Well hello there. Or should I say top 0′ of the mornin to ya? Yesterday was our first day in Ireland so I guess I’ve picked up a new phrase.
For those of you not following along on Instagram, for the next 2 weeks, Brandon and I are taking his middle and youngest girls on summer vacation to Ireland and England. Last minute, Brandon needed to head to Denmark for the first few days of our trip so I have the girls all to myself. This is our first trip together. Ever. I’ve been vlogging the whole thing and will have it up ASAP but as a little preview: it’s been going SO well! So well in fact that it’s seems like odd timing for me to be writing this post about the drama around our engagement but it’s an important part of our story so let me take you back…
At some point on this blog, I’ll talk about all of the amazing things Brandon has brought into my life.
But what I’ve found to be true is no one wants to only hear the fluffy stuff – you want me to be real with you. So here’s my real: Brandon proposing when he did was incredibly challenging because of our family dynamics. We were well on our way to throwing the surprise engagement party of our dreams but had some family business to take care of first.
We needed to tell his kids that we were getting married.
In order to fully understand, you might need a little context. Brandon has 3 daughters: 25, 23, and 13.
I know it’s not unheard of for men to marry women their daughter’s age or younger. We certainly meet that criteria but I also went to high school with the two older girls and have pictures of me, when I was 12, holding his youngest when she was an infant. Fast-forward a decade and I was officially about to become their stepmom. If this isn’t a modern family, I don’t know what is. Back when Brandon proposed, we were all just settling into this new norm after years of slowly integrating our families: our first holiday season together had just passed and things seemed like they were finally becoming “normal.” I was dating their dad and we were all doing our best to come together.
I never imagined becoming a stepmom and they certainly weren’t in need of a step-parent who could be their sister.
Brandon and I would likely have already been married but out of respect for his girls, we decided to wait until everyone was ready. I’ll never forget when I read a book, hilariously titled Stepmonster. For any of you with step kids, it is a must read. A few chapters in, the author recounts that on her wedding day, her stepdaughters, sitting in the front row, sobbed throughout the entire ceremony and created a huge spectacle. This haunted me and I made it my mission to never put his girls in a position where we were forcing them to be supportive by dragging them to the alter with us. I don’t know if his girls will ever get to a place where they’ll be overwhelming supportive of us, but I do want to get married when they were ready to show up for their dad and be happy that he’s happy. For us, this meant waiting a few more years… until Brandon proposed ahead of schedule.
I instantly knew this was going to be problematic because our engagement was a huge reminder of just how weird this situation really is. I was about to move from their dad’s girlfriend to their stepmom. People were going to talk and it would reopen a wound that was well on its way in the healing process.
When it came time to plan our surprise engagement party, we knew that we’d have to talk with his girls beforehand. Letting them be surprised with the rest of our guests seemed like cruel punishment so Brandon talked with them individually.
We went around and around as to how we wanted to tell them and finally decided that he needed to do it alone. I understand that some people think you should tell them as a couple to send the message that you’re a united front. Everyone has their path but this just wasn’t ours – I felt strongly that his girls deserved that moment with their dad. There was nothing I could contribute to that conversation and they didn’t need me there. My role as girlfriend/stepmom-to-be didn’t need to be rubbed in their faces. We also wanted them to feel comfortable enough to ask the hard questions. Some of these questions were bound to hurt my feelings but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t ask them. I just didn’t need to be there when it happened.
Brandon told them a few days before the party. They knew we were having a joint birthday and they’re smart girls. Instead of being able to sit down for dinner and talk with them, his youngest guessed it which isn’t how we wanted things to go down. They suspected this news was coming but were still surprised when he confirmed that we were engaged. When he told them, no one was jumping up and down with excitement or joy. They weren’t thrilled and I all of the sudden felt like I needed to apologize to them that this was happening. I was unbelievably excited about this next chapter and tempering my excitement was an implication of our age gap that I didn’t see coming. They weren’t to blame – I fully understood where they were coming from. But it didn’t make it any easier on me. I wanted to be the blushing bride but I became overwhelmingly sad when I realized they weren’t excited for us.
Everyone was raw. The emotions were real. And there wasn’t a celebration that day. But we worked through it. The band aid was ripped off and the only thing we could do was allow more time to pass and hope this wound would heal.
Our situation is rather unique but there are certainly core elements that aren’t unique to us:
Sometimes, people won’t support you. It’s the hardest when they’re the people closest to you and the ones who matter. But when this happens, you get to choose how to respond. You can sit and ask, “why me?” but this isn’t going to get you far. You have to move forward. You have to stay positive. Your joy shouldn’t come from other’s opinions. But make sure you’re checking in with yourself. How can you show empathy? How can you do the right thing?
I have messed up countless times with his girls and I second guess myself constantly. Should I be more involved? Should I be less involved? Am I trying too hard? Or not hard enough? What do they think of me? Do they see that their dad is happy? How can I make them like me? I could let these thoughts to swallow me whole. And at times, I have. But I can’t allow what they think of me to define me. I will never become the person I want to be if I’m constantly anxious about what other people think. I have to compartmentalize and remember that I’m doing the best I can do. This is something I work on every day and find myself asking, “If they were in my shoes, how would they want me to treat them?” Not loving their dad isn’t the answer. But being sensitive to their feelings is a priority. I try to come from this place. In time, they may never cozy up to me, but they will certainly see that I am madly in love with their dad and will be by his side through the good and the bad.
This is a hard post to write as I’m not exactly sure how to end it. But I guess I’ll leave you with this:
It’s okay to be conflicted. It’s okay not to have the right answers. There’s no manual for any of this. The things I know to be true are: my love for him, his love for me, and his love for his children. I have an immense amount of empathy for his girls. This isn’t what they imagined and I’m sure it’s embarrassing in many ways. They didn’t choose this. They are just like me – trying to figure out the best way to love their dad. Despite our differences, this will forever be our common ground: we all love their dad.
PS. I’m sorry for only posting happy, smiley photos with this post. We weren’t exactly posing for the camera when all the tough conversations were going down. That’s just not how these things go.
PPS. Yesterday, while we were getting ready to explore Galway, I the chance to read this post to Brandon’s two youngest daughters. I had another post prepared in case they weren’t comfortable and gave them the choice. They both gave me a thumbs up to post this and I was beyond touched.
I’ll never claim that things are perfect. But this is a true testament to how far we’ve all come.
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