"The stories we don't own, own us"
My story is that I am the primary carer of my husband’s 11yo affair child. Why primary carer? Because in our household, playing to your strengths means that my husband works full time in a demanding corporate job while I work part time and take the lead role in caring for all of the children. There are 4 of them aged 17, 15, 12 and the affair child, my step-son who just turned 11.
He never used to live with us. He used to spend 4 nights every two weeks and half the school holidays with us. But 6 months ago he came for his usual weekend and his mother decided she didn’t want him home again. No explanation just a crazy email, dictating ultimatums about my husband’s contact with his child if he didn’t agree to her terms and conditions…
This is the way it has always rolled with the ex-Affair Partner – right from the beginning. Although I wasn’t included in the early days. My husband didn’t tell me what was going on until a few days before his child turned 2. By this stage the ex-Affair Partner had become a permanent fixture in our house, by pretending to be a friend, eating my meals and getting me to babysit her child – my husband’s child.
Truth is stranger than fiction but here we are 9 years down the track, marriage repaired, family thriving, really, and I’m the primary carer of my husband’s affair child. So why am I writing this? I guess I am searching for my story. Because Brene Brown says owning our story is not as painful as running from our story. I hope she is right because the conflict that I feel some days – the inner turmoil and the clashing of thoughts and feelings I have about this situation just makes me want to scream. Stop the world and let me get off or let me go back and make different choices - I don’t know.
Other people seem to be experts on my story: “I would have kicked my husband to the curb if he had an affair on me…” “You must be really weak to take your husband back after his affair” “You are so good taking on another woman’s child like that” “I could never do what you are doing…” weak, door mat, need to get a life, Mother Teresa, saving grace, good woman. Probably all this shows is that other people, despite being experts on other people’s lives can’t make sense of my story either.
None of these descriptors make sense to me – I am none of these things. I am not weak for healing my marriage – I don’t regret a single bit of the sheer hard slog my husband and I went through to come out the other side with a marriage, while far from perfect, is much more real and stronger than it ever was. But I am also not especially “good” for including my husband’s child in our family. Most of this I feel I had no say in. I did not choose for my husband to have an affair. I did not choose for his Affair Partner to have a child. I did not choose for that child to now be living with us full time (and in fact, given the way he came to live with us, wonder if we weren’t around whether he would now be in foster care).
But I did choose to forgive my husband for his choices and that includes the life long consequences of that choice. The other choices I make are harder – the choice every day to show up living my core values of kindness, love, acceptance, equality and fairness and the importance of a strong and connected family (the one I have created not the one I came from!) I know that my step son had no choice about anything – less choices than me. And as a child he has a right to love from his parents and I would never want to take that away from him. And in fact having known him since a baby I also love him dearly.
But I am also human and fall short of these values at times and go into victim mode and bemoan the stuff that has happened to me outside my control and how that affects me every day. CTRL ALT DELETE…And so I come back to reminding myself of my choices and my values and start over. Like a reset button on the computer… I am not going to pretend it is easy – mostly good, but constant challenges that can trip me up if I lose my focus on what is really important to me.
So for those of you who work with me to find your own story or those who just read this blog. I am not going to pretend to you that I find it easy. But what I have found is that if you live by your values you will at least be able to live with yourself. That is really all that matters in the end. Brene Brown also says the "If we own our story we get to write the ending." I am looking forward to that.