I’m taking a different path in writing this week, and I’m really excited about it. Many of you who follow my articles know that I’m divorced and remarried. You have come to know me really well as you have read about my experiences over the years surviving divorce, dating, and finding love – all while trying to stay on the proverbial ‘high road!’
But, you have never heard from my husband…until now.
Justin and I married when my kids were 8 and 10 years old. They will be 18 and 20 next year, and we have learned many lessons over the last decade. I am incredibly grateful that Justin stepped into the role of being their stepdad with his entire being. Never once has he ever called them “your kids” instead they have always been “our kids.”
Through the highs and the lows and the ups and the downs – and as with any family there have been a few – he has been by my side and by their side. He has parented them to the best of his – and our – ability. We’ve called Justin the “bonus dad” from the beginning. We nickname him a ‘bonus’ because our kids already have a great dad, and Justin never set out to replace him. Instead, he set out to be the best bonus dad he could be.
“Stepparents are not around to replace a biological parent, rather to augment a child’s life experience.”–Azriel Johnson
Justin and I both realized very early on that co-parenting and step-parenting is not a competition between two homes. Rather, it’s a collaboration between all of the parents to do what is best for the children. When the kiddos see all of the parents in alignment, it tends to mitigate the ability of the children to play one parent against the other.
I tease Justin he got a three-for-one deal when he met me. (I also tease him that he wisely escaped the diaper and potty-training years; I’m not sure how well he would have done with all of that!) The first time I ever met Justin, he shared how much he loves kids. He had been volunteering with elementary-aged kids at our local community church for years and continues to. I’m sure he always presumed he would have his own biological children. But he met me, we fell in love, and I wasn’t prepared to have any more kids.
This became a real discussion for us in our early days, and ultimately, what made me fall in love with Justin, even more, is that he was all-in for being the best bonus dad ever and embracing that role fully without ever wondering ‘what if.’ He has filled the role as a great bonus dad, and he has felt an imperative to serve as a role-model for the kids. My kids love Justin. My kids love their biological dad. They are two lucky kids.
After all, if a mother and father can love more than one child then why is it so hard to understand that a child can love more than one mother and father?
That’s my perspective. But don’t just take it from me. Here’s what Justin has to say …
“When I was dating, I assumed I would follow that classic path of dating, marrying and having my own kids. Instead, I met Monique and fell in love with her, and her two kids. Having kids of ‘my own’ became less important to me as I quickly realized how much I could and would love her two kids. And most importantly, I cherished the potential positive impact I could make on them and with them.
I believe my family and many of my friends thought I was crazy at first and wondered if I would have regrets. I could sometimes feel their nonverbal, unsupportive or hesitant response when I shared I was dating a woman with two kids. But they weren’t walking in my shoes, nor did they have any understanding of the chemistry in our pending new family situation. It’s an important lesson for all of us as we often judge or assume without knowledge of a person’s true situation – positive or negative.
Being a bonus dad is one of the greatest things I have ever done.
It is incredibly fulfilling, and can be incredibly frustrating, but isn’t that parenting in general? Monique’s right: I never changed the kids’ diapers (which I’m not complaining about!), but I also don’t have any memories or photos of the kids with me when they were newborns or sitting on Santa’s lap at Christmas or joining them for ‘donuts with dad’ at school or taking them on their first trip to Disney World. To be sure, there are things that I missed out on– or a few years – but once I joined their little tribe, I did get to start collecting my own memories and photos with them.
It worked well for us because their little tribe welcomed me so openly, and I jumped in with no reservations and with a ton of love (and silliness) to give. Over the years, I decided I really wanted to write a book about being a bonus dad. Too many stories talk about wicked step-mothers or evil-step-fathers! We don’t believe this is the narrative that kids need to hear. We have witnessed firsthand the positive things that can come from having a bonus parent.
This past summer, we put pen to paper and wrote/designed a children’s book that has become a labor of love for us. We made sure the content focused on the common activities of being a bonus parent – things like driving carpool, making breakfast, sitting through athletic events, and reading bedtime stories. We also wanted to include a teaching moment in each one-page chapter so we added a ‘big idea’ value–tenacity, cooperation, honesty–to each page.
Our goal was to provide a beautifully illustrated, whimsical, colorful and engaging book that both children and adults would enjoy reading together. We wanted it to be applicable to both bonus dads and bonus moms. Reading it one way, the book highlights the bonus dad. Flip it over, and the book reads the other way to highlight the bonus mom.
You can’t help but fall in love with the characters who are represented as a friendly family of yellow labs. We designed it as a keepsake book and there is a page for the ‘Bonus Dad/Bonus Mom’ to write a dedication to their bonus child. While our kids are now young adults, you can be sure they are getting an inscribed book from me this year thanking them for allowing me to be their bonus dad! They have given me the greatest gift ever – the privilege to be their ‘bonus.’
Check out their book: BONUS Dad! BONUS Mom! A child’s guide to understanding the role of a step-parent.
Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com.