My Unsuccessful Time as a Stepmom
I recently read an article written by a woman about how much she hates her step kids and in this article she proceeded to list the reasons why she felt this way. She actually used the word “hate” in the title which I thought was a tad harsh. Of course it’s not easy dealing with stepkids. I was once a stepmom to four whom I didn’t get along with too well but I never would have used the word “hate” to describe how I felt about them. These are children whose homes have been torn apart.
Although I’d always known divorce is very difficult on children, I never fully understood what they went through and what might be going through their minds until I got involved with a divorced man with four of his own. Growing up, I went to school with a few kids whose parents divorced but, obviously, that is nowhere near experiencing for yourself. I didn’t know the first thing about what they were dealing with and chances are they didn’t either. As a young adult I knew several people from broken homes, but we never really discussed their situations.
Bryan & Co.
I met Bryan at a dental company I worked for in California. I had just turned twenty-seven and he was several years older than me. He and his wife had been separated for less than a year and my divorce had just been finalized. After working together for a couple of months we started dating exclusively. Although, there was a strong attraction between Bryan and me and we got along nicely, there were a couple of times, after we started to dating, when I felt we should slow things down. Sadly, I didn’t listen to my gut feelings. I knew about the children but didn’t let that bother me and thought I would have no problem handling it. I was pretty naïve in my twenties and was living on my own for the first time and thought I could take on anything. Plus, kids have always liked me, so why wouldn’t his?
I believe Bryan was so excited to have a young new girlfriend giving him attention that it never crossed his mind to discuss what types of challenges we would be face or what my encounters were, if any, with children. I was the first person he dated after he split with his wife after more than fifteen years together. Before marrying, he lived with his parents. He was more than anxious to jump into another serious relationship rather than be on his own and focusing on his own life.
I would never in my wildest dreams tell anyone who they should or should not date; it’s none of my business. However, if a person is thinking about getting involved with someone who has kids and they don’t have any of their own, I would recommend they talk to someone who’s been there or at least read up on what challenges they can expect to face.
After only a couple of months together he introduced me to them and I took a liking to all four, instantly. Things were fine between us in the beginning…and then reality set in. He had three boys and one girl; the girl being the youngest. She was adorable. A little freckled blond with the bluest eyes and as friendly as she was adorable. Of the four, she seemed to accept me. The three boys were equally as cute as their younger sister but it was a bit more tumultuous with them; particularly with the youngest boy. There were a few times throughout my relationship with Bryan when the youngest boy didn’t want to see him because he knew I would be around. He wasn’t one to act out in an aggressive way so if we were all together he rarely spoke, sulking and keeping to himself. He was very close to his mother and it was obvious that he wasn’t too excited about my existence. The two older boys were hot and cold; I never really knew what to expect from them. The oldest one was already fourteen so he was going through his own issues.
There were times when everyone was at the house and it seemed as if they were warming up to me; talking about school, movies and music they liked, we would play games together, etc. Next time I’d see them….nothing. They were completely different people. The youngest boy was back to his morose self; the two older boys were irritable, fighting with each other, their sister, or Bryan and wanting nothing to do with me. I didn’t understand the problem. I thought they had finally accepted me and everything was going to be smooth sailing because we all got along great the week before!
I was convinced this was happening because their mother was trying to turn them against me. Maybe she was; who knows. It never occurred to me that they might have felt guilty about warming up to me, feeling as if they were betraying their mother. Or maybe, they simply wanted their family back together again and were angry. All I kept thinking about was how much I was trying to make them like me and all I’d get in return was attitude. As a result, I began acting out in my own way. I was never mean to them nor would I ever do anything to hurt them, but I began pulling away. I began getting angry about things they would do that were technically normal kid things; but I didn’t have the patience and understanding needed to deal with it. I would even give them the same silent treatment they gave me. Acting as a child myself.
This also began taking a toll on my relationship with Bryan which, let’s be honest, was not built on the most stable foundation in the first place. I would complain to Bryan about how they behaved to toward me, how angry I was and how I didn’t want to be around them, anymore. Now, you would think their father would think twice about continuing a relationship with someone who didn’t have the patience to handle children going through such a tough life adjustment. You would also think that he would take some time to spend alone with them to work on this new dynamic in their relationship. That wasn’t the case. He would get upset and sulk if I suggested I do my own thing while he spends time with his kids. He wanted me by his side all the time regardless of whether or not they wanted me there. He couldn’t comprehend how his actions were making things worse.
Children can develop a fear of abandonment when a divorce takes place. It’s important for both parents to spend quality time with each child to rebuild their children’s sense of security, solidifying the fact that mom and dad will always be there for them. It can also cross a child’s mind that they are responsible for mom and dad’s breakup. Spending this type of quality time reassures them that your relationship with them is still intact and they are not responsible for anything. In hindsight, I’m sure there were many times Bryan’s kids wanted time alone with him but it was a rare occurrence when he would offer that option.
Sadly, I didn’t understand at that time that his kids may have been feeling so insecure. I was wrapped up in my own anger that my love for them wasn’t being reciprocated. Of course it wouldn’t be reciprocated! Their little worlds were turned upside down and for all they knew, it was my fault. Suddenly mom and dad are not living together anymore and now this strange woman is hanging around thinking she’s their new BFF. They wanted their old life back.
After a few years things still weren’t all that great between us but they weren’t as turbulent as they had been. I’m not sure if they genuinely accepted me as a part of their family or if they simply resigned themselves to the fact that I wasn’t going away. All I knew was that there was less fighting and tension among all of us.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Bryan and me. After four years together, I finally came to the realization that my relationship with him was not a healthy one; with or without children. I won’t get into the details, but the two of us were very wrong for each other and wanted different things out of life. Our mutual attraction to each other in the beginning, coupled with the vulnerable states we were in at the time blinded us to that fact. I struggled with this realization for a long time. I had become close with his extended family and put so much time and energy into getting his kids to like me and now they would have to deal with us splitting up! To say it was a difficult decision and transition would be an understatement. I felt some guilt toward the kids, but it wasn’t until I got older that I realized the complicated feelings they must have been confronting; both with their parents’ breakup and ours.
A while back, I wrote to each one them and expressed how much I always cared for and thought about them. I felt they deserved to have one last bit of reassurance that they had nothing to do with the breakup. I never heard back but that’s fine. I simply needed them to know that they were still loved and are responsible for nothing.
If you’re a childless person thinking about getting involved with someone who already has a child (or children) the best advice I can give you is this:
Think long and hard about what you’re getting into. What kind of relationship does this person have with his/her ex. If it’s a very contentious relationship, think twice, because at some point you may be caught in the crossfire.
Take things very slow. Your partner shouldn’t be in a rush to introduce you to his/her children. Your partner should ensure you both are ready for the long haul and his/her child can handle meeting someone new. If you’re partner doesn’t think this is important, think twice, again.
Unless you deliberately did something to the child, do not take their anger or moodiness personally. They’re going through a difficult range of emotions and are confused by them. Obviously, they shouldn’t get away with bad behavior but it’s the parent’s responsibility to worry about that.
There are many books and resources online that you should take advantage of if you are interested in pursuing a relationship with someone with children. If you know people who are in that situation or have been in the past, talk to them. Encourage those people to be open and honest with you. You wouldn’t purchase a car or a home without finding out everything there is to know about its history. The same should be true for a relationship…especially one where children are involved.