I’m pleased to introduce you to Susan who’s sharing her unique journey to and through motherhood as part of our month-long guest post series, Special Mamas. Susan experienced “typical” American family life with a husband and three boys for many years, but unexpectedly found herself a widow. She remarried a sweet and loving man named Tom who had children and grandchildren of his own. Today, Susan is sharing some insight about her experience of their blended family. I appreciate Susan’s post because it sheds light on what blended families call one another when traditional “names” and “titles” are not obvious. I also appreciate this post because it reminds us that at the end of the day, what really matters is love, respect and relationships. Enjoy, friends.
I have been a Mom since 1975 when my first son, Joseph, was born. His birth was followed by a second son, William, in 1978. Lastly, another son, Michael, in 1982. I think my life was pretty much typical for most American families. A loving married couple raising their children. I assumed that my life would go on with the boys growing up, eventually finding their future mates and if we were blessed, we would have grandchildren as we moved into our retirement years. Alas, this was not to be. My husband suddenly passed away just two weeks before our 30th wedding anniversary. I was 50 years old and my sons were 27, 24 and 19 at the time of his death. My Christian faith gave me comfort as I adjusted to being a widow and continued my career as a nurse working in a busy emergency department.
I then met Tom, and my life changed yet again. We married on January 10, 2004. This is where my story of being Mom and Grandma to a blended family begins.
When we married, I became “Mom” to an adult daughter 14 years younger than myself. Susan was already a grandmother, her daughter Courtney was only two years younger than my son Michael. Tom also had a son, Steven, who was married and had two children. It would be nice to say it was a happily ever after story from the beginning, but that would not be true. For even though Tom’s wife had passed away in 1997, his children and granddaughter had a hard time dealing with the fact that their Dad/Grandpa had remarried. There was a cool, aloof attitude from Steve & his wife. Courtney would only communicate via her Grandfather. It is hard to explain to someone that a person can still love and remember their deceased spouse yet fall in love again. I knew not to expect immediate affection, but I was not prepared for actual resentment and dislike. Tom and I were at a loss as to how to handle the situation. We decided that the best way for us to communicate our love and concern for all of our children was to remember that the greatest thing is LOVE. Tom and I continued to stay in touch with his children even though they were all living out of state from 2006 to 2014. We were there for them, to listen to their concerns, offer advice if requested, celebrate their joys and share in their tears.
There were ups and downs as Tom and I established ourselves as Mom and Dad to my sons and his children. Two of my sons and their wives called Tom by his first name, and yet, if they are introducing him to a friend, he is referred to as “My Dad.” My youngest son calls him “Pop.” I loved Tom’s family and my heart wanted them to love me in the same way. In my mind, that equated to being called “Mom” and “Grandma.” I needed to realize that the name I desired to be called meant little if there wasn’t affection associated with it.
Tom and I were married almost five years when his adult granddaughter was visiting with her husband and baby. There were many family events during those years with me in the role of Mom and Grandma. And yet, to my surprise, Courtney was still struggling with how to address me. I approached her and suggested that since she called Tom “Grandpa,” it would be nice if she called me “Grandma.” This was my way of reaching out to her. Much to my surprise, she replied “I’m not comfortable doing that.” My feelings were hurt. I loved Courtney as my granddaughter. From my point of view, I had just been rejected. I paused and said, “I don’t want to be addressed by my first name only. I am more than just a casual acquaintance; I am your grandfather’s wife.” Then it was time for me to reassess my thoughts and expectations. What is in a name? Shouldn’t I look more closely into the actions of my newly acquired family? Steve was still distant and cold, yet he called me “Mom.” Courtney was sweet and loving, but couldn’t bring herself to call me “Grandma.”
It was time to take it to the Lord in prayer. I prayed that the Lord would “Open the eyes of my heart.” I needed to see this situation more clearly. The end result: I am Susan. I am Tom’s wife. I am a Mom. I am a Grandma. I am a Great-Grandma. I know now that what’s in my heart is what’s important, not what name I am called. I know now that I can’t make someone like me, love me or anything in between just because I care for them. That has to come from them and I am okay with that, too. I know now that there are different strokes for different folks. Not all families have the same ways of addressing each other. What is disrespectful in one family is perfectly okay in another. Today, we are a blend of different cultures and generations coming together. Tom’s granddaughter, Courtney, and my daughter-in-law, Jasmin, are the best of friends. Tom’s great grandchildren are close friends with my grandchildren. They don’t care who is their “real” Grandpa or Grandma. All they care about is the fact that they love each other and have a great time together.
P.S. I have given some thought to why I had these expectations. I am the second generation born in this country on my father’s side. His family was from Germany and Poland. In my father’s family, only immediate peers (such as a friends or cousins in your own age group) were called by their first name. All other adults were called Mister, Miss, Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandma or Grandpa. When I referred to my grandparents in conversation, I called them Grandpa and Grandma Kepple, or Grandpa and Grandma Beck. We never called or referred to my grandparents by their first names. These were titles of both love and respect.
This post is part of a month-long guest post series titled Special Mamas. The series runs all May and is in honor of moms who have unique journeys to and through motherhood. To read all 13 posts in the Special Mamas series, CLICK HERE and you’ll be directed to the introductory post. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find all guest posts listed and linked for easy reading!