By: Sheila Gaudet
Most of my blog posts focus on the stories and situations in my current homelife, which is full of dogs, boys and an occasional husband. But I have another parenting role that is actually much more difficult. I am the very proud aunt of twin nieces who recently turned 20 years old. What makes them unique is that they lived with my ex-husband and I off and on from the time they were 9 or so, coming to live with us permanently at age 12, for a variety of circumstances. At that point, my house went from one rambunctious boy to two boys and two girls, ages 2, 8, 12, and 12. That was an adjustment for us all!
Like all children, they required a lot of work. They were middle school girls, after all, and to some degree we were both step-parents. Their mom was, and is, still in the picture- as it should be. This added another visitation schedule to our existing one with my older son. Eventually, the girls grew into smart, beautiful, hard-working and caring young ladies. There were bumps along the road but the girls overcame each and every one of those challenges.
The most difficult part of my divorce from their uncle involved custody of the girls. They are technically “his” nieces and their extended family was all in Mississippi (where we lived at the time). I knew that I would not be staying there for long. They were now in high school and had developed a wonderful group of friends and had made a place for themselves in the school they attended. My ex-husband would have fought me for custody of them, which would have involved a separate attorney, a separate court, and a separate custody battle from the one that we were already engaged in with our son. One of the girls stated she wanted to stay with him and the other wanted to stay with her sister. I made the difficult decision to not pursue custody. There was so much else going on and since they had already been through so much, I felt the stability in school, friends and location was more important than what I could provide at that point. In addition, my ex had refused to comply with our joint custody order that was in place, despite my repeated pleas to the judge to enforce the agreement. Sometimes, you have to let go to allow people to move on in a healthy way. It was, no doubt, the most difficult decision I have ever made. By this point, I had come to love the girls as much as my sons and “losing” them was losing half of my family and a huge part of who I had come to be as a person.
The girls moved on to college in our previous hometown, complete with full scholarships. received an invitation to their high school graduation, but decided not to attend. The bad feelings that exist between various parties did not need to have any impact on their celebration. That was their day. I didn’t want them to be worried about the adults in their life.
Recently, one of the girls had a serious health issue that has resulted in multiple hospitalizations and life-altering treatments. This has allowed me the opportunity to reconnect through a lot of conversations with my ex about what was happening, as well as sending cards, care packages, text messages, etc. Last month, I actually went down for a few days to stay with her in the hospital after another complication. For any parent, seeing your child in pain and being helpless is an awful feeling. Add in another layer of guilt for not being there and worry about what will happen after you leave, and it gets even more complicated. On an amusing note, trying to explain your exact role and social history to medical staff is like an Abbott and Costello skit. “You’re the sort of step-mom?” was probably the closest I got to a correct guess. The situation was even further complicated because my ex is a physician at that hospital, on the floor we were on. Talk about walking into the lion’s den!
My “baby girl” is out of the hospital and making good progress toward recovery. She is legally an adult and therefore makes her own medical decisions. She is dealing with a leave of absence from college and the impact that may have on her financial aid, nightmarish medical bills (despite having coverage through her uncle’s insurance), all the emotional issues that come with major surgery and lifestyle changes, and the impact that has on your friends and family. In so many ways, she is a grown woman and I am so proud of all that she is. However, I can’t help but also see the little girl I first met many years ago and think of the vulnerabilities that she hides away. I want to scoop her up, bring her home, feed her a meal, and tell her what to do. She has certainly outgrown her need for a lot of that, but at least lets me do it some, even with a roll of the eyes.
We are both navigating new territory. I still feel some responsibility to make suggestions and give her feedback on some issues, but I also recognize that at this point, I have no enforcement mechanism. I am grateful for her honesty, patience, and forgiveness for my own mistakes. She is coming for a visit this week and I could not be more delighted. I hope she still lets me baby her a bit. I think she needs it. I think I need it. This is also a chance for us to forge a new, adult relationship, a transition I am happy to be able to make.