Let’s start by getting one thing straight: you choose to be a stepparent.
You get involved with someone, find out they have kids and opt to date them anyway, probably well before signing the long-term contract of marriage that makes you - in a culturally unpopular way - a kind of parent to however many children your other half’s already brought into the world.
A portrait of the author, aged 60
As of earlier this year I’m a stepmother of three, ten-year-old twins James and Isabel, and nine-year-old Rosa, and frankly, I’m awesome at it. It’s a different kind of bond than the one I hope to one day experience with a child of my own, but none-the-less, that sense of love and protectiveness is there, and I’ll cut any bitch that tries to hurt them. Less maniacally, I also try to make sure the time they spend at our place is as fun and structured as possible, and that their relationship with their father remains as strong as ever.
Not that I’m saintly. Despite always liking kids, I had no idea how to handle them at first, particularly since they were well past the age where you can bribe them with sweets. It took months of carefully respecting their boundaries - what the experts who wrote the myriad of parenting books I read as “letting them come to you” - before any kind of bond began to form. That, and taking them out for daytrips in my wreck of a car. They love wrecking it anywhere.
All dressed up with nowhere to go
There are, of course, people that can’t even conceive of helping to bring up someone else’s children, and that’s their choice to make. I came to terms with the idea of it when I was about 27, and once again getting mid-week drunk with a group of single, childless, one-day-likely-to-be-in-lasting-relationships friends. Hammered and discussing a member of our circle who was about to become a second wife, the thought crossed my mind that “some of us are going to be step-parents.”
There are a couple of reasons that it didn’t bother me. My mother had an excellent relationship with her stepdad, a man who stepped up to the mark by marrying my grandma, then a thirty-year-old widowed mother of four, and never treating her first family any differently from the children he went on to have with her. This is the kind of action that breeds personal heroes.
The second reason is that due to some icky health problems in my early twenties I may never be able to conceive a child of my own, a fact that I cried about every single day for around six years. The idea that I might be able to play a nurturing role in a child’s life then was not particularly unpleasant.
So, even before I’d met my husband and his brood, I’d come to terms with the idea of them, which seems to be something a lot of my friends who date people who’ve already got kids struggle with.
I aspire to this
It can be a tough one - I understand that- but ultimately it’s an issue that you and your partner should work through, not take out on the kids. Anyone who tells you differently should probably be filed under ‘Villain: Fairytale variety.’
I’d be interested to know what other xoJaners feel about dating, or even marrying someone with kids? Would you do it? Would you try and bond with the children or keep them at arms’ length? And, should the situation arise, how would you want your children’s stepparents to treat them? So many questions. Oy.