CHILDREN DON’T HAVE TO COME FIRST – BY A CHILD WHO DID NOT COME FIRST
I am now 41 years old. I have one parent left, and that’s my mother. My father died when I was 14, and my stepfather, who married my mother when I was 15, died when I was 39. That obviously means Mama’s been widowed twice, a fate I would not wish on anyone.
Before I get too far into writing this, I want to make something extremely clear. I adore my mother. I love her, respect her, and look up to her as an example of a person to emulate. We had a rough spell of about 20 years, during which we maintained an uneasy truce, but it was as much from my lack of perspective and understanding as anything else. Now that I’m married, I understand things much better than I did before I was married. If anyone chooses to comment on this, it needs to be about whether or not you agree with what I write, or a criticism of what I write; not a criticism about any of my parents. I am very happy with the parents I was given. It was not always so, but it always will be, now that I have things healed and cleaned up in my own heart.
It was May of 1975 when I was born. Daddy was 29 years old, and Mama was 21. I had an older sister, and later, we had a younger brother. Daddy was a truck driver. Mama worked various jobs, sometimes being a mother and housewife.
In 1983, Mama wanted to begin school, to follow her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. Daddy supported her decision, so she began the journey. That left the three of us needing a little more care sometimes than others, but they handled it. My sister was always super responsible, even as a very small child, and by that point, she was big enough, smart enough, and responsible enough to watch us, on the days we didn’t have another babysitter. I know that these days, people would scream that an 11 year old has no business being a babysitter, but things were a lot safer back then, at least where we lived, and no harm came to any of us, so get over yourselves. It was normal for us, and I never had a problem except my sister’s attitude, like any brother.
We were taught, by our mother, to keep house and do our chores. Daddy and Mama both insisted we do our homework every day just after arriving home. We cleaned, raked leaves, played outside, rode our bikes throughout the neighborhood. It was pretty typical, that way.
I’m not sure whether or not it was typical that our mother centered everything around our father. He was the head of the household, even though, from my perspective, she kept the show running. He would come in off the road and order us to do things, maintaining a strict level of control over not only the execution of the tasks, but the methods, as well. If one dirty dish was on the dish rack, the whole load had to be washed again. Daddy’s rule. I resented that, at the time.
Soon enough, Mama finished her schooling and got work as a teacher. Daddy was always trying to find a trucking job that could have him home every night, though I don’t ever remember that being the case. Bills come with a lot of demands; always have, always will, and money was better for the long hauls he did.
And then he had to go and die. On the job.
This man I was convinced I hated, until about the last year he was alive, was gone. That’s when I knew how much I loved him. That’s when my world exploded. That’s when my mother was just as good as dead for the next year or three. See, HER world exploded, too. I didn’t know that, back then, the way I do now.
The Grandmother Saga –
Maybe it would have gone differently without the involvement of Daddy’s mother, my grandmother. In fact, I’m sure it would have gone quite a lot differently. What were the options, though? Cut my grandmother out of my life? I couldn’t do that.
Mama had been engaged before she was married to Daddy. A man named Wayne. I knew about him, from reading her old high school yearbooks. Friends had called her Mrs. (his last name). They’d written, “Good luck with Wayne!” Things like that that teenagers do. He broke off their engagement, and then she met and fell in love with Daddy.
When Wayne showed up on the scene, I KNEW my mother would marry him. It seemed to have been written down somewhere that she had to do it. I didn’t have a problem with it, at first. In fact, I never had a problem with it until a certain grandmother got inside my head.
I guess my grandmother wanted Mama to mourn forever; as if part of her wouldn’t, anyway. When she found out Mama was seeing Wayne, things fell even further apart. That’s when my grandmother turned from my mother’s best friend to my mother’s worst enemy.
Oh, she was terrible. And there I was, 14 years old, hearing my grandmother say awful things about my mother moving on with her life. At first, I thought it was great that Mama wouldn’t be alone for long. Then, Daddy’s own mother started telling me how no decent woman would do what Mama did, dating someone when “her husband isn’t even COLD yet.” How I grew to despise that saying!
My grandmother and I fought bitterly over Mama. Every time she’d insult Mama, it pushed the same button in me that incited the greatest rage I ever felt. How DARE she talk that way about MY mother?!
Little by little, though, as I refused to shut my grandmother out of my life, and she kept insulting Mama and spreading bad words about Wayne, Wayne grew angrier and angrier with me, because my grandmother’s words started penetrating my mind and heart.
The first year with Wayne as part of my life was okay. Until the last two years of his life, that was the only peaceful time we knew.
This is where it gets extremely painful, difficult, and where I risk hurting my mother in a way I would rather not. It’s also where I show you that it’s okay; that no matter what happened, NOTHING could change the way I love and adore my Mama.
My Stepfather, My Mother, and Me –
I was 15 by the time Mama and Wayne were married. Ironically, I stood as Best Man at their wedding. I had already begged my mother not to marry him, and she had told me I had waited too long to say that, because she was in love again. THAT was a line that hurt. But it doesn’t hurt anymore.
When I think back on that now, I feel a profound sadness for Mama. Her world had been shattered, and she was left alone with three children and the prospect of raising us the rest of the way alone. It was terrifying for her. She did not feel capable of handling it. I know this, because we have talked at length about it, and I know my mother is honest with me.
By the time they married, my grandmother’s words were gnawing at my guts, my brain, my heart, and turning me into a bitter young man. I was angry that my mother wanted to be happy at my expense. My grandmother used that as ammunition, telling me that I could now plainly see that my mother didn’t really love me, only she, my grandmother, did.
The ironic kicker here is that my grandmother still had her husband. He was sick, bedridden in a hospital, unable to care for himself, but he was alive. My mother’s (first) husband was in the ground, DEAD. As I reminded my grandmother many, many times throughout the next 20 years, Mama didn’t cheat on Daddy. He DIED. The marriage vows had been fulfilled, till death did they part.
Too bad my brain and heart couldn’t get along. I really wish I had grown up faster, gotten smarter sooner.
As it happened, it was far uglier than I ever would have thought it could be. My mother had married a man who soon learned he didn’t like me much, and I didn’t like him. We pushed and pulled Mama each direction, never realizing that we NEEDED to learn to share.
By the time I was 18, I was so sick of living with a mother who was not like the one I knew as a child and a stepfather who didn’t want me there, and I moved out on my own. I’d had enough of everything always going the husband’s way and forget the son. My happiness didn’t seem to matter, and I didn’t want to be there, where I clearly was not wanted.
Except it wasn’t that simple. I wasn’t the innocent victim. I was just as guilty as my stepdad and my mother. We ALL made some big mistakes in dealing with each other. Mama lived a constant tug-of-war between her husband and her teenaged son, and teenagers are enough trouble without the added predicament of a stepparent-stepchild clash.
Out On My Own –
The month after my 18th birthday, with my grandfather having recently died and my home life a wreck, I moved out of Mama’s and Wayne’s house and in with my grandmother. That was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made.
She still mouthed ugly words about Mama, though by this time, her poison had worked its way into my heart, too. While I found myself agreeing with her, logically, my heart still dictated that I defend my mother, so I was left loving AND hating Mama, all at the same time.
After four months of that, I moved into my first apartment, a duplex. When I first moved into my home, I didn’t even know how to get utilities in my name. I had to get a job, start paying for my own car insurance and rent, pay my bills, go shopping; everything a newly independent person goes through.
Though I had given her plenty of justification had she decided to say “to hell with [me],” Mama often wound up helping me pay part of the rent or bills, putting gas in my car, and helping with groceries. That’s pretty normal, I’ve noticed.
There were a lot of negative feelings between us, from our arguments about my grandmother and her husband. I steadfastly refused to acknowledge him as an important part of my life. I had had a father, he was dead, and I said I didn’t want another one. That’s what I said. That’s what I believed. That wasn’t true. I figured that out later.
Wayne bore such a grudge against me that he did not wish to be in my presence at all. That made the first Thanksgiving after I’d moved out a very pain-filled, hurtful experience for Mama and me. She didn’t invite me out to her house, though the rest of our family was asked to come. My sister picked me up and took me, saying she didn’t give a damn who liked that I was there or not.
It wound up, in discussing it later, Mama cried and said she genuinely believed she was doing both Wayne and me a favor by not having me there. How would either of us enjoy it a bit, when our enmity was as large as it had grown to be, by that point? From my perspective, AT THAT TIME, it was another example of the husband coming first and not the child. My grandmother had drummed it into my head that that was unacceptable, and, without realizing it, I had started buying into her perspective of MY life.
Age 30 – My Own Marriage –
It took a while, you see? I was single until age 28, when I met my wife. All that time, I was convinced of how wrong Mama was in her often unsuccessful efforts to balance having a husband and son who didn’t like each other.
I just didn’t KNOW. And now I do.
I am a stepfather now, though I would gladly remove the word “step,” if I could. The ironic part of this is that I am in much the same role my mother was, only not nearly as severe. My wife is not a very demonstrative person, so there have been times when our daughters simply had no idea how much Mom valued them. I have always tried to be the peacemaker, when the need has arisen.
When you marry a person, that’s a sacred vow, a promise to take that person as your other half. I promised “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do we part.”
And that’s what Mama and Wayne promised, too.
Talk about an eye opener! Now I realized that it was not as simple as saying, “My spouse is bad. Get rid of him/her and only consider the children.”
Our children are grown. One already was an adult when I married her mother. The other was 13 and is grown now. Both have children of their own, some of whom I got to welcome into the family.
When there is a clash between a spouse and a child, there is a fierce desire in the other spouse to make peace at almost ANY cost. In the case of Wayne and me, what I had failed to realize, even though she had pointed it out to me repeatedly, was the validity of the argument that she had to live with him, after all was said and done, while I didn’t. And she didn’t have to live with me, either. I had moved out and gone on with my own life, at least to some degree.
If you’re married, you know what it’s like when people do not like your spouse. It’s not a pleasant position to be in. And what parent doesn’t want the best for his/her child? Every parent I know does.
My Own Conclusion –
Yes, I was a child when it started, but I was not a stupid or innocent child. I was selfish and greedy. I wanted to keep my mother all to myself, not share her with a “new” husband.
I know now that one reason I rebelled so hard about Wayne was that I was afraid to welcome another father figure into my life. I had already been robbed of one, so why would I purposely put myself into that risky situation again? Time fooled me, though.
Wayne and my mother were married for 23 ¾ years. It becomes impossible NOT to care about someone who is part of my life for that long, whether or not I like them. And I grudgingly admitted to myself a number of years back that I loved him, that he, too, was my parent. He was a very DIFFICULT parent, but a parent, nonetheless.
I always want what’s best for my parents. And it hurts to see the “s” on the end of that and realize, suddenly, that it is now a singular word, not plural. I have one parent now.
All those years, I focused on what would have been best for ME. I never considered, until I was married, what might be best for Mama. Because of a parent’s mythical status in their children’s eyes, I didn’t think of her as needing things a real person wanted. She was far elevated above mere mortal status. She was MAMA, not a flesh and blood woman who needed love, partnership, compassion, understanding, and someone to cry on.
But now I know she is a real person. Now I know she was winging it then, the way I often do now. Now I know she made some mistakes and judgment errors, but they are not unforgivable.
She didn’t do it on purpose. The prices have been paid. It’s over.
I’m grown and married, she’s widowed for a second time, and I cherish that unique, special woman who brought me into this world.
I didn’t always come first. Yes, I resented it. Yes, in some ways, it might have damaged me, but in more ways, I think it helped me, and it helped MY children. I know things I never would have dreamed about. I know how to make them feel valued and loved. I know they won’t wither away and die if I have to focus more attention on my wife, their mother, than on them, sometimes.
Our general rule is to make sure the kids are happy and healthy before anything, but there are times when Mom and Dad DO have to come first.
And there were times when MY Mama, Daddy, and Wayne had to come first.
If the balance was off, so what. We made our peace, and I’m alive and well. I love my THREE parents, and I feel that I’m a better parent and grandparent myself, because of what all went on.
There doesn’t need to be a lifelong consequence for mistakes, especially when the people in question have so much love invested in each other.
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