The Blending, Part 3: The Children
Terry’s Thoughts (T2):
Many people asked me when Faith and I were dating “Well, what about her children?” My response was “What about them?” The line of questioning was not one of concern about how we would blend the families together, but rather was it negative questioning if I wanted the children to be in our lives together. This would irritate me to no end, but I would patiently explain to them that the children would be an integral part of our family. Having never fathered children of my own and was in the process of adopting 2 girls when Mia passed, the idea of having an expanded family was very exciting and intriguing all at the same time. There were several things that I had to consider when contemplating and praying on how we should proceed in the process of blending:
- The children were not “kids.” Davion and Nicholas were both in college and Faith (aka Princess) was a sophomore in high school. They understood what our relationship could possibly mean to their relationship with their mother.
- Their father was an integral part of the co-parenting relationship that Faith had established. I never wanted to be a “replacement” father figure for them, rather an additional resource with a different point of view since I was older than both of their parents.
- They had already had relationships with other step-parents, but I was going to be the first step-father that they would have. It was very important that they understood that I had expectations from them to be respectful of me and my household, just as I was respectful of them and their familiar relationships.
As I previously stated, Davion and Nicholas weren’t ‘kids’, rather young men that had been reared primarily with Faith as the main guide in their lives. She did a remarkable job in making sure that they did not take things or people for granted as well as understanding what and how a young man should treat their significant other. I had met the boys a few years earlier at a small group function when they were helping Faith clean up after the event. They were very respectful and well mannered (which was to be expected considering who their mother is.) The next time I had any substantial interaction with them was December 2015 when I was asked to “volunteer” to be one of the three wise men at the church. Nicholas was “voluntold” to be a wise man and he took it all in stride. It was his senior year in high school and he was preparing to play football. Davion, on the other hand, had traveled from Jacksonville to help aid and was fashionably late to avoid being a wise man (thus I was “volunteered”.) While trying to change into costumes that were NOT made for people over 250lbs and/or over 6’ in height, Nicholas and I struck up a conversation on what his future plans would be. After our “performance”, Davion joined us, and he and I talked about his future plans after he graduated from college. I found both to be very engaging and conscious of their place in the world.
After Faith and I started dating each other, Davion was the first of the children that I would begin to develop a relationship with. As he was the oldest and had a more mature view of how the relationship his mother and I were developing, Davion was supportive and was intrigued at the idea of having a stepfather. I was extremely impressed at his view of the world and how dedicated he was that he and his siblings would ensure that their mother would be happy and safe. In many ways, he reminded me of myself and my mother when it came to make sure that my mother’s heart would be safe. Over time, we would gradually learn to appreciate the differences and experiences that each other had and would grow to respect one another.
Nicholas, on the other hand, is not only the youngest of the boys, but he is also the middle child. It doesn’t help that he is also the largest physically (both in stature and girth) of all the children. Yet, considering that he plays football, he is not your stereotypical jock. Nicholas was very observant and respectful. He understood that Faith and I were in a relationship, but the idea that “Mom” was about to get married was something completely different. I reminded him of our meeting in 2015 as the three wise men and the conversation we had that day. Fortunately, he remembered the conversation and it help allay some of the apprehension that he (and I) had when we became reacquainted with each other. He was just entering his freshman year in college and was transitioning from being a high school student to an independent young man. The thought of another male entering the family dynamic was not something that was on his radar. I understood that there could be challenges, but I was prepared to do whatever was needed to ensure that Nicholas would understand that he isn’t losing his mother, but gaining a new family that would be there to support him as he continued to transition into adulthood.
While I was able to develop a relationship with Davion and Nicholas due to their proximity to Faith and me (they were both in school in Jacksonville), there was one member that was going to be difficult to establish a consistent rapport with: the youngest and only girl of the group Faith (aka “Princess.”) Princess was living with her father in Atlanta and Faith would have her during the holidays. Since Faith and I were seeing each other, and Faith would have Princess during the holidays, we decided to make a trip to Atlanta to help with the transition prior to the holidays. Faith had begun preparing Princess for the meeting/introduction the weeks leading up to our visit. One of the things that I was aware of with all the children, but especially Princess, was that they needed to see that I not only loved and cared for their mother, but openly demonstrated this love and compassion despite what others may think or say. It was during this time that I decided to show the “princess” how the “queen” would and should be treated.
During our time together during the holidays, I would demonstrate how a gentleman should treat a lady and made certain that she waited until I came around to open the door for her just as I did with her mother. There are times when words are good, but actions are better. By demonstrating the actions and beliefs that I have regarding how a lady should be treated, I began to lay the ground work to help Princess understand not only how her mother would be treated, but what she should expect in a young man who attempted to show his affections.
It was during this first trip as well as subsequent trips for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year that I was able to begin to forge a growing relationship with her and the boys. Realistically, I knew that my work was just the beginning of a journey rather than the end. As 2017 came and Princess’ 16th birthday party came closer, I chose a path that some people may have found unusual: I stepped back. Faith and her ex-husband jointly brought her from a young girl to a young lady. Some people would have taken this opportunity to show that they were the one who needed to be in charge. Sometimes, stepping back and allowing the spotlight to shine on someone else can show how confident you are. By stepping back during the planning and providing support and feedback when necessary, I was able to show all three children that I was not threatened by their relationship with their father and was not going to demand to be included in everything just because I was dating their mother.
In the end, my relationship with each of the children is one that continues to grow and evolve at different rates. Yet, I am hopeful that in the long term, they will understand that I do love and care for them and their welfare. Not because I am married to their mother, but rather because they are now a part of something larger: being a Bryant. Whether its via blood or marriage, being a Bryant is something of significance. Bryant means “strong in the Lord.” It is my desire that they have a relationship with Christ that they understand that they are strong in the Lord and that no weapon that is formed against them will prosper. This does not diminish who they are. Just as we are adopted into God’s family through our relationship with Jesus, I pray that they understand the power and authority they have within themselves and be an example of how being a Bryant can better prepare them for what the world will try to challenge them each day. By being ‘Bryant’, prayerfully they will implement the things that have been placed into their spirits since childhood and use them as weapons of warfare as adults. Thus, our children have Faith to be Strong in the Lord.
I hadn’t dated in 7 years when I changed my Facebook status to “In a Relationship.” I didn’t date because I was so scared of giving my heart to anyone. I was even more scared of the possibility of yielding parental control to a man who wasn’t my kids’ father. I thought the most practical thing to do was just not date. Once my sons reached a certain age, I thought it would be too difficult for them to adjust to a new male authority figure in the home. That wasn’t my ‘professional opinion’, just my own personal fears. Once my daughter reached a certain age, I was too protective of her to even consider having a man in the house. I already had trust issues and I had heard so many horror stories about people entering into their child(ren)’s lives. That was all the motivation I needed to focus totally on the kids and give love a chance after they left the house.
When Nick (my middle child) graduated high school, I had initially anticipated it being myself and my daughter Princess. She was entering the 10th grade and I figured I hadn’t dated for 7 years, 3 more wouldn’t be hard at all. Princess (my nickname for my daughter), decided that she wanted to finish her high school career in Georgia with her dad. So, I ended up with an empty nest a little earlier than expected. She’s was still a minor, so technically I didn’t have an empty nest, but for the first time in 22 years, I would not have a child in the home to distract me from that “scary” thing called dating. I realized early into our relationship that Terry wasn’t the bachelor type. He wasn’t looking to play the field and I wasn’t necessarily stalling anymore. Now, my concern shifted to, “how will I tell the kids” that I was in love. Terry and I prayed every night that the kids would be accepting.
My oldest son, Davion, was one of the first people I told that I was in love and considering marriage. I was a little scared that he would be skeptical. He was instead very excited. He had this huge sigh of relief. He said, “Oh my goodness mom, I’m so happy for you! I was afraid that I would have to take care of you forever.” Davion was happy because Terry relieved him of his “responsibility” to “take care of me”. I don’t know where he got the notion that I needed him to take care of me. I was a little insulted about that, but more relieved that he was supportive. I was expecting this long conversation with lots of explaining to do, but it was nothing like I expected. At that point, Davion was in his junior year of college, he had lived on his own since high school and payed his own bills. He didn’t see my marriage as having a huge impact on him or maybe he did and he welcomed the impact of a good man in his mom’s life.
My middle child, Nick, was also happy for me. Both the boys trusted my judgement and knew that I wouldn’t be contemplating marrying a “scrub”. All my children are very well-loved, but Nick has had more undivided attention than anyone else. Nick’s last 2 years at home was just him and me. He probably won’t admit this, but I think he became a little attached (some say spoiled) during that time. I think in his mind; 1) Terry would be my husband,2) he would be my baby boy, and 3) Terry would be a non-factor in his life. Nick was more standoffish with Terry. He was respectful, but watchful. He was 18 and living in the dorm at school. He went to school for one semester and came home on Thanksgiving break to his mom talking about marriage. It was a big transition. When I told him, he smiled and gave me a hug. “I’m happy for you mom”, he said. He meant it, although I don’t think he really considered the implications. 2 kids down, 1 to go.
You would think that the boys would be harder on their mom’s suitor, but Princess was a little more skeptical than the boys. Maybe not skeptical, but she, more than the boys, recognized that my marriage affected them even though they weren’t living at home. Princess was living with her dad in another state, but I traveled to see her every time that I had an opportunity. Terry and I went to see her, so she could meet him. She said she was happy for me, but sad for herself. She was sad because she realized that things would be different when she came home. She was nervous about how my relationship with Terry would affect her relationship with me. Princess could not remember seeing me date. As far as she could remember, it was just them and I. I didn’t want anyone sad, especially not my “Pretty Princess Girl.” The boys were in Jacksonville, which was only an hour away from home. Terry and I could spend more time with the boys than with Princess. When she was with us, however, she could see how well he treated me and her. I remember her saying, “I can tell you are happy, so I’m happy for you.”
I considered all three of the children in every aspect of my decision. I always told single moms that when considering a mate: 1) choose someone who you would be proud of your son(s) becoming like; 2) you would be proud of your daughter(s) marrying someone like him and 3) model a relationship that you would be proud of your children emulating. Terry fit the bill in every aspect. I was a little ignorant about what marrying Terry would mean for the family dynamic. I had fantasized in my mind that waiting until the kids were out of the house meant we would not have issues with family blending. It was just a fantasy. Now I believe it’s not just a matter of where the kids lived, but a matter of if they were ready. Even then, there were still issues to be dealt with. You can’t prevent issues. I was reminded recently that trust is built from dealing with issues. The key is to marry someone who will be mature and loving through issues. Someone confident enough to know their role and not be intimidated by the kids’ role. I always said, “the man I would marry had to be both strong and gentle.” A man that’s strong and secure in who he is, but gentle in the way he leads. That’s my husband. His strong, yet gentle way was one of the indicators that he was the one for me.