Conditions for Unconditional Love

My son was upset this week. He has been upset for a few weeks. I am thankful that he tells me everything, even when he cries on my shoulder. He often leaves white snot on my black clothing, but I’m glad. He is almost a teenager, and so, yes, I am glad for this time and for his trust.

He told me that his biological mother regularly reminds him that I am not his real mom. He cried. I asked him what her reasoning was. He said because I didn’t give birth to him. He looked off, he quietly thought. He told me that was a ridiculous reason. Children who are adopted don’t consider their birth mom to be their “real mom,” he said, likely thinking about his adopted, sweet, baby cousin.

Later, he told me that he didn’t care what she said because I was his support. The next morning, working to tread the fine line between being the “cool mom” and talking badly about his mom, I wanted to cry for him. I told him clearly:
I don’t care if you call me mom.
I don’t care if you call me Ema.
I don’t care if you call me Alyssa.
All I care about is being the support you need, when, and how you need it. I want to be the parent you need, whatever that means to you.

He hugged me so close. I felt his snot soaking through my shirt. He lifted his head and smiled at me, his eyes full of water. He walked out of the house, headed to his real mom’s.

He yelled, “I love you, mommy!” And slammed the door behind him.

From day one, my son and I have been connected. Even when I was living across the country he would call me, FaceTime me, talk to me one-on-one when I was in town for the weekend. And I never introduce myself as my kids’ mom or step-mom. I hate those titles. I always say that I am their parent. I am. It is not my intention to replace or interfere– but I think that any parent who actively and responsibility works on their relationships with their kids, gets that. When your kids are your priority, you are happy for the relationships that they have. You know it takes a village. I know it does. I have a great village. I also know that being unpopular, strict, annoying, and a slew of other adjectives, makes me an active and attentive parent. It means that I love them when they are all of those things, too.

The day after this conversation, my fiancé’s aunt told me a story about her daughter and ex-husband, and a conversation they had recently had. Her daughter, in her late twenties, looked at this man in his fifties, and said one of the most insightful things that I have heard in years. He had said “I am your father, and I love you.” And she told him that was untrue. She went on to explain that a parents’ love is unconditional, and he had too many conditions. Asking her to choose between a person she loves or a thing she likes, and a relationship or time with him, is not love.

The parallel feels real to me. Right or wrong, that helped me understand parenting, my real mom counterpart, and perhaps what the next several years will look like. I brace myself every day for the time that one of my kids might say, “you’re not my real mom!” It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope that is because they understand my conditions:
Be kind.
Be honest.
Be the best you that you can.

We are all human. It isn’t my job to convince them not to feel. My job is to hear them, teach them, respect them, and (un)conditionally love them.

Why I Smile for My Kids

Wow. Parenting is like running a marathon for which you could never possibly train. Step-parenting is like that, but instead of a marathon, it’s a triathlon, and you are wearing a leather bodysuit and heals, and you can’t change, so you better adapt quickly because everyone watching is watching you.

Last week I had the biggest challenge yet. Honestly I feel like I say that every week, but I think this time it’s true. It really doesn’t matter what happened, what matters is how I felt simultaneously incredibly proud of my kid, but also super furious with the person who hurt him, with my fiancé for letting it go on as long as it did, and with my child for being so forgiving.

What? What kind of parent is mad at their child for being forgiving? I guess I will delve into that another time, but the point is, I had a lot of emotions all at one time, which is exhausting. As much as I wanted to cry, and yell, and sleep, and run… I did not. I smiled.

The reason I smile for my kids is because they deserve it. They deserve to see a smile. They deserve to have the reassurance of a smile after a hard event. They deserve to learn how to smile at strangers, to see the world as a good place, and to feel what a smile makes you feel. A real genuine smile makes you feel seen.

Seeing my kids as humans is what makes me the parent that I am. Respecting their boundaries and having them respect ours is hard lesson that we practice and teach. Teaching them to have a voice and to use it in a way to bring thought, understanding, and clarity to yourself and others is why we work so hard to build our children’s confidence. (Frankly, it shocks and appeals me that all parents don’t prioritize this.)

Granted, they are 9 and 11, so spoiler alert– the answer to the question, “what kind of parent is mad at their child for being forgiving,” is: the kind of parent who wants their child to unapologetically say what they think and feel when they are advocating for themselves, and never waiver. The struggle for me is that kids waiver.

Joe had to check me this week and remind me that kids like to please people who are in a position of power. Gosh that is scary. Luckily, my kids don’t care about pleasing me because I am their safe space. That realization was everything.

So, this person who made my kid upset, who shook my family to its’ core, might cause my kid to feel the need to please, but only because he recognizes the lack of forgiving, understanding, and competence in them.

So I smile. I smile so they know they are safe. I smile to trick myself into being in a better mood sometimes, and I smile because at the end of the day, I have amazing children, an amazing life, a desire to protect my family, and those are the best reasons in the world.

Childless Aunts–I LOVE YOU!

15621702_10208511004472431_8133066518828900771_nOne of my favorite “childless aunts”, a category of which I was a part until very recently, told me that they were the most under valued group of women in society. Well, she didn’t tell me, she posted the article on Facebook. I guess society really has it wrong, because as far as the childless women in my life go, and in the life of my kids, you all are KILLING IT!

I will never be able to explain how much value I place on the women who were there for me in my life. Whether related by blood, or chosen as a relative, it makes no difference, you all count. My mom, who is of course, amazing, happens to have one really perfect child, so she won’t get much more of a shout out on this topic, but my aunt will.

My mom’s sister is a childless aunt. I have to tell you, she was, and is, one of my favorite people to talk to. My aunt is one of the most incredible women I have ever met. She is absolutely one of the reasons that I have been so driven in my life and my career. She listens to me, supports me, encourages me, laughs with me, and I am beyond lucky to have had her as a role model. She also happens to have the same favorite restaurants as I do, and is into the same ridiculous reality TV, like Southern Charm.

15672699_10157968354220243_4607518299365025844_nAs for my my best friends, most of whom are childless aunts to my sweet monsters, you all are amazing. Yes, even those of you with kids (but this isn’t about you, sorry). Emily, the person who turned me onto this mistaken societal notion, is definitely in the top 10 of my children’s favorite people. She also shares my niece, and is incredible competition for her attention. She thinks of every holiday, birthday, and special occasion. Honestly, she is way more fun than I am.

There is so much to be said about women like these. These women will shape the minds and hearts of our children. They also have the ability to give our kids a safe space to talk, great memories when mom and dad aren’t home, and they inspire us, as the first role models that we have, apart from our actual parents. It is almost like we should be thinking 15622315_10157970515100243_466442928479118806_nof them as an “other mama?”

We also must not leave out all of the babysitters, nannies, caregivers, and teachers that watch our kids when we are not around. You make an amazing impression. You raise children. You teach them. Thank you for that. (Megan and Mary, I am looking at you!)

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So, to all of the childless aunts, thank you so much for shaping me, my kids, and all of the kids around you. Thank you for the adorable clothes, the beanie boos, the toys, the lunch and dinner dates, and for listening to us when we need to talk about something that mom isn’t ready to hear. You mean more to us as both children, and parents, than you will probably ever realize.