject. However, for any one who has been reading my blog for the past 5 years that I have been writing knows that I don’t often avoid a topic because it is difficult.  I have written about my difficulty with my step daughter, I have written about Lesbian Bed Death, I have written about Menopause in all its glory, and I have written about my brothers death.  Nah, I am not one to run away from a difficult subject.

So, that being said, I have been thinking about this step children vs. biological children issue for some time now.  But it has really been brought to the forefront even more as my oldest biological child gets ready to graduate High School.  I have two biological kids, Zachary and The Genius (I don’t use their real names until they are 18).  I have two step kids, Katarina and Brandon.

As I have written about, Katarina and I do not have a relationship (her choice).  In fact, she doesn’t even acknowledge me anymore.  As far as she is concerned I do not exist……it is very sad, but it is what it is.

However, Brandon and I have a beautiful and loving relationship.  It did take us awhile to get there, a few years in fact  I have come to realize that it is quite normal for step relationships to require time to build.  I suppose if you become a family with step children aged 5 and below this relationship can bloom faster, but when the kids are 7 years old and up I think there is much more patience and time required to have a great relationship.  I mean, think about it, Brandon had only seen me as his mom’s friend coming to visit.  We got along, but I wasn’t an Aunt, or relative, or someone he felt “required” to care about, I was just his mom’s “friend”.  Then when we moved in together we didn’t fit the traditional family “mold”, so that also had to be navigated carefully.

But over time, Brandon and I have grown to love each other very much, and I think of him as my son, and he thinks of me as a parent.  I cried when he graduated.  He moved to Tennessee last year, and for the first 8 months or so, I just felt like something was “missing” from the house. I have gotten used to it now, but I still talk with him when Karol chats with him on the phone about once a week.

Our first "family" photo, circa 2007.  Even then, Katarina refused to be in the photo....
Our first “family” photo, circa 2007. Even then, Katarina refused to be in the photo….

You can see from the photo that we were still not really “blended” yet, but we had only been a “family” for a year, so we were still figuring it out.

But even though Brandon and I have a great relationship and I love him with all my heart, and I say I love him just like I love my own, that is a difficult thing to measure.  I do love him, and I would be devastated if anything happened to him, but….

As Zachary’s graduation from high school approaches I have been more and more emotional.  I just want to hold him and hug him and NEVER let go.  I know he is about to end the “childhood” phase of his life.  He has pulled away from me in the past few years as he has become an older teen, which I know is totally normal, but I can’t say it hasn’t been a little painful.  Oh, he still indulges me with a hug before he leaves the house, and tolerates me sitting next to him sometimes when we watch a movie together, but he is becoming an adult.  He is about to pull away even more, and become his own person with a life completely separate from mine.  Just writing that makes me cry.  I didn’t have these same feelings with Brandon when he graduated and was ready to move into adulthood.

So those feelings I am having make me wonder about love for biological children vs. love for step children.  As much as I love my non-bio son, (and I call him my “son”, NOT my “stepson”), it isn’t exactly the same depth as my love for my bio sons.

I often wonder if this would be different for me if I had been in Brandon’s life when he was smaller.  Karol tells me she loves my bio kids just the same as her bio kids.  Sometimes I wonder if that is true, but I can’t feel her feelings, so I can’t doubt her verbally.  But maybe she does.  When we got together, my kids were 5 and 7.  I KNOW that she is especially close to The Genius, but he was such a little boy when they met (he was 4) that maybe his young age allowed them to bond together more than I did with Brandon who was 9 when I met him.

Brandon was already going into 5th grade.  He wasn’t that “cute” kindergartener anymore.  If I had met him when he was 4 would I feel differently?  Would we be closer?  Would I have the exact same love for him as I do for my bio kids?  Or is that about babyhood, and taking care of that completely dependent human being??

I do believe that it isn’t about the act of pregnancy and delivering a baby, because people who have babies through other methods than conception, pregnancy and delivery have that intense love for their babies that I feel for the babies I carried and delivered.

So it makes me think about the love for bio kids vs. step kids.  It is a tricky and sensitive subject.  I have googled it, and tried to read about it, but to be honest I don’t think very many people want to talk about things that make them uncomfortable, so I didn’t find much beyond some threads on a few forums about raising step kids, or parenting. Not being one to shy away from uncomfortable topics, I decided to talk about it here.

So for me the bottom line is that as much as I adore my non-bio son, it just isn’t the same for me as with my bio kids.  After really thinking about and analyzing this , I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter.   I have always done the best I can to treat all three boys equally. Of course there are differences in the way they have been parented, because they are different people, but none have received any “more” than the others.  That was always VERY important to me.  It was important that all the kids feel as though they were equal in our family.

It is funny though because when I ask them if they were treated equally, the older two say we spoil the youngest one, and the younger two say the oldest got more privileges.  The middle one always says the other two had it better than him.  So when I look at it from that angle, I can say without a doubt we are a TOTALLY normal family and they all felt loved and cherished, because that is what ALL kids say….. that the others had it better than them.

So after all the dissection, and analyzing, and agonizing over my feelings, the fact that all my kids felt loved and adored, and taken care of, I am thankful that I was able to (with Karol)  parent them well enough that they feel that way.

Photo credit: Pinterest
Photo credit: Pinterest

#womenslives

“My gay mom is cool!”

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Many years ago, when Karol and I started dating we had to keep everything hush hush.  She was still on Active Duty in the Navy, it was 2004, and at that time the policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was alive and well.  Plus I had recently divorced my husband,  and was worried about letting my children, who were 5 and 7 at the time to know I was in a relationship with her.  They knew we were best friends, and I decided to leave it at that.

She was stationed near Philadelphia with her kids, and my kids and I lived here in Hampton Roads Virginia.  In 2006 she was up for orders, and (thankfully) came back to this area, and we bought a house together.  When we bought the house, we had still not “told” our kids we were in a relationship, (we explained that we shared a room when we visited each other because we didn’t have a “spare” bedroom at each house), and we decided it was best for each of us to have our own bedroom.

So we had these clandestine “midnight” visits, after which I would sneak back to my room or she would sneak back to hers before the kids woke up.  Neither of us was “out” at our jobs, but we were to our close friends.  Looking back on it I think we were crazy, but it worked at the time, and I suppose it made things easier for the children to get used to living with new people.

We decided after living together for a year we would tell the children that we were actually a couple.  I was totally worried and stressed about it, and when I told them, they were like, “Um, we have known forever Mom.”  They were okay with me being in a relationship with a woman, and I was amazed and overjoyed!  We had actually prepared ourselves for the worst and realized we may need to sell our house and live apart if our kids freaked out.  Our number one priority was the children and how they would feel about our relationship.

Because I had been in a “traditional” marriage when my children were young I never forced the issue about them saying anything about Karol and my relationship to any adults or to their friends.  I always introduced Karol as my “friend”, and they did the same.  I heard them call her “my mom’s friend” when talking about her to others.

When Zachary was about 15, he began telling people his mom was “bi”.  Apparently people his age thought that was cool and I scored him some “cool points”.  I suppose technically I am “bi” in his mind since I was married to his dad and am now with a woman.  However, I don’t consider myself bisexual. To be honest I don’t even categorize myself, but if it made him feel comfortable, I was okay with him choosing a way to “describe” me.

Sometime during his Sophomore year, Karol brought me a paper that had Zack’s handwriting on it.  “Uh oh”, I said.  “Is this going to be bad?” (He was not the best student…) She said, “Just read it.”  She had seen this paper lying on the dining room table near Zack’s book bag and picked it up and read it.  She decided I should read it, and so she gave it to me. I held it in my hand and braced myself.

In his English class, he had been given an assignment to write about himself and his family.  In his own handwriting I read, “I found out a few years ago my mom is in a same gendered relationship.  I think that is cool. My mom is cool.”

I cried tears of joy.  He thought I was cool! That is a pretty amazing thing for a mom of a teenager to be considered cool by her kid!

Zack is now 18, and all of his friends are very well aware of the fact that he has two moms.  He calls Karol his “other mom”, and even gave her a “mother’s” pin after earning Eagle Scout.

I guess my worry was always misplaced.  I /we should have given our kids more credit. To be honest three out of our four kids are completely accepting of us and they call us their “moms”.  I will take it!

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This photo is us with Zack and The Genius.  Our oldest son lives in Tennessee, but is with us in spirit in this photo.