I may not remember a single detail about 1985, but some of the earliest memories I do have are of my mother dating. I’m sure it didn’t take long for her to get back into the dating world after the divorce. She was young, gorgeous, and had a really adorable toddler daughter on her hip. Let’s not forget that she was also very intelligent (in fact she worked as the head nurse in the emergency department of the county hospital, which came in handy with my medical condition). My mom was not afraid to introduce me to her boyfriends, and because I was used to at least knowing about the guy she was dating, I was completely taken off guard when all the sudden we were moving into a house with this guy I had never even met. By this time it was 1989 and I was six years old.
Everything seemed to be happening all at once. One moment it’s just my mom and me, living in our little one-room cottage out in the country, and the next I have a stepfather (who I will henceforth refer to as Dad) a stepsister, a new house, a new school, and a new baby sister! I had no idea my mom was even pregnant!
I felt very awkward in this new life. It seemed to me that my mom had a new family and I wasn’t sure where I fit into it anymore. I also had a dad, but I had never really had a dad before so I didn’t know how I was supposed to act around one. Besides, he had his own daughter already and another one with my mom, I felt like I was just part of the family by default. I remember I couldn’t even call him Dad until I was about 12 because I thought it would offend him. I thought he would look at me and say, “don’t call me that, I’m not your dad, I’m your mom’s husband”. Looking back now I can see that he probably felt just as awkward as I did. It wasn’t really clear what our roles were in each others’ lives. Was he supposed to punish me when necessary or was that my mom’s job? Was I allowed to sit on his lap or was that reserved only for his “real” children? The real question that was constantly running through my mind was, am I a burden or am I a blessing?
Thankfully my new family worked really hard to be one cohesive unit and I eventually found my place in it all. I was the oldest child, and I took joy in helping my parents with the baby and household chores. It may have taken a little longer to get used to having a father figure around, but in time I came to respect my new dad, seek his approval and affection, and delight in time spent with him.
Affects on Counseling
My first reaction in reflecting on this event is to say that its impact on my counseling will be pretty indifferent, but if I look a little deeper the one thing I think it will do is remind me that children can have very real emotions, and that they understand much more than we give them credit for. Sometimes it is easy for adults to brush kids off and assume they are simply overreacting or that they cannot possibly understand the situation they are in. I was only six years old and I felt like a burden sometimes. I felt guilty when I was sick because I understood that it took time and attention away from the other kids. This experience will help me to have a respectful attitude when working with children. Their feelings are just as real, and their struggle is just as burdensome as any adult’s.