A few weeks ago we traveled out of town to my families annual summer festival. It was a special year because my niece was up for the town’s Royalty. It was an exciting day. They do a great job promoting good character and is a great learning experience for any young lady. It also brought back great memories of years ago when my oldest daughter was running for our local Riverfest Royalty. It was such a fun experience for all of us and there is no greater feeling than the feeling of a parents pride as they watch their one time baby girl take the stage. If you have ever experienced such a celebration you know exactly what I mean.

This year it was our youngest niece doing the honors.  All our family members came together to cheer her on and celebrate the beautiful young lady that she has become. When it came time for them to announce the winners you could hear a pin drop in the crowd. They started with Miss Congeniality and we all screamed as Madi’s name was announced. To be recognized for a kind heart and sweet spirit is an honor for sure. But it did not stop there, she was also awarded the 1st Princess of the Royalty team. It was so exciting to cheer and congratulate her. Our family is so proud of her. She carried herself so elegantly and graciously. We all just watched in amazement of how the time has flown by since she was a little girl.

But as we were up front taking pictures and receiving congratulates I saw something I just have to share. For a little back story on my niece Madi. Her parents went through a difficult divorce when she was only 8. Both of her parents co-parented together in the raising of their daughter. We all know how hard that can be sometimes. It is also difficult on our children to bounce back between homes always trying to balance time and loyalties between both parents whom they love so much, let alone grandparents as well.  To make matters harder, her mom remarried 4 years later to a wonderful man who literally loves Madi as his own. Being the stepdad is a very difficult role. It takes a selfless person to give up their time to invest into the lives of children that rarely gives much in return Well, this was another one of those times.

As people were coming up to congratulate Madi they were also congratulating her family.  That’s when I noticed her mom, my sister in law, standing in the middle between her former husband (Madi’s father) and her current husband. When all of a sudden I heard someone say, ”So you must be Madi’s dad.” as she addressed Madi’s stepdad. For a second the room went silent. I immediately put myself in her shoes as this same scenario has happened to me many times. You’re thinking…. What do I say? Do I correct him? Do I just let it slide by?  Do I hope that her dad didn’t hear it? Do I pretend that I didn’t hear it? Then you look at your daughter and you can see it all over her face, she feeling uncomfortable and doesn’t know what to say. That’s when a wonderful celebration gets interrupted by the big elephant in the room. But before everybody could take their next breath, my sister in law pops up and says, “No, this is her stepdad, Madi’s father is right here.” And as soon as she does, Madi’s smile was back on her face and no one skipped a beat. Collision prevented.

Now, the reality is that Madi’s stepdad has been much more involved with raising her. He is the one who stays up with her night after night helping her with her schoolwork.  He treats her as his very own. He invests in making her dreams come true. He teaches her life lessons day in and day out. He does the tough parenting when necessary. He is THE GUY. Doesn’t it seem that he should get the accolades when all his work finally pays off?  That may seem only fair, but in actuality he doesn’t. Because in most cases, no matter how involved the step dad is, the biological dad can never do wrong and gets to take all the credit. And that is what makes being a stepparent so difficult. My heart felt sick for my brother in law, but I was so proud of my sister in law. And seeing Madi’s smile made it all worth it.

It is so important at times like this that we separate what’s fair with what’s right. Keep in mind, every relationship is different so I am not saying it is wrong for a stepdad to take on the title as dad. But what I am saying is that the decision is not yours to make. You need to step back and observe and listen to your children share their hearts. If it is important to them that their dad is given the recognition and respect then it is your job to make that happen, no matter what. Will it hurt, yes. Will it bring back the sting of the divorce, yes. Will it seem awkward, yes. But by you taking control of the conversation and protecting your children from the discomfort that comes along when they feel different than everybody else, you are gaining trust from both your daughter and your former husband. Which is a great co-parenting move. What my sister in law did for Madi in that second was an example of selfless love and allowed her daughter to enjoy the moment without a feeling of shame or difference. I was so proud of them both as I witnessed a possible bomb being diverted into a beautiful moment between a mother, a father, a daughter and an excellent stepfather.

This is a perfect example of ways we can protect our children from the discomfort they feel because of our divorce. We need to remind ourselves that it was never their fault and they don’t deserve to be put in the middle. Protect them & their relationships, respect the other parent and deescalate any possible issues before they even happen.  Then don’t forget to take your husband aside and tell him how wonderful he is and how much you love and appreciate all he does for your child.

I was proud to witness this great display of selflessness. Remember, keep your eyes open, your ears clear and watch for ways you can protect your children from the consequences of your divorce. This was never something they wanted in their lives.

Thanks for being such a great example to follow, Jen.