When my son was just 2 years old, his father and I decided to split up. We had tried for a while to make it work, but it was clear we would all be happier apart. For me, this meant our son would live with me full time in our Brooklyn apartment, and have visitation with his dad. For his dad, splitting up meant our son would split his time equally, and live in two homes.
This wasn’t something I was ready to accept. There was no way this was going to work out. It couldn’t be in the best interest of our young son. Could it?
A very wise family therapist told us, “Yes, actually, it could work out.” And yes, it could be a very happy and healthy way to raise our son. As long as we were both one hundred percent onboard.
So, I thought long and hard about it, and decided I would get onboard. For our son.
At first, it was awful. I hated having to give up Sebastian (still a baby for God’s sake) for half of the week. And overnight! I would hand him over with his little Thomas the Tank Engine backpack with tears in my eyes and a pain in my heart. I would count the hours and then minutes until he came back to me, and I would hold him so tightly when he walked in the door. Except it wasn’t actually about me. It was about Sebastian and the fact that he deserved to have quality time with his Dad.
We learned (through our family therapist) how to help Sebastian make this transition easier on himself, and on us. We learned to say things like, “I can’t wait to hear what you did at Daddy’s house,” instead of, “I’ll miss you so much!” And it became our new normal for our son to live in two homes. And have two beds and two sets of toys. And, eventually, two more parents. And Sebastian was fine with this. In fact, he was more than fine. He was happy.
The thing I didn’t really anticipate with all of this was I would meet my now husband and have another child, and his Dad would marry and do the same, and those “extra” parents and children would be part of our family, too. Our modern family had expanded and grown and there was still quite a lot of love to go around. In fact, when Sebastian was in elementary school, he and his dad wrote a poem called “Mama’s House, Daddy’s House,” which we turned into a song that I put on my second album to share our message with the world…two homes but “one heart—filled with love.”
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Now almost 18 years later, Sebastian’s dad and stepmom are two of my closest friends. We still share raising Sebastian, and we share raising our other children, too. My 13-year-old daughter has her own drawer of clothes at their house, and their two younger children have the same at my house. My husband and I fondly call them our “stepchildren” since there really isn’t another word for it, and you know what? It works.
Our 10-year-old stepson comes over regularly after school to “hang out” and get away from his 3-year-old sister. That same 3-year-old sister calls me “Mama!,” runs into my arms when I occasionally pick her up at preschool, and loves to come over and play with our dog, Penny. They both bring me so much joy.
We all decided to spend holidays together instead of alternating Sebastian between the two homes. It’s much easier this way, and actually more fun. I feel like I have four children instead of two. And when I need them, I have three other parents I can count on instead of just one. I feel lucky. I never would have imagined (way back when) that things would have turned out this way, and to be honest, I can’t imagine it any other way now.
Main image: Our blended family (from left): Sebastian (19), Julia (3), Emma (13), and Cole (10)
Courtesy Suzi Shelton
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