Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blending Kids

I became a father, again, on September 4, 2006 to James Alberto Hall. You may recall that I became "Insta-Dad" on September 25, 2004 when I got married to a wonderful woman who already had a son. This time I took the conventional route to fatherhood. He was born, ironically, on Labor Day. Our family now has one non-biological child and one biological child. So Insta-Dad does homemade too.

At three months, I certainly have not fully realized all the complexities of adding a new child to the family, let alone adding a biological child to the family with a non-biological child. But I will try to relate some of our experiences.

Of course there is the normal change of lifestyle shock that comes with a baby. Sleep is a luxury. Free time to go fishing or even change the oil on the car is much harder to come by. Alone time is unheard of. Good teamwork to give each other time to ourselves and nearby relatives who want to baby-sit to give us time together have been a blessing. I must admit, I'm still learning about being a good teammate and together we are still learning to be a good team. This marriage and parenting stuff is hard.

I hear that anytime a new member of the family arrives, it is difficult for the next youngest child. He or she is no longer the "baby" of the family. It was definitely so in our family. The situation was intensified by the fact that Felipe has been the only child and only grandchild for 7 1/2 years for not only Rebeca and I, but also for our entire family. I have 2 cousins who had children first, but that's it and we don't see them very often. So it was a real shock to Felipe when he realized he was not everyone's baby anymore and never would be again. We tried to ready him for it. I told him what it was like for me when my first sibling came along and how I was happy and unhappy at the same time, how I was excited and jealous, and how confusing all that was. We got him involved in preparing the room. We got him excited about being a big brother and told him how his little brother would look up to him and needed him to show him how to be good and teach him stuff. And he was excited. You should have seen him when he came to visit at the hospital and held his brother the first time. His eyes shone. It wasn't until about a week later that it began to sink in that this baby wasn't leaving, that Felipe really wasn't the baby anymore, that he wasn't always the center of attention, and most importantly, that he had to share Mommy and Daddy. Felipeʼs behavior became very abnormal for him. He didn't really understand what he was feeling or why he was doing the things he did. He began lying, stealing, "forgetting" his homework, and (my personal favorite) ripping through the screen of his bedroom window while grounded for stealing a tenner off mommy's dresser and getting himself trapped on the roof of the garage, because the roof was lower than the chair he used to climb out the window. And it wasn't like we stopped paying attention to Felipe. We both went out of our way to have time with him, without James. Felipe and I would go fishing, play video games, and he would help me catch mosquitoes when he didn't have school (I run the county West Nile Virus program). Mommy and he would go mini golfing and play Chutes and Ladders. We tried to have just the 2 of us or just the 3 of us times, as well as all 4 of us times. But going from 100% to 50% of someoneʼs attention is a big deal no matter how understanding you try to be, especially for a child. Hey, even I am a little jealous of sharing my wifeʼs attentions. And having a few relatives begin ignoring Felipe and cooing over James at every opportunity didn't help. So, there was still a period of adjustment. I'd like to think that that period was smoother and shorter than it could have been.

Felipe has the added burden of not being a biological son of Rebeca or I. Last year we were in the middle of a bitter custody battle. Felipe mostly won. He lives with us. And he has biological family he visits every other weekend who hate Rebeca and I. So it didn't help to have people whispering in his ear "now that they have their real son, they'll forget about you." (By the way, do parents and children from adoptive, step, and otherwise blended families a favor and drop "real" from your vocabulary when referring to relatives. "Biological' or "birth" parents/children works much better. Because if the biological mother is the "real" one, what does that imply about the step or adoptive mother?) We knew that the issue of blood relation would come up. We spent a lot of time thinking about it and trying to prevent it from being too big an issue in Felipe's mind. My first name is "Loyal," as is my father's and grandfather's. The middle name changes with each generation. So to make sure that Felipe knows that I consider him my oldest son, I did not give James the first name "Loyal." Instead, I told Felipe that I was giving it to him and when he was old enough he could legally change his name to "Loyal Felipe." Rebeca and I also wrote him into our will. The spending lots of time and making special time together is important in combating this particular problem as well.

Of course there have been numerous blessings. James is just so darn cute- he's just learning to smile and laugh. Felipe is growing up so fast. He' s becoming responsible for himself and is a great big brother. I wish I could show you how Felipe looks after James, how he does his best to make James laugh, and how he is extra good around him so that the baby won't learn any bad habits from his big brother. It has been such a blessing that Felipe has taken to being a big brother and how he has adjusted to sharing Mommy and Daddy (just as he had to adjust to sharing Mommy when Rebeca and I got married).
Being a father in a blended family has its challenges. But it also has its rewards. I love both my children. I am excited to see them grow up and find out what kind of men they will grow up to be and to walk along side of them as Rebeca and I lead them on that journey. Iʼll keep you up to date on how thatʼs going.

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