If you would have told me some ten years ago what I would be doing today I would have said you were crazy. I was literally in a different place all together and the last thing on my mind was kids and being a father. I had always loved working with kids and thoroughly enjoyed my nieces and nephews. I considered myself the cool uncle who loved to indulge them with random acts of funness. The best part about it was I could send them home with their parents after a couple of days and get back to doing whatever I wanted to do.
When I first met Julie, Grayson was about two years and few months old. I didn’t think anything about that at the time. Like I said, I was in a different place all together. Through CrossFit and church Julie and I became good friends and when the timing was right, we began dating. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think, “if this develops...I’ll be an instant dad...ME?” It was frightening really. For years having kids was almost taboo to me and yet I was having to decide to not only move forward with my relationship with Julie but had to contemplate the add on...with Julie, comes Grayson.
Grayson was great. About as opposite from me in pretty much every way. He was a tuff little left hander who loved the woods and trucks. I think if he could sleep in mud, he would have done it, and that was fine. I can honestly say I've been hunting less than ten times in my life and have been mud riding on a four-wheeler I think twice. Not to say those are bad, but it’s just not what I do. So, working to develop a relationship with Grayson was a challenge for me in the beginning. I didn’t really know where to start and frankly, I was afraid. I was afraid to get so close to him that if anything happened to Julie and me, I didn’t want to leave him hanging. I was also afraid that if I kept my distance from him and solely focused on Julie that he would resent me in some way and damage a future relationship. I chose to balance it out the best I could.
I am sure I am not the only guy who has gone through the waters of a step-son relationship or trying to make that work and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I can however speak to my situation and the lessons I have learned as it might hopefully help someone out. Here they are:
Lesson 1. Love your wife first. You are marrying your wife, she has a son. But you are marrying your wife. You aren’t marrying your wife and her son. Her son comes with the package yes, but at the end of the day the marriage is between a husband and wife. We were lucky enough to have great mentors and an awesome experience with our pre-marriage counseling sessions that really helped us understand where we stood on all the issues. If you’ve never done pre-marriage counseling and you aren’t married. Do it. If you are married and have never gone through pre-marriage counseling, do it.
Lesson 2. Love your step-child. Grayson is not mine by birth, but he is mine by marriage. I choose not to take that lightly. I love him like my own son. We have arguments and he drives me absolutely crazy sometimes but I tuck him in every night, kiss him on the forehead and tell him I love him, because I do. I try to show it to him in many ways. This can be difficult when we are quite the opposite for, I am fairly certain Grayson can shoot better than me and can identify 80% more vehicle make and models on the road at any given time. But we do like sports and we both get a kick out of video games – so at least we have that right? I’m kidding, but the point I am trying to make is you have a choice to love someone that technically doesn’t belong to you. That choice will end up meaning more to that child than anything else in the long run.
Lesson 3. Don’t be a jerk to the ex. Granted every situation is different. Some parents are not in the picture at all. Some are thorns in each other's side just out of spite. I am grateful and thankful that my wife and Grayson’s dad are very civil and work around schedules etc. and are accommodating with Grayson’s best interest at heart. I personally make it a point to speak to Grayson’s dad every time I see him. I respect his dad as Grayson’s father and I want Grayson to see that. Kids are like sponges, both with their eyes and ears. Keep that in mind when you want to bad mouth the ex in front of your child.
Lesson 4. Never judge a book by its cover. The last thing on my mind when I first met Julie was “I’m going to marry her.” In fact, she would tell you she hated me the first time we met because I was coaching a CrossFit class she was in and I made her work hard lol. (But that’s another blog). I also did not say “I’m not going to talk to her because she has a kid.” That’s just being a jerk. I got to know Julie through talking, hanging out with friends, attending church together and just being ourselves. Had I written her off as a “potential partner” based off her having a child I would have missed out on so much, I don’t even want to think about that. So again, never judge a book by its cover.
While it’s easy for me to sit back and reflect on the many blessings that have come from the brief years we have been married, I am reminded at how uneasy it was for me in the beginning. I had to realize I didn’t need to be scared of someone who had a little boy. I had to realize I didn’t need to be some knight in shining armor that was needed to come in and save the day - I assure you Julie would have kicked me off that high horse quickly. I also realize I didn’t need to be someone I wasn’t to Grayson, I just needed to be me. I had to get over myself and be something I never thought I would become. Even now I question it...an Instant Dad...Me? Who knew.