Maintaining separate households and thinking outside of the box ….

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I have one of the oddest, most unconventional lives of anyone I know, I think.  That is the reason for the name of my blog, The Husbandless Housewife.  I live in a house with my three boys and my stepdaughter.  My widowed fiance lives across town with two of his other children (He has an adult daughter who doesn’t live with him as well).  He goes to work and I stay at home (in my house) with his daughter mostly.  Most likely, this will not change for a long time.

How did we get here?  I was working for a large hospital system full time and coming home each day after ten hours a day to start over again at home with the boys and our nightly routines.  I was exhausted, I couldn’t keep up with my housework, we were eating out a whole lot and I couldn’t keep up with the boys activities either.  He was struggling to keep his house and children afloat as well with constantly rotating caregivers. About a year and a half ago, an opportunity to work from home (making more money) fell into my lap.  I hopped right on it.  I was able to work from home, didn’t have to commute for two hours a day anymore, and I could care for Star as well.  I was ecstatic.  It was actually one of the best and most exciting times in my life.  Just six months later, the company I was working for from home closed it’s doors.  I no longer had a job at all.  I really, really, really did not want to go back to the office.  I really enjoyed the clean, organized house, having time to cook every day, having time to know exactly what was going on with the boys and giving Star the full time care she deserves.  We definitely did throw ideas around about working part time and moving in together, which personally I think would have been relationship suicide for us at the time.  So we moved stuff around, I’m able to have Star with me here full time, he doesn’t have to pay caregivers anymore and I found a part time gig in the mornings when everyone is at school.  I help a woman (who I now consider a close friend) with quadriplegia.  Again, I was seriously thinking outside of the box on this one too as I have never done caregiving and knew nothing about quadriplegia.  I’ve actually come to love it though.  It has been extremely humbling and enlightening for me.  It also ensures that I get my butt up and ready every morning, which I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Here we are again, as we have just found out that the company that he works for is now going under.  He has been there for ten years.  I have complete faith that he will land something right away, but he will probably be taking a hefty cut in pay and work a lot of twelve hour days starting out.  That means we don’t know if we will still be able to financially support two households and he will need more help again with his kids.  We have been having more proactive conversations lately about how to live with all of the kids under the same roof and boundaries which makes the idea of living together a little more attractive, but I’m still scared out of my mind to take that step.

 

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Parenting my special needs stepchild ….

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As a stepparent, we have all had somebody at some point tell us, “When you married him, you married his children.”  We usually stay quiet and nod politely because we know that it is too much of a hassle to try to explain to somebody who doesn’t understand that no, I didn’t marry his children, I married him.  I did, however, promise to try to be the best stepparent I can be to his kids.  I, however, am promising to “marry” one of his children along with him.  His daughter Star is sixteen and has special needs.  She is non-verbal, she cannot hear and is delayed.  She will never be independent enough to live on her own or even do daily tasks such as cook her own food.  She will be with us until we die.  She will always need not just a caregiver, but a parent.

In the beginning of the relationship, naturally, I did not take care of her, he did, along with family members and various babysitters.  I was just getting to know her.  She did not immediately take to me, she didn’t know who the heck I was.  She didn’t understand why the person who had always taken care of her (her mother) was no longer here and why all of these other people suddenly were.  When she wasn’t following her dad’s every move, she was angry and throwing things around the house in almost daily tantrums.  She refused to sleep unless someone slept in the room with her with the lights off.  She had caregivers coming to her home and though the intention was good, doing everything for her (including spoon feeding) and further impairing her.  Dad didn’t know how to care for a teenage girl with special needs, her mom had always done it.  Her siblings didn’t know what to do so they would just lock themselves up in their rooms and try to ignore it all.

I attended a meeting with her teacher in the beginning of that year.  Her teacher was disappointed at how much progress she had lost.  She wanted to be spoon fed at school (she knows how to feed herself), she was usually quite tired and lethargic as she would stay up fighting with her dad a lot of nights.  The meeting really gave me a lot of insight as far as what this child was really capable of but was not really being allowed to do due to circumstances.

As time passed, she became comfortable with me and started spending a lot more time with me in public and at my house on her own.  I started testing the waters with her and learned that she could do most things all on her own.  She EATS, brushes her teeth, brushes her hair, washes herself in the shower, plays independently and with others and sleeps in her own bed in her own room.  She had no behavior problems when we were alone together (minus dad).  However, as soon as dad showed up, her problems would come right back.  She would get aggressive as soon as he arrived to my house and would go right back to her old ways at his house.  It was like being half way through reading a book and having to start all over again from the first chapter every time.  She knew that he would allow her to act however she liked and there were no consequences.  So I started giving her consequences (taking the tablet away and time outs) and slowly, she started to change.

When I began working from home, I also began taking Star on full time.  She has her own room at my house and is with me full time.  She spends the night at dad’s house twice a week with no problems.  I actually feel lucky because with how overcompensating he can be with the kids, he listened to me when I explained that I needed the full capacity of being able to care for her.  If he was undermining me with her care, I wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t stay in a relationship with him.  I need her to be as independent as she possibly can, I need her to know appropriate behavior, I don’t want to have to deal with a thirty five year old her throwing stuff around the house during a fit all because she was never taught any better.  I’m also lucky that she’s receptive, I know that all children are different and that’s not the case all of the time.

I know that I am not her “real” mom, she has one who unfortunately can’t be here with her any longer.  But I do love her as my child and consider myself lucky to be able to be the mom that is able to be here with her to love her and teach her (when she’s not teaching me).

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Marrying a widower….Everyone loves a martyr….

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Gabe and I got engaged recently in December and have set a date for this coming October to be married.  We’re not having a huge reception, it will probably include about a hundred people.  We didn’t want to have anything too expensive or too large as we have a lot of responsibilities with our kids but we feel that we would like to do a little more than taking a trip to city hall.

We were talking today and he mentioned that he still has not announced the date to his mom.  He is worried that she is going to be less than thrilled about us spending the money on the reception and what people will think.  He has tried to talk to her previously about eventually selling his house and moving on and though it’s nothing personal, she wasn’t the biggest fan as she’s not someone who likes change.  A couple of months ago, his aunt asked his mom where his girlfriend was as she thought that I lived with them and his mom told her, “Oh no, she doesn’t live here, she’s like his friend who helps him a lot.”  What?  He did tell her immediately that that was not true and he planned on getting married soon.  Again, it’s nothing personal, I know that she likes me and we get along great.  The thing is though, she would like to live in denial and see her son as the poor widower raising up three motherless children without another interest in the world.  She would also like everyone else to believe this as well.  I think it’s partly cultural and partly generational.  In her generation, when your spouse dies, you don’t move on.  You can recall fond memories of them for the rest of your days and everyone will see you as a respectable widow(er).  In his case, it’s even more admirable as he can be a respectable widower who supported his children and raised them all single handed.  Needless to say, she is not the only one with this thought process.

During the wake of a death, there is always literally dozens (or more) people promising their everlasting love and help (whatever I can do) to the survivor(s).  As the weeks and months pass, most of these people have dropped off from the face of the earth.  THEY move on.  As in his case as well, he had tons of help from family and in-laws in the beginning with his household and children.  Over time, the help dwindled and he had to look to babysitters and housekeepers for help.  For the most part, we have found, when you need this type of full time help, it’s almost impossible to find someone who’s reliable.  So who is left to help?  Yeah, that would be me.  I find the hypocrisy fascinating, all of these people who would love for this young widower to just stick it out and be respectable and alone, however, they are more than happy for his partner to take on the kids and the things that they no longer have time for, as THEY have moved on.

In the end, he can either be everyone’s favorite martyr or HE can move on and be happy.

 

Living apart together and dating single parents….When you’re dating ‘Super Dad’….

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Have you ever saw a single dad doting on his adorable children, loudly exclaiming, “My kids are my world!” and thought to yourself, “Wow, how cute, what a great dad, I would love to marry a guy like that”?  A lot of us have.  But what is it actually like to be in a relationship with Mr. My-kids-are-my-world guy?  Let me tell you.

At first, you see it just like everyone else does, it’s adorable and endearing and sunshine and rainbows.  You want to join in on making those children happy, you send them cookies, you buy them toys and overlook any misbehavior as the kids just being kids and dad just being a single dad.  It’s all good.  They are a little “shy” at first, but they’ll come around and grow to love you, you tell yourself.

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Time passes and you start to notice a few things.  It wasn’t very cute when one of the kids threw themselves to the floor in a tantrum and super dad passed it off as said child ‘was just tired’.  But you stay quiet, it’s not your place.  You also start to realize that maybe the kids aren’t very “shy”, they just don’t really like you taking up their dad’s time or space.

Soon enough, you start looking at the big picture.  Every time you come by super dad’s house, his bedroom now has tons of kids’ items scattered around as they change in there (despite having their own rooms and being old enough to dress themselves) and if you’re lucky, sometimes there’s even a kid sleeping in his bed when you arrive.  Short departures where the kids are left with a sitter are met with tears on the kids’ part and complete guilt on dad’s part.  When one of the children’s tablet’s batteries run out, you are expected to offer them your phone.  When you refuse, you are just mean.  If a phone call from one of the children is not immediately answered, expect ten more immediately after until dad picks up.  Don’t even think about having a private conversation with super dad if the children are within the vicinity, they will immediately feel ‘bored’ and dad will do anything that he can to make sure that he can provide proper entertainment.  Dad still thinks all of this makes him look like an adorable super dad, yet when you realize that he’s not just a ‘doting dad’ but he’s pacifying instead of parenting, it’s not so cute anymore.   You begin to resent super dad.

So what do you do?  It depends.  It depends on if super dad is open to change and or suggestions or not.  If he is not, just run.  Don’t look back.  Let me repeat myself, run.  If he is open to change and suggestions, if you choose to stick it out, do not expect change overnight.  It’s not going to happen and it will be hundreds of discussions and times that you will be fed up before you see significant change with a single dad who is used to guilt parenting instead of engaging in the ugly part of parenting.  In our case, it has been over three years and we are still not all the way there yet.  We have come a long way but we are still nowhere near the point to where it would be ideal to try to combine parenting styles and a living situation.  It has been a slow, uphill battle.  I’m in a relationship with a young widower who, even prior to losing his wife, was the ‘hero’ parent, he was not the disciplinarian.  His kids also lost their mother so he tried to make them as happy as he possibly could.  Understandable, yes.  Okay for the long term?  No.  If my super dad wants to be in a relationship with me, he must parent his children and put enough room aside for our relationship as well.

Living apart together and parenting apart together (Sort of)

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For us, the main reason for living apart and maintaining our own households is a difference in parenting styles and working on ourselves and our own households before combining them.  The alternative, of course, would be to just jump right into it and pray that everything works out for the best.

From the very beginning of our relationship, it has been clear that Gabe and I disagree on A LOT of issues regarding parenting and how a household should be run.  He is a lot more detailed than I am on some things.  He bases a lot of what he focuses on on what he believes others’ perceptions of him will be.  His focuses differ greatly from mine.  He will run around bleaching toilets and cleaning kids rooms before someone arrives (his house smells wonderful, by the way), yet he will not notice whether his kids have said hello to his guests or being unkind to the children guests.  I have known this man to change his bedspread in fear that people may notice that he always has the same one on his bed every time they visit.  I, on the other hand, will graze over my house quickly, pick it up so it’s neat (not necessarily bleached), threaten to ground the kids until their room is clean (enough) and give them a ten minute talk about how they are to greet everyone, be polite and include the children who are visiting.  He focuses more on being presentable and making sure everyone knows that dad has his stuff together, I focus more on guests feeling comfortable and having a good time.  If only it was easy enough to combine these qualities into one household.

We have two different experiences and two separate points of views.  I have been a single mom for about ten years.  I have had to force the boys to be independent when need be to a certain extent and to improvise.  Sometimes, there was no other choice and it has forced me to not count on perfection.  They need to make their own cereal, they need to get themselves dressed, they need to entertain themselves as well.  Over the years, I have not had the time luxury to do all of the little things for them that they can do themselves and I’m most definitely not their personal clown who has something to entertain them with every time they are bored.  They understand these things and they are still happy and well adjusted.  The best part is, when I do have the time to do something special or out of the ordinary for them, they appreciate it and they know that they are loved. Yet still, I have lots of room for improvement, I do try to focus more on smaller things and being a bit more detailed, it just makes life easier sometimes.  He, on the other hand is a widowed father.  His wife did all of the parenting when she was alive and he was the provider and the ‘hero’.  People don’t change overnight.   Understandably, to try to somehow compensate for the kids’ loss, he overcompensated with them by trying to become the perfect dad and caregiver.  To add to this, he is a people pleaser, he loves to make people happy and he loves being a hero to his kids.  The kids, again understandably, have become accustomed to being catered to and not being accountable for their own responsibilities and behavior.  He focused so much on the short term (cleaning the kids’ rooms for them, keeping them happy by not giving them consequences when they were rude or downright mean to him) that now, in the long term, he is slowly trying to undo these things and well, it’s hard.

Over the years, we have gone back and forth with each other about ways that we feel the other should change and also things that we would like to change about ourselves in order to become better partners and parents.  I am so grateful that we have been able to do this in separate homes rather than in a shared household where we would be making unnecessary and unfair comparisons out of frustration and anger.  We have been able to implement the changes with our own kids and households on our own, without the other parent having to be blamed or labeled the bad guy responsible for these changes in order to make life together not just bearable, but happy eventually.  It’s an ongoing process and I do believe that one day, we will get there.

 

Maintaining separate households in blended families or Living Apart Together

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I’m engaged to marry a widower who is also a single dad this coming October.  We have been in a relationship for over three years and have seven kids between the two of us (4 for him and 3 for me).  We have maintained our own households over the course of our relationship and we don’t intend to change that when we are officially married in October.  I’ve shared this concept with friends and family, my mother thinks I’m nuts and my friends think I’m a genius.  I started researching this concept a few years back and there are a lot of success stories out there.  Here is one of my favorites:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/23/blended-family_n_5871060.html

 

I thought I would share a few of the reasons why I think this is the best approach for us, although it’s unconventional:

 

  • We have completely different parenting styles.  I don’t plan on parenting his children and he doesn’t plan on parenting mine, however, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to live in a house with a set of divided rules.
  • Neither of us currently have a house large enough for everyone.  We would need a house with at least five bedrooms.  That’s not so common around here and when we looked around, it would actually only cost a few hundred dollars less than paying for our separate houses.
  • Our kids are in two separate school districts which they have all been in all of their lives.  Moving one or the other from their schools would be devastating to them and my guess is, create even more animosity.
  • Sleeping together every night at this point is just not worth all of the uproot and hostility the move would cause, we always have the weekends.

I’m not sure how long this will work for us, but as long as it does, great.  I strongly feel that for now at least, this will help to keep all of our relationships stronger and happier,  and isn’t that the point?

 

The first year in a relationship with a widower….The merry go round…

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Firstly, I want to say that I refer to him as a widower for the sake of my posts, but I don’t really identify him in real life that way.  His name is Gabriel and he is a man who happened to lose his wife years ago.  Okay, going forward….

The first year of our relationship took off very fast.  I chalk it up to knowing each other in the past and feeling comfortable with each other already as compared to someone who you are just getting to know.  I feel personally, like there are core things about people that never really change.   It’s hard to describe feeling like you really know someone and feel comfortable with them and then, on the other hand, there are so many things that you are still learning about them, like you need to catch up.  There is also a feeling of obligation to someone that you have already known.

That first year we hid our relationship from most of the people he knows due to guilt and obviously the fear of hurting others.  We went out to eat a few times a week, we went on one or two day romantic vacations several times.  That year his in-laws were very involved with his children and I think he just needed an escape from what he was going through, which was me.  It was like being in love for the first time with so much underlying guilt and shame.

When I would go to his house, it would always be when his children were away or in school.  It is so strange to go to your guys’ house and yet, you are actually really in his and his wife’s home.  You have the family photos, you have the memorial pictures of her, and everything there is essentially her taste.  It feels as if you’re having an affair and it’s a very hard feeling to shake.  About a year in, we were on a short getaway and he asked me to get something from his wallet.  I opened it to see his drivers license along with a small picture of his late wife right beside his drivers license picture.  I do understand grief as a logical person, but oh, that stung.  There was also the time that he told me that if his sister in-law just happened to show up one day, he would really contemplate asking me to hide in the closet.  Ewwwww and ouch!!!  What are we, twelve???

On one hand, I was in this new relationship that I was sharing with my friends and family and was so excited about.  I could definitely sympathize with him but would feel such betrayal from him for hiding it.   And so it goes, it was a teeter-totter of joy, excitement, guilt, shame and being hurt, over and over again.

One of the best examples of that year that I can think of was his birthday.  We were coming back from a two day vacation that day, (his kids were visiting family in another state) and he had made plans the previous year for his birthday to go out.  I remember us driving home from our vacation and his friends calling him and me staying quiet.  He felt horrible, I felt horrible, but he couldn’t just squelch his prior commitments with his people either.  He went out that night with three of his couple friends and sent me pictures while I was at home.  Worst.  Feeling.  Ever.  I knew I had to be a logical adult but could not help but feel betrayed.

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I also longed for the day that we could have a “normal” relationship but dreaded it as well.  I wanted everything to be normal and to not have to feel hidden but I also dreaded the reactions from those close to him and the hurt and anger that I knew that it was going to cause.  To this day, I almost want to hide in a corner at times when it comes to gatherings with his family and friends, it can be so hard and at times, just painful.  I have found a whole lot of solace in certain individuals in his circle who have just accepted me and loved me unconditionally and that is one of the ways that I can still keep going and have hope for a “normal” life.

How it all began….How I unintentionally rekindled an old romance and began a relationship with a widower…

When I was 19 years old, I had a boyfriend whom I was madly in love with.  He was handsome, smart, funny and hardworking but he was also very young as well.  We were in a relationship for about two years when the day came that he butt dialed me and I very dramatically discovered that I was not the only girlfriend he had.   I was devastated.  I was also very young and dramatic.  Following that day ensued throwing out anything he owned that was in my possession and plenty of screaming matches and tears.

Moving forward, we both married other people, had children and wished each other well.  I would hear about him through a string of mutual friends and a phone call years later when his dad was seriously ill and he needed help navigating insurance programs as it was my line of business.

I divorced almost ten years ago and have been a single mom to my three boys since then.  I have dated and been in a relationship that did not work out since then but to be honest, it never even crossed my mind that I would ever run into this guy again.  Until one day….I’m scrolling through my usual Facebook feed and a mutual friend posted that his wife passed away. She was only thirty eight years old.  I was shocked and heartbroken for him and their children.  I sent him a text to see if they were okay.  Obviously they were not, I left him with the usual, “I’m here if you need anything” and left it at that.  In the weeks that followed, I thought about them a lot.  We had a phone conversation a few weeks later when things settled down a bit for him and agreed to meet for lunch before he returned from leave to work.

Fast forward a few months and he picks me up from work for lunch one day.  I had not seen him in over fifteen years.  He looked tired but surprisingly, he looked like the same guy I knew all of those years ago.  I surprised myself when I suddenly felt nervous there in the car with him.  We decided on Corner Bakery and sat down to eat and chat.  We talked about how he was feeling, how the kids were and how he was planning on juggling everything on his own.  He has always been an extremely resilient person who at least pretends not to dwell on things for too long and would rather turn the subject to the other person instead of himself in order to avoid looking weak.  He dropped me back off at work two hours later, we hugged and said goodbye.

Following that day at lunch, suddenly, this person that I almost never thought about for so many years was constantly on my mind and I didn’t want him to be.   We’re suddenly texting daily and I was anticipating hearing from him although I knew I was being crazy.  A week following lunch, he sent me a text, typical him style, “Hey, why don’t you let me take you on a real date out to dinner?”  And so it began……