#622: “Love Him, Love His Kids?”

I’m about to go on a shoot for a few days, so closing comments as of 9/11/2014. Thanks for a productive discussion, I think we’ve covered about every aspect of this. Good luck, LW. 

Dear Captain Awkward:

This is not necessarily an awkwardness question, but I value your advice so hopefully you can give me some perspective. I started dating my boyfriend while I was in an open relationship with my ex-husband. A year into my relationship with my boyfriend, my ex and I decided to divorce due to unrelated reasons.

In almost every way, my boyfriend is perfect for me. We have crazy sexual chemistry, similar interests, we communicate excellently. He is helpful, constantly goes out of his way to make my life easier, and is by far the best relationship I’ve ever been in. EXCEPT, he has 4 kids and I have never wanted kids. In fact, I generally actively dislike children. It didn’t seem like a big deal when we started dating because I was married at the time. Now that I’m getting divorced, we moved to being a primary relationship and it’s a serious concern.

I have told my boyfriend how I feel about this and that while I love him, I have doubts about the long term viability of our relationship due to this. I have serious reservations about being a step-mom, which is ultimately the role I would have to assume if we stay together. He understands, but he doesn’t think that it would be as bad as I fear and that I would be a good influence on the kids (which is probably true, as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior).

I have been thinking about it more though, and if I’m honest, had I been single when we met I don’t know that I would have gotten involved with him due to this. Also, I feel like I jumped from being married to being in a long term relationship without being able to take a break in between to figure my own shit out.

We have so few problems, but the one we have is HUGE. I love him and our relationship but when I take a larger view, all I see is that it is on a path that will lead somewhere I don’t want to go. Is it possible to overcome a lifetime of disliking children to become a good stepmom? Despite these issues, his kids like me and have even expressed that they wish I was their mom (theirs abandoned them). I feel like the logical answer is to break up, but that would break both of our hearts. What do you do when you’ve found the person that has every quality that you’ve ever wanted – but comes with the one package that you never wanted?

– Don’t Want to Be an Evil StepMother

Dear Don’t Want To Be Evil,

Good job coming up with the headline in your email subject line (I just copied it over), it gets right to the heart of the matter.

If you don’t want kids and don’t like being around them, that is a good thing to know about yourself. Do you “actively dislike” these specific kids who want you to be their stepmom? You say that they like you, which means you are good at engaging with them, but is being around them a chore that you sit through to make your boyfriend happy and bide the time until you can have the amazing sex again? What do you say, or what does your partner say, when they express a wish for you to be their mom? How is your partner setting expectations with them about what is happening here? Are you getting to know them and trying your best to fall in love with them as individual people?

Story Time: When she was very young, a good friend of mine lived with a guy who loved her and didn’t love her son. He didn’t hate her child, and I’m sure he was perfectly nice to him when they interacted, but he had decided somewhere in there that he wasn’t going to do one bit of “extra work” surrounding having her son in his life. The memorable story for me is that he would wash his own cereal bowl, he would wash my friend’s cereal bowl, but he wouldn’t wash the toddler’s cereal bowl because that “wasn’t their agreement” or some shit. Maybe “unwashed bowl guy” was just working through some ambivalence the best way he knew how when he wasn’t ready to be a dad, but a decade or so later his name isn’t spoken with an air of fond regret or like he was the one who got away.

Do not be that person. Your theoretical objections to children, your dislike of them “in general” –  whatever principle is at stake –  goes completely out the window when there are actual small people in front of you and in your life.

If you want a serious long-term relationship with this guy, where maybe you get married or something like it, decide to fall in love with his children, and then do it. Transform yourself into someone who never though they’d be a parent but who changed their mind when they met *their* kids. There are tons of these people walking around, and you can’t tell them apart from other parents because a certain amount of “Oh shit how did I get here” is normal even for planned, wanted, totally forseen circumstances. No one loves shitty diapers and puke and whining and looking for lost dollies/shoes/binkies/Teddies when they’re in a hurry or being shown someone’s MineCraft game every 2 minutes. The people who make parenting look like a fantasy Pinterest board of amazingness all the time are fucking liars presenting a carefully edited picture to the world. Everyone who spends time around small children has those moments of “Ok, but Aunt Jennifer is done looking at stickers right now. What else you got, kid?” “Let’s play the game where we see who can be quiet the longest!””Oh shit, I accidentally taught them to say ‘oh shit.’ GREAT JOB, AUNTIE JEN, HOW ELSE WILL I STAIN THEIR TINY SOULS TODAY?” Doubt is part of it. It’s not a “do or do not, there is no try” situation because there is only “try.” Try every day. Try all the time. Try even when you don’t feel like it. Try even when you don’t like them, or yourself. It’s possible to grow into the role, so to speak, but you have to want it, and you have to file it away under a decision that’s been made and isn’t up for renegotiation whenever things get hard.

Children aren’t an extra “package” or baggage that makes a perfect guy less perfect, they are as much a part of him as his bones. I think the fact that you see them this way and are wishing them away is telling. It’s okay to not sign up for this. It’s okay to get your alone-time to figure out what you want. Breaking up will be hard (especially since you’re getting a two-fer here), but you’ll heal and eventually you’ll both find other people to connect with.

Or, just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree, and it sounds like you need to be 100% honest about your ambivalence and that your partner needs to really hear what you are saying. What changes for him, if he knows that you never want to be with him AND his children? At the very least it probably means: all talk of stepmommery stops, your partner has a talk with his kids about Daddy’s Friends And What That Means, you take a back seat in terms of being around his kids and most likely see him far less than you do right now.

Whatever you do, don’t half-ass it.

In the comments, I want to hear especially from:

  • Step-parents
  • Single parents who are dating
  • Children of parents who dated when they were growing up, about what it was like to have your parents’ partners around. What did you sense? What did you know? What did you want to happen?

278 thoughts on “#622: “Love Him, Love His Kids?”

  1. I agree that it’s true that if you want a long-term relationship with this guy, you have to get on board with liking his kids. Not kids in general, but those specific kids. According to Captain Awkward, this is something a person can choose to do. And I’m sure some people in that situation could choose to put in the effort and it would work out!…But I think it’s fair to say that it really might not be possible for everyone who doesn’t like kids to…really learn to like some kids. It just might not be possible. Especially kids who have not had a lot of boundaries, fair discipline, and structure. It’s not fair to anyone. It sucks. But it might be okay to say, “I can’t,” and walk away.

    My advice, not that you asked for it, would be to end the relationship. The kids are never going away. You said yourself if you’d been single when you met him, you wouldn’t have gone out with him because he had kids.

    “What do you do when you’ve found the person that has every quality that you’ve ever wanted – but comes with the one package that you never wanted?” I’m in a relationship with that “perfect-except-for-one-HUGE-thing-that isn’t-going-to-change-but-everything-else-is-so-wonderful-oh-god” quality myself. And I’m not leaving. So I guess all I can do is send you my sincere sympathy. It hurts.

    1. Second to liking those specific kids. Short story: My mother never liked kids. Every time a baby started crying in her vicinity or a child forgot to use his inside voice my mother would be all What Fresh Hell is This?!? and try to leave as quickly as possible. She only had kids because everyone promised her it’d be different if they were hers. They were half right. She tried her best when we were younger, but was very, very glad when we grew up. Most of my toddler years were managed by nannies and au pairs. Dad wasn’t thrilled (he LOVED kids), but recognized it as the best strategy for harmony. So the moral of this story is, you can’t get rid of the kids but if you hang on long enough they’ll stop being kids.

      Of course, mom never said she didn’t like kids. She always said she didn’t like specific behaviors (that happened to be very kid-centric but we didn’t figure that out till later). If she had attacked us with “I hate kids” sure we’d have been defensive.

      Big point to note though: if you decide to make a go of it they will never be only his kids again. They will be yours too, and as such there will be a fair amount of sucking up the unwanted chores. My mother handled the worst of it with nannies, but it made it easier for her to put on her game face when the nannies went home. It probably helped that neither parent treated us like children – our opinions were always valued but also had to be backed up with adult reasoning. Tantrums led to banishment to our rooms and violence/elevated volume was treated with the kind of shaming you’d reserve for public indecency. (Your friend shouted at the teacher? How horrifying, her parents must be so ashamed. I’m glad you’d never do anything like that) Unlike some other commentators, this didn’t lead to any resentment in my family because there was no deception. We all knew mom didn’t like juvenile behavior and that the rules were you had to act like an adult. In my experience children prefer being treated as if they were older than as if they were younger. We grew up with those rules though, so it might be different for you depending on the kids’ ages. It might sound harsh to people who love kids, but my brother and I turned out okay and have a lovely relationship with mom as grown ups today.

      TL;DR: You can be the distant mom who expects a lot from your children, but you can’t be The Woman Daddy Married Who Hates Us.

      1. As another child of a mom who didn’t love kids, I want to second Guelta’s comment. For me the only long term consequence of my child-rearing that isn’t (from my perspective) positive, is a growing terror at how few boundaries other people seem set their kids. I recognize this as the judgmental malarky it is, but basically, my mom seems to have raised me to be the kind of mom she was (um…shouting at your teacher should be shameful!). Every family has to work this sort of thing out for themselves, and I have no idea if you can train yourself to love these children simply by willing it so, but an intolerance for whining/general childishness does not automatically disqualify you from parenting. Just an FYI.

        1. *** I have no idea if you can train yourself to love these children simply by willing it so, but an intolerance for whining/general childishness does not automatically disqualify you from parenting. ***

          Yes, yes, yes. My sister-in-law, though a patient person, does not allow whining or tantrums or rude behaviour from her kids. She’s not mean about it, but she is very firm and very good at consistently enforcing that. And the result is amazing: her kids don’t whine or throw tantrums; they know how to be respectful and they’re good at controlling themselves even when they’re emotional. They’re fun people to be around, because they have good social skills.

          Then again, teaching your kids to behave themselves takes huge amounts of stamina and attention, and it’s not a job I would take on unless I felt a strong connection with the kids in question and a strong desire to be their parent. My sister-in-law is someone who’s wanted to be a mother from a very young age, very badly, and who loves spending time with kids, even when they’re not perfect. For her, the task of parenting doesn’t feel like a chore. I like spending time with her kids now and then in the more casual role of Weird Aunt Soukup, but I know that I could not commit to giving them the kind of attention she does, because I would find it exhausting.

    2. “But I think it’s fair to say that it really might not be possible for everyone who doesn’t like kids to…really learn to like some kids. It just might not be possible.”

      Along these lines, I offer my data point: I never wanted kids. I married a man who was ambivalent but said he’d be fine without kids if I never wanted to have any. A few years after we married, he began to express a stronger desire to have children (but still said he was fine if it never happened), and I felt like a big asshole for not wanting them, so I tried to logic myself into of it. I loved him, I reasoned, and it would make him so happy to have a family, and I’m generally a kind and nurturing person, so why NOT have a baby? All of my older female relatives had been telling me my whole life that I would change my mind; what if they were right?

      So I had a baby. And I love my daughter, who is now almost 6 and just an amazing kid, but I have never, ever stopped regretting that I ignored my gut and became a parent to please my partner. I’ve never stopped wishing I could take it all back. In the first few years of her life, my resentment of my husband became so strong that it almost ended our marriage; it took a lot of time and effort to work through all of those feelings and come to a place of mutual understanding.

      LW, listen to your gut. It’s certainly possible for you to decide to remain with your partner and co-parent his kids and do a good job in spite of your reservations, but it’s also possible you will wind up like me, and I can tell you from experience that living with this regret is awful.

      1. As a married woman who does not plan to have children, I just want to thank you for this comment. It was courageous to post it, even anonymously.

        1. Agreed. I’m getting married soon, and the kid-badgering-from-relatives WILL NOT STOP. I need to see things like this, difficult as they may be for the people living these lives. I don’t want to bring a person into the world and then resent them.

          1. Sometimes I wonder if the kid-badgerers really regret having kids and are just trying to rope everyone else in, in a misery-loves-company sort of way. Like, “Noooo, how come she gets to not have kids and go off and live her life?? Stop her!!!!!!!” (Or him, of course.)

      2. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve never wanted children, and I’ve felt this same pressure. I have heard from other parents that I’d feel different if it were MY kid. But I think those are people who did want kids in the first place, and my fear has always been: what if it DOESN’T feel different?? That feels like a worse-case scenario than later thinking “gosh I should have had kids.” But then I worry sometimes I’m overthinking it and should just leap in.

        I’ve never thought of that “maybe I’m overthinking it” self-talk as “trying to logic myself into it” but now that you’ve so accurately described it I can see it for what it is.

        1. “I have heard from other parents that I’d feel different if it were MY kid. But I think those are people who did want kids in the first place”

          People who have kids say that because they also have periods of regret and doubt, but then the rush of brain chemicals kicks in when the kids run around with panties on their head, there’s laughing and hugs and it’s all good.

          Maybe some people don’t get those chemicals. Maybe for some people children are just a slog through drudgery with little reward, beyond that of fulfilling a duty.
          Maybe 50% of people have them for kids in general, and another 25% can get them for their own kids, and another 10% can grow to like & love their children as people once the tedium of infancy/preschool is over*. What if a small but significant portion of the population can’t ever enjoy raising children?

          How do we as a society find a way to be respectful of the fact that some people need to love a child even if their circumstances are less than ideal, and some otherwise ‘perfect’ candidates for parenthood lack the capacity to connect with kids on a day-to-day basis?
          (Much love for all the childless people who do enjoy Aunt- or Uncle-hood.)

          *I’m a mix, I love kids in general once they are past the first three years, but it was/is hard for me to love my own during that period.

          1. As someone who’s always wanted children and now has a kid, I’m actually really grateful for people who don’t, even if they’re not into aunthood or unclehood – the way I see it, they leave a slightly less crowded Earth for my kids to hang out in. People who ARE into aunt/unclehood? SO AWESOME. They get to buy cute things and to hang out with a cute smiling kid who they can hand back when she starts crying, I get free baby stuff and a little while to rest while they entertain the tiny human (who is very lovely company as human cubs go, but I still need my alone time!).

          2. I love my childless friends and need them. Not just the Aunt/Uncle ones, but the ones who I can be with without having to be a mom.
            I’m still a person who has interests outside of my family, and it’s necessary for me to have people who will interact with me in that way.

        2. I very strongly don’t want kids, and also dislike the pressure. I tend to shut it down with “You know, it’s true, I might feel different about it after I have a kid. But there’s the very strong possibility that I won’t as well. I’d rather live my life as I want, and deal with the possibility that at the end I might regret not having children, rather than have children and regret it and resent them because of that regret.” Because no child should be resented because of their very existence.

        3. My mother didn’t want kids. Twenty-nine years later, she still doesn’t. She likes us as people. I do think we’ve contributed a lot to her life. She did a good job at the work that was put in front of her, parenting-wise. If I were transported back in time, I’d still tell her NOT TO HAVE KIDS. I am someone who wants to have children and always has – I enjoy all children, pretty unequivocally, and I especially enjoy the kind of nebbish nerd-children my family line tends to crank out, and I KNOW what that feeling is, and she never had it, and that SUCKS. It’s like being gay, straight, or bi enough that you’d pursue the right partner even if they’re bucking the trend gender-wise: either you want kids, you don’t want kids, or you’ll be persuaded by the kid you get, but for some people it is set in stone.

          Also, LW, I think you’d be running into a lot of trouble if you wanted to come in as the stepmom and be the establisher of order and justice and discipline. I don’t think that that’s going to go well at all, frankly, especially if you’re not jumping in with both feet at the parenting thing. If you want to act as a parent and establish Rules and Boundaries for these children, you’re going to have to be ready for it to be a life sentence and for these people to still be calling you when they’re thirty.

          1. “Also, LW, I think you’d be running into a lot of trouble if you wanted to come in as the stepmom and be the establisher of order and justice and discipline.”

            That never ends well. Ever. I have seen it tried and it blows up like Mount Doom. The kids resent it, the spouse gets frustrated and the other bioparent ends up furious- and occasionally sabotaging.

          2. “It’s like being gay, straight, or bi enough that you’d pursue the right partner even if they’re bucking the trend gender-wise: either you want kids, you don’t want kids, or you’ll be persuaded by the kid you get, but for some people it is set in stone.”

            So much truth here! I’ve known since I was a kid that I didn’t want children. I was over the moon when I discovered at 33 that my gynecologist would do a tubal on me.

            Hell, I discovered last winter I don’t even like bottle feeding baby goats.

            For me it very much is like my sexual orientation; it’s something I’ve known as an intrinsic part of myself forever. It just is, and it’s who I am.

          3. Also, LW, I think you’d be running into a lot of trouble if you wanted to come in as the stepmom and be the establisher of order and justice and discipline.

            Oh, God, yes. Don’t do this. Just don’t. Especially if you don’t actually like these children–there’s nothing actually wrong with not liking children, but you can’t fix the behavior problems of people you can’t stand to be around. Disciplining children is a minefield even for step-parents who actively want to be step-parents.

      3. Chiming in as another person who was in the position of trying to force myself to be okay with a future that includes children for the sake of a relationship I thought was otherwise fantastic. This isn’t something you can gloss over, and it sounds to me like you really don’t want kids. Some people can’t be convinced, and it’s painful to try to push yourself into it. You might be one of them, and if you are, you will be much more miserable tied to children you never wanted than you will getting over a breakup.

        “Everything is great except this one massive issue” is what I used to say and I think it belittles the importance of that massive issue. If it’s important to you, it’s important, and it will seep into everything else.

      4. That could have been me, except that I was infertile. It’s probably good that we didn’t have kids, only partly because if we had had them then, when we were trying to have them, I would have had to deal with a 5 year old at the same time that my husband was dying of cancer. Then I would have been single parenting a kid. No.

        1. I was thinking of just this. An acquaintance had dreamed her entire life of having a baby and her husband didn’t want children, but agreed because she wanted it so badly. After becoming a mother all she would say on the subject was “I didn’t think it would be this hard.” Then she became ill (also cancer) and died, leaving her husband with a small child he’d never wanted.

          1. That….is the most horrifying story I have ever heard. I mean, it’s not, but it is awful. I need tea.

          2. That’s the same thing that happened to my best friend, but from the other side. Her dad never wanted a kid but his partner at the time convinced him to give it a try. That partner ended up dying a few years later and my friend is now 24 with a dad who never wanted her and, in my opinion, is really mean to her. 😦

      5. I just also want to thank you for this comment and for starting this conversation. It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about children like this. I feel really freed and moved by your, and others’, statements that the “but you’ll love YOUR baby” allegation is not always true. I had never really even thought to question its validity before. I always assumed that I was just supposed to suck it up and have a baby because I’d feel differently because it was MY baby, even though that has never really felt right or like something that could happen. Thank you.

    3. I fell in love with a father two years ago. And I am considering to leave him because I don’t want to be a mother, her children are good, disciplined and charming children, but I can’t stand the constant need of attention, they are the most tiring thin I have ever endure. It’s not the fault of the children, it’s me because I can’t be a mother. And I am not going to make my SO choose, so I am probably going to leave and enjoy the peace and the silence.

  2. “I feel like the logical answer is to break up, but that would break both of our hearts.”

    OP, I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s far better that your and your boyfriend’s hearts are broken now than it would be for four children to grow up with someone who resents their existence. If I understand correctly, your boyfriend has custody of his children and their mother is not in the picture, or not a steady presence in their lives. Also, I get the impression that they are pretty young. I think that’s important: if they already had a loving mother and only lived with their father for a couple of weekends a month, or if they were aged from 15 to 18, you might, possibly, maybe, have been able to have a more distant role in their lives as “dad’s girldfriend who is also our friend, but not a parental figure” and not assume the quasi-stepmother role. But it sounds as if you are the primary female caregiver, a role that is not undertaken lightly.

    1. I want to co-sign the importance of the kids’ age.

      When my parents split up, I was 16 and my sister was 11. My father moved out then and later got a girlfriend when, I believe, I was 19 and my sister was 14. My sister’s, who’s always been on better terms with my father than I, visited/visits him regularly-ish whereas I only see him for things like Easter brunch or lunch on Christmas. As a result of that, my sister gets along well with his girlfriend (who actually took her shopping just two weeks ago and sister says it was a bit awkward because she never really knows what to talk about but “as long as free stuff is involved…”) whereas I have met her a grand total of one time on my father’s 50th birthday. I thought she was perfectly nice, she made an effort to include me in conversation and we had a nice chat but there’s nothing even remotely emotional going on there.

      I feel like this is the kind of relationship the LW might wish for with her boyfriend’s children (basically a no-relationship, really) but that seems difficult if the children are – as I presume – pretty young still and also live with the boyfriend, that’s a very different dynamic. Then again, as has already been said, LW can still maintain a secondary-level relationship with boyfriend so nothing really has to change automatically just because of the divorce. I feel strongly like clear communication is the key here.

  3. Great advice. From my own brief period as a step- parent I would say kids of your partner tell you things about your partner. If there are things that make you uncomfortable about the kids those traits and values don’t come from nowhere. They can show you things you don’t want to see in their parent or that their parent is hiding from you about what they are about: really basic values and attitudes and orientations and characteristics.

    As a parent (not step) I will say your sense that the kids in the equation need more boundaries discipline and structure kind of makes my heart shrink for them. They might really need fewer boundaries and discipline and more love especially if they are little. It is hard to love kids as much as they need to be loved. Step parents who do it are awesome. I am not sad about moments I sucked as a spouse — I think I had my reasons — but I am really sorry about moments I sucked as a stepparent and this was to kids in their twenties. You don’t sound all-in, which is so understandable, but sadly won’t work for this.

    One small thought: that the kids have said they want you as their new mom actually sound potentially worrisome to me, like they really really know what their one parent who is around for them wants them to say and it would be too high stakes if their mom abandoned them already not to say it. It is red flaggy if their dad is pleased by them saying it… A more typical reaction to a prospective stepparent is eff off. Which is less of a red flag if safe to express in a way. I mean every situation is different but fwiw.

    1. My feel from having been a child in a single parent family after my mum died, is that it can mean that the kids see that their dad isn’t coping or are worried for him, and the request for a new mum can mean ‘look after him so he can look after us’, which isn’t how these things tend to work out in practice. (As a teenager, I was conflicted because I didn’t especially like my stepmother and especially did not want her to replace my mother but I knew I wanted to go away to college when I was 18 and worried that my dad would have no one at home to look after him.)

      To OP I would say, don’t do this if you can’t be all in. You won’t have much downtime with 4 kids around, there will be a lot more things that are difficult for you to do, your life will change and it will be exhausting. And that won’t work unless you really really want to do it.

    2. Some kids really do need more boundaries and discipline and structure, especially if they are little and running a bit wild (in the less than soft-focus way). I don’t think that is a red-flag unless it’s done with an “I can fix all this” approach that I sometimes see from non-parents (because no one parents as well as someone without kids…. 😉 ) or if it is done harshly and without at least a basic amount of human respect and consideration.

      However, as you say in your initial paragraph, kids do tend to reflect their parenting (especially before and after they “rebel”), so if they need ‘fixing’, depending how long the abandonment period has been, it is down to their dad’s parenting, which naturally stems from his values, attitudes, etc, as you said. They sure won’t be on their best behaviour to impress a potential life-partner, where daddy might be! 😉

      You (LW) are in the enviable position of watching someone parent before you have to be tied to them via mutual child(ren), and can decide if you like what you see. Parenting fights (over methods or philosophies) can be harsh and unresolvable because they ARE so much based on basic values, etc.

      1. I think there’s also the thing where it takes extra-boundary-ness to set boundaries when you’re a single parent, and it’s easier to take what seems like the easier road in the short-term. Having another adult around to back up the reasonableness of reasonable rules like “bedtime at 9” or “nope, three episodes is enough and now the TV goes off” and present a united front of Not Negotiating Parentness is incredibly useful, and it doesn’t have to be the case that the boundary-setting is coming from the step-parent if the step-parent is good at supporting the bio-parent but still letting them lead.

        But again, it’s got to be clear that that’s a role the LW is happy to take on and one that her boyfriend wants her to perform and that they can both decide together!

    3. I would say that boundaries, structure, and consistency are not at all incompatible with love, kindness, and understanding. I was full-time auntie to my roommate’s small son for four years. I tried to make sure that the rules made sense, were applied consistently, and were there for a good reason. His mother’s new fiance had, um, some parenting issues with this garish parade of red flags sticking up from all directions, and tried to be “the cool stepdad” — resulting in inconsistently applied rules, some things that his mom and I had tried to be consistent on going unchecked, and then draconian, emotionally abusive punishments when the Freakin’ New Guy realized that the kid needed some more structure. It was not a good scene. Happily the FNG has been out of the picture for about 10 years now.

      I have had a deep ambivalence about children and my ability to be an effective and safe parent after I realized that I had inherited my father’s avalanche temper (the one where little snowflakes keep falling on the slope, there are a few very quiet warning signs that things have stacked up, and then there’s a tiny disturbance and WHUMP! there goes all that snow on some skiiers who did nothing wrong, they just had bad timing and maybe coughed too loud). I never intended to become virtual aunt to my roommate’s son. It was just that he was there, someone had to step up to take care of him while his mom was at work, and there I was. And he was a small person by that time, with developing interests, and I could relate to him as a fellow human and not just a child-shaped disturbance in my life.

      Good luck, whatever winds up happening.

      1. Yep, I have the temper thing going on too. Most people either don’t know that or conveniently forget it, but I do have a lurking rageasaurus. And while I can let that rageasaurus out by hiding out in my bedroom and writing angry lists, or getting the fuck out of the house, when I’m irritated at my partner or his mother (when she was staying with us for 10 fucking days), or any OTHER adult, that would be completely unsafe if the person annoying the crap out of me was a small child. And I’d never want to inflict a single shred of my temper on a defenseless kid.

        1. Ten days? That’s kind of a long time to have any houseguest when you’re not in college at an age where everyone’s apartment practically has a revolving door, let alone a mother in law.

    4. One small thought: that the kids have said they want you as their new mom actually sound potentially worrisome to me, like they really really know what their one parent who is around for them wants them to say and it would be too high stakes if their mom abandoned them already not to say it. It is red flaggy if their dad is pleased by them saying it… A more typical reaction to a prospective stepparent is eff off.

      Eh…it depends. For me the first potential step-dad I had was just a really great, kind, fun to be around guy. He made mum happy and was great to us so…why not? There was no chance of parents getting back together so…..

      I do get what you’re saying but it could just be that LW is genuinely kind and respectful to he kids. And as for dad being please – sure it may be him seeing insta-family possibilities (she’s here, we have great sex, the kids like her = perfect!), but that doesn’t mean the kids are picking up on that too much/feeding it to LW for him.

    5. Chiming in to say that boundaries, discipline, and structure are definitely compatible with showing love and affection. I know the kids in my family (not mine) appreciate the consistency they get from all the adults; they know what behavior is okay and what isn’t and they know what’ll happen if they misbehave and they know that all the adults in their family love them very much. They have lots of structure and discipline and boundaries but that comes from a place of love and they’re shown that regularly.

    6. The boundaries and discipline thing is, honestly, a giant red flag for me because if there is anything these kids don’t need it is an adult who is NOT their parent trying to take on the role of the disciplinarian. That is a HUGE step-parent no-no, and it is most certainly not the role you want to step into right off the bat.

      LW, if you choose to stay with this man, let their dad do the disciplining; that’s his job. Concentrate on building a relationship with them first. No matter how well you already know them, starting to parent them immediately after your relationship gets serious is a bad idea.

    7. I was a child of a single mom, and she once had a boyfriend who was very nice to me, and I liked him a lot. And I did tell my mom that I wanted him to be my dad. She, however, was not so impressed, and broke up with him. So I don’t think that these kids wanting the LW to be their mom necessarily means that they are saying so just to please their dad. Nor is it “red flaggy” for their dad to be pleased that they like his GF. That idea makes zero sense to me.

    8. Yeah, seconding this. If there need to be more boundaries, those boundaries need to come from the kids’ primary caregiver. A new partner signing on to be part of a family has to go in expecting that things will stay more or less the same for the foreseeable future and be okay with that. Going in hoping to radically change the kids’ behavior or the parent’s parenting is a recipe for a lot of bad feelings.

      LW, have you talked to your boyfriend about your issues with his parenting? Is he even amenable to the changes you want to make?

  4. My parents split up when I was <6 so I have very few "parents together" memories due to childhood amnesia. My mum dated a bit but sometimes we weren't sure whether or not she was dating a dude or not and there are some dudes I thought she was in a relationship with but didn't want to tell us about it because it's weird to talk about who you are sexing with your kids unless it becomes an actual proper thing and other dudes I thought were just the parents of my school friends but it turns out they were totally boning.

    BUT ANYWAY when I was about 11 (and my siblings were 7 and 8) my mum started dating a dude who Did NOT Want Kids because she'd just moved interstate and wanted to get into the dating scene and dating a guy she knew wouldn't go anywhere with seemed like a safe way to get her feet wet with. Did NOT Want Kids dude was also trying to get back into dating and also saw Single Mother With Three Kids as a safe low-stakes dating option.

    Aaaand yeah you might have guessed this but they've totally been married for like 20 years now.

    But it wasn't easy and I had some psychiatric issues which manifested around that time and my younger siblings had a fair bit of friction with him in the You're Not Even My Real Dad sense. We had quite a bit of family therapy (but we had step-families on BOTH sides and Darth Vader Father poisoned everything there) and loads of step-parenting books. You say his kids liked you and say they wish you were their mom: There is a difference between (sometimes) wishing someone was your mom and actually having them be your mom and (sometimes) wishing they weren't.

  5. My full on advice (single parent who has dated and is currently uber-single) in ANY relationship is that if you feel you need to spend some time living alone/single post- FOO or -relationship….DO NOT IGNORE THAT NEED. IT is GOOD for people to live alone/single for a period in their lives, as adults. It is not something you will ever have again in a live-in, primary relationship, especially one with children. If that is a need you even think you have, DO NOT get out of one frying pan and into a different skillet.

    It’s one thing to question your parenting ability. EVERYone does, either before or directly after having children. It’s a good thing to question if it makes you try your best to think things thru or feel things fully. No one parents perfectly, but adequate parenting is enough. If you can never be even adequate because you actually loathe young people, you need to consider that the children would be aware of that, no matter how you hoped it would not show. If you just think you might suck at being a grown up in charge of kids, consider that at some point(s) everyone does that too.

    It’s another thing, I think, to ignore your own need for independence and feel like you have to transform your relationship because you ended a different one. The relationship will likely change now that it doesn’t include the marriage, because even a shitty spouse is part of your life and your “secondary” relationship will have involved aspects of you being married. I think, from experience, you MUST spend time being divorced before you decide to change the secondary relationship or commit to keeping or losing the family you are dating. I personally would vote for not doubling up on relationships that aren’t mutally agreed upon by all parties involved, primarily because of the tendency to fill the “partner checkboxes” with bits from various relationships, or to compare one to the other and not evaluate people for who they are as “stand alone” partners, if that makes any sense.

    Because you ARE dating a family, you should be reasonably sure that even if you don’t LOVE the children you can be a decent adult figure in the household, before you wade in there. Children do grow up and eventually leave home, but while they are young, they are a large influence in a household. Is it worth coping with aspects you don’t enjoy in order to be with your partner long-term? Could you be a second adult in the household without being “mom”? Has the family worked through the abandonment and come out in a position of readiness to form healthy bonds with a new adult female? Do you want to establish a boundary where you are Dad’s friend, and all talk of cohab or marriage is off the table? I think it can be done, even with quite young children, but it needs to be done sensitively to their view of the world, and I would suggest giving it a lot of thought, perhaps with professional guidance.

    But do, if you think you need it, take time to make your own life, and be separate without feeling guilty that you haven’t levelled up the current secondary relationship.

    There’s my muddled up comment, from a position of some experience with several of the factors in the LW letter. Since in the end it matters not to me what the outcome is, I figure you can wade through and see if any of it sounds true/helpful.

    1. Speaking as a Divorced Lady, I would place a caveat on that just to say that sometimes we THINK we need (and want) time to be single after a relationship, but it’s not always the case. I was in another relationship maybe two months after my ex husband and I officially had the Divorce Talk, and I kept trying to deny it (“We’re totally not serious” but we totally were) because I thought I was supposed to have single time, but really that relationship was what I wanted and needed. I think socially we tend to give people a little bit of side-eye for looking like they’ve moved on too quickly or whatever, so sometimes people internalize that.

      Everyone’s mileage varies, of course, so this is less to disagree with you than to say to the LW Know Thyself.

      1. Yes, I agree re Know Thyself, but moreso than having single time to be single with no reason other than “respectability”, I meant that a) the LW is talking about feeling a need for some independent time which I think is incredibly important to listen to, and b) I personally think never ever living alone (ie, not in a relationship or with parent(s)) is generally a Bad Thing in the course of adulting. I’m ok with moving on quickly IF it is a healthy move, and not one born of neediness/clinginess/immaturity or of pressure from those same side-eye folks about not levelling up the secondary relationship as soon as LW is “available”.

  6. As the victim of an evil step mother, I urge you to think carefully about whether you’re ready and willing to take these children on – especially if they had an upbringing where boundaries, manners, etc. were not enforced. I know that I would prefer a relationship with someone who doesn’t have – or want – kids, but if there were one child, who was well behaved and my partner was the non-custodial parent, I’d consider it. But four children who need discipline and boundaries – nope!

    As the Captain says, if you want to maintain this relationship, you really should try to fall in love with his children. Children can be very perceptive and often interpret adult behaviour in ways that were not intended. What, to us, seems neutral behaviour can seem quite cold and hurtful to a child. If that won’t work for you, perhaps you’d be better off with someone who doesn’t come with this particular (enormous and permanent) catch.

  7. Yes.

    I’m a single mom, in and out of the dating world since pregnancy, and also fell in love with a guy who had kids and I wished he didn’t. Likewise, he fell in love with me, and wished I didn’t have a kid (or at least wished I didn’t have a kid full-time).

    My struggle? I don’t get a kick out of most kids, I found it work enough to parent one, I was hurt and jealous that he had made his children with someone else, we had to deal with that Someone Else regularly, it was a nightmare to schedule stuff, my partner kept voluntarily giving her heaps of money he wasn’t required to which impacted what we had, when we all started out his kids had no manners, boundaries, he was adamant that we would not be making a fresh kid together, etc. I got passed the struggle and came to love those kids like crazy. My partner loved my kid on some level, but he never loved him like crazy. He only loved me. He accepted my kid as collateral damage, as a necessary aside. Meanwhile, my kid was in love with him, doting and sweet and trying so hard and craving his love and his willingness to become his father.

    I hated some aspects of step-parenting because it was only half time (I would have preferred the simplicity of full time), and sometimes those kids irritated the hell out of me (but so does everyone at points), but I loved those kids, and I loved all of us being together, and I came to want us to share a life. All of us. My kid really wanted that too.

    My partner continued waffling and humming and hawing, and then giving less and less, creating more and more separation between us all, while continuing to insist he wanted to be with me. I ultimately understood: A small part of him had a fantasy of it working out for us to be family, but *most* of him wanted to be single and have me as a lover, entirely separate from most of his life.

    I finally took my kid and I away. It’s only been a few months, and I’m still grieving pretty hard about the fact that my partner couldn’t quite get all the way into the idea of us all as family. But he just couldn’t. We wanted it, he didn’t. His ambivalence, his coming and going, his wishywashyness, his hesitation, his partial interest were devastating for my kid and I both for a long time. So I finally rescued us from it.

    However, a big difference between us and LW is that LW did not spend two years first claiming she *did* want this to become family. That’s good! Far, far better that than pretending and “trying” for a couple of years and then getting honest about it.

    You don’t have to love these kids. But I think it’s best that if you don’t love the kids of a single dad, it’s best not to make your relationship with him your primary. Date him very part time? Sure. But if his kids want a mom, and he wants them to have a mom and him to have a co-parent or a full partnership, he needs to start dating people who have the potential to be those two things.

    I agree with stating loudly and clearly the limitations of this relationship, and what you are and are not available to have with the kids as well as their dad. And if it’s so little that the dad and kids are all left aching, lacking, hurting, craving…then break it off completely, and let them find someone who loves them all and delights in being with them all.

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you, or your preferences, or your capacities, or your limitations. You guys just have to be super honest and clear about what those are -just as they all need to be about theirs- and what that means for everyone involved.

    1. You ex sounds a lot like my ex, minus him having his own kids. My ex told me he wanted the “packaged deal” of my daughter and I, but after we moved in together, I felt like he was less involved and spent less time with both of us than when we were in separate houses. He took on an extreme disciplinarian role, but it was only on certain things, otherwise he was pretty much ambivalent to my daughter. Their relationship deteriorated to the point where it not only killed our romantic relationship, but it obliterated any chance for us to rebuild a friendship.

      I think in my situation, his ambivalence stemmed a lot from a lack of desire to have children. I’m now in a relationship with someone who wants a child of his own, in addition to helping me raise my daughter. It’s notably different in how he treats both of us and how we handle things as a family. I’m still the main disciplinarian, but he backs me up when I “lay down the law” so to speak when she misbehaves. More importantly, he spends the time with her to build a bond, which is something my ex stopped doing once we were all living together. I can’t say that the only reason their relationship is so much better is because he actually wants and likes children, but I feel like it definitely helps.

  8. “He doesn’t think that it would be as bad as I fear and that I would be a good influence on the kids (which is probably true, as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior).”

    This strikes me as a red flag, but perhaps I am misunderstanding it. Does this mean that he’d want you to be the disciplinarian? Does it mean that you don’t like his parenting style? I would stay far away from either situation.

    1. I also side-eyed that bit. Partly because of the disciplinarian role, but also because it sounds like he isn’t listening to her saying “I don’t want/like kids.” He’s arguing it, saying that no, she really would like kids! Really if she just gave it a chance!

    2. I had the exact same thought.

      Do not turn into the disciplinarian for your pseudo-step-children right off the bat. Do not. DO NOT. Any situation in which this happens is one you want to stay far away from.

      1. YES, this ism y first time commenting although I have been reading for a long time, because this issue is really important to me. I had both a step-mm and a step-dad. Parents divorced when I was about 4. My Dad had primary custody; we lived with him and visited mom every other weekend. I had a really really awful relationship with my stepmother which ultimately resulted in me getting thrown out wile I was still in high school. And the main reason was, she swooped into our lives with her “different parenting/disciplinarian style” and basically changed everything about my home, rules I had to follow, etc. My bio parents had for lack of a better term, kind of a “hippie” approach to things, allowing me to explore and experiment and express myself. My stepmother had been raised in the “children are to be seen and not heard” school and imposed a only-slightly-modified version of it on us. The point is, if she wanted to raise children from birth in that school/regime, well, that’s their right. But to come into a child’s life and upend their world by imposing a whole new set of rules and restrictions is just…..offensive. It was sort of like being forced to live in a totally different country with totally different social norms. It was NOT OK.

        Anyway…for the LW, I like the advice someone gave of downgrading your relationship with this guy to “secondary” and asking him to explain/enforce better boundries with his kids so tey are not getting “led on” and attached to you.
        FWIW- I am a 30 y.o. woman who at this point plans to remain childless. Not so much because I don’t like kids but because I don’t want to deal with the impact they would have on my lifestyle. AND I honestly don’t think I could handle the responsibility on top of all the other shit I personally have to deal with.

        1. “I had a really really awful relationship with my stepmother which ultimately resulted in me getting thrown out wile I was still in high school. ”

          That’s how I wound up with an extra sister. A similar story (lax parent, strict step-parent), except stepmother turned violent. Sis moved in with us at age 17, and has been a part of our family ever since. Sister’s birth sister stayed and eventually was pulled out by CPS and got emancipated.

          What I’m saying is, LW, tread with extreme caution. This can turn ugly for all involved — I’m certain my sister’s birth father and stepmother never intended for things to go so wrong, despite the fact that they made many mistakes that should have been obvious and easily avoidable. If reasonably normal, well-educated people can eventually say something as idiotic, hurtful, and relationship-destroying as “I have to choose my new wife over my children,” then it’s entirely possible for you to hurt people as well.

          Please give this serious thought and maybe step back from this relationship for a bit — seconding everyone who says that you don’t have to make this relationship primary just because your previous primary relationship ended!!!!!

        2. Yes I agree with all of this too. I had a step mother who arrived when I was ~13 and tried to be strict, and I’m now 27 and just starting to get over it and feel like maybe she and I can be friendly. Changes in the parent-child relationship that emanate from the step-parent that will be perceived as negative by the child can seriously destroy any possibility of a stepparent-child relationship.

          My parents divorced when I was very young, and I always liked the dates/stepparents who stayed out of the way the most.

  9. I think the Captain’s advice is dead on re: figuring out if you can really get on board with *these* kids. You don’t have to become a kid person. You don’t have to suddenly want to birth your own. But I do think that having a premeditated “But I don’t like kids” hovering in the back of your mind can be clouding whether or not you’d actually enjoy these kids to be in your life in a more involved way.

    Of course, it may be that this is indeed a situation that you can’t jive with, and that’s totally legitimate. There’s nothing wrong with saying that you aren’t ready and/or willing to become lady #1 in four little lives. But I think the Captain is right about how that will affect your relationship.

    I just think it’s pretty important to identify *why* you don’t like kids, or the idea of having kids, and make sure a preconception that doesn’t actually apply to you isn’t keeping you from an otherwise good situation. For instance: does the idea of “having kids”, to you, mean sidelining your career? If so, are there solutions to this, like day care/nanny service/willing family who can watch them during the day?

    Have you internalized cultural baggage about motherhood, like the idea that you have to completely lose your personal identity to become a mystical Mommy-creature who magically loves baking cookies and changing diapers? (You don’t have to!)

    Does your dislike of children stem from ideas of what “all children” act like? Do your boyfriend’s children actually have those issues? Does your affection for them make it worth toughing it out with them as they outgrow said behavior?

    I guess in general, I think there are a lot of toxic cultural stereotypes and expectations about children and parenthood floating around out there, and it’s worth checking if you’ve internalized some of them.

    Again, though, it’s totally legit to conclude, “This is not something I want to do.” Just make sure that’s your own choice regarding this actual, real-life family, as opposed to a general distaste for a cultural ideal.

  10. I have been a step-parent, and I was grudging about it. I made it clear to my then-boyfriend that I was only tolerating his child because of him; I think I believed some stupid shit about how tolerance was the only thing that was expected from me, and you had to be honest with your feelings, yadda yadda. Overall, i am quite sure I made that poor child’s life significantly worse, and I was also stressed and miserable a significant portion of the time.

    I look back on this (this was about fifteen years ago) and I am deeply ashamed of myself and my behaviour. But one thing I did learn from it: the child(ren) from a previous relationship will never go away, and if you don’t feel you can love them – or, at the very least, be kind and affectionate towards them – then it’s better to break up. Not just for their sake, but for your own too.

    I’m lucky now – I eventually married and had a child with this boyfriend, then we got divorced, and my current boyfriend really likes my twelve-year-old son. He doesn’t just tolerate him, he actively takes him places, chats with him, shows him new things. My son is always excited to see him, and their relationship is something that makes me very happy; it has shown me what this kind of relationship should be like, and has made me realise how awful I was.

    If I could go back in time, I would never had continued with the original relationship, because it was destructive for everyone. If you think it’s a problem now, it will become a hundred times worse when you’re even more serious.

  11. I’m not in any of the relevant groups (although I did spend several years in jobs that involved working with children), but there were three things that made me worried in your letter – that made me think maybe the two of you should take a step back and move more slowly.

    1. “He understands, but he doesn’t think that it would be as bad as I fear and that I would be a good influence on the kids” This really strikes me as not taking your concerns seriously enough, probably out of optimism. It’s natural to really want things to work out and to minimize potential problems. But I know several people who don’t ever want kids and don’t like kids, and one of the worst things to say to them tends to be, “But I think you’d be a really good parent.” That tends to be what people say when they don’t get it. I think it can be very hard for someone who actively wants children to understand how some people just don’t want that in life. And it must be harder for a parent to grasp how someone might not want to be a significant part in their children’s lives, when they view their children as so amazingly awesome. But I rarely find that someone who doesn’t want kids warms up to being around them a lot. They may be very kind to the kids when around them, but generally still seem to be very, very glad to give them back and be able to have their space from them. If you have doubts about whether you could actively enjoy parenting (which is extremely reasonable) then it’s definitely not something to enter into lightly. And if you really dislike kids, and that isn’t changing, then no amount of love for him is going to make that not be a problem.

    2. “I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior” It’s hard to know what the situation with him and his children is. Maybe he wasn’t significantly involved in raising them until his wife left and maybe that was recent. But this makes me worry that you do not respect his parenting. I think that could very easily cause a lot of very messy conflicts between the two of you, especially if you have very different notions of appropriate child-rearing. I also agree with Polychrome that this made me worry for the children. It’s not necessarily a bad sign, and children do need those things, but you can’t just discipline children into good behavior. Plus, it’s important to know what one can reasonably expect of children at different ages. If you don’t have much experience with children, then you might view normal developmental learning as bad behavior. It is important to teach children what to do and not to do when they act badly in age appropriate ways, but it’s also very important to respect that it is age appropriate and it doesn’t mean they are bad kids or acting especially badly. They are immature, because they haven’t finished maturing. And the wording just made me worry you’d make them afraid of mistakes and possibly make them view themselves as bad when they are in fact typical. I may be reading too much into it, as I said, it’s not much to go on. It just came across as very authoritarian, and coming from someone who presumably hasn’t spent a lot of time around kids (quite reasonably as you don’t like them) it makes me worry about how well you can judge them.

    3. “his kids like me and have even expressed that they wish I was their mom” This was the part that most worried me. You have made it clear that you have doubts and reservations about this relationship and your relationship to the children. I think he should have taken that seriously enough to not let you and the kids get that close and not build up his children’s expectations. Sure, maybe this is just some random, weird thing one of the kids said, in which case, never mind. Kids can say all sorts of things. But if this seemed like a sincere desire, then it makes me feel like he is pushing you way too far too fast. And he is pushing his kids way too far too fast.

    All of it taken together, just really makes me wonder why you have been so involved with his children. I know it’s hard to date as a single parent, but baby sitters do exist. Most dating single parents I know believe in keeping the contact with the kids fairly casual until they are sure things are serious and both adult parties agree on bringing the contact with the children more into it. I worry that you’ve been pushed into more than you really wanted. And the longer it goes on, the worse it will be for the kids if you change your mind. That’s not your fault, but it is the reality of the situation. I don’t think you necessarily need to break up, but I’d strongly advise taking a step back. Seeing if you can decrease contact with the kids. As the Captain says, you don’t need to be primaries right now. And then if you decide you really can love the children and eagerly sign up to help parenting them, then great – move closer. And if you decide, nope, not for you, then it should be a bit easier for you to fade further away from them. But definitely have a serious talk with your boyfriend, make sure he takes your concerns seriously, and consider taking some time and space to think it through when there’s no pressure from him or the children.

  12. I’m a poly single mom with three kids, ages 11, 13, 17.

    My guy instinct is to say dial it back, way back. For everyone involved that seems like the best choice.

    I agree with the Captain just because you marriage ended does not mean you have to level up with this guy. Go back to whatever routine you had before.

    I think it’s ok to keep him/them in your life but with some firm boundaries, you could be like a cool aunt that only comes around sometimes.

    I’m thinking this guy probably really enjoys having you around not just for him but for his kids also and by in large the idea of being a family may seem like a great idea to him. Maybe I’m wrong though. Single parent with four kids is tough especially if they’re younger than ten. Does he have a strong support system, help with the kids? If not he may be looking for that in you? Not fair to you or the kids all things considering.

    Because my kids are older and their father is still involved (tho 3 hours away) they enjoy my other partners as responsible caring adults in their life but by no means look to them as a parental figure and even though my partners love and adore my kids I don’t think they’d want that role. Everyone including the kids are good with where things are at. We don’t live together (don’t ever plan to, MAYBE after the kids are grown & gone) so that helps in maintaining boundaries. I give that example to show it can work.

    Positive energy your way LW. This is an all around hard time for you, I wish you the best.

  13. I just want to reiterate that just because you *can* suddenly become a mother figure to 4 children, doesn’t mean you should or are obligated to. You get to decide what your life is going to look like, and if the life where you make a commitment to this man and to being a co-parent with him isn’t exciting to you, maybe it’s not what you should do.

    What I am sensing from this letter is that your boyfriend is putting a lot of expectations on you in terms of what your divorce means and what he thinks your relationship will look like. It doesn’t have to look like that just because that’s what he wants or assumes will happen.

    My personal recommendation is to have a talk with him about what you want out of this relationship*, and be sure that he’s really hearing you. If he dismisses your “I don’t want to be a parent” with “naw, it’ll be fine”, that’s a pretty bad response. I have a similar concern with his kids saying they wish you were their parent: how did your boyfriend, who knows you are not keen on being a parent, set expectations with his kids. What you want is also important; don’t stay with someone who doesn’t believe that.

    * with the understanding that a serious commitment comes with parenting

  14. As someone who has dated while raising kids, this is my perspective:

    1) My experience is that any adult who doesn’t have kids will err on the side of ‘these kids don’t have enough discipline’, and it seems to really bother them for some reason. But their attitudes generally bother *me* because:

    a) I have researched child development, both neurologically and socially, and have a much better understanding of those areas than they do, as their attitudes are generally just based on vague notions of what they imagined parenting is supposed to look like, or on how they were raised. I have also actually done the practical work of parenting, and experimented with various discipline and communication strategies. The same thing won’t work for everyone, but I am happy to prioritise a trusting relationship with my children over them behaving themselves and doing as they are told.

    b) My kids are everything to me, and every nuance of their emotional life is a big deal in my eyes. And I figure that is the way it should be – all kids need at least that one person who makes them their priority and advocates for them. So when my ex-boyfriend would be clearly irritated with my children, it hurt me on so many levels. It was the only hurdle we couldn’t get over, because I could not compromise on my children’s emotions in the same way I could in compromises between two adults.

    I don’t have enough information here to tell if any of this relates to you, LW, so I would just say that you should possibly question your assumptions of another person’s parenting if you are not in a position of expertise, and that if you are certain that you won’t love these children, you should seriously consider ending the relationship. My ex really liked my kids, but he did not love them, and that was a deal breaker, as quite frankly you can’t get through the significant challenges of parenting without having a love for the child as a foundation.

    1. >> I have researched child development, both neurologically and socially, and have a much better understanding of those areas than they do, as their attitudes are generally just based on vague notions of what they imagined parenting is supposed to look like, or on how they were raised

      Plus the distortion that comes with remembering how you were raised – the natural tendency to remember the times your parents said no, and you sulked but obeyed, far more vividly than the times that you were running around being noisy and causing mild child-havoc and your parents were giving everyone else sickly apologetic smiles and feeling like they were The Worst Parents In The World!

      1. “…the times that you were running around being noisy and causing mild child-havoc and your parents were giving everyone else sickly apologetic smiles and feeling like they were The Worst Parents In The World!”

        I laughed at that, thank you! 😀

      2. Exactly! Occasionally I wonder if I have made some huge mistake and my children have no guidance because they just got in a punch-up over who gets to sleep in the top-bunk or whatever, and then I remember all the ridiculous stuff my brothers and I did as kids. And, spoiler: we all turned out to be pretty decent and functional people. It was amazing recently going to an awesome parenting workshop at my kids’ school and hearing how *every single parent* had stories of how they thought they were the worst parent ever and had made some great mistake with their kids. Even as a parent you forget that kids are kids, and it is never as neat and shiny as you think it will be.

        On another note LW, I am just not sure why you feel you need to step into the role of a parent? I know many friends who are with someone from who has children from a previous relationship who have managed to get to a situation where they are friends with the children, but the parenting work is not done by them. That is often easier if you don’t live together, but it can still work. My mum and dad split when I was 3, and I found a big difference in how I reacted to their later partners: my mum seemed to attract men who thought they had the right to tell us what to do. At the start, before they did that, we would like them, and then that would quickly sour once they took on the authoritative role. My dad had a couple of long-term girlfriends who would hang out with us, and we felt comfortable talking to them, but didn’t ‘parent’ us. One of those relationships lasted 5 years and I never had an issue with her being in my life.

        The way I worked it with my ex-boyfriend was this: I told him I expect the exact same from him as I would any other friend of mine who spent time around my kids. He had to treat them with kindness and respect, and have the obvious boundaries that any adult friend would with a child. (ie, stop them if you see they are about to hurt someone else or themselves, be okay with saying no kindly but firmly to requests, etc) but it was not his job to make key decisions or discipline them. You may find those boundaries don’t work for you in the long-term, but I just want to point out that it doesn’t have to be a situation of forming a nuclear family – you have much more choice and flexibility than that.

    2. “My experience is that any adult who doesn’t have kids will err on the side of ‘these kids don’t have enough discipline’, and it seems to really bother them for some reason.”

      My stepfather thought this about me and my brother, and he was very surprised when his own daughter (our half-sister), whom he’d raised and disciplined from birth, went through all the same annoying stages we had, especially as a teen. Luckily he was able to recognize what was going on and laugh at his past self for being clueless.

    3. Also, based on the LW’s description it seems possible that the kids’ lives have been at least a little chaotic, which can have a profound effect on behavior even if their parents are truly doing their best to set boundaries. It’s totally fair if that’s not something the LW wants to deal with, but it did strike me as a little dismissive just to say, “they’re undisciplined.”

  15. This is great advice on an issue that’s very near and dear to me because I grew up with a stepmother who struggled with general ambivalence towards all children (that extended specifically to me and my sister) that eventually turned to resentment. She never wanted children but she loved my dad, so stayed the course, growing ever more resentful, bitter and angry. Not only was she never happy, but it really shaped me and my sister’s childhood in a negative way since she entered our lives at a young age. You don’t want to be that person. I think the Captain’s advice is spot on – either embrace the role (without restraint and resentment) or take an active step back (or exit the relationship altogether). I did have several wonderful and positive relationships with people my mother dated but who never stepped into the role of “stepfather” so I do think that it’s possible to maintain that kind of relationship, but you really have to take a backseat to the relationship between your boyfriend and his children. I also worry about you saying the children need more boundaries, discipline and structure. Maybe that’s true. But in my time as an unwanted stepkid, wording like that was thrown around constantly as excuse not to love me, as if those were reasons enough not to even be compassionate or warm towards me.
    Good luck.

    1. “I also worry about you saying the children need more boundaries, discipline and structure.”

      Yeah, that sort of stood out for me too. I’ve heard a lot of people who don’t like kids say that when confronted with them being…well, kids.

      LW, I think this is a deal breaker. You’ll never have the full commitment of a primary partner if he has kids and you’re not on board with that, and the result is likely to be painful for both of you, and for the children. And I hate to be all “think of the children!” but, well, you are the adult here. You get the power and the choices. They don’t.

      1. Thirding this concern as well. Our culture tends to use boundaries/discipline as a reason to get mad that kids are acting like kids. 99% of the time kids respond WAY better to love and routine. If my kids have a tantrum, I can’t discipline them out of it (they control so little in their lives but they can control whether they’re crying or not, so they do), but often offering a cuddle and some talking will snap them right out of it. Kids need to connect with people closely when stressed/upset, not be pushed away (time-out chairs are a good example here). Discipline can totally be used lovingly but my shoulders tense up when I hear people talking about it who don’t have kids/love kids/etc. I love that LW is thinking this through like this, you sound kind and thoughtful. I just wanted to throw in those couple cents on childrearing.

        1. It’s totally possible that you are reading her right on this. But you don’t have to have kids to know that kids do need boundaries and structure and discipline (not meaning that kids get punished for acting like kids, meaning that kids learn that their are consequences to intentionally breaking rules, but those consequences should be proportionate). No, I don’t have kids, but I’ve been around enough kids, and can remember from my own childhood, to recognize normal child behavior and the behavior of kids who never hear the word no.

          I’ve seen the consequences when a single parent tries to make up for the absence of the other parent by never saying no. I’ve seen it happen in circumstances where the other parent left or bailed on parenting after a divorce, and the remaining parent doesn’t want the child to feel unloved, so they make up for it by overcompensating. You don’t have to have kids to see how much damage a lack of boundaries, structure, and the teaching of consequences is having on those kids, and to understand how it will make the kids’ lives harder down the road.

        2. I created an account just to fourth this concern. My stepmother actually used these same buzzwords to justify not having to love me, or even be kind to me or treat me like a real person with feelings in any way. It was always just about her, and what she wanted, and how she deserved her man at any cost. There was never any problem with discipline, there was just a problem with me existing. I genuinely wanted my father to be happy and I did everything I could think of to be good and prove how worthy I was of her love. It was never good enough. I constantly got the message, overtly and subtly, that the lives of the people who supposedly loved me (in public, in front of their friends) would be so much better if I had simply not been born (the kind of talk that happened when we got home). Kids aren’t annoying little entities to be controlled, they are people who can exquisitely perceive the emotional truth of a situation. And when they are used as manipulative tools between adults, it inspires a lot of secret shame in them. I guess the good news for her is that her eradication campaign worked, as my relationship with my father is now irreparably destroyed. And now, in my late 20s, I still struggle with feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt. To top it off, I’m pretty sure I would do a little dance if that witch ever got hit by a bus. The Captain’s advice is good. This situation is full of red flags. You could be so much happier with someone else, child-free.

          1. *hugs*

            My mother found religion and her high-school sweetheart (my step) after a detour into substance abuse and single parenthood with my father. She went on to become an integral part of our community, and I was this never-ending reminder of her mistakes. I didn’t even have the decency to be exceptional in some way. Just a messed-up, scared, confused, little kid who kept trying to be what they wanted and failing badly.

            When my step-dad blamed all of their problems on me, she was more than happy to get on board with his spare the rod, spoil the child brand of discipline.
            The thing that saved me was her willingness to pay for therapy, and an amazing therapist who gently guided pre-teen me to the place where I could ask, “What if there is nothing I can do to please them? What if they will never under any circumstances give me what I need from them?” So I asked my mother to leave, she found a group home for me, and after my step-dad passed, she brought me home and we made what relationship we could out of it.

      2. “I’ve heard a lot of people who don’t like kids say that when confronted with them being…well, kids.”

        My step-father had that response and ended up being very resentful of me. Which meant my mother’s experience of him as her perfect partner did not match my experience of him as punitive and abusive.

        1. Yeah, I can’t help noticing that everyone who has come in with “yay boundaries discpline structure” has also said “I don’t have kids but I am sure this is true”. The “structure” part, absolutely. Boundaries and discipline? Not a patch on love.

          1. Ok, but that depends on your definition of “boundaries” and “discipline,” what you think those things entail. People can label all kinds of poor parenting as one of those two terms, and they often do. But good parenting has structure, boundaries, discipline AND love, and the boundaries and discipline are set in a loving way, proportionate to the child’s age and abilities. I’ve known plenty of kids who haven’t done well because their parents, acting out of love, did not discipline them or set boundaries. How do we expect adults to recognize boundaries and be comfortable setting them if they didn’t learn about it as a child? How can we expect adults to understand the obvious and natural consequences of their actions if their actions as children never have consequences?

            I’m just not sure why we have to assume that someone who doesn’t have kids but thinks kids do better with those three things is someone who expects kids to not be kids or who doesn’t understand that you have to be flexible with them.

          2. Yup.
            One of the things I have learned from having my own is how much people are who they are, right from the beginning.
            Parents can provide their physical needs, give them the structures they need to navigate the world without being a jerk, and expose them to things that might suit their brand of awesome.

            Discipline and boundaries will not change fundamental things you don’t like about them, or accelerate their passage through any of the periods where they take basic human traits and turn them up to 11. You really just have to love them enough to bear with it until they remind you why they rock.

          3. @WhenSheWasGood: It’s the “proportionate to the child’s abilities” and “natural consequences” parts that are so often left out of these relationships in which NoKids marries HasKids. It seems as though children in our society are either angels photographed through rose-colored filters, or little wretches out to wreck our lives. Treating a child like a naive adult with a continually changing and diminishing list of physical and cognitive deficits–in other words, ages and stages–is considered cruel by some people and wishy-washy by others. Hell, there is a truckload of child-training manuals based on the assumption that making discipline proportionate to the child’s abilities is bad. For them, it’s perfection or destruction: teach those kids complete obedience and self-effacement right away (at six weeks or younger, even) or they will grow up to be monsters! Present somebody who hasn’t spent any time in the trenches with one of these books, and presto, the kind of stepparent kids have to get over.

            LW#622: In what way do you not like kids? High-pitched voices, messiness, bad timing, etc.? Or by “don’t like kids” do you mean “I am nervous around kids because I have no idea what to do and that makes me irritable?” If it’s the first, then unfortunately your best option is probably breaking it off. Being viscerally put off by the presence of children is not generally something a person can will themselves out of. It’s not a character flaw, just a thing. If it’s the second, then if you decide to level up this relationship, please follow the lead of the children’s father for at least a year. If he uses a book, read that book. Observe without comment and back him up in the children’s presence. Get a feel for why things happen the way they do. Then discuss–not in the midst of a disciplinary situation–areas that you think might do with a change.

          4. I’m going to turn that around, though. I have a friend, or HAD a friend, since he’s more of an acquaintance to me now, that has put so many limits on his kids that he has really stunted them. I hope they will recover. He feels that he needs to be strict with them, but, he’s not taught them how to cope with anything and limited what they could DO(17 and 19 now, and no jobs, no driving lessons, no checking or savings account, limited where they could go and when). I cut off contact because there was nothing I could do that wouldn’t be meddling, and I couldn’t stand to watch him parent because he alternately ignored them and applied harsh standards.
            I couldn’t parent them myself, but, I have a feeling they would have done better as emancipated minors with a little time out from under his roof, while still young enough to have mistakes forgiven. The main benefit he gave them, a stable roof over their head, might have been better provided by a friend’s parents.
            I could, of course, be absolutely mistaken, and there could be circumstances that I am not aware of. I couldn’t stand to watch and not do something, and I am not parenting material myself(and would not date the guy, EVER), so I removed myself from having to watch. Blergh.

          5. I have kids. I say yay boundaries discipline structure. I never said “instead of love” because I think those things can all coexist perfectly happily in the same parenting philosophy.

          6. @WhenSheWasGood

            There’s a world of difference between “kids need tructure, boundaries, discipline” which is a general statement and “these specific kids need tructure, boundaries, discipline (which I will give to them)” which is what a lot of us with stepparents have gotten. It’s basically someone coming into your (at this point very short and very chaotic) life and saying “you are broken so I’ll fix you.” Maybe it is meant on a judgement on your parent’s past actions and abilities but it is inseparable from being a judgement and a threat on your current personality. And I say a threat because regardless of whether the stepparent might be right and might actually help the kid grow up “right” or more balanced or whatever… the kid doesn’t get a choice in it at all and it is 100% about changing the kid’s personality, reactions to the world, internal landscape, all of that. And that is terrifying and hurtful. Being told by an adult that you are going to be stuck with no matter what you say or want and who you don’t really know or trust, not in the same way you would a parent, that they think you are broken is hurtful and being told that they are going to take steps to fix you is terrifying.

          7. @siennamarrick I know, and I’m not sure why you’re telling me that. She said her boyfriend thought’d she be a good influence on this kids, and she thought that was probably true because they haven’t had much boundaries, fair discipline, and structure in the lives. Then commenters started assigning negative characteristics to the LW just based on that statement. All I was saying was that someone who thinks kids needs boundaries, discipline, and structure doesn’t have to be someone who won’t let kids be kids, or who is abusive, or who would be cold to the children, or any of the negative qualities being suggested about her. Yet based on that one statement, people are trotting out their wicked stepparent stories. I don’t think it’s fair to put that on her. That’s all I was saying. If you think I’m saying something different, I don’t know where you’re getting it from.

  16. LW, I’m also someone who doesn’t want to have kids and who generally dislikes kids as well. Just imagining myself in your position is a terrifying prospect for me. I don’t know you but I know that I’m someone who likes the quiet, my independence, and my privacy. Being thrust into the step-mom role for ONE child would probably break me, never mind four. I think maybe you could try imagining yourself being part of that family for a length of time. Could you do it for one year? Five years? 20 years or the rest of your life? You didn’t mention the kids’ ages but even after they all moved out of the house, they would still be a major part of your and your boyfriend’s life if that’s the path you choose.

    Despite not liking kids generally, there are some specific ones that I’ve gotten along with. Do you feel that way about your boyfriend’s children? Do you enjoy being around them in general? Awkwardness and fights are things that are going to happen sometimes, but after spending an evening with all five of them, do you feel relieved to be done with the day when you get home?

    I think that either way, you should ask for some space and time for a while. To think about this, to get used being by yourself for a while, and to enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Maybe you’ll find eventually that you want to date other guys that might also be perfect AND don’t have kids. Maybe you’ll miss your boyfriend and his kids so much that you’ll realize you do want to be a part of that family. Distancing yourself for a little bit might give you the perspective you need for this tough decision.

    1. Yes! This is so true — kids are kids, but they are also people. And I think if you don’t like your partner’s kids, you are going to find down the road there are things you don’t like about your partner. That look a lot like… the things you don’t like about hir kids. If you do like your partner’s kids, genuinely, I mean nobody is a saint and no one likes kids all the time but if mostly you think, hey that’s a charming funny young person right there — a big ol’ green light! For the whole situation. It is so much more likely to be okay becoming the step-parent and it’s also a great sign about the person you think you are in love with actually being that person through and through.

  17. My mother dated throughout my childhood – as far back as I can really remember, as she separated from my biodad before I was born. When I was too young to really understand dating/sex, her paramours were introduced as “friends,” as in, “Mommy’s friend is staying the night.” Actually, now that I think about it, the “friend” thing persisted until I moved out, because very few of these relationships were even at the level of “boyfriend” – though there were one or two who were “Mommy’s boyfriend” and that was OK too. After a certain age, I logically knew that sex was probably involved, but Mom was courteous enough to keep the sights/sounds of that private.

    None of her paramours/boyfriends took on any sort of parenting role in my life. This never bothered me! Partly because I was a kid, and I tended to just accept whatever was happening as normal, as kids do. I actually credit my mom with helping me develop a fairly healthy view of sex and relationships (which is HUGE, as in many other ways she was just a terrible, terrible mother. not in this way, though!).

    So please consider this some anecdotal evidence that you can totally be Daddy’s Girlfriend without being New Mommy!

    Although our situation was a little different, as none of Mommy’s Boyfriends really interacted with us too much, except for the occasional keeping us busy while mom was getting ready for a date. Mommy’s Boyfriends didn’t eat family meals with us, they didn’t spend evenings with us, they rarely even met us aside from a brief wave from the other room as mom sent us to bed. We didn’t have any expectation of Mommy’s Boyfriends turning into New Daddy, but these kids kinda seem to have those expectations. They already have a relationship with you, in a way that I never had with my Mommy’s Boyfriends. That might make it more difficult to step back into the Not-Your-New-Mom zone – which may involve basically “breaking up” with those kids… which might be impossible to do without breaking up with their dad, too. :/

    1. Well that adds the problems of gender-expectations.
      In my opinion, its not expected of male BF or FwB/sexztime-friends to fulfill any kind of parenting-role.
      But for women on the other hand…
      I sense this unsaid’ you should like ’em, you are considered a women because[biologist-essentialist-bs]’ permeating our culture.
      The buddies of your mom(muse) are men so the expectations to them to settle down or even do a bit of parenting are low and were even lower a few years before…
      I am not into kids, i babysit the ones my neighbour has sometimes-she is nice but nevet consequential so in stuff like keeping clean the children ignore her.
      When i am there they do what they are ask(and put the stuff back you played with isnt much to ask i think..)and they are really intelligent little beings but geez..they showed me that i dont want kids myself…
      The mom has male friends as well(without ‘benefits’) but the expectations towards them are different.

      So that might be a reason the male partners of your mom never did parenting-stuff.

      1. Ugh, yes, this.

        [OT: the other day I read a blog post about the fallout from the South Korean government’s awful mishandling of the Sewol ferry tragedy. People call it South Korea’s Katrina for a reason. One commenter on the post said that a woman who chooses not to have kids “probably has some kind of limitations fully understanding the incredibly harsh lifetime grief of surviving your young.” (SK’s president is a woman who does not have children). When another commenter said, oh, but a man without kids wouldn’t have that problem? (My question is, what the fraketty frak does that have to do with handling a national disaster?) The original commenter replied that women and men are just different “as they are supposed to be.” Raaaaaaaage. I can make a lot of complaints about how awful South Korea’s president is, but it has nothing to do with her not having kids.]

      2. I totally dig what you’re saying, and this is probably true in a Bigger Picture sense, as a general trend across relationships-with-people-with-kids. It might be a thing for the LW to keep in mind especially – feeling undue pressure to parent because of crappy gender norms may well be a thing that’s going on here.

        It is definitely not true in my case – mum would have LOVED to find us kids “a new daddy” (ugh) but when you bring a stranger home from the bar, or only invite someone over for booty calls, or don’t make it past the third date – an accurate description of almost all of “Mommy’s Boyfriends” – those are not situations where anyone would expect parenting to happen, regardless of gender. I’d hope, at least! 😛

  18. “Children aren’t an extra “package” or baggage that makes a perfect guy less perfect, they are as much a part of him as his bones.”
    This. This just made me cry so hard I can barely see to type.
    When I was 12 my father left my mother for his secretary who became my reluctant stepmother. At one point relations between us got so strained my dad rented an apartment for me to live in alone while he lived with her in her house. I was 15 years old at the time and things got so bad my mother quit her job and moved provinces to take custody of me and prevent me from dropping out of school, drinking and taking drugs (really she only slowed me down but heh, made sure I grew up okay) As a kid I can tell you that they know when you don’t want them with your whole heart and that knowledge penetrates them to their core and never really goes away. It’s bad.

    Now, many years later I am a single mom myself and my relationships with men are often colored with the knowledge that they’re seeing my son as an obstacle or something they can overlook or disregard as not part of me and it crushes me and surely affects my son as well. We all deserve better than that.

    I don’t really have any advice but if you can’t stop seeing your partner’s children as an obstacle to happiness and start seeing them as wonderful people and the living embodiment of your partner’s heart than you should definitely rethink the seriousness of your relationship with this man, this father.

    1. Skye,

      Words of wisdom and as a single divorced mom dating a man with children who I find challenging, words I take to heart. My heart aches for what you grew up with. Thanks for sharing and especially you message of love in how we view others’ children. Words I take to heart. Bless.

      1. Depends. I would’ve been happy to get an apartment because that would’ve meant I’d have been able to leave the house. This is not saying any child/teen should be happy about this arrangement or feel okay with it because in an ideal world, it would never come to a place where things got so bad. So, Skye, not saying “You are so lucky.”, you weren’t.

        1. Oh no Erin, at the time I was mostly thrilled that my father trusted me and thought me mature enough to live on my own. Hahaha… oh hindsight.
          He is a good man but doesn’t always make the best decisions and you can believe he spends his life making up for any past mistakes. Now that I am an adult I get along reasonably well with my stepmother too. I do feel somewhat lucky compared to people who are trapped together with no exit for sure. 🙂

  19. My parents divorced when I was about nine years old, and dated on and off throughout the years. Mama remarried; Dad’s remarried twice; they shared custody, so I saw a fair number of boyfriends and girlfriends growing up, and participated in the first round of weddings while living under their respective roofs. (Rooves? Augh, English.) I’m also speaking as a poly parent who sometimes dates people other than my married partner. And, er, as someone who once vowed to never ever have children, ever … and now has two, and would not say no to a third.

    I have to think that a lot of it will depend on the age + maturity of the children. For myself, I don’t think I ever accepted a stepparent as an actual authority figure or parent – we’ve always been on a first-name basis, and I often introduce them as my parent’s spouse, as opposed to my stepparent. But both of my folks were still very active in my life. If these children are very young, and are trying to adopt you into a role you aren’t prepared to take on – it would be a kindness to them to step out now, because parenting is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it is (as they say) a life sentence. On the other hand, if they’re sufficiently mature, and you’re able to set very firm boundaries about your role with both them and their father, then you may have a chance.

    Good luck, either way. Wishing you lots of grace and patience and clearness of sight for the conversations to come.

  20. Longtime lurker first time commenter here. As a child of parents who separated when I was 3 and divorced when I was 5 (which on some level signified the end of dad in my life) I would say leave now and have your break and grieving time for the marriage that was and remove yourself from that space with children who have already expressed wanting you as a mom before they get more attached.

    Storytime: My Dad never wanted kids. He and my mom didn’t even want to marry but they did it so they could live together without facing the wrath of their parents (not advised) and then mom found Jesus a few years in and told Dad it’s time to monogamize and “legitimize” their union under the eyes of God and also have kids. I wish at that point Dad had said “this is not the life I signed on for.” Instead they had kids followed by a painful divorce and I “lost” a father. Us kids sensed the discord and it sucked throughout because they lied about it.

    Dad’s distance sucked but dad got remarried and he and his wife were happy which made me really happy. The fact that they never made room for us sucked. The step-mom was never a mom to me.

    Mom dated a few guys but they always seemed more interested in dating mom than becoming the next dad, one of them really creeped me out and my friend and I made up nicknames and stories about him. I guess my point is the fact that these kids want you to be their mom says a lot about their level of attachment and investment IMO.

    Mom married when I was in high-school but step-dad was already “done” being a dad and had already raised his kids. He did, however attempt to Parent AT me a few times which was doubly awful because he didn’t WANT to be my parent.

    “Transform yourself into someone who never though they’d be a parent but who changed their mind when they met *their* kids.” This quote got me right in the gut because none of the SOs of my parents ever really went there. I felt more often like an obstacle or inconvenience they had to deal with to get the prize of parent’s affection. I agree with everything Captain Awkward said. Loving bf means loving these beings he made. If you choose to be part of their life then go for it all in otherwise get out of the way. The adults throughout my childhood who stood with one foot out the door or pulled a slow-fade did more damage IMO than the ones who joyously, happily, w/o strings or conditions became my family of choice even if they were there briefly as a teacher or camp counselor.

  21. I agree with the Captain except in that I do not think you necessarily need to label yourself a parent to be responsible for and care for children. Given they are presumably young and have expressed that they would like you to be their parent if you go ahead with this you will to all intents and purposes be their parent, but I like to make a point of saying that being in a relationship with someone and caring for their children doesn’t automatically make them their parent. From the POV of being the child, mostly – it’s not even resentment, I just think generally it’s a slightly different relationship and I find it horribly presumptious to label all married people as their partner’s kid’s step-parent.

    Most important here though, if you’re not prepared to have his kids become your kids to all intents and purposes then it is definitely best to make that call now before it hurts everyone more (it’s probably already going to hurt the kids if they like you enough to wish you were their mother – not your fault, but putting it out there).

    Background, not really relevant to this situation but for context:

    My experience was kind of odd in that my parents had split up at various points in my childhood, and we so much happier separate that I was happy when they finally split up. I was even happy at the idea of my mother dating (I was 13) except that the man she had fallen in love with was someone I absolutely hated due to some sexual assault trauma arising and fixating mostly on him. She moved him in too quickly, he was too overbearing and I was never going to respond well to him so that was pretty much hell for everyone involved.

    My father however got together with a woman who I thought was wonderful (I was later to discover she was an awful person but hey, she was much NICER than either of my parents at first…), and I was still extremely unimpressed (internally) when she called me her step-daughter. NOPE. As far as I was concerned, we had a good relationship, but she was NOT my mother.

    Aaaand I had opinions on this in the first place because my father died when I was 11 months old, and I never had my other father adopt me because you’re not allowed two fathers. Apparently. Fuck that noise: I have two fathers, the man who raised me is not my step-father, and the people who arrived when I was approaching adulthood are not my step-parents either. I reserve that for parent’s partners who are caregivers from a young age, when both parties are comfortable with it.

    Oh, and my partner and I have part-time custody of my 15 year old brother and probably soon my 13 year old sister. I am 29, and have tried to be a safe place for them growing up in an abusive household, and my partner has known them since they were 2 and 4. Yet he is still not their parent in any way. He is a sort-of-person-like-that-they-can-trust. 😀

    Life is complicated. 😛

  22. Or, just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree

    I would like to reiterate this. People who are parents very much have relationships, even close relationships, without the person on the other end of said relationship becoming also-parents. Friends, close friends, even relatives. And how much engagement these people have with the children in question varies all along the spectrum. Our culture says this can’t be the case if the relationship is romantic/sexual/the bf-bf type, but that doesn’t have to be true. You can figure out your own levels and boundaries of things, and what works for you (plural) specifically.

    1. I want to chime in on this as well. Two people can use a polyamorous relationship-model, even with your other partner out of the picture. You don’t necessarily need to live with this wonderful man, or to co-parent his kids, in order to go on loving him. You’re not on an escalator that automatically takes you to the “next” level if you don’t jump off. Part of what I like about poly is how it makes it so flexible, so uncertain, about what the “next” level even IS.

    2. Yes, yes, yes! I came scrolling down the comments hoping someone would address this.

      “Primary” doesn’t mean “the single most important relationship I’m in”, and being a sole relationship doesn’t automatically make it a primary one. “Primary” really more means “a relationship that is of great importance, e.g., with shared finances, living together, or at least going on dates 3-4 times every week.”

      One person can have more than one primary relationship: Any polyfidelitious triad or more-ad consists of people who all have multiple primaries.

      And a secondary relationship is more like “just dating… say, regular Date Night 1-2 times every week, but not living together”. You can have one or more secondary relationships with no primary relationship.

      (I recall a friend who was working on his graduate degree, who told potential partners: “School is my primary right now. I have the time for secondaries and tertiaries, but not for another primary right now.” Everyone got it.)

      So, OP, just because your marriage has ended, that doesn’t have to mean a sudden promotion in your secondary relationship.

      On the other hand, if you moved in with him after the divorce, that… well, yeah, that kind of would indicate a jump to primary status. But it sounds like you don’t really want that?

      1. Even if the LW did move in after the divorce, that does not need to be permanent.
        Just because this is the only relationship right now AND you love him, does not mean that you have to live with him. It does not mean you are automatically a parent to his kids. You can maintain separate residences, and you can date other people.
        Not a parent story or even a poly story, but….
        I have a friend who has a boyfriend. The boyfriend really wants them to move in together, but, she is resisting. They have separate houses. She has her space and alone time and her craft projects. When he’s with her, he tends to be the whirlwind, and the energy, and the person who chooses activities. She likes this! But! Then she goes home, to HER space, and recharges, and gets to have all the control over her own food, music, furnishings and activities. She also does not need to stress over pressure to do his dishes, or his laundry, or dust, or pick up clutter, or all the things that women tend to end up doing, sometimes merely because people expect us to care more, or he just doesn’t notice, or whatever gendered things happen, especially in certain circles or certain generations. I expect they are happier living separately than they would be if he ever got his way and they moved in together.

      2. Yes! LW *you* can be your primary relationship for the foreseeable. No reason to change a relationship style/structure you like and want for one you don’t. Poly means, in part, that you get to make a conscious choice in shaping the relationship(s) you are in. You do NOT have to just get on the relationship escalator if that’s not where you want to go.

  23. I am a parent with three children. I met my now-husband when my daughter was seven. There were a few “boyfriends with red flags” as regards to kids along the way (among them one cereal-bowl-guy, who hated noise, hated chaos like crayons on the floor and made my toddler take her shoes of before sitting in his car).

    My husband had a lot of green flags in this regard when we met. Here are a few:
    – He had never been around kids much, but liked my kid, showed it and was very willing to try and learn.
    – He accepted her as part of the equation from day 1.
    – He would plan and suggest activities for both “the two of us” and “the three of us”.
    – He was kind to my daughter, helpful and INTERESTED in her.

    I hope you find what you want out of life, LW. It´s totally understandable that this is a dealbreaker for you, but if my partner hadn´t wanted children and I´d already had them? That would be a dealbreaker for me.

  24. While there are a lots of situation where partners can find a good compromise, I believe this is not one of them. I really think in this case it’s either you get on board 100% with being heavily involved in the children’s lives, or you break up. Like the Captain said, sometimes people end up living a life they never envisaged for themselves, and it can work out just fine, but you have to do it with open eyes and be pretty sure you won’t resent your choice later on. If you believe that it’s ultimately not for you, then you have a clear deal breaker and it doesn’t really matter how great a fit your boyfriend is in other ways (as cold as that may sound). Deal breakers are things that simply do not pass the filter and even if you have just one of them it’s enough to call it quits. (Basically, instead of imagining a balance where you put the good in a relationship on one side and the bad on the other and make your decision that way, imagine a filter and see if anything gets stuck in it.) I know how much it hurts to realize you love someone who you ultimately can’t be with, but it’s way better to make a bold choice now than slowly sliding into an unacceptable situation.

    My parents dated after their divorce, but I was a teen at the time and there was no expectation of step parenthood, plus my parents shared custody so each one had some free time to enjoy with their new partner when my brother and I were with the other parent, and in addition they both didn’t live with their new partner for almost a decade, so our lives were much less enmeshed and it was possible for the new partners to just have the role of gf/bf. I’m guessing your boyfriend’s kids are too small for this to even be an option, and he’s their primary caretaker as well. So what might otherwise be an option – staying on the sidelines as bf/gf without acquiring stepparent duties – likely won’t work in this case. I would also be very wary of “downgrading” the relationship to a secondary one again, as it’s usually hard to go from a more committed/intense relationship to a less committed/ less intense one. I’m only saying this because sometimes the poly framework can make people believe that they simply must be able to maintain a relationship in some form if they allow it to be part of a complex poly constellation, but though poly does indeed create additional possibilities, it doesn’t always work to keep someone as a partner. It seems like you’re already very aware of this and not trying to force this at all, but I just thought I’d throw it out there because I’ve seen it as a pattern particularly in poly situations.

  25. Forgot a thing- you could redial your relationship-but as a woman you will sadly often have to navigate societys expectations towards woman-motherhood-etc
    This might be frustrating-specially when your SO has decided what they want-and that isnt what you want.

    You wrote the situation was ok as long as you were married-what did change except your legal status?
    Have you more time to spend with them now? Had you a commitment to your ex which doesnt exist anymore, or is it that your status now as non-married(e.g free in the eyes of society..) makes you a possible partner, not ‘bound’ to your ex in a legal sense and therefor ‘free’ to be bound to them?
    (english is not my native language, can you get what i try to say nonetheless?)

    Often such an act (marriage and divorce as well) alters our perception of ourselves in a very profound way-even if we stay technically the same.(there is no biol. difference between significant other & wifband, only a legal one. And well your cells regenerate so you change all the time but thatsnotthatimportant…)

    It is ok to want to be a partner but no parent-so you need to talk about the ‘absolutely required things you need to bee happy’as well as his.
    Should that collide, then its collidin and you have absolutely every right to go.

    Its not fair that you are culturally expected to care for his children, do unpaid care-work, while this wouldnt be the case(or not as much) if all were genderswapped.

    (Tthe comment of muse shows that, i think. (Could be wrong) Maybe there are male fathers whose partners are no part of family stuff and arent expected to do care work-has any commenter such examples plieeeese??)
    If not:

    Erm*dusts up hir clothes*

    So talk about that conflict of interrest and how/whether to solve it.
    Make a date, just you 2, babysitter for the kids so you have time and space and talk talk talk.

    be clear in what you will do-which work/stuff with them.
    Make a list of
    ‘will do’ like : eat with thrm, watch stupifunny-movies on the sticky-couch

    ‘will sometimes do when in the mood’
    Go in the zoo, ask them to clean up/semi parenting

    hard limit:wont do ever’:
    Be their stepmom
    Eat them with mayonnaise and grated truffles

    Ask what he wants.
    Then look whether you can find a level of commitment you are okay with.

    If not, then split up. Its okay, you are not a bad person for enforcing your boundaries and there are enough people on this planet who never want children.

    Maybe you will find even someperson and due to the right alignment of stars and magic you change your stance-and that will be fine as well.
    Because it is totally fine to say “I dont want children *with you*

    I hope you will be fine.

    1. “(Tthe comment of muse shows that, i think. (Could be wrong) Maybe there are male fathers whose partners are no part of family stuff and arent expected to do care work-has any commenter such examples plieeeese??)”

      My father’s ex-girlfriend did no parenting work at all (towards us; she had at least 1 kid of her own) while they were together. All of my father’s children except me were minors at the time they got together, two of us were under the age of 10. But we didn’t live with my father and only saw him when he came over to my mom’s to see us. So it’s a very different situation.

    2. What changed is that now this relationship is on a long term commitment/possible marriage at some point path, which will lead to being a step mom, whereas before I was insulated from the kids because it was a secondary (even though I hate that term) relationship.

      1. “What changed is that now this relationship is on a long term commitment/possible marriage at some point path, which will lead to being a step mom…”

        But that doesn’t really answer the question that kaathe asked, LW, and I really feel like it’s worth exploring how and why your secondary relationship has become your primary relationship. ESPECIALLY since it really sounds like you do NOT want to be a stepmom. From your OP and your comments, it doesn’t seem clear that the change in this relationship with your boyfriend was made with intention and an understanding of what all parties need from the situation. There are small humans learning to be adults in the mix, and that means you really must proceed with an abundance of caution, because they see and understand a lot more than you think and can be affected lifelong by decisions made by the adults in their lives at this time (read all the comments from folks who grew up in similar situations).

    3. Like I said above, my situation is a bad example because my mom’s paramours were never “partners”.

      I have noticed some comments upthread about LW being the default primary female caregiver for these kids which gave me the heebs and/or jeebs though.

  26. Did my comment not post? Gah stupid internet shaping.


    I come at this from the unique position of being
    1- a single parent
    2- dating a single parent
    3- not wanting to be a step-parent

    When I separated from my husband I was determined not to date anybody that had kids. I wasn’t really interested in serious dating anyway but I was dead-set again single parents (and look how that turned out!).

    I absolutely do not want to parent somebody else’s kids, and I *really* don’t want to date somebody who’s primary interest in me is “potential step-mum”. I have two kids of my own and they are more than enough work for me.

    Having said that, I met a guy who does have a child and we decided to see how things went. I’ve made it clear that I don’t want to parent his kid, and I don’t want him to parent mine – and that has worked for us.

    My kids call him by his first name and (as far as I can tell) consider him a trusted adult friend. His boy calls me by my first name and we’re more on the “regular acquaintance” level (almost like work colleagues?). Because of custody arrangements my kids spend more time with him, that I do with his boy.

    My bf has as much authority with my kids as any other adult does (ie an uncle or babysitter) but in the end all things are my call. What makes it work is clear boundaries and lots of words.

    My ex has next-to-nothing to do with the kids but that doesn’t change the fact that he is their dad and no partner of mine (however awesome they are) can take that place. That’s my thinking and I know it can be very different from person to person and culture to culture.

    The impression I’m getting is your bf isn’t really listening to what you’re saying. Did your relationship ‘elevate’ to primary because he assumed that would be the case after you separated from your husband? Or is that something you both discussed and agreed upon?

    It’s perfectly OK to need time and space to fly solo while you think things through and consider what you want to do with your future.

  27. Stepson here, on both sides. Two totally different effects from two different sources.

    OK, so my mum ran away to “The old world motherland” from me and my three older sisters, and was married with my stepdad (and his 2 sons and a daughter) before I was three.

    So stepdad was in my conscience from around the time I could talk.

    After living with my single dad, we joined my mum and stepdad when I was about 8 years old to be a combined household of 8 kids (my half-brother was now 5)

    What he did right: he never policed us. He would always say “Don’t tell yer mother” if he caught us being naughty.

    He was the one adult in my life that gave me unconditional love and support for any choice I made. He had the luxury or male privilege, as bread winner to my mum, to just give me a free pass, perhaps. It was up to my mum to be boss in their household, and with 8 kids to oversee, as you can imagine, I stretched the boundaries of whatever behaviour I could get away with. Ending with my frazzled mum brokering a deal with my dad to take me off her hands, along with my next eldest sis.

    I never lived with stepdad again, but till the day he died a year ago I can hold him up as the one true fountain of joyous love I ever got from any man or woman.

    What he did wrong: he played favourites! My stepbrothers had their asses whipped (literally). It wasn’t till we were older that they told me how much they admired me for inspiring so much tenderness from their own dad when he was majorly strict with them.
    So in a sense, if he *had* been more balanced with us, I would have missed out on being spoiled rotten several times.

    Still, later in life, he never judged my choices, was never disappointed with my station in life, or in any way dissuasive of an idea of mine. He encouraged my off-centredness, knew I was the kookie one, and treated me as if I were an adult on equal footing, with every person in the room…

    My sisters might have a less romantic vision of him, but if his funeral was anything to go by, he created some of the brightest parts of our childhoods.

    So! By the time my mum asked him to take me off her hands, my original dad had remarried, my step mother, at a time when she had “assumed” we were permanently with our mum.

    She was in no mood to be a housewife. She met my dad having just completed a 3rd PhD and was about to start a new life, alone, with him.

    My sis and I ruined this entire plan, just as we hit our teens, raging with hormones and identity crises.

    What she did right: She taught us about Apartheid (early 80s), The Woman’s Rights Movement, local politics, and social justice.
    She asked every person she knew for as much advice as possible on how to deal with kids.
    She instilled the policy of my sister, dad and me cooking 2 meals a week each (which stood for 4 years) with one day “do your own thing” so she never really had to cook. (She helped — alot– of course) to help making me self sufficient.
    She brought an enormous range of concepts into my life. Dinner guests might be visting academic honchos who would be impressed that we the kids had cooked, and bring us in on their ivory tower discussions, allowing us to speak and play in the big leagues.
    She taught us to drink responsibly and gave us an overload of sex and drug education. She had been a teen in the early sixties and was a first hand feminist. She would argue with business clients of my dad on ethical issues to his gross embarrassment, and my admiration.
    Her brother was gay so I inherited a gay uncle just as I entered puberty.
    I watched with my own eyes my uncle win over my homophobic old world father as he slowly deconstructed his values and conditioning, and count myself lucky to have known about the freedom of sexual expression being played out in front of me.
    My uncle (I never call him step) was irreverent, sarcastic, outrageous and silly in ways I didn’t know adults could get away with. He would purposely try make my dad squirm with his toilet humour. And I was allowed to laugh because it was adult-time when uncle is around and uncle *hated* children disturbing martini hour.
    It was an amazing education.

    What she did wrong: she tried too hard and pretended to love us. I can (long story short) say she really only ever put up with us. But she didnt love us.
    That’s OK, just that all the policing, heavy artillery, dramatic episodes of alarm at ordinary teenage behaviour –what a waste of all of our energy. She ought to have let us go and become rather than try and catch us out.

    Prime example here, one of great many:

    (She grounded me once for waking her up at 10pm while getting a glass of milk. My dad was away on business and she thought I was a burglar. She had gathered my sis in the master bedroom waiting for the cops to come, afraid i ‘d been killed–see, I wasn’t there in my room when she heard the “burglar” in the kitchen, not for a minute thinking that sound might be me because otherwise the dog would have barked, which means the burglars have also killed the dog)
    So biggest weekend of the year (band camp) she grounds me for getting a glass of milk and dad is away on biz so we have no supreme court of appeal.
    Deal is, I too, was confused when I heard her and my sister’s voice coming from my parents’ room. So I went to see.

    People, I know what two women convinced there is a murderer in the house look like when the “murderer” springs into the room on them. Like I’m some monster! Shrieks to wake the neighbours, I had no idea what’s the matter.

    Friends asking what have I done this time. They don’t believe me. Can’t make it up–I got mistaken for a dog-killing murderer while getting a glass of milk just after lights out. Sorry, can’t make it to band camp (a 2 day teenage fantasy of no parents, just the music teachers looking the other way and us doing every rite of passage in the building).

    All fairness, we found out later, she had been/was pregnant.

    And so my half sister was born around the time I was fifteen, and all of a sudden–freedom!

    Step mother never (long story short) had a concern for me or my welfare again.

    So! Don’t waste time instigating household rules if you don’t actually love them.

    Can you love them?

    No big deal if you can’t. I would still really dig my stepmother if she’d said “Look, I met your dad when he lived alone and single. This is one big surprise. Let’s see if we can get through it, but let me tell you I am an autonomous individual and I’m taking no prisoners. I really like you, but, love? Love is something you build. Who knows what were building here? Let’s do our best.”

  28. My kids went to live with their dad at ages 6 and 4. Dad had a girlfriend and they were planning to get married, but she’d never intended to have kids. Despite knowing full well that the guy she was marrying came as a package deal with two daughters (and Mum still on the scene regularly visiting, plus it involved moving in with her mother-in-law – that was a whole ‘nother story again) and that she didn’t want kids – and having the option to walk away at any time – she went ahead and married him. And she made it quite clear to my daughters that she resented it. She also resented the fact the girls would never call her “Mum” (because hey, they still had a Mum, and I was still very involved with their lives – and didn’t that stick in her craw.

    Because she never bothered hiding how she felt or even trying to make the effort to like the girls, not unsurprisingly the younger girl took very firmly against her and was always “the troublesome one”. the eldest was always a quiet introvert with her nose in a book but her sister was an extrovert like her dad, and if stepmum wasn’t going to make the effort then she sure as hell wasn’t going to either!

    It all came to a head when their father died following a motorbike accident at the age of 36, just two weeks before DD1’s 14th birthday. (Just to complicate matters, I was 10 weeks pregnant at the time. My ex had known, because even after the divorce we always remained best of friends and he knew I’d had a lot of miscarriages; we’d planned to break the news to the girls after DD1’s birthday when I would have been past 12 weeks and hopefully the danger was past; instead I had to explain it to them on my own and help organise his funeral a week after DD1’s birthday.) DD2 started to go completely off the rails as she hit puberty, not helped by stepmum starting to date her late husband’s best male friend barely 6 months after burying their dad. her present to the girls on DD1’s 16th birthday was to tell them she was kicking them out and they were coming back to live with me in London.

    To this day, the girls never refer to her by name – she’s only “the bitch”. She made no effort to try and get to know them and never hid her resentment of them – and it had a lasting effect. She should never have married their father – and I say that not as “the bitter ex-wife” but as the mother of my daughters who had to watch the toxic effect this woman had on her children. (The real kicker? This woman was a primary school teacher. Who hated kids.)

    I’m not saying LW will be like this – but if you don’t want kids, believe me; the kids will know. They’ll pick up on it. If kids are not something you ever wanted yourself, just don’t go there. Break it off now. Sure, it’ll hurt – but it’s far better than the long-term traumatic effects on the kids of living with a woman who doesn’t want them. No matter how discreet you think you’ll be, the kids will pick up on it eventually.

    Please, for the sake of those kids, walk away now.

    1. The real kicker? This woman was a primary school teacher. Who hated kids.
      This woman does sound horrible and if she truly hated children in all respects, then yes, teaching primary school would be an odd choice. However, it is possible to work with children and be good at it while still shuddering at the thought of parenting. You can like them in the classroom without liking them in your home, or only really enjoy them at a certain age. (I get twitchy about this because people are always telling me, “Oh, but you’re so good with kids, you’d be a great mom!” No, I am good at teaching kids. Teaching skills are not parenting skills!)

      1. Definitely true. There’s some overlap, sure, but “good teacher” and “good parent” are two different skill sets. (But then, one of the reasons I quit teaching was that I was starting to like kids *a lot less* and wanted to actually have some of my own at some point.)

      2. Word.

        My favorite aunt was a brilliant primary school teacher, with students who’d come back to visit long after they’d graduated. (And she was / is an awesome aunt to my brother, my niblings, and me.) Long ago I asked her why she didn’t have kids of her own, and she replied that she liked other people’s kids.

        That response made sense, and it gave me permission to not parent. I love my niblings and my friends’ kids, but that is partly because I am not primarily responsible for them.

  29. My parents got separated when I was 4 or younger? I basically don’t have any memories where they were together. My dad got into a LTR not long after (supposedly friendship where she helped look after us that turned romantic that turned into marriage – depending on who you ask) but she was great with kids so it was fine for the most part. Hell, she did more looking after us than he did when my sister and I were with them.

    My mother didn’t have so much luck although she tried and was super careful about making sure we didn’t even know she was dating till she was sure about the guy and felt it was turning serious. The first LTR she had was one where my sis and I loved the guy – he was awesome. He was kind and funny and watched Detective Gadget with us, and helped when we had birthday parties and trained my parakeet and moved in with us and was awesome. My sis and I wanted them to get married and give us a baby sister. We had plans. Then he and mum had a stumble and he disappeared. Like with no warning he went from living with us to living with his old roommate, we saw him maybe 2 times after that, then nothing. He’d been a major part of my life from the time I was 7ish till after I was 10 and then boom. It shook me more than my parents split did – that made sense at least. My parents couldn’t be in the same bloody room as each other. But mum and LTR seemed fine and it took over a decade to get the story about what happened, cause at the time sis and I were kids so nobody thought to tell us what the f was actually happening. Like we wouldn’t freaking notice or something? He was one legality away from being my step-dad. I’m still a bit resentful cause it really did do more damage than when mum and dad split cause of the not knowing part.

    Another partner mum had liked sis and I well enough, but didn’t like how we did things. We were a bit too undisciplined for our step mum too, but she didn’t feel the need to completely overrule everything in our lives – put our dolls through the laundry machine (cause he found a flea inside on the baby so it must have been with our toys, never mind he was quite hairy and would go outside to play with his dog regularly, not it must have been us), made it so my bird who’d been part of the family and every day activities was shut up in one room separated from the rest of the house (the laundry, cause animals are messy. The bird was in my life before you were dude), go from however many phone calls to friends (which weren’t excessive in frequency or length to begin with) to max 1/day for limited amount of time (bonus points for being after sis and I over house so we were much further away from previous peer groups AND it was the time I was finishing elementary and moving up to high school so I was starting over with that too…), was the one at home the day my parakeet ‘accidentally’ got out of its cage and flew away…..

    He wasn’t horrible (other than the bird thing) but he did have a bad case of ‘I’m the adult and you will respect my rules (and you’re a kid so you don’t get a hell of a lot of respect in return). I didn’t lose any sleep over him leaving our lives.

    TL;DR – treating kids kindly and with respect goes (surprisingly!) a long freaking way. You can mean the world to us/them. If you only want to be auntie then that’s fine. But the dad DOES need to draw the boundary, and do it considerately, and the state of the relationship DOES need to be explained to the kids. NOT DETAILS- OH NO NO NO, but if it’s serious/headed for marriage, or on the decline. Those kids have had enough surprises to last them a while, I feel sure.

  30. Here are my credentials: I also don’t like kids. And I’ve been a step-parent. (That relationship broke up for reasons unrelated to his being a parent.) My stepdaughter was five when we met and nearly nine when we broke up. Also, when I was a child and my parents were divorced, my dad dated (serially) several women, one of whom he married, who just left without a trace when they broke up. So I’ve experienced this from two angles.

    First, like the Captain says, if you stay with him then you have to not only accept the fact that he has kids – you have to accept that they are now a part of your life and you are a part of theirs. If you as an adult step into their life and build a relationship with them, in my opinion that means you now have a moral obligation to not just disappear on them if you break up with their father. When I broke up with my stepdaughter’s father, I kept in touch with her, had sleepovers, came to her birthday and gave her a Christmas present and so on, for several years. The very day that I moved out, she asked to stay over at my new place – because she was afraid she’d lose me. And I remember how I missed a couple of my dad’s girlfriends, especially the woman he was married to.

    If you step into a child’s life, you don’t just get to step out of it. It will hurt the child. Even if you break off right now, you still have a moral responsibility towards those children – because they already love you and would be hurt if you disappeared. I won’t tell you whether to stay or not; the rest of the post will be about how to behave if you do choose to say.

    To start with, you should know that you aren’t their mother and you won’t become their mother. None of my dad’s girlfriends was my mother, and I wasn’t my stepdaughter’s mother. There was love, and there was some parenting, but she and I already had a mother and the girlfriends/I weren’t her. I suppose that this might be different with a young child or when the actual mother is no longer around, but this doesn’t appear to be the case here?

    What you can, and (in my opinion) should be, is an adult who cares about them and wants to be in their life. It doesn’t matter that you don’t like children in general. These aren’t children in general – they are specific children. I also don’t like children in general, but I grew to love my stepdaughter, just as I love my nieces and nephews. (If you grow to dislike a particular child, that’s a different matter, but again that doesn’t appear to be the case here.)

    I’d also suggest something that I didn’t do when I was a step-parent – making space for yourself, someplace where you can just be you and not parent-you. I think that if I’d been more adamant about having that space, that relationship might have lasted longer. I felt at times that I was never allowed to just be by myself for a few minutes without my stepdaughter wanting or needing something – I’m fairly sure I would have felt the same if I’d borne the child too, which is why I don’t have children… but it was tiring and I had to work to not take it out on her.

    Lastly, to answer this what it was like to have your parents’ partners around. What did you sense? What did you know? What did you want to happen?:
    It depended on the partner. Some were trying to act like they were my mother, which I didn’t like because I had a mother and a father and they were neither. Some were distant with me, so I was distant back. My dad always asked me if I liked them, but I never told him if I didn’t because I didn’t want to make him sad. The one I liked best was the one my dad married. She acted more like a big sister than a mother; she listened to me but didn’t try to control me.

    And a last note: As I said, you’re not their mother. If or when they say that they wish you were, the best response is something like “Well, I love you very much, and so do both your parents.” Also, if you live with their father, you have the right to set and enforce rules in your house, whether you are their mother or not. It’s just that you don’t get to say “Because I’m your mother, that’s why”. Which, on the whole, is a good thing, because if that’s the only justification for a house rule, it’d be about time to consider the purpose of that rule…

    I wish you all the best.

    1. I think that this is very important: “What you can, and (in my opinion) should be, is an adult who cares about them and wants to be in their life.”

      A lot of whether this arrangement can be successful or not depends on whether LW and her boyfriend and his kids have the same expectations of what she will and won’t do as an adult in the childrens’ lives (which depends, in part, on the childrens’ ages, of course). Like, as the child of a single mom who dated, what I wanted from my mother’s long term relationships was to be left alone. In return, I would be a nice polite kid who pretty much did as she was told and didn’t mind being left in the care of the boyfriend from time to time. Like an uncle or a babysitter. Start trying to “parent” me in non-standard ways or make new rules about my life? Get ready for a rough road, dude, because you have earned my wrath.

      But my sister and my friends who were in similar situations really wanted “dads” or “moms” and latched on hard and developed much more parent-like relationships with their steps than I ever did or wanted.

      So, if I were in LW’s situation (I also do not want kids myself), I would be fine with older kids who really just needed a friendly and caring adult, like an aunt or older cousin, who could look out for them and provide guidance if it was wanted and be the adult supervision. I could do that, and would enjoy doing that, and something closer or more emotional might easily come out of it. But young kids who need a lot of nurturing or kids that really wanted a “mom”? That would not be for me and would be unfair of me to get involved in that kid’s life, no matter how much I liked the kid’s father. I can’t do that, and I don’t want to.

      Key, though, is having agreement with your partner about what your role is and what it entails, and being realistic about what the expectations of the kids are. If what they want is a mommy and you can’t be that–and I couldn’t–then keeping your distance is key.

  31. My parents dated throughout my childhood, though we never met a boyfriend or girlfriend until it was serious. My mother in particular introduced us excitedly to at least three Potential Future Daddy’s – at least one of whom wanted kids so little that he actually had a vasectomy while we knew him (my little brother hit him in the balls during a tantrum the next day, painfully reaffirming his decision). We took our lead very much from my mother, and tried to be excited and optimistic about these men, which made it so much more confusing and painful when they inevitably broke up.

    When I was nine, my mother married someone who thought my siblings and I ‘needed more dicipline’ and ‘ lacked boundaries’ and would benefit from ‘more structure’. It’s not that he was wrong, per se, but the things he saw as troubling behaviour indicative of our chaotic upbringing were just us being kids – which he found troubling for the simple reason that he didn’t like children.

    Ultimately, LW, parenting is an immersive experience. Much like an eighteen year trip to the Arctic, you don’t get to go home at the end of the day, it sucks an awful lot of the time and it’s enormously difficult to extricate yourself. You should only commit to parenting if you really, REALLY love those penguins.

  32. I don’t know that I have advice, but I certainly have a relationship situation that is complicated by the presence of kids. I have a relatively new partner who has a 13 year old son. He’s closer to my age than my partner (I’m 23, my partner is 35), and autistic, like me, so while we haven’t met, I sort of expect that we’ll interact more like peers than anything else. Even if he didn’t already have as many parents as he needs, I couldn’t take on that role with someone who’s older than two of my half-siblings. Here’s where it gets weird, at least for me. I have a son too, who started kindergarten today. He lives with his father, incidentally in the same city where my partner lives (I am elsewhere for school right now), and even before I moved, I didn’t see him much after he was like three years old. His father and I don’t get along well, and my life has been pretty unstable since we broke up (when my son was 10 months old), and I’ve figured that it doesn’t make sense for me to be in and out of his life and random intervals. Once either my life levels out some, or he’s old enough that I think he can cope with some inconsistency, I’ll try to get back into his life. I realise this may not work, and I can live with that. But I might end up seeing my partners son more often than I see my own, and that’s weird for me.
    On the flipside, both of the boyfriends my mom had when I was growing up were significantly involved in my life, one of them as a sort of stepfather (he didn’t marry my mom), the other one just as a friend/mentor type person. Both of them eventually dropped out of contact with me a couple years after breaking up with my mom. That was painful but I don’t think it did me any lasting damage. My dad (not my biological father), I sort of adopted as a parent when I was like 9, and he’s been in my life ever since, albeit usually at some geographical remove. Now he and my mom are romantically involved and have a house together, in a state I don’t live in, it’s great.

  33. if you have any doubts please run, run far away – now.

    I had three step parents. My dad left mum for another woman when I was 9 (he had been supporting her and her son for over 2 years). She seemed nice at first and I tried so hard for her to like me. My mum wasn’t a girly-girl but she was. But she actively hated me. She resented anytime I spent with my dad alone so I only ever got one on one time when he would go to his best mates house (they were both pot smokers, step mum was not) I cherished those drives but even if he got me some macdonalds or something we had to park around the corner and throw out any evidence that he had spent money on me. My step brother, younger but stronger, beat me everyday and she always blamed me and my dad backed her up (ok my dad is a jerk in this scenario too…it was his job to protect me). When he worked away she would cook for my brother and step brother, but not me. If we forgot to do our chores I was the only one who was ever punished. If my room wasn’t perfectly clean – I had a converted storage cupboard/hall as my room – she would come in and throw away everything on the floor. Even though I had no storage. Everything would be neat and tidy. It never happened to my brother/step brothers constantly trashed room. Over the years it got worse and worse until I was kicked out at 14 for having “provoked” my step brother and he broke my face and my glasses (while they were still on my face).

    My first step dad liked me too much, was controlling and obsessive and a psycopath.

    My second step dad just hated me. He also hated my baby brother from first stepdad. It got worse when they had their own baby. My brother was ignored, beaten and always got less than my youngest brother. But as the only dad he really ever knew he tried everything to impress him. It is still heartbreaking that years after my mother left him my brother still considers this horrible person as his dad. Even though he lives in another state the stepdad still calls him up drunk to blame anything my youngest brother has done on him.

    These are pretty extreme stories that also show the horrible faults with my own parents. But it wasn’t always bad at first. But they never wanted us. The extra kids. The extra work. The fact they couldn’t go out whenever they wanted. That they often had to look after us. Over the years they became more bitter and nasty and we suffered.

    My husband and I were seperated for a year and I dated another man. He loved the kids when we were friends. But when he wanted to take a nap with me and I had to be up to look after my 4 under 5 he would get grumpy. Then he got sick of dora. Then he couldn’t stand the noise. Then he yelled at one of my 2yo twins in a pram for accidentally kicking his coke out of his hand. After that he was never around my kids. He was strictly booty call when I didn’t have the kids. When I got pregnant to him shit hit the fan and the man that never wanted children showed his real face (which included offering me a sizable sum to “get rid of it”. I miscarried and I haven’t heard from him since.

    Obviously I am biased but please, please think of the children (for once I get to use that phrase without any sarcasm). All I wanted was to be loved. That’s all those kids want. It’s a fulltime commitment and they won’t go away. They won’t even disappear when they are grown up.

    Also with no child experience talking about discipline ect. it’s all theory for you. I have 4 amazingly beautiful girls who are the light of my life and who are also amazingly well behaved – most of the time. But they are still children. They will never be “seen but not heard” they will get sick in the middle of the night, break limbs, scream at you, drop your non water resistant phone in water, they will accidentally break your favourite vase – the one your grandmother left you, they will cry, they will become teenagers (if they aren’t already) and there will always be something. And if dad is already slack and all this stuff falls to you – you may start to resent them instead of him.

    please just really think this through.

    note: obviously this letter has triggered some childhood traumas but I stand by my word. I am chronically ill as well as having a mental illness and all 4 of my girls have special needs and my hubby and I homeschool them. It’s fucking hard. But I wouldn’t ever give them up. There is so much wonderful about them that all that other crap is just part of the deal. So while I admit I am totally biased….please, please consider what you are signing yourself up for.

  34. This is fantastic advice. I am a dating person who does not like children, and I have made it very clear that I will date people who have kids but I will not be involved in their children’s lives, so if they are looking for someone to be Stepmom, or Miscellaneous Responsible Adult, or Fun Auntie Embertine Who Plays With Us In The Park, they will be looking elsewhere.

    This is totally possible, because I am open to dating poly people as their non-primary partner, and I am not looking for a full-time cohabitee-type relationship. However, if you are looking to have a primary relationship with this guy, particularly if it involves cohabitation or possibly marriage, then it’s only fair to back away now while the kids’ hearts are still intact. It sounds as though the wee mites have been through enough already, they don’t need to have another reinforcement of the idea that adults are reliable until it gets too hard and then they split.

  35. I agree with loethe that this is some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever seen as well. I’m a divorced mom of a now 16-year-old son. Around a year after my divorce, when my son was 8, I was in a relationship with a man who, when. it was just the two of us, was a wonderful partner, but changed a bit when my son was involved. I ended the relationship due to this. He wasn’t abusive, but it was obvious that he either didn’t care about or didn’t like my son, and, really, children as a whole. That didn’t work for me. I’m now in a serious relationship with a wonderful man who is a great mentor and friend to my son, and I’m not sure the three of us could be happier.

    LW, I want to make sure to tell you here that it’s OK that you don’t like kids. Not everyone does, and I respect that. Kids can sense, though, when they are not liked. Tread carefully. My son STILL mentions that ex now and then, and that was 7 years ago!

    Best of luck to you. Listen to the Captain – it’s great advice.

  36. Dear LW,

    You are allowed to break up with the fabulous guy because you don’t want to be a step mother. Really, you are!

    You’re allowed to break up because you need and/or want time as a single person after your marriage’s end.

    You don’t have to stay with him.

    If you do stay with him then recognize a few things:

    – the kids are undisciplined because that’s how he has raised them
    – he is their parent, you aren’t
    – they will take out on you the anger they feel towards him
    – while you can eventually change the dynamic, it will not be immediate (see he is their parent above)

    All of that notwithstanding, you’re also allowed to take the risk and love them and him. I love my step children dearly, also my step father.

    But you don’t have to choose kids you don’t want. Please don’t choose them if you’ll resent them


  37. My bio dad died when I was an infant – around 6 months old. My mum dated around a little bit while I was young but didn’t want any kind of long term or involved relationship, so a lot of the guys she dated I never met or knew existed at all (my grandparents lived nearby so I’d generally vsit them overnight when she was going out on a date or going out with friends). There were apparently a couple of guys I met when I was quite young, including one who let me paint flowers all over his bodybuilder arms and torso and who was around quite a lot, but none that I ever knew as her boyfriends, partners or anything other than just friends.

    I honestly can’t say it would ever have occurred to me to ask her “friends” to be my “new daddy”, even the one who was around all the time. Which makes me wonder what, exactly, the story is that you boyfriend has told his kids. Because them asking you to be their new mum sounds… it just doesn’t sound like something it’s usual for kids to think of by themselves unless the seed has been planted in their heads by someone else. Which would be a spectacularly unfair thing for him to have done to his kids regarding a woman he likes but who has made it explicit she’s not interested in taking on that role. It feels manipulative to me, and that’s not good for either you or those children.

    It sounds like you very clearly do not want to be a parent to his children or take the relationship further than casual. And it sounds like your boyfriend very clearly wants you to take on that parenting role and for things to get serious between you. Bouncing between those two states will be confusing and hurtful to those kids. If you’re going to stay together, the first thing that needs to happen is for you and boyfriend to have a serious talk with the children about resetting their expectations, and then you need to dial back the interactions you’re having with them to something more appropriate for “daddy’s friend”. But if this difference in expectations cannot be reconciled, it’d probably be better to break up. “Almost perfect on paper” does not obligate you to carry on the relationship.

  38. LW, how do you feel about the time you spend with your boyfriend’s children? Are there surprisingly fun bits? Do you enjoy having had a satisfying day with everybody (despite meltdowns and mess)? Do you get a nice feeling from having helped get everybody fed, washed and rested? Do you like getting to know the quirky characteristics of each child? If yes, you probably don’t have to define yourself as A Parent to play a positive role in their lives. You might want to agree how much time you spend with your boyfriend and the kids and how much time you spend doing your own thing, and you might want to lay out clearly that you are not willing to take on half the caregiving. But if you are happy spending regular, predictable and more or less comfortable time with this family, that could work out well.

    However, if you are constantly wishing the kids could be elsewhere so that you and your boyfriend can have more time together, that may be your gut telling you this isn’t working.

    1. I don’t ever wish the kids could be elsewhere. It’s their house, I’m the guest. If I get overwhelmed with them or feel like I can’t handle it I just go home. Sometimes that means that I see my boyfriend less, but I don’t ever expect him to choose time with me over time with them.

      1. I kind of think that’s your answer right there. In a pinch, you would rather not be around your boyfriend than be in a situation where you HAVE to be around these kids (because you are responsible for them).

        I think you can maintain your relationship with your boyfriend, but only if you can both get on the same page about how you are *not* their stepmother or a parental figure. I think the signs are strongly in favour of “do NOT marry/move in, because that way badness lies for everyone but especially the children who have no choice in the matter and deserve better than to be tolerated”.

        1. Oh definitely, there would not be any moving in for a very long time. As I mentioned in another comment, he has been living with his mom while he went back to school and I told him a long time ago that he needs to move out and live on his own with the boys for a long while so that he can get back his independence and also model that for them. For one, I don’t particularly want to live with children. Two, one of the big issues in my marriage was that I supported him financially the entire time with my ex-husband making little to no effort to contribute to the household bills, so I’m VERY wary of putting myself back into a situation like that.

          1. This brings up something I kind of wanted to say, just as a point that makes a huge difference to me: once you are cohabiting with/married to someone who has children, all your money is going to go to supporting children. I’ve seen in friends’ relationships the kind of resentment that that can cause. It won’t necessarily, but kids are expensive, especially four kids. They need things, and those things aren’t optional, they’re required. School supplies, braces, medical care, lots of clothes, lots of food, music lessons, babysitting, a million things I’ve never thought of because I’m not a parent.

            All your money, and then some, will be spent on these children that you might not ever do more than tolerate.

            It’s a thing I think is worthy of some serious thought.

  39. This seems really relevant to me, for being relegated to a parenthetical:

    “(which is probably true, as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior)”

    If the boyfriend is raising them alone now, he is the one who is not setting boundaries or providing structure. The fact that he has LW around his kids when she’s worse-than-ambivalent about kids seems like further evidence of that. It seems unlikely to change. Which means, in a more serious relationship where she is potentially married to or living with their father, she would be not just a stepparent, not just a coparent: She would be THE parent who is providing structure, boundaries, and discipline.

    That would be hard for someone who did love kids, wanted them badly, had experience with them, and had some investment in these particular kids.

    Getting out of the relationship seems like the easiest path, but if not, re-relegating the relationship to secondary status seems essential.

    1. Yeeeahhh, that thought occurred to me too. Especially with the implication of “[he thinks] that I would be a good influence on the children.”

      That strikes me as presumptuous as hell. It just *sounds* like he’s expecting LW to step in and take up his parenting slack, which…oof. I only see that causing some serious friction between LW and the kids because he’ll get to be the “fun parent” (and also the official or unofficial “real” parent who the kids will expect veto power from) while LW gets to be the “mean stepmom” who comes in and takes away their freedom *and* some of their dad-time.

  40. I don’t have relevant experience to share, but I do want to say that I really feel the Captain’s exhortation that these kids are not a “package” that comes with the boyfriend, but an intrinsic part of him, like his bones. I was a little troubled by this dehumanizing way of referring to them. Also, I think it is possible that the Captain overestimates the extent to which the fact that the kids are fond of the LW is evidence that he or she is actually good with them. Especially if they are hungry for parental affection, kids have a powerful ability to become fond of and attached to adults who are regularly present, regardless of how those adults behave. (Not saying there is any evidence the LW *isn’t* good with them, just that I don’t see any evidence one way or the other.)

  41. Here’s a vote for pessimism re: stepparenting but optimism re: staying with the person you love. I do like children, and I love my own children, but I don’t like or love my partner’s children. He and his ex adopted them from foster care, and they were just beginning to manifest serious mental illnesses (borderline personality disorder in one, some troubling combination of anxiety, bottomless neediness, and out-of-control rage in another) around the time we started dating. I wanted things to progress the “normal route”: I expected that we could somehow blend our families so that we could live together and I hoped that I could be a positive person in his kids’ lives. Nope. I couldn’t. I can’t. We tried living together for a while, and it was the worst experience of my life. Wanting to love someone, thinking you ought to love someone, doesn’t make it happen.

    So we moved apart but stayed together as a couple. I have tried in numerous ways to transition back to “girlfriend” from the role of “stepmother-type person.” There is resistance, because they want me to love them and be a parent figure — it’s unfortunate that I can’t give them what they want, but I can’t. The thing that makes this possible is that my partner never tried to make me feel bad for how I feel about them — that’s good, because I feel bad enough about it on my own. Your boyfriend, with the “oh, everything will be fine” line, is maybe pressuring you a bit because he wants someone to help him with this enormous task. My partner and I plan to live together someday, after our kids are adults — that’s a very long game, but it’s feasible, whereas doing the “normal route” is simply not. You have the right to tell your boyfriend that you’re not going to live with him, because you need to set a boundary that will keep you in the category “girlfriend.”

    Also, I don’t know how old the kids are, but be aware that if they have had an unstable childhood and been abandoned by their mother, there may be serious mental health problems ahead for them, likely when they hit adolescence. If you don’t like kids who are healthy, happy, well adjusted, securely attached, and loved, you should keep in mind that these children, with their background, will be even more challenging.

    I do think, though, that the point about “children in general” versus “these particular children” is important, because I think I could be a fine stepmother to other children, just not these ones. What it comes down to is not “Do you like kids?” but “Do you like *these* kids?” It doesn’t sound like you do, and that’s fine, but it means that you need to get your needs met (girlfriend) without damaging them (further) by being a stepmother-who-dislikes-them.

  42. I come from a background of people who believed the more adults involved in children’s lives, the better. There were tons of “uncles” and “aunts” and other adult people that were friends of my parental units who were involved in my life but weren’t my parents. I personally saw it as a positive thing- that I got to see different viewpoints and exposure to ideas and beliefs without traipsing a ton of people into and out of my family dynamic and leaving a lot of hurt.

    Is this kind of role (active, involved adult) something that you could or would be ok with rather than “NewMom”? Maybe this might be a way to go for a while as you figure your stuff out.

  43. I come from a background of people that believed the more adults involved in kids’ lives, the better. I had a ton of “aunts” and “uncles” who were invested in my life as adult people, but not as my parents. They were a variety of people from my parents’ friends to a variety of lovers to who knows; but they were appropriate and involved in me and my siblings without being “in charge” of me.

    Is this a role you could or would take on? This may allow you some time to figure yourself and your stuff out, without committing you to something you don’t want.

  44. “I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life [b]and it shows in their behavior[/b]”

    This line is a HUGE red flag for me. It says that not only do you dislike children in general but you dislike these children in particular because you disapprove of their behavior. The idea that a step-parent can come in and radically overhaul the way parenting is done is a recipe for disaster.

    I’m a step-child who has a good relationship with my step-mom, dad, and mom and I attribute much of this in hindsight to the fact that my step-mom never disciplined us. Not once. Instead if she feedback she would quietly tell my dad and it would come from him. ie “Clean your room”, not “Step-mom wants your rooms to be cleaned”. She would also (I now know) give feedback on bigger things, like “do you think your teenagers would benefit from jobs” but again we didn’t know about it. You CANT expect to come in and start correcting the way their dad parents.

    Do not let anyone tell you different. Parenting is HARD and step-parenting is even harder.

    1. I saw that line as a red flag as well, but not necessarily just because LW wouldn’t be a good mother. I think it’s indicative of how well she and BF would co-parent. I know their mother abandoned them, but what does that say about your boyfriend/their father who, presumably, has been the primary non-boundary-setting caretaker since then? Would you guys actually make good co-parents? Would he help/be willing to set the boundaries you (and they) might need? Would you be able to relax your own previous standards to meet somewhere in the middle? These are questions even kid-lovers would need to ask before stepping into this role. CynicMom is right–you can’t plan to revolutionize parenting in this household. Especially at first, what you do would need to be largely indirect (as modeled by CynicMom’s step mother), which would require A LOT of agreement between you and BF. You’d have to be very much on the same page. Does he agree with you that they need more boundaries? If he does, that should start now so that those changes aren’t “your fault” if you do decide to pursue this relationship.

  45. I was in part of this LW’s situation a number of years back, and will say that keep in mind that societal (and possibly personal) expectations placed on someone in the stepMOTHER role are substantially and importantly different than expectations placed on someone in a stepFATHER role. Like the LW, I don’t have and don’t want children. I don’t actively dislike all children, but I am not drawn to them, in general. I have very complicated issues with the very idea of parenting.

    My now-ex really thought it would all just work out. His child actively, outwardly, in actions more than words, hated being around me. She resented my presence in her father’s life. His inability to deal with that reality was the reason we stopped being together.

    LW, I would say figure out what you think you want — do you want to be involved in the lives of these children? If not, step away. Either break up or phase out of anything “family” oriented with this guy. Don’t spend time with his kids. If you might want to be involved with them, pay attention to how your significant other acts. What are his expectations of you in regards to his children? How does he react if you initiate a conversation about them or about an issue? Know that as a stepparent, you will not be bringing the structure and discipline unless HE wants those things and is willing to back you up 100%. You may have responsibilities, but you have no power without the backing of the parent. It’s a weird kind of limbo to be in, and unless you’re fully committed, it’s unlikely to work well for any of you.

  46. I’ve seen this sort of situation from a couple of different perspectives. One thing, as has been stated by others – age is super important here. My step-mum took a very hands-off approach when she was introduced to my brother and I, never enforced any rules or took a stance in family disagreements. She could do that because we were teenagers, and I guess it also made a difference that we spent half the time at our dad’s and half at mum’s, so we still had two very present parents.

    Things change when you’re dealing with younger ones – mum had a long relationship with a guy who had a small daughter. Maybe 5/6 when they first met, 10 or so when they broke up. Mum knew from the start that she wasn’t interested in parenting a young child – she’d been there and done that with her own – and while she was always good with the kid, she never fell in love with her. The dad had high hopes for a relationship between mum and his daughter, and that conflict of interests was an ongoing issue which contributed to their eventual break-up.

    I guess the key thing is to be honest with yourself. Depending on the kids’ ages and surrounding circumstance, there may be a compromise that works, as long as everyone’s on the same page. On the other hand, if you know you’re never going to want those kids to be a core part of your life, and you know that what the dad wants and what the kids want directly contradict that, then that’s likely to be an insurmountable issue.

  47. Step-child *and* poly, *and* a step-mom, here.

    Also, serial member of step-parenting support groups. If you do go through with this (probably don’t go through with this) you’re going to want to find one or two yourself. Sadly, my second-best one went down with the Usenet ship and my best one is locked.

    So, first, as the Captain notes, you don’t have to be a primary. You don’t have to move in with him, even if you do become a primary, which will avoid most of the things you’re concerned about avoiding – although you will still have to deal with the fact that you don’t have first claim on his money, time, or attention. Not that you’ll never come first – but it will always be conditional. If the phone rings and somebody threw up/broke their arm/is having a meltdown/is too drunk to drive your special supper is on hold. And you’re driving, if it’s the broken arm.

    So, who’s driving the ‘one big happy family’ bus, you or him?

    Second, “[their mother] abandoned them.”

    Ask to see the paperwork. Ask to see ALL the paperwork. It is perfectly possible that they got together, madly in love, had four kids together (how close in age are the kids?) and then Mom went “wups, I don’t want to be a wife and mother byeee!” for no damn reason, but you know what? It’s also possible it’s way messier.

    Also, to put it another way, there exists in this world a woman who wanted to get away from your nigh-perfect SO very badly indeed, having at one point liked him enough to marry and procreate with him, and having liked having a kid enough to have three more.

    Proceed warily. You have one side of the story.

    She may well come back, sometime. Do you own court clothing? A nice suit and some low heels is good.

    In either case, “I wish you were my Mom” is a thing children say, because they like to pretend and also because it makes adults like them (both you, who are directly flattered, and Dad, whose taste is flattered) and being liked by adults is how children survive.

    Most divorced parents wish, at some point, that that “AND THIS IS YOUR NEW [PARENT]!” trick worked. It doesn’t.

    In the case of children who have been abandoned, triple this. They are small mostly helpless beings who need their Dad and possibly now you to survive, and they will do what they have to do. If you are inclined to resent this or think you can fix it with a firm-but-loving discussion, you should put another tick in the “do not do this” column now.

    They may very well mean it at the time, but THEY HAVE A MOTHER. Even if they never see her again, they have a mother, and they will handle that the way they need to, which will almost certainly not be by forgetting she existed and slotting you into her place.

    Moreover, they will, unfailingly, have some of her looks and personality. Resenting this or considering them as flaws to eradicate will end very badly.

    “He understands, but he doesn’t think that it would be as bad as I fear”

    Ah-heh-heh-heh-heh Oh LW. Oh HON.

    He is lying to somebody. Probably himself, as he sounds like a fairly sound dude overall.

    It will be worse than you fear, especially if you do not want kids, and so you go into this with a little mental reservation that allows you to cop out whenever it gets tough. Then it will be AWFUL, whether you pack up and leave or stay and just check out mentally and emotionally.

    And it will NEVER END.

    I mean, it can end for you, but you are not the only person possessed of volition in a step-parent relationship. Just as their mother will remain their mother, if you become their stepmother, if they accept you as such, you will remain their stepmother. Even if you become their stepmother who abandoned them.

    “and that I would be a good influence on the kids (which is probably true,”


    That is TOTALLY code for “Their Mom was awful and he’s overwhelmed and doesn’t do it right and I would be SO MUCH BETTER.”

    Back in the high-traffic days on alt-support-step-parenting we used to get about one of these a month. I’m not saying that to be insulting, just … it’s not uncommon for the warm fuzzy feelings one has about a beloved to sort of … spread out to cover the whole situation. Nor for women OR men who’ve never parented to think that it’s going to be like those times they babysat and the kids LOVED them and they had such an awesome time and they built a castle out of toilet paper tubes…

    And, no. Babysitting is to parenting as dating is to marriage, and there are only so many crafts you can do with a small child before it becomes apparent that whether they like it or not they need to eat some vegetables, do their chores and homework, take a bath, and go to bed.

    “…as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior).”

    Of COURSE you do. Don’t we all? What does their Dad, who presumably is in large part reaponsible for their current behaviour, believe in, leaving bowls of milk for the fairies so they’ll come and make the kids do their math problems? (If your answer is any variant on ‘excuse Dad, blame absent mother’, again probably don’t do this step-parent thing.)

    Look, almost EVERYONE believes in that stuff. And I’m sure the kids are just LOVELY for you, when you’re visiting and ask one of them to fetch you a glass of water.

    Please understand that getting them vertical, fed and dressed for school, day after day, is going to be NOTHING like that. At all.

    Please also understand that having you move in, assume parental rights and responsibilities, and start being assertive about the fact that this is your space too now (all perfectly reasonable things to do) is going to completely TANK your approval rating among the under-18 set.

    Ironically, if you succeed in beginning to earn their trust, acceptance and love, they will promptly become PARTICULAR little shits for awhile, in an attempt to see if you can be driven off before they decide to really invest in you.

    You have no right to their trust, love, acceptance or obedience, you do get that, right? “Because I Am The Adult” isn’t a law of nature, it’s invoking force majure. (Has to be done. I’m not saying it doesn’t. But don’t mistake establishing the necessary control of an adult over a child for a full parental relationship.)

    And they’ve been betrayed once already. So you have a longish hill to climb.

    It is also kind of code for “Dad is tired of being a single parent and is hoping that FAMILY BROKEN ADD MORE PARENTS will work.” Again, who is driving this change to primary status, you or him?

    I can’t blame him. Single parenting four kids is more hard than I can personally imagine. But it’s your LIFE, LW. If you do this you are agreeing to keep doing this actively until Kid #4 is 21 and at least to some degree until you die.

    Given that you’re not really inclined to take all of this on in the first place, probably don’t do this.

    But if you’re still even reading, and you still for some reason (thank God for limerance, really, or nobody would ever become a step-parent) think you want to do this, here’s the good news:

    If you’re determined and you stick to it, it will mostly all settle out in 5-10 years, and while it won’t be anything like the way you pictured your life, it will probably be pretty good.

    And you’ll have some great stories to tell. My stepson is 23 and still introduces me to new GFs by telling the story of the time I sat outside the bathroom for three hours and refused to let him out until he brushed his teeth. ❤ that kid.

    Good luck!

    1. I kept cutting pieces out to respond to, but really all of this. Just all of it.

      “Also, to put it another way, there exists in this world a woman who wanted to get away from your nigh-perfect SO very badly indeed, having at one point liked him enough to marry and procreate with him, and having liked having a kid enough to have three more.

      Proceed warily. You have one side of the story.”

      I really enjoy children, my own* and other people’s, and it would be damn near impossible for me to commit to 15+ years in that family.
      Not introducing people as potential step-parents until they are sure they want that is divorced parenting 101. It’s manipulative and shitty to both the potential step and the kids to do otherwise.

      His kids are attaching to an extremely ambivalent partner, who has been open about not wanting kids. And he is not sitting LW down to have the “We need to back things up” talk?
      The kind of hopelessly romantic, starry-eyed, dangerously oblivious optimism, it would take to be okay with that because “Love will make it will all work out!” That kind of worldview is intoxicating, and beautiful, but it will affect every aspect of their lives together.

      Is LW ready to be the sensible one (the un-fun, buzz-kill, stick in the mud) in every decision that has to be made about those kids, their finances, division of labor, whether he should quit his job to follow his dream of being an (underpaid career that will consume 80 hours a week of his time)?


      1. I have already backed way up in my contact with the kids due to this concern. I was never presented as a mother figure to them, just as their Dad’s girlfriend who would hang out at the house sometimes. It’s mostly the oldest boy, who is the most hurt by their mother’s abandonment since he remembers her the best. The younger two only have vague memories as she left when the youngest was almost 2. Whenever he’s said something to this effect, I tell him that I’m flattered but that he has a mom and I’m not going to replace her but that I like him too.

        1. That is an AWESOME answer, btw.

          Please understand that it’s not that I don’t think you can do this, I just think you should go in with a clear-eyed idea of what “this” entails.

    2. This is a fantastic answer; OP, I hope you read this one twice. Parenting is HARD WORK, every day; I have two daughters and I love them more than my own life but just last night I couldn’t take the bickering any more, threw my hands up in the kitchen, said, “I quit!” and went to bed. If you do this, you must go into it clear-eyed about the joys AND the struggles, and know that those joys and struggles will overlap and crash on you constantly. Best wishes–what a hard decision, and it all works out the best for everyone involved.

    3. You said everything I wanted to say, but didn’t know how. Absolutely agree with you on the whole ‘my boyfriend thinks I’d be good for his kids’.

    4. mmmhmm, yes. All of this. Takes two to tango, takes two to argue. Sounds like the LW is being pulled into Relationship Rashomon, whether she wants it or not.

    5. “It is also kind of code for “Dad is tired of being a single parent and is hoping that FAMILY BROKEN ADD MORE PARENTS will work.” Again, who is driving this change to primary status, you or him?”


      LW, as a poly person, you are no doubt familiar with the phrase Marna Nightingale is riffing off here: “relationship broken, add more people”, and the fact that it does not, in fact, work, unless by “work” you mean “make sure even more people get hurt when things crumble.”

      Your boyfriend is not a single dad by choice and he is in a tough situation. He is, from what he has told you, almost certainly hoping for an old-style Disney-movie happy ending where you marry him and your heart is melted by his wonderful children and they have a mom again.

      You will, I promise, massively fuck up both the kids and your relationship with your boyfriend when this fails to happen. So don’t do it.

  48. I think everyone here has a lot of wisdom to share and LW should definitely take it on board, but I want to add something that’s less about the kids and communication and life obstacles and more about knowing deep inside what you need.

    LW, I think you already know what you want and need to do. Something deep inside you, at your core, is saying stay, or go. From your letter I can’t tell which. I can’t tell whether despite not wanting kids you want these kids but it’s so against the picture you have of yourself that you’re sure it would be a big mistake, even though at your core you know that you want to stay. I can’t tell whether everything is so close to perfect that you’re trying to talk yourself into it even though something true and pure inside you is shouting GO. So I say listen to that voice. If you need to clarify the voice, flip a coin for stay and go. If you feel relieved by the answer that’s your truth. If you wish immediately that the coin had fallen the other way then that’s informed the decision you must make. (Don’t actually make your decision on a coin flip. I’m definitely not advocating for just letting “fate” decide!)

    Stay or go, there is no wrong answer except doing the thing you think you should instead of the thing you know is right. If you stay, give your whole heart. If you go, go as cleanly as possible and with respect for everyone else involved, including the children.

  49. Gonna come at this from two perspectives, first as a step-kid myself. Parents split up when I was about 12, and met my would-be-future stepmom around age 14 (although she and my dad had been together during the separation/divorce). We all (I have three younger sisters) who Mary was and who she was to my dad, and when it finally came time to go to “Dad’s house,” it was really “Mary’s house” that Dad lived in. She was presented to us as a non-negotiable part of being in my dad’s life — we didn’t have to love her, call her mom, whatever, but being with my dad meant showing her some respect. With time (and a LOT of patience on her part), we grew into an organic family unit. I know now as an adult they worked diligently to create a safe, welcome space for us with the two of them as the co-heads-of-the-family. It probably helped that A) my stepmom knew she wanted kids (specifically girls) all along and B) that she had her OWN stepmom experiences to learn from.

    Cue my own divorce and subsequent falling madly in love with a not-yet-divorced man and his two young (8 and 6) kiddos. I feel almost exactly the same way, LW, in that if he had been a dude on a dating site with two kids, I probably would have weeded him out from the get-go. I knew from about age 10 that I was not suited for a mothering role and definitely did NOT want kids with my ex. I certainly didn’t forsee myself as “stepmom” or “dad’s (girl)friend” either. But, the more time I spend with them as individuals, and the more I see him AS a dad in real time, the better appreciation I have for who he is and what I love about him. Are you having a similar feeling, or are more and more red flags and anxiety popping up? From personal experience, it’s still nerve-wracking for me to be with them, to feel like I’m going to mess up or do something collosally wrong, but eventually the ease and the fun sets in. The best part for me is that I think what really terrified me about having kids was that pregnancy-newborn / they constantly need you and simultaneously cannot communicate with you stage of life; his kiddos are already past that point.

    If you want this with him, yes, you WILL have to grow to love his kids in some capacity. (That’s not saying you have to want this, but if you know you don’t, please exit sooner rather than later for the sake of these kiddos). The blessing is that you have time on your hands to grow into this. As the Captain said, it (parenting and step-parenting) is learning and trying figuring it out as you go. If you feel like he can support you in your aspect of this (and vice versa) while parenting himself, then there’s no reason why it wouldn’t work out.

    But, definitely echo the Captain’s last sentiment: don’t half-ass it. Either you’re all in, or you’re all out. That’s kinda how it goes with kids.

  50. If someone I was dating did not particularly like kids, it would be a deal breaker for me. Personally, that LW’s partner does not believe her when she says she doesn’t want kids worries me as much as LW does when she says she doesn’t want kids but wants to be with someone who has FOUR of them. Especially since she suggests that she’s mostly only interested in parenting if she’s able to be a hard-lined disciplinarian who corrects the parenting mistakes of the bio parents. Respectfully, it takes a lot of hubris to suggest that one wants the man for the sex alone, and to call it a primary relationship, but doesn’t want to be part of his actual life.

    My kids are a part of me and my life, my biggest responsibility, love, and concern. I’m a single mom and have dated off and on for fifteen years. The “off” part was when I was married to someone who punted the parenting part hard, please understand this comes with a lot of experience and pain.

    1. Agreed, it’s very easy for someone like me who has never been the primary carer for a child to fall into the trap of thinking what I would do (read: a much better job than the actual parents) if I was the one responsible*. The truth is LW would probably be even more at sea than the bioparents, because she wouldn’t even have any affection for the kids to carry her through, and LW’s resentment of them could easily spill over into unkindness. I’m not saying LW is or would be an abusive person, but if she already knows this is a role she doesn’t want, I can’t see it ever turning out as a happy or healthy thing for anyone involved.

      *In reality, probably shut them into a room with a stack of Disney movies and get out the Pinot Grigio; strangely enough, my friends have stopped asking me to babysit 😉

      1. Someone handed me a baby once. Then they had the nerve to LAUGH at me holding the baby. I did not drop or harm the baby, but, OMG PLEASE TAKE BABY AWAY!
        No. I don’t get asked to babysit.

    2. As someone who probably cannot have kids, and who is really nervous around small ones (I’ll break them, oh god!) and scared about bigger ones (they’ll hate me/find me boring, oh god!) … I speak of disliking children. It’s an easier shorthand than explaining the whole thing, and it’s also my form of brain programming – if I say it often enough, I may continue not wanting them. Which is better than slipping, discovering I want them and still can’t have, and being devastated.

      Depending what role a person saw me having in their child’s life, I would not necessarily mind being involved in a serious relationship with them, one which included carefully balanced some-child exposure time. And I’d take such a role seriously and not begrudge it. I wouldn’t want to be a replacement parent – but my ideal relationship (right now) kinda has two homes where I have space to retreat to for solitary time. Which wouldn’t work for many, let alone with children. But I’d be happy enough being involved, and would take responsibilities seriously and be caring, if it were known by all as I’m not the mother. I’d aim for ‘trusted adult’. So … maybe an age thing relevant here.

      Which wasn’t the point of me posting at all. Just that … someone saying they dislike children might have something more complex going on than actual dislike. Something which, when unpacked, might not be incompatible with caring for (your) children. (Not even a counter point to your post – just noted your comment and stuck my reply here rather than elsewhere.)

      For some reason this won’t post. Or it’s posted many times. ??!?

  51. My husband didn’t want kids but then committed to raising one when he was dating a pregnant woman. (To clarify the timeline, she cheated.) He was relieved in some ways when she chose the babydaddy–heartbroken in others–but then as he set out into the dating world he probably told himself “no kids.” Then he met me, and I had a middle schooler at the time. Now we have a high school senior, together.

    Here’s the thing, though: he may not have wanted kids, but never described himself as “disliking” them. He teaches kids all day. He knows what makes them tick. As a single parent, I was exhausted and inconsistent. With him, creating structure for my daughter was so much easier. He isn’t even my backup; he’s my partner. He’s a parent. And he loves her so much, in a way so new to him, that when he had to live away from us for work it was harder for him to be apart fom her than me.

    Before him, I dated people who were there for years but never disciplined her, who never were role models. They weren’t as bad as Unwashed Bowl Guy, but they would say things like, “It’s been the two of you for so long, I don’t feel like I have the right.” It was one of the reasons I was so impressed with my husband when we moved in together; he had no problems calling her on her tween bs, and then saying, “Your mom and I will discuss what happens next,” and then we did. And then I stopped making these kinds of decisions on my own. (12 was quite the year for us, so much drama and also so much fear of abandonment from my ex-bf compounding the stuff she had from her bio-dad, on top of the life change.).

    Knowing what I do now, I would never recommend any parent accepting less partner involvement with kids that age or younger for the long term. It does a number on kids to feel like someone might, sort of, maybe, love them, or maybe only love their parent. The older the kid, the easier, of course, and while I think this is extra important for people who have one parent out of the picture, I still think it stands for any kid involved to feel at the very least liked for themselves, if not outright loved, by their parents’ partners.

    You say you think you jumped in too fast. You probably did. In poly, there’s sometimes a great need to move up that food chain when someone else vacates their position. But being primary with someone who is a parent is different than being primary with someone who isn’t a parent. You have the option to pull back and I think you want to take it but that it means you might love him “less.” I don’t think that’s true. When you’ve got the poly thing going on, it’s tough not to take the monogamous path with it: the one we’re all familiar with, the one that increases in intimacy and commitment until such time there’s a ceremony or something. But part of polyamory is finding what works for you and forging a new path. Maybe the two of you just need to figure out what that new path is, together. Maybe you’ll never be in a stepmother role with the path you guys choose together (rather than the one now you feel you’re defaulting to). Maybe you’ll find over time that feelings grow for these kids and you do take on a significant role in their lives. Maybe this guy is meant to be your beloved secondary-type partner forever. There’s no shame in that.

    1. “Knowing what I do now, I would never recommend any parent accepting less partner involvement with kids that age or younger for the long term. It does a number on kids to feel like someone might, sort of, maybe, love them, or maybe only love their parent. The older the kid, the easier, of course, and while I think this is extra important for people who have one parent out of the picture, I still think it stands for any kid involved to feel at the very least liked for themselves, if not outright loved, by their parents’ partners.”
      Oh, this, so much this! I don’t think she should be seriously involved with him without making a serious commitment to the kids, especially since it sounds like he has full custody of the kids. Kids know when they are not wanted. Kids deserve to be more than grudgingly accepted by their parents partners. And the LW deserves not to have kids if she doesn’t want them! But i think she owes it to the partner and, especially to his kids, to think really hard about whether or not she can step into this role for them or not. If not, bow out now.

      1. I think with poly you can create an alternate situation, though. I feel like I wasn’t clear enough there, because it makes it sound like I’m saying “All parents should only date people who are going to be into them having kids!” And while I think this is mostly true, and absolutely true for monogamous couples who are dealing with little guys who can’t necessarily understand the nuances of adult relationships, with polyamory, dating with kids is an interesting way to be a role model that most monogamous people don’t get to be–or, if they are, they often don’t realize it/it’s a fairly short window of time and people. Poly people who have different partners through their lifetimes, by example, can teach their children to date; they can teach their children about dealbreakers; they can forge new types of relationships that work for everyone. They can teach the art of walking away from something good, but not good enough. If the LW doesn’t like the kids at all, that’s one thing, but if she likes them as people but doesn’t want to be a mom, that’s a teachable moment: some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s okay. We’re not going to shame her for that. We’re going to like her for who she is, and what she brings to the family. I wouldn’t recommend living with them at that level–maybe if they grow up to be little logic machines, like a lot of the kids-of-polys I know, then it’s negotiable.

        When I was dating, my daughter (age 11/12), set rules based on her comfort level. She didn’t want to meet anyone who wasn’t serious. That worked out really well for us in some ways, but in others it was just not do-able (have you ever tried to swap kids with a parent at the end of the date because there’s no other time your ex can do it and have the kid not see the date? it’s sitcom-stupid). Meeting happened; serious interaction did not until I was sure I was going to have the person in my life for a long time. We made the rules together, and we were stronger and closer for it–but again, this is an older kid. Milage varies all over the place.

  52. I didn’t stress this enough in my comment, so I want to add it:

    It is completely, totally, entirely okay not to like or want kids. It’s valid and reasonable and does not in any way make you a lesser person, and if anyone tells you otherwise they’re selling something and that something is rat poison.

    However, not liking or wanting kids AND voluntarily cohabitating with them in a permanant, familial role ANYWAY with no intention to change because you really like their Dad – that’s acting in bad faith, and it kind of does make you a bad person.

    Chidren do not get to choose their living conditions, and have to make the best of what they are given. Giving them someone who claims to love them but doesn’t like them is … unkind.

    1. Enthusiastic second/third/etc-ing.

      LW, you already know the truth: you don’t want to be a stepmom. You don’t like kids. That is OK! And you don’t want to be a stepmother to these kids. Also OK!

      But you are trying to talk yourself out of that truth because the sex is great and you just got divorced and your boyfriend is cool and it’s Primary Time (I guess?), and he really really wants his kids to have a mother.

      You cannot square this circle, however much you wish it were otherwise. All you can do is try to force yourself into a situation you don’t want in a way that is likely to mess up four children who didn’t have much say in the process.

      Date you boyfriend as ‘one of Daddy’s friends’ if that works, break up with him otherwise; but do not try to talk yourself into being a stepmother.

    2. It might be worthwhile to volunteer at a school, mentor a child, work part-time at a preschool, or spend time with friend/relative’s kids to see if falling in love with a specific child happens. Not in an icky way, but in the “Oh wow! I get you, I see who you are becoming, and it is awesome! You might enjoy these things and need help with those. Let me help you be you!

      It might help to give attaching to kids a shot in a less charged environment where you have more control. It can also give some perspective on annoying kid behavior that needs correcting, vs. annoying kid behavior that is appropriate for that age.

  53. When my mom started dating my now step-father, and he expressed reservations over being involved with her kids at all, she made it clear that it was a deal-breaker. Either he got on board with the kids being not only part of her life, but THE MOST IMPORTANT PART, or he got kicked to the curb.

    He got on board. He was a great step-father. Involved with our lives. Generous with his time. Leading us into a kind adulthood. A true parent.

    LW, if you don’t want to be on board for that, leave now. Seriously. And don’t do it because you have fantasies about being a disciplinarian for these kids, that’s not a role that you can take on if you’re not feeling generous of spirit and love and affection for them too. Which it doesn’t sound like you are.

  54. Single parent and child of a stepfamily here. My mother’s boyfriends’ attitudes toward me ranged from ignoring my existence as much as possible to verbal abuse. LW should not stay involved with a man who has children if she doesn’t want children and can’t get interested in these specific children. It’s not her place to discipline or judge them — that’s not the stepparent role, which always takes a backseat to the parent role. People who can’t understand the fact that they aren’t going to come first all the time don’t make good stepparents. The kids were there first, and they are human beings, not baggage.

    I wonder about LW’s boyfriend. I can’t get myself interested in any man who doesn’t like kids, or expresses ambivalence about my kids. I went on a date with a man last year who when I talked about my kids, said “Do you think it’s appropriate to talk about your kids on a first date?” I said, “It’s appropriate for me to talk about my kids any time I want to, because they are great kids.” Would he have said that it wasn’t appropriate for me to talk about my parents, or my siblings, or any other member of my family? I wasn’t asking him to be their dad, and it’s a bit much to have to somehow pretend they don’t exist, when they are the people I spend most of my life with. No second date for him.

    1. “Do you think it’s appropriate to talk about your kids on a first date?”


      If kids are a dealbreaker for him, I’d think he’d have been *relieved* you brought it up on the first date, rather than getting all attached and then finding out he had to break it off.

  55. not being a parent and not having experience with my parents dating.. i liked this part at the end the best : “just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree, and it sounds like you need to be 100% honest about your ambivalence and that your partner needs to really hear what you are saying.”

    you say you’re uncomfortable with going from marriage to another serious relationship. so, you don’t have to. (although i can understand it being comforting to have someone willing to fill the gap) wanting or not wanting to parent is a fantastic reason to keep someone at a distance and not get serious. have fun, go on dates, sleep together. but don’t hang out as a *family* if that’s not what you’re looking for. ask your partner to be clear with the kids that you *aren’t* a Mom replacement.

    and don’t settle!! being single can be tough, sure. it can also be a lot of fun. there are other amazing people out there who feel the same way you do about kids, and you deserve a chance to find them. find friends to lean on if current lovers are not quite right.

  56. 😦 😦 A few years ago, I broke up with my bf, who I loved very much, and one of the big factors in the breakup was that he has a daughter (11 years old at the time, visitation on weekends, we’ve never met), and every time I think about being involved in a kid’s life I get this huge DO NOT WANT gut reaction. And I figured that I *could* probably work on that feeling, but I think she deserves better than a reluctant I-guess-I-can-do-this person in her life.

    I still miss him. I’ve dated since, but I still miss and want him, but no matter how many times I try to find a way to make us work, I can’t. Because there’s that DO NOT WANT.

    1. I’m sorry for your pain, but I have to congratulate you on making the right choice for the kid and the dad, under the circumstances.

      Sucks to be dating while childfree. Especially the older you get when everyone is a package deal.

    2. I was in a similar situation and I know how you feel, but I think this is also part of why it’s important to recognize that someone’s kids – or even just someone’s desire for kids – are an inherent and generally unchangeable part of them in the same way your aversion to children is. It’s not “things work with THEM as a person, just not with this issue outside of them” – if it’s not working on the kids-no kids axis it’s not working with them as a person. You can find someone who is just “Great,” not “Great, Except This Part of Them That Terrifies Me.” The parts of him you couldn’t mesh with are parts of him too, ones you can’t change by liking the other parts enough. I think you made the right choice.

      You’re not obligated to “work on” that feeling, and for your own wellbeing you may be happier considering it a valid preference that doesn’t need work. In my experience, it isn’t changeable. It’s understandable and okay not to want to be around kids. There are other wonderful people who agree.

  57. Non-cohabitating step-parent here.

    I met my partner when his kid was 4. The kid’s 11 now, and we’re a solid family unit, but we don’t live together. I always wanted kids, btw, but I haven’t moved in with my partner and his kid, because of something cool about dating people who come with their kids ready-made (and, in my case, mostly dry and non-leaking, so I’ve never had to deal with diapers and other bodily fluids): you get to audition their parenting and lifestyle.

    See, when you don’t have kids, you have all these ideas about how parenting is going to work. So does your prospective co-parent. And if you’re smart, you talk about them before you try to have kids: are we going to co-sleep? Are we going to let the kid cry it out? Are we going to have a strict routine? How are we going to manage feeding, diapers, potty training? Attachment parenting?

    But you don’t really know what all these things will mean to you, as a person, as a couple, and as a family until the kid is there, being really demanding about its needs because that’s what kids do and it’s right and proper for them to do so. You don’t know if your partner’s parenting is going to be strict-but-fair and consistent, or wishy-washy, or indulgent. You don’t know how much chaos there’s going to be and whether it’s a leve of chaos you’re comfortable with.

    When the single-parent–child relationship dynamic is firmly established before you enter the family, you have an opportunity to see how it plays out In Real Time, and to determine whether this is a family in which you, personally, can live happily. You have a chance to work with the other adult in the relationship to carve out a role that works for all of you.

    In my case, I love my partner and his kid, but, having looked at certain particulars of how my partner lives I know that our comfortable, supportive dynamic would become tense and unhappy if I moved in. My partner is comfortable with a higher degree of chaos than I am. He’s a good, loving, supportive parent, and we’re a good parenting team, but there are places where we don’t match. So we don’t try to meet in the middle. Instead, I leave the primary parenting to him, and I exist as a supportive, loving force for order, providing backup childcare and structure as needed and as he and my step-son ask. We take vacations together, I stay over a couple of times a week, we plan Big Events together, we have weekly Family Meetings, I go to parent–teacher nights and meetings with the principal, and I bake birthday cakes, but I don’t live there.

    This arrangement wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us, because we make it work for us. It works a lot better than trying to be a more conventional type of family would, and it’s stable and functional.

    What would emphatically NOT work would by my trying to have the same kind of involved, committed relationship with my partner sans step-son. Because my partner is a committed, loving parent, and I would always come in second to my kid’s needs (rightly so!).

    So I would say that a committed, involved relationship with someone who has kids affords a really great opportunity for everyone involved to establish loving bonds and patterns of interaction that work for the family. It doesn’t have to follow a move-in, become a blended nuclear family script. Kids will accept a loving, positive, consistent presence in their lives in just about any configuration. But if you’re going to develop a committed, long-term, every-day kind of a relationship with a parent, then you will, in some wise, become a parental-adjunct, and you need to embrace that, or accept that your relationship can only really be once-a-week funtimes when the kids are with their other parent or whatever (and that’s fine too, if it’s what you want).

  58. It is difficult enough to parent with someone who does not share your values regarding boundaries, fair discipline and structure, but to try to come in and impose these as a stepparent is a recipe for disaster. The fact that your partner wants you to come in and take on this role is a HUGE red flag. He wants someone to do his work for him. I can tell you right now, that is not going to work out. You are going to fail because the environment which already lacks these things is going to undermine you at every turn. And when you do fail, he is going to interpret this being due to your personal shortcomings and your lack of love for his children. You are going to be stuck in a constant cycle of mutual resentment that will never, ever be resolved. Get out. Get out now.

  59. I don’t really have advice, just perspective from a child whose mom dated people.

    Her longest/most recent boyfriend didn’t like me or my sister. He thought we were weird and couldn’t relate to us, and therefore only wanted to be around my mom when we weren’t.

    That relationship didn’t last–my mom’s decision, largely because of his opinion of her kids. It was going on when my sister and I were teenagers, and while we were a little offended that he thought we were weird (WE’RE weird? YOU’RE weird, buddy!) we didn’t really care what this dude thought of us. I can’t imagine how we would have felt if we had been younger and craved validation from adults.

    So, no advice from me, just the experience that it’s pretty unpleasant to have an adult actively dislike you, and that parents are pretty attached to their kids and, you know, usually have part of their identity wrapped up in them.

  60. My parents separated when I was four and my mother, who I’ve been living with, had two long-term relationships since. The first relationship started soon after the separation and I soon thought of BF 1 as a father. He was great with kids and great with me. I loved him. Then him and my mother had my little brother and, although I didn’t really notice then, BF 1 apparently favored my little brother, his biological child, which was cause for much conflict between him and my mother. I was 9 when they eventually separated. He only got visitation rights for my brother. My mother didn’t really want me visiting him alone and he didn’t argue much. After another year, the contact between the two of us had basically died off, which was very awkward, because he still came by to pick up my brother once a week (I would hide in my room). This experience was and still is very painful for me.
    BF 2 moved in when I was 12 any my brother was 6. He wasn’t as fun as BF 1 and we fought quite often, but he really cared about my brother and me and always made that clear. He and my mother separated after almost 10 years together and continues to call and visit me and my brother. My brother is closer to him, simply because he was younger when BF 2 came into our life and they have lived together for a longer time. But I really value that he tries to remain in our live.

    My father actually also had two long-term girlfriends after the separation but I never thought of either as a mother. I think that was mainly possible because I only visited my father on weekends and my father himself always was the fun-time-dad so… not too much parenting there either.

    I guess the moral of the story is when you permanently cohabitate with your partner and their children you will have a relationship with the children. If you treat them bad, and your partner stays together with you, they are a bad parent (I have so many friends with a bad step-“parent” story and every single one breaks my heart). If you treat them well, you yourself will become a parental figure of some kind, especially if they are young. And that means you don’t get to simply cut them off, even if you break up with your partner.

    The captain’s advice is spot-on. Make a decision, and if you choose to live with your partner, really choose to love the children.

  61. Former single mom with two young kids here, now engaged to new partner. The Captain gives fantastic advice here. I also completely agree with Marna Nightingale above, especially the second comment. LW, I truly don’t mean to sound harsh, but you and your BF are doing the children a huge disservice if you are interacting meaningfully with them without being committed to them. And I do view long-term partnership with a parent as a commitment to the children as well as the parent. If you don’t want or intend to be around FOR them, don’t be around them. They’ve already had one parent leave; they don’t need to become dependent on you as a source of authority, love, affection, structure…and then have you disappear because you don’t want that responsibility. It’s TOTALLY fine if you don’t; please don’t think I’m slagging on you for this. I’m so not. But you either need to make the choice and commit to them, as the Captain outlines in her advice, or pull back from the kids now. You can certainly continue to see the dad, but it should be sans kids. I know that will make life harder for both of you, but he’ll just need to find babysitters. No more sleepovers. No more trips to the zoo. If and when you’re ready to make the choice, THEN you can get back involved with them.

    In my case, I did not introduce my now-fiance to my children until he ASKED to meet them, nearly a year into our relationship, and he didn’t even stay over for several months after that. I wasn’t going to introduce them to anyone who I didn’t foresee being around for a long time, because they deserve stability from the grownups in their lives. LW, it sounds like you CAN provide that stability, but if you don’t want to, you shouldn’t be around them. And I say again…that’s FINE if you don’t want to! It’s just not fair to them if you’re significantly in their lives without being committed to giving them that stability.

    And I have to give your BF the side-eye for failing to hear you when you say how uninterested in children you are. To me, that’s him putting his own desires above the needs of his kids- and above yours, frankly- because he wants you to stay. He’s not hearing you, and because you have meaningful positive contact with the kids, it’s easy for him to brush you off when you tell him straight up that you Do Not Want. You’re also responsible for the mixed messages he’s receiving though; if you really don’t want the kids, it kind of comes back to not being around them.

    Your choices are as laid out by the Captain: 1) commit all the way to the kids; 2) pull back from the kids and hang with only the dad as a less-than-permanent partner; or 3) break up. But please don’t continue hanging with the kids unless you are 100% in. They deserve better. They need you to be the grownup, literally, and take the hit of breaking up, so they don’t have to absorb the hit of growing close to someone who’s not all in for them. You can make that choice; they can’t.

  62. LW, you say that it feels like you jumped from a marriage into a long-term relationship (with kids!) without being able to take a break to figure your own stuff out. So what if you do just that? Take a break. Either stop seeing this man for a while, or make clear to him that for the next [however long/indefinitely] you want to go back to the non-primary relationship you had with him while you were married. Go on some dates, or get together for hook ups, but don’t spend too much time together. See some other people. Or don’t see anyone at all (including him) for a while.

    Leaving a marriage is a HUGE thing. It sounds like you want and need some time to process where you are in your life in the wake of that. [b]Frankly, I think the kids are a red herring here.[/b] The thing that caught my attention was that you are only just in the process of divorcing, but your relationship with this other man has somehow escalated itself into a primary relationship (because it sounds like you didn’t consciously choose it, or if you did, you’re are having second thoughts) and now you’re trying to figure out if you want to be together forever and be a step-mom to his kids. My reaction to that is: WHOA THERE, SLOW DOWN.

    Maybe if you take some time by yourself, you’ll decide that this man is a primary partner you can’t live without and that you actually miss his kids as well and you are feeling prepared to step into some kind of a step-parent role. Maybe you’ll decide that this guy, while great, doesn’t feel as essential to your life — he was a good sexual partner who you had fun with, but not more than that, and given the complications in the situation it’s best to end it. Maybe you’ll date some other people and find a different primary partner who is everything you ever wanted and doesn’t want kids, either. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’re just not in the headspace/heartspace to be in any relationship right now.

    But all of that is about YOU. And in my experience, the only way to figure that stuff out is to spend some time with yourself. So my advice is to take a break.

    (My secondary advice is: you need this man to make clear to his kids ASAP that you are not their mom. It sounds like a pretty sad situation where they are craving a mother figure and maybe some stability, and he is letting them project that onto a woman who has already told him that she doesn’t want kids and isn’t sold on being a parent to his in particular. That is a disaster in the making, and frankly he sounds incredibly irresponsible with his kids’ emotions, but that’s not really something you can or should try to fix. But as it pertains to you, it would be cruel to let these kids think they’re getting a new mommy when you aren’t sure if/when that will be true.)

    1. Chiming in to +1 this (read all the way down to see which commenter had already said the most of what I wanted to say 🙂 and reiterate the Captain’s point that “leveling up” need not and should not be an automatic thing, although it is so very easy to fall into.

      Some relationships are naturally “secondary” level, no matter how powerful the emotional connection between you. And, LW, I totally, totally get how perfect everything else feels with this guy.

      But I also hear you saying that you’re aware on some level of needing (and even wanting!) that figure-your-own-shit-out time. Figuring out how you feel about joining this specific family structure is TOTALLY part of figuring your own shit out. And it’s a whole lot easier to do that if you have a little distance. This need not mean you break up up front. But it does mean actively deciding to create that space for yourself. “Partner, you know how totally I adore you, but I’m also realizing that I need a little breathing room after my divorce that I really haven’t taken yet. Can we scale back to XYZ for the next 6 weeks?”

      I think you will know when you hit on the path that is true and right for you, even if it is also painful.

  63. Oh, boy. Becoming a step-parent – especially a CUSTODIAL step-parent – of children you aren’t particularly fond of is the most miserable thing you could possibly do. For the children AND for you. I’m going to share my personal experience and how it’s turned out for me, but first I want to suggest a book that I feel really tells it like it is – “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin. I read it several years ago when I was really struggling and I felt it spoke to my experience in a way that no other step-parenting book ever did (and I read a lot of them.)

    I knew my husband had a daughter when we first started dating. In fact, his ex-wife and I were coworkers and so I knew her and their daughter well before I ever met him, and we knew each other for a whole year before we ever went out on a date. (They had been separated for years before we met, there was no relationship overlap or anything like that.) Anyway, I knew he had a daughter but when we first started dating, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. He lived in a very sketchy trailer park and couldn’t afford a phone, so he didn’t have his daughter over that much and of course we were “honeymoon phasing” and so she was a non-entity.

    Then we fell in love and he moved in with me. Together we lived in a nicer area and of course had more money. His daughter started coming over every other weekend and it became clear to me that “oh, I’m expected to be like, her PARENT now.” It was very, very difficult for me. I’m not naturally good with children. I didn’t particularly like his daughter. I’m a very introverted person and she is/was ADHD with constant energy and all of that Fun Kid Stuff and it was all just Too Much.

    But – I really, really loved my husband (still my boyfriend at the time.) I didn’t want to break up. I kept my feelings to myself and told myself that I could change them. I read All The Step-parenting Books. I “faked it” and hoped that one day I would “make it.” Then I got pregnant and thought, becoming an actual parent will give me more insight and empathy and I will learn to like her/love her more! In reality, it made it a little worse because the overwhelming love I felt for my own daughter was something I knew I could just never feel for my stepdaughter.

    Eventually it came out that I just didn’t have the love for my stepdaughter that everyone expected me to have. (You can’t hide that.) My husband, understandably, was very upset and hurt and I’m sure he considered leaving me very seriously. But, he didn’t. He listened to me and tried to understand how I felt and acknowledged that I had been trying. We worked through it, but it was hard, and it can still be a sore subject all these years (almost ten) later.

    My stepdaughter is in her teens now and it’s a little easier for me to find common ground with her than it was when she was young. Also, we’ve ended up living several states apart so rather than seeing her every other weekend, we have her for a few weeks in the summer. I try very, very hard when she is around to Let Things Go and stick to what we can enjoy together (Books! Movies! Music!) Things are much better and less rocky, but still hard. I’m definitely ready for her to go home when it’s time for the visits to end, but the time that she’s with us is no longer the Most Miserable Time of My Life (for a while, though? It really was.)

    I still love my husband like crazy and we have even more kids together and I’m so, so lucky to have him. I would never want to stand in the way of his relationship with his daughter or my childrens’ relationship with their big sister (they adore her, of course!)

    LW, things “can” work out in your situation, but I think it would be very, very hard on all of you, especially as it sounds like you would be a custodial parent for them. I would really urge you to be careful here. I agree that your boyfriend likely has an idea in his head of how you would be with his kids and how you would come to love them and be the mother that they deserve, but how likely is that to happen? Breaking up would also be hard and painful, but it may be the best thing you can do for everyone involved. I really urge you to read “Stepmonster” and consider the experiences of all of the women who contributed to the book, and my experience, and other commenters, and really think hard about what kind of life you want and what kind of marriage you want. Good luck.

    1. My situation is so much like yours. Your comment touched me, so much. It actually gives me hope that we can maybe, someday, have even a surface-level relationship with my stepdaughter (very, very fractured and none of the adults involved, myself included, are blameless in the way things have turned out).

      1. Thank you. 🙂 If you need someone to talk to about it, I’d love to! (On the forums, maybe? If not, I totally understand.) In my experience, having someone to vent to is a lifesaver and often there are very few people in a step-parent’s life that are both “safe” to vent to and understand the step-parent experience.

  64. Just adding my two cents: those kids’ mom abandoned them, so it’s possible that they are just getting attached to the LW not because she’s particularly good for them (she may be, but the letter does not say enough about this), but just because she’s there. It’s a step up from their mom, you know. Either way, continuing this relationship while not being sure that you can include the children in your life is a bad move IMO. They will grow attached to you, LW, more and more, and if you can’t deal with that, it’s better to leave now than to make them suffer even more later. You and boyfriends are adults, they are not. Think of them.

    Also, If I had a kid and a boyfriend told me that he doesn’t like / doesn’t want children, I’d believe him. LW’s boyfriend does not seem to have taken that seriously. He may actually believe that she is good with the children, and that she’s being too hard on herself, too insecure, but he may also be a bad parent.

  65. Here’s my step-parent story: I met my husband when his son was 4 years old. We married when he was 6. Let’s just say I never, ever thought I’d want to have kids (long story involving years of infertility)… AND this little guy has autism and ADHD to boot. It was undiagnosed and really, really bad at the time (literally banging his head against walls and not speaking or looking people in the eye). Just the worst. I honestly didn’t know what the fuck I was getting myself into – but damn, I just fell in love with that kid. He’s awesome. So, I’m a stepmom… but I’m really just a Mom to him. And he’s my guy. I do think that his age has a LOT to do with that fact… if I had come along later in his life, he’d probably see me as “my Dad’s wife” and nothing more. His mom and my husband share custody 50/50, so he’s with us all the time – and when his brother was born (my natural child)… we made no distinction of “step-” brother with the two of them. They’re just BROTHERS (and they fight like they’re brothers!). My kids are now 14 and 7 and they’re awesome – they’re funny, kind, young men with a real joy for living. I can’t wait to see the wonderful adults they’ll grow into.

    In any case, I’m not trying to tell you that “once you really get to know them, you’ll love these kids”… that’s really something that needs to happen organically. What I will say is that there’s a time frame/threshold to being considered their “Mom” vs “Dad’s wife” – if you’re serious about being a part of their lives, try not to miss out on getting in there before they become teenagers who have already established parental figures in their lives. And please, please – don’t hurt them (Dad included) by getting in over your head. It’s not fair for you to do this just to be close to their father. No one should have to live with someone who resents them being around. It’s their home and they should be made to feel wanted and loved in their own space. I’m sure you know that because it’s true for all of us.

  66. So, my parents’ split didn’t involve any new parenting scenarios, partly because I was 19 and partly because if I could have kicked my own father to the curb, I would have.

    HOWEVER. I have experience with kids treated badly by step-adults who didn’t want kids, including a child who ended up living with my family because hir stepmother refused to keep food in the house, so zie had to leave and scrounge from friends in order to eat. Resentment plays out in fucking awful ways.

    It’s OK to not want kids, but the Captain is right — either get on board, REALLY on board, with kids, or step the heck back. If you’re considering getting on board, you need to have a long talk with your boyfriend about what would happen IF you got on board — what his expectations are, what role he sees you fulfilling — because going into that without knowing that is a terrible idea. (Like. He might not WANT you to provide discipline. Or he may have beliefs about discipline that are different from yours.) It’s OK to be unsure, and it’s OK to explore the options, but it’s not OK to put the kids in the middle of it and harm them through conflict with their parent or mismanaged expectations.

  67. I am someone who does not really like children – in fact, I didn’t like children when I was a child. And I cannot see myself as a parent. But I do want to reiterate the point made by Captain Awkward that seeing the kids as individual human beings can be a game changer. A few years ago, I stayed with a friend for two months. I was nervous as she had two young children (2 and 4), and I know that I am not a child person. While there, I formed a very special and deeply personal bond with each of those children, and by the end of the two months, I would have walked through fire for them. I was a non-working student at that time, and I was with them for most of the day, every day, and did a lot of the watching over them, playing, listening and explaining that one needs to do with young children. I would say that I still don’t like children, but that I am capable of developing good, loving and special relationships with individual children when I connect with them as individuals, and as people with their own personalities.

    None of this means that you should go forward in this relationship, or that you should ever feel obligated to be a parent to anyone’s children (even as a partner), but I did want to share that it is possible to be someone who does not like children as a collective, while still being capable of developing loving and important relationships that are separate from a parenting role. Good luck, whatever you decide.

  68. My Mom had a few boyfriends after she split with my Dad when I was two. I didn’t take to any of them as father figures until the guy she dated when I was 16 came around, and I consider him my “step dad” even though they broke up when I was 21. My dynamic with my Mom was pretty fucked up in a parentifying way. As she dated I was mostly looking for someone trustworthy to relinquish care of her too.

    A couple thoughts relating to your situation:
    – I actually understand the wanting a new parent. I was starved for a father figure so when my step dad, who is sweet, intelligent, and has a ton in common with me, entered the picture I was doing everything short of saying “will you be my new Dad?” Counterintuitively, I think kids who have been mistreated (in this case abandoned) can be easier to win over. Really all my step dad had to do was listen to me, make me coffee when he stayed over, and be nice to my Mom and he was golden. I think the whol expressing that they want you as a Mom thing might be the kids expressing their needs/wants, but boyfriend could help manage expectations.

    -If you really think its not for you go ahead and bail. A. Being ambivalent is going to mess with the kids heads B. If you have become part of the family structure then it could be majorly destructive. When my Mom and step dad broke up it was one of the worst things to have ever happened to me.

    I think you need to consider a general rule of thumb: with kids most of the rules of social engagement change. Boundaries are great for kids, but they end up working in a way that until a kid is in their teens (aka practicing to be an adult) YOU draw boundaries around YOUR shit in order to not hurt the kids. A healthy kid acts kinda like a fucked up adult because kids are DESIGNED to be dependent. As an adult care giver its your job to be attentive, nonjudgemental, loving, create safety, constantly show up, and model good behavior (including forgiving yourself and being kind to yourself), all while still taking good care of yourself. I almost look at being an adult caregiver as being a zookeeper for the world’s most complicated animal. The animal isn’t yours, you don’t own it, you can’t control it. You were charged with giving it a good environment. You can’t just leave or the animal will go feral or die. When a child relies on you you are truly RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER PERSON. Let that terrify you. You can’t half ass it, leave, be to busy, or pull crap because if you do you will be hurting someone you were supposed to take care of, versus adults who are supposed to take care of themselves.

    Disclaimer: I don’t have kids. I also understand that was harsh. I learned all that from being mistreated as a kid, and felt it needed to be written down plainly.

  69. I think Captain Awkward’s advice is spot on as well.

    I would add to it that I think the most important part is to “decide” whether you will “commit to trying and stay the course” and would add to be 100% honest with yourself if you truly have that to give. I plan to heed this advice myself.

    I have a nine year old son and have been dating a wonderful man for 10 months who has a nine year old son as well as a thirteen year old daughter.

    I find myself at a similar deciding point even though I love children. What I do not love is taking ownership of others’ responsibilities and herein lies the challenge of blended families and the importance of aligned values. My boyfriend’s children are being raised by their mother (primary custodian) to not believe in God and in fact mock Him. I told myself early on that maybe I was sent into their lives for a reason. His children have speech issues, behavior issues, and anger issues. His son fights with my son and gets physical sometimes. It is a constant intervention and our joined time is stressful. I am appalled by the children’s lack of manners when the father himself has good manners. I find myself wanting to protect my son emotionally as well as physically as well as the sanctity of the home and belief system I am choosing to create for my son and asking myself if I am up for parenting two other peoples’ children who are not addressing these issues and the price of the impact of this on my son and me. Sweet man but his kids are struggling and I wonder if he has his head in the sand and/or is looking for a woman to step in and take care of it all. (Been there, learned the lesson and do not care to repeat.)

    Like the original writer, I have a wonderful time with my boyfriend on our own…. but I am having a hard time picturing the future of shared weekends, a family Holiday (Christmas) or even a vacation because shared time is usually a very stressful time and certainly not restorative. He is talking marriage and I am having a hard time seeing joy in the future co-habitating.

    And like others have shared here, I do not ever want to make someone feel unloved or unimportant, so I too must decide if I have this to give. Captain Awkward is right, they are part of the man I love. However misaligned values may outweigh love. Hard one, but still hopeful. Lots of prayers for guidance over this one, for what is best for all concerned.

    1. My boyfriend’s children are being raised by their mother (primary custodian) to not believe in God and in fact mock Him. I told myself early on that maybe I was sent into their lives for a reason.

      Wow, I realize you are not the LW, but this was, personally, for me, the single most horrifying thing in this entire post. If I was that mother, and I realized that my ex was exposing my children to someone who took this attitude towards my kids, you can bet your ass that he’d be getting an ultimatum: never expose my children towards this kind of toxic thinking EVER AGAIN, or he would never see his KIDS ever again.*

      Imagine that YOU sent your son off for weekends with his father, where a girlfriend told herself that SHE had been sent into YOUR son’s life to educate him and save him from brainwashing; told him all about how there is no higher power, and that heaven is a made-up concept that is no more real than Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

      Run away, Hopeful. Go find someone who is more compatible with your personal religion & value system.

      (*I would like to acknowledge that I realize this is not actually how child custody works. This was both making a point, and also, if this really was me in this situation, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t TRY.)

  70. A friend pointed out to me that my remark about “do you have court clothes” was kind of harsh. Which caused me to realise that it was also misleading.

    The only stepparent I know who does NOT have or need court clothes married a widower.

    I am NOT saying that if Mom reappears you need to fight her off. Quite the reverse.

    If the Mom comes back, *her children have an almost unconditional right to her*.

    Notice I did not say that she has a right to them. She does have a right to parent, but it’s much more conditional and a judge may have already decreed that she has acted so as to lose it.

    But her kids have a right to see and/or communicate with her, and as long as they want to do so and it is possible to render it safe for them it will be their Dad’s job, and yours if you are the stepmom at this time, to support that.
    Even if you hate her. Even if she is, objectively, hateable, even if she refers to you as “that [adjective] [noun]” and lets the kids eat stuff you think is vile and never makes them do homework and “forgets” to send their nice clothes back after a visit.

    For which, even if it is amiable and simple and smooth, there will be court appearances, legal fees, schedule disruptions, and potentially intusions by the court on your privacy and autonomy, because you don’t get to decide what access she gets, their Dad doesn’t get to decide, she doesn’t get to decide.

    Depending on their ages, either the judge decides or the judge decides taking their desires and requests into account, and the adults live with it or go back to court.

    I’m being careful with anecdotes here, because my father, my stepkid, and various other involved people are online and have their own versions and their own sense of privacy, but:

    One of my exes went from an “every second weekend and two weeks in summer” parent to full-time, all the time, Mom’s moving 1000 miles away and it’s sue for custody or lose most access to your kids” situation. In a month. In the middle of the school year.

    In that case we were long-distance poly and I’d made the decision not to meet the kids, because I felt in their case that they needed to feel like their Dad and their situation with him were both rock-steady and safe, and even had I suddenly become otherwise single I wasn’t moving across the continent, so. I chose to ghost: they knew I existed, and that I wasn’t around during their Dad Time, and wasn’t going to be.

    It still changed everything. For the remainded of that relationship, I saw BF when the kids were with Mom, or at camp, and that was that. I don’t regret it, but I went into that situation with a lot of experience and forknowledge.

  71. LW, my husband and I have a toddler. I love being a mom. He loves being a dad. We regularly talk about how amazing we think our kid is (you don’t get it, guys, our kid really IS that amazing!) and how awesome it is to be parents. And I still worry all the time about whether having a kid is cramping his style, whether he’s getting to do everything he wants, whether our kid is annoying him. Now, a lot of that is my own brain weasels and therefore not actually based in reality, but my point is — this is a terrible feeling.

    Your boyfriend wants you to be Stepmom and to be SUPER DUPER happy about it. If you think you can do that, then great! But if you thought you could do that, and you wanted to do that, I don’t think you would have written this letter. You sound, at best, ambivalent. And many other commenters have pointed out that this is not a great thing for the kids, and they are right, but I just wanted to add that it’s also really shitty for your boyfriend. The feeling that someone you love desperately (your child) is making someone else you love (your spouse) terribly unhappy? That’s awful. It’s awful when it’s brain weasel-induced, and it’s even more awful when it’s true. Don’t do that to your boyfriend. If you don’t think you can be happy being their stepmom, don’t be their stepmom.

  72. My parents divorced when I was 5-6 and both remarried, mom when I was 8 and dad when I was 12. I was very lucky to acquire great step-parents who were totally on board from both sides. Both step-parents had kids from their previous marriages, so at least they knew what they were getting themselves into, which may have helped a lot. My parents were also into finding partners that were interested in developing relationships with their kids; not liking the kids would have been a non-starter for them. Both of my step-parents have become additional parents to me and I love them and appreciate their roles in my life. But it was not always rosy and there were (and sometimes still are) challenges of negotiating the step-parent relationships. Adjusting to blended family life was hard enough with people who wanted to be involved; I cannot imagine trying to do it with people who are ambivalent or unenthusiastic about the kids.

    To reiterate a point made by many here: there is nothing wrong with not wanting kids. But if you don’t like and/or don’t want kids, opting to enter into a serious partnership with someone with children (especially someone with full custody of those children) is not a good idea. Children can sense when they are not wanted and feeling unwanted can really do a number on kids self-esteem and self-image. And do you really want to live a life that you resent? If you cannot fully accept the situation and dive in head-long, it is really likely that you will end up uncomfortable and unhappy.

    Yes, it may “break both of [your] hearts” to break up right now, but think of the heartbreak that will come if you get more involved and then realize that you really cannot deal with his kids: when there are kids involved, you have to think about their hearts as well*.

    *Note: this is not an argument for “staying together for the kids” types of arguments, but for stepping back and seriously considering the long-term effects of your actions before getting more involved.

  73. I would just like to add that even apart from the kid thing, not everyone is cut out for life in a big family of any kind. This is a big family.

  74. I have a big long poly-parenting story which I may post later and separately, but I wanted to touch on a couple of things that no one else has yet.

    As everyone else has said, It is possible to do this – but again, it demands enormous self-awareness, an all-in commitment to an commonly understood set of expectations, a certain amount of humility, and a lot of work. It’s not unlike having relationships with in-laws, or integrating into a partner’s family-of-choice pre-existing social circle, except of course for the terrifying little caveat that children are still forming and the things we do badly can fuck up their relationships and emotional development for life. Which is, for some people, a completely sensible reason not to have children in one’s life at all. It is OKAY to walk away from the relationship altogether. It is also OKAY to say “I will be your girlfriend but I will never be this piece of the puzzle.”

    Here’s my question, because poly: If you do maintain a lower-level relationship with this guy, and it seems to be working long-term, and he meets someone who DOES want to be that puzzle piece – live-in partner, mother to his kids, making a life together – and you get on well with her, and she accepts your prior role in his life: how do you feel about that? It’s something to consider. If the idea of fills you with relief, there’s your answer! If it fills you with a complicated ambivalence and triggers a bunch of thoughts and feelings (positive, negative, and confusing) about what YOUR life would look like if YOU decided to take that role on – it’s not an answer, but it’s a great big colorful flag marking the spot where more work needs to be done.

    Also, you’re GOING THROUGH A DIVORCE. That’s a big, hard, heavy thing all by itself. I’ve gone through a divorce while poly, which has its own set of difficulties. There’s the unspoken expectation that all the other relationships will “level up,” which does not necessarily fit with the needs and desires of the people involved. There’s the heirarchy-of-needs problem, and the fact that while you’re losing a LIFE PARTNER, your remaining partner may be losing a friend or a person he has complicated feelings about and history with, and that’s a stressor. You’re maybe changing from a non-mainstream relationship to a more (functionally, if not in spirit) mainstream one, which might stress your self-identity in unexpected ways. You need to grieve. You need to process, including, maybe, processing some not-yet-acknowledge dysfunction or Darthiness. Everything will change, including how you view your boyfriend and your relationship. It’s entirely reasonable to say “I can’t make ANY decisions about long-term relationship or life choices for – ” six months? A year? If your dude doesn’t respect that, HUGE RED FLAG.

    It sounds like you’re under enormous pressure to DEFINE THINGS, and some of that pressure might be coming from within yourself, and some of that may be coming from your boyfriend, and some of that may be pressure that he’s communicating to you from sources in his life (kids craving stability, and social family expectations). You know your own situation and can sort the sources of those various pressures from one another, but the thing to remember is that you get to decide how much you give into them, or not, at what pace, and on what terms.

    Best of luck to you.

    1. Very, very good point about the poly/possible new primary situation. I came back on to add to my comment, saw this, and had to stop and say “Love this.”

  75. I’ve had three radically different experiences as the child-of-a-divorced-parent. The first was with my father’s girlfriend who resented me with a passion. There was a lot of polite interactions at the beginning, but she clearly found me threatening and intimidating, and based upon the way she tried to assimilate my father into her life and left me by the wayside, she had no interest in me. This was painfully obvious to me from the beginning, despite being 11 years old. My mother’s first boyfriend post-divorce was a genuinely nice man who tried awkwardly to connect with me, but because of his lack of experience with children, we never quite interacted comfortably together. He tended to over-share and he had a very animated personality that I found intimidating as a kid. Now, my mother’s current boyfriend is a wonderful person who treats me like a person, is very cognizant of the times when my mother and I need time together, and is also able to carve out time for him and my mother alone. He certainly does not behave like my father, but I think we are both very satisfied with the boundaries and level of familiarity in our relationship.

    I really hope you respond to comments, because knowing the ages of this man’s children would be incredibly helpful to give you relevant anecdotes. I only began to deal with my parents’ partners when I was 11, so my perspective may not be as informative for you. However, you can determine the level of intimacy you have with your boyfriend’s children. They may be desperate for a mother figure as young children, but you are not obligated to fill that role, nor is it in their best interests for you to do if that makes you unhappy. The most successful parent-partner and child relationships I’ve seen are ones where the adult have a strong amount of rapport with the child and regularly seeks to interact with the child, but are also aware that they do not have the right to parent that child. It’s similar to a relationship a child would have with an aunt or uncle. There’s understanding and interest between both parties, but the hard stuff is left to mom or dad. If you find yourself having a genuine amount of interest in these kids, – and I don’t mean an interest in making them well adjusted, I mean an interest in their personalities and their minds as they are – it may be worth talking to your boyfriend and being clear about where your boundaries are. Just like the other commenters have said, you can’t opt out of interaction all together, but you can decide to what degree you do interact.

    However, based on your letter, I don’t get this impression. Part of this is totally natural – if the kids are very young, both they and your boyfriend are going to expect you to have direct/mommy-type involvement in their lives. The other part is that your letter hits a lot of red flags for me as someone who dealt with a number of antagonistic girlfriends who behaved as if we were in an Electra complex case study. The part where you talk about how you believe in certain rules in child-rearing is one of them, but it’s also the distinct lack of interest you seem to have in what’s best for these kids and lack of consideration you give towards them as actual people. This line “What do you do when you’ve found the person that has every quality that you’ve ever wanted – but comes with the one package that you never wanted?” made me twitch. Imagine what it would be like to hear that you were the unwanted package, the one catch to a practically perfect arrangement. You may think the kids don’t sense that ambivalence and disinterest coming off of you in waves, but if they don’t now, they sure as hell will later, and it will screw with their minds. Just as the Captain said, these kids are not an add-on to your boyfriend. They are an inherent part of the deal. You get to determine to what extent, but you don’t get to opt out. And it definitely seems like you want to opt out. (Based on a very short email that has a clear word limit, I know and admit.)

    If you really have no interest in these children as people, it isn’t beneficial for either you OR your boyfriend’s kids to do this. Keep that in mind when you decide how best to approach this.

  76. I had a friend when I was a child who’s mom had a live-in boyfriend who was not interested in being a family member or even a friend to her and her siblings. It was one of the creepiest things I ever experienced as a child, even just as an occassional visitor, and it still disturbs me to think about 20 years later.

    Either dial this relationship WAY back, mainly meet at your house when he has a babysitter, so you’re very rarely spending time with the kids and they lose you in the crowd of adults-they-are-a-bit- acquainted with but not close to. OR learn to love each of the children. It doesn’t have to be a specifically parent-child relationship, but if you spend a significant amount of time in their home or with them, or if there’s anything about the situation that may make them see you as ‘family’ or as a siginificant person in their lives, then yes, you do need to genuinely reach out to them and bond with each of them as individuals.

    Kids are adaptable in a lot of ways – they can deal with loose or strict rules, for example. But to have a parental figure who dislikes them or doesn’t see them as family? That’s aweful.

  77. First time poster here. Love this board–reading CA archives has fostered personal growth in areas I was only sort of aware I needed growth in (so, a twofer–first, the realization that a change would do me good; then, the opportunity for growth and improvement). It’s a consciousness-raising exercise for me, and I absolutely love, love, love the safe feel of this reading/commenting space.

    I’m both a step-child and a single mother of three little kids (with almost full custody), currently dating a man who has 50% custody of his two little kids.

    I’m one of those people who for many years didn’t like kids. Any kids. Never wanted any of my own. Then I got to my mid-20’s and had been married for a few years, and, well– I changed my mind. I’m a logical person in general, and it was interesting to me that my change of heart had 0% to do with logic and 100% to do with evolutionary-reproductive-biology-fueled hormonal emotions. Regardless of the source of my change of heart, that was how I felt, and so we had three kids (my ex had been open to kids all along). And for me, it was a good choice to have kids, because for whatever reason I really DID want them.

    However, as a mother of three, let me say that I do a LOT of thinking about how two is a nice round number, and how one has the deep, true beauty of simplicity. I love my kids, I’d take a bullet for them, I’m so indescribably grateful I have my three healthy, smart, loving kids, blah blah, but… yeah, I have occasional fantasies about having only two kids. Or one. Mostly two, though. Three is hard. (Lol–as though any number of kids isn’t hard. As though life itself isn’t hard, with or without kids. But I digress.)

    I saw a number of really key points from a number of posters, and though it may be completely unneeded at this point, I wanted to underscore a few that I found the most critical.

    First–take stock of your time with your boyfriend and his kids. Do you enjoy it? Even though it’s exhausting? Are there moments with any or all of the kids where you find yourself feeling real affection for them as individuals? Would it ever occur to you to volunteer to take even one of them by him/herself out for a fun outing? If not, it may be very difficult to nurture a situation where you do enjoy time with them. If you are routinely frustrated, bored, repelled, etc., by time with his kids, then that’s probably a sign to pay a lot of attention to.

    Second, as many others have said, decide whether you’re in or out, and be decisive about it. Don’t phone it in. Others here have elucidated this well. It’s just so darn important.

    Third–parenting can be merely adequate and still be, well, adequate. I struggle with this myself. I am a type-A overeducated overachieving science nerd in a competitive professional arena with perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes okay is all that’s required. You can totes check FB on your phone while you rub your kid’s back at bedtime. You can feed them mac and cheese for dinner three times in a given week if you have to. Maybe chuck a few baby carrots on their plates if possible, but… they’ll survive. You can herd them into the other room with a movie and horrible preservative-laden snacks to gain an hour or so of peaceful space once in a while. I ❤ babysitters. Etc. You can be all in, without giving up your whole life and sense of personhood; you and your bf get to decide how that will work if you go that route.

    Fourth–But no matter how you see it happening, if you do go all in, you do need to be able to be sincerely affectionate when you are present for them.

    Fifth– as somebody who never wanted kids until my endocrine system was hijacked by a million years of natural selection, I feel your pain. Kids are a major, major enterprise and it never ever ends. You have to enjoy the journey or it'll drive you nuts. You can enjoy the journey and still be driven nuts sometimes. A big jedi hug to you, and best of luck, whatever you decide.

    1. “Somebody who never wanted kids until my endocrine system was hijacked by a million years of natural selection”

      Solidarity for this.

      Fertility issues had put the idea of kids on the back burner, because trying was stressful and very sad and no kids had a lot going for it. Then a change in birth control methods made me need a baby, STAT.

      I got the urge to have another when the first was out of toddlerhood, and went to a great deal of trouble for them. I’m sterilized now, because two is at the far edge of what we can handle, financially and emotionally, and I don’t trust myself if the urge came back.
      As much as I adore my second (seriously, the easiest, most loving kid ever), sometimes I dream of one, or none.

  78. Long time reader, first time commenter, but I guess it’s time to pay it forward – after learning so much for myself from comments in the past, and now having a LW who is basically asking for advice on something I’ve had to figure out and have somehow managed to Not Fuck Up, so here goes:

    Backstory; in my early twenties, I had just gotten out of a bad romantic situation and was determined to be single for a while. I’d just started university where I stayed in a dorm during the week and went home to the city on the weekends, and I was looking forward to… freedom, lol.

    That lasted until Halloween, more or less. I went to a party and made a friend – a SEXY friend – who was also just getting out of a similar situation, too. About a month later, we stopped trying to be sexyfriends and decided to try the actual relationship thing.

    I was childfree and still am. I’ve always been ambivalent about children, and I really never saw the appeal of having them. I was pretty determined to never have any, and to never have anything to do with any. Except my new boyfriend had a 2 year old son.

    For me, that was more or less what decided the status of the relationship for me, the fact that I had to decide whether or not to go for it, with a child in the mix. I found myself surprisingly willing to compromise on an enormous thing, when in the past, I’d barely been willing to compromise on the choice of a movie. I figured maybe this was the Real Thing people talk about, and as it turned out, it was.

    At the time, my SO was a non-custodial parent with weekend visitation. That suited us just fine, since I was a weekend girlfriend anyway, due to still being at uni, and so every other weekend was a kid weekend and the other one was just for us. I’ve always had itchy feet, so even with a boyfriend and part-time stepchild in the mix, I traveled a lot and lived abroad, doing the long distance relationship thing, keeping up with them on Skype and sending postcards.

    And then three years ago, I finally came home, we bought an apartment and moved in together – and my part-time stepchild became my full-time stepchild, since at that time, his mother was in the process of removing herself from the situation; she was going abroad to study and she’s never really come home. She lives on a different continent and they Skype and text and she sends care packages, but in terms of family involvement, me and the SO are it. Her family lives halfway across the country – there have been weekend visits, but they’re not around to take on day-to-day stuff.

    tl;dr, I’ve been a step-parent for almost eight years now, the first five as a non-custodial absentee kind of adult person, the last three as a full time extra-mom figure.

    All that said, let me give you some advice.

    1. You have to make a decision and you have to make it in the timeframe of now-to-soon, before anything gets too entrenched. It will only get harder, worse, and more heartbreaking from here on in.

    2. Do not underestimate what you’re taking on, if you go ahead. There’ve been lots of different comments about this, don’t ignore their advice, but also, you should know that in my experience, as long as you’re willing to care, love will take care of itself. It’s TERRIFYING to open yourself up to caring for someone who isn’t-an-independent-person-quite-yet, when you didn’t even get the nine-month adjustment period/lead in. You need to be willing to do that. If you aren’t, walk away.

    3. Raising children is not a matter of can vs. can’t. I’ve been raising one full time for three years now, and I still have times when I just CAN’T. (I’d say it’s about 10% of the time, 80% if I really start thinking about it.) That’s fine, that’s okay. Freakouts happen. The whole “He’s YOUR KID” moments happen. It’s how you deal with them that counts. You need to do what needs to be done, and you need to find a way for you to be able to do it, if you’re going to take these kids on.

    4. Kids are not projects to be worked on. Kids are people, and just because they’re still developing their personalities doesn’t mean it’s your job to mold them one way or the other. Kids are also unbelievably sensitive to even the slightest hint of tokenism – do not, I repeat, DO NOT, take this on because your boyfriend thinks you’d be a good influence on them or because you think you could give them some structure. They will figure it out and it will not be pretty. If you’re willing to love/care for these four, specific kids, and support and nurture their individual personalities, be there for them when they need you and work on figuring out when to say yes and when to say no, that’s great. If not, I’d say step back, sooner rather than later.

    5. Four kids is a lot of kids. I have one (step)kid and that’s quite enough for me – I’d like to think I’d have been smart enough to stick with my SO even if he’d had four kids when I met him, but I can’t really say for sure. It probably would have freaked me out – not just because of the amount of kids, but also because I could deal with coming into a family structure of two, whereas if you’re entering into a family structure of five, you’re going to have a lot of catching up to do. You need to go into this, if you decide to go for it, knowing that you’re going to spend a lot of time having NO CLUE what you’re doing, and you need to know that your partner will back you up and that you’ll have support when that happens. Me and my SO have a system were I can say “I can’t cope tonight, I need to hide,” and then I go into the bedroom and close the door and all (step)parental obligations are deferred until the next morning. It happened a lot at the beginning of his living with us, but now it only happens maybe every other month and is usually caused more by work/school stress making me unable to deal with more stress.

    6. I would be wary of your boyfriend just needing a Mom For His Kids, or an Extra Parental Figure just to take the pressure off. It sounds a lot like he’s pushing and you’re holding back because you’re not sure. When me and the SO decided to try an actual relationship, and I got introduced to his son, he started talking about me being his stepmother. I told him to stop that right there – I wasn’t going to be the kid’s stepmother until I was ready. We slowly integrated ourselves into each other’s lives, and by now, he’s not my son, but he’s MY KID. There needs to be a distinction, because you’re never going to be their mommy, and your partner absolutely MUST support whatever pace you’re willing to go at.

    To sum up, forget everything else; can you love these (four specific) kids? Can you love them for who they are, rather than who you want them to be? Do you think you can cope being on your own with them sometimes? Are you willing to have the “He/She’s YOUR KID” freakout; when someone has to sit up with a sick kid/deal with diarrhea/get them to clean their rooms/explain basic hygiene/do the birds and the bees talk?

    I’m still not a kid-person. But I have a kid, and I love him very much, and in my case, at least, his presence has been an incredible positive force in my life. I have never for a moment regretted deciding that I was going to love him as much as I love his dad.

  79. This one really touched a raw nerve with me, as the child of a single mother and then stepfather.

    I first met my stepdad on a long term basis at age 9, when he moved in. And I knew — because I’d heard it said around me or too loudly behind closed doors — that he didn’t want kids, but he guessed he could tolerate me.

    And I will say this up front — it really fucked up our relationship in profound ways, in ways I didn’t figure out until I was in my late teens. I was always trying to be the good kid, to try and make it less hard for him to stay for my mom. I always thought that he was there under duress and, bluntly, it sucked. It didn’t help that his frustration (and depression) came out at me and my mom, so I was always sure just how much of a burden I was.
    Later, when they divorced but he said he’d changed his mind and he did want me as his kid, well. I could never really believe him.

    So, what I can say is this: if you don’t think you can genuinely open your heart to those kids and want to be there? Don’t become their stepmother. Please, for their sake and yours, do not do it. I can’t say that strongly enough.

    I did have perfectly good relationships with some of my mom’s boyfriends (introduced as just friends, at first), because it was always established that my mom was my parent, she was never going away, and these were kind but absolutely not parental adults. I still think fondly of those guys today, and I’m generally happy to hear how their lives are going. But they were never, ever going to – or trying to be – my dad.

  80. “just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree”

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!

    “long-term relationship” doesn’t have to mean “step mom”. You sound like you know what you specifically don’t want, and if this partner wants that out of you, then there’s a deal-breaker in there somewhere.

    1. I’m not really fond of kids, I’m poly and have dated partners where I never met their children. When we were together it was grown-up time.

  81. “and that I would be a good influence on the kids (which is probably true, as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior).”

    I got somewhat of a red flag at this, though not being a parent I might be reading too much into it. The kids’ relative lack of discipline might not be the boyfriend’s fault at all, since it sounds like they’ve had a lot of dramatic changes going on, but it sounds to me like the LW may be expected to lay down the law where her boyfriend doesn’t feel able to, which really doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to ask someone even if they were completely enthusiastic about the idea of being a parent.

  82. Okay, if you do decide to parent the kids, remember you are not their actual parent and you do not automatically become so just by dating their dad. You do not have the automatic authority of a parent. If you try to impose a value system that is different from the one that is already in place*, there will be pushback. Oh, and at the same time, you are not allowed to be the “fun parent” who imposes no value system, because that is sucky also.

    Sure, the kids love you now. But if you’re not already an authority figure and they’re old enough to care (anywhere from 2 years onwards), there will be a transistional period where you will have to earn some respect.**

    Sorry for the harsh lecture, but I find people who haven’t experienced it from the kids end tend to think they can just waltz in and start ordering the kids around because adult.

    *’Here is my new wife btw you’re now not allowed to be stridently atheist because it uspets her’ said my dad. Cue four years of hatred.
    **’You must respect your elders’ said my mum’s boyfriend. ‘So there’s literally no reason I should respect you other than you were accidentally born 20 years before me?’ I have thought ever since.

  83. I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, but I appreciate that everyone that I’ve read so far has been understanding. I was a little fearful of being judged as the bad woman who doesn’t like kids.

    In answer to the question of whether I like THESE specific kids, well I’ll say mostly. He only has full custody of the youngest three (the oldest has a different mother, who she lives with) and they are 10, 12, and 14. The 12 and 14 year olds are all right, I get along with them pretty well. They annoy me sometimes, but that’s to be expected at that age. The youngest though, I have a hard time with. He has ADHD and trouble controlling his anger and is constantly in trouble at school for hitting and fighting. My bf has been in school for the past 6 years so he has been living with his mother, who undermines him as a parent and blatantly favors the youngest, shielding him from punishment and being responsible for his actions. If my bf tries to take something (like his iPod) away as a punishment, she goes behind his back and gives it back to him, for example. So the kid has learned that he can hit his brothers or be disrespectful and then just run behind grandma and he can usually get away with it. She blames everything on his ADHD and basically says that he can’t help his behavior so we all have to just accept it – well, I have ADD and it does not cause anger, hitting and making threats. My boyfriend does the best he can, but gets worn down from constantly butting heads with her over this issue. My strategy up to now has been to wait and see, as he recently graduated with an engineering degree and is looking for a job so that they can all move out – which I suspect will help with the behavioral issues.

    I do understand that boundaries, fair discipline and structure do not replace love and I am not unfair or unreasonable in my expectations of the children. I know that they are going to act like kids – but I also believe that they need to learn that there are rules that they are expected to follow and proportionate consequences for breaking those rules. I also believe in rewarding good behavior, I’m not all discipline and no fun. I do not believe that you raise children, I believe that you raise adults that need to be able to function in society and the way to do that is to teach that what behavior is and is not appropriate.

    I don’t think that my bf has dismissed my concerns, he definitely knows that it is a lot to take on and has said that he would never expect me to be fully responsible for them. He has never been looking for a mom for them, but I think it is unrealistic to think that I could be in that role and not fully engaged. He also knows how serious I take this as I have asked him to give me some space while I think this through, which he has been very good about.

    I will not take this on if I don’t think I could do it whole-heartedly. I do understand that this is a full package deal and I would not expect it to be any less. I would not love him as much as I do if I thought he would sacrifice his kids to be with me. I was lucky to have a wonderful step-mom so I know how important that relationship can be. But, she always wanted kids and just never had any of her own so she considered me her daughter – whereas I am the opposite.

    It’s a hard decision and not one that I’m taking lightly

    1. It is not your job to discipline someone else’s kids. You can enforce your boundaries around how they treat you, but all this talk about expectations, consequences, rewarding good behavior — that’s your boyfriend’s job, not yours, and not his mother’s. If it’s not getting done, why is he not doing it? How did it become your place to do it?

      1. I think maybe I didn’t express myself clearly. Thank you for pointing that out so that I can clarify. I don’t enforce any rules other than how I expect them to treat me. BUT, as I said in an another comment, my boyfriend has been a pretty permissive parent due to feeling guilty about their mother leaving, so I have tried to make suggestions on bringing some structure, etc. His biggest problem is consistency as the kids know that they can wear him down by continually resisting, or in the case of the youngest by hiding behind grandma, until he’s just so tired of butting heads that he gives in for the sake of (temporary) peace, whereas I expect him to enforce any rules, etc. both consistently and fairly.

    2. As someone whose parents started new relationships when I was around 14, I just wanted to say that I wasn’t open to accepting a step-parent at that age at all. I would have full-on resisted if my parents had tried to introduce their partners as step-parents. I would also have been extremely angry if co-habitating with a new partner would have happened, as I had just gone through some major upheaval (parents’ divorce, moving house). So even if your bf and you want you to be very involved, the children may not accept that. On the bright side though, I think you might not need to be as involved with the older children, and you could have more of a “father’s girlfriend” role.
      I am worried about all the surrounding family drama though. There’s a question to be asked about whether you want to insert yourself into a constellation with so many conflicts. If you already see a problem with one of the children (and that’s the one who you’d be involved with the most) and you don’t like your bf’s mother, that could turn out badly.

    3. You definitely have to establish a trusting relationship with the kids before you can parent them. My mom remarried when I was 12. I liked her husband a lot, but for several years, he was ‘my mom’s husband,’ not ‘my stepdad.’ He’s doing the parenting now, and he’ll keep doing the parenting for a long time after you’re together. And if he still lives with his mom, then she will too. This isn’t something you’re going to be able to fix. When you picture yourself living with these kids, picture yourself living with them if their problems never got better.

      1. “When you picture yourself living with these kids, picture yourself living with them if their problems never got better.”


      1. Not details, no. I gather that they had a tumultuous relationship. She is with another man and has had more kids with him though, even though she never makes any attempts to see the three she already had. Or, rather, makes random and half hearted attempts to see the oldest on his birthday but never does the same for the other two on their birthdays.

        1. I think it’s worth underlining that if you are in a primary relationship with this man and his children, you will also be in a tertiary relationship with this woman, his mother, and the mother of his first child. They may not be around much now but they could be in the future, when they will have the rights and you will not, however hard you work and try to be someone who loves these kids.

        2. Loethe’s point is very important.

          I’m also getting a lot of cognitive dissonance between you not wanting/liking children (which is absolutely fine, I feel the same way) and considering a more serious relationship with someone with four kids with two different people. I mean, that is a very significant divergence in life choices/philosophies. I would assume that someone with four offspring really wanted kids, and a lot of them.

  84. You might wanna look at the personality of the kids and not only at their age. I say this as someone who has always been introverted and independent. My parents divorced when I was 11. I lived with my mom. She had 2 boyfriends in the time between the divorce and me leaving to college. I knew my mom had a relationships with these guys. With one of them it was rather serious and long term. But I knew this guy wasnt my daddy. No one pretended that this guy would be my daddy. He was nice to me and I was nice to him but everyone knew he was not there for me but for my mother. He spent time with her. Not with me. I knew it was their together time when he was there. I went to play nintendo, do homework or sports. I didnt feel bad about this. I dont think I understood the complexity of situation like I do today. It just took real work and real interest for me to have a relationship to anyone (it’s still like that nowadays). No one could be close to me without relating to me directly and even less simply by being together with my mother. He visited frequently but he didnt live with us.

    So depending on the personality of the kids, the middle ground you are hoping to be possible might be. The other question is: What does your bf want you to be for his kids? The answer to this might NOT really include real thoughts on his part about what the personality of his kids requires. He might be dreaming of a perfect family picture instead of really taking a look at the people involved and what they want. Talk to him about this. Did the kids ask you to be their mom because it’s what they want or because they think this is expected of them as a sign of welcoming you?

    A lot of times we think we can know what kids want because we think all kids have the same needs simply for being kids. But kids have personalities and are individuals.

  85. I’m an inherently selfish person (like all people) and I recommend you have a think about this in terms of your own identity. Having kids is not passive thing that happens to you – being a parent is an active thing that you do. However much you were to like his kids, I think you should think about this in terms of being a ~parent~. Do you think you would find it rewarding to parent some little people? To raise some little people? Including all the shit bits about being a parent.

    ‘Cause, see, how much you like kids, or the particular kids in question, is actually not that relevant to what role you want to/can take in their life. A while back, there was a family situation which meant a previous partner and I were being scouted as potential guardians for his niece. And I loved that kid. Loved her to pieces. She was three, and adorable and bright and a joy to be around. And I nearly said yes, because god, I loved that kid. We got to the point of talking to officials about it and this social worker was just casually chatting with me about childcare and I realised…I couldn’t be a parent. No matter how much I loved that kid, I wanted to provide a family home for her – I couldn’t look after her, every day, doing the parenting chores, taking her to swimming classes, making sure she had clean socks, making sure she was getting enough fresh air and I was buying the right kind of toys and being regularly emotionally available. (For anyone wondering, kiddo ended up with grandparents and is doing well as far as I know, but I’m not really in the family’s life any more).

    I guess what I’m trying to say is this isn’t just a question about whether you like these kids, it’s about whether you’re up for being a mum. If you’re not, it doesn’t have to be about how you feel about his children, or any children – it’s about what you want your life to be.

    Take time to figure it out. It sounds like you and this guy successfully navigated the tricky boundaries and communication issues of being a secondary relationship while you were married, then while you were going through a divorce, and all the complications that must’ve bought up. Break out the communication skills again and set your boundaries and the seriousness of this relationship at the level you want and be explicit about exactly what that means with regards to his family. Tell him this is how it has to be for now while you figure out where you stand, and he can decide if he’s cool with that or not. Basically, tell him exactly what you’ve told us and then chuck the ball into his court.

  86. Captain, this is great advice, but it bothers me that you went right to “figure out how to fall in love with these kids, they are part of the deal.” She’s already said she doesn’t like kids and doesn’t really like these kids. Why not give permission right up front to walk away from this?

    Also, I thought it was a red flag that the LW says she feels like she never got time to be alone between divorce and getting more involved with this guy.

    Also 2 I thought it was a red flag that the kids’ mother abandoned them and they’re saying they want her to be their stepmother. They sound desperate or maybe just anxious to please. Their dad wants to be with this woman and maybe they’re picking that up so yeah, we love you and want you for our mom! Please! That all sounds like a setup for disaster even for someone who wants kids and welcomes these.

    1. These all raised red flags for me as well. I don’t think that even in the case of CHILDREN that trusting your gut should be any different from any other relationship situation. I’m reading LW’s concerns as a “this person is great BUT”. We always talk about not needing a reason to need to leave someone, that our icky, weird doubts are enough, and that our guts are worth listening to. Why should children change that dynamic?

  87. I would also like to add – unless your boyfriend has told you they are the only options he’s okay with, you don’t necessarily have to looking at either “become an entire part of his family, new mum, etc” or “break up.” You could stay together, be in a primary relationship but not live together. You could be “dad’s girlfriend who likes us but isn’t a mom”, “who we hang out with once a week and sometimes takes us to the zoo”. You could be “that lady who buys us cool books and dad is usually at her house if we’ve got a babysitter in” or “dad’s girlfriend, who seems nice but we don’t really see much of.” Hell, you could be “dad’s wife who lives down the street.”

    Just like you and your boyfriend don’t need to follow the traditional route of family – you don’t have to get married, live together, be sexually or emotionally exclusive – kids don’t need traditional family either so long as they feel loved and secure. If you want to stay in this relationship, perhaps you could talk about other ways it could be what you want, which don’t include you parenting his kids. That’s *if* you want to stay in this relationship, by the way. I get the feeling you regret a lack of a single period between your marriage ending and now – that’s okay too. And if you want out because of it, that’s totally fine. I think you should think about that aspect of this too; don’t get caught up in the kids issue and overlook other ways this relationship might not be exactly what you want right now.

  88. Poly Person here.

    The big thing that stood out for me in the Captain’s answer was this bit:

    “Or, just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree, and it sounds like you need to be 100% honest about your ambivalence and that your partner needs to really hear what you are saying. What changes for him, if he knows that you never want to be with him AND his children? At the very least it probably means: all talk of stepmommery stops, your partner has a talk with his kids about Daddy’s Friends And What That Means, you take a back seat in terms of being around his kids and most likely see him far less than you do right now.”

    My question for the LW is: Do you still see yourself as an open relationship type person? Or do you think of yourself as monogamous with Boyfriend now that Husband is no-longer in the picture? (And how does Boyfriend see himself, for that matter?)
    What Jen said about how Boyfriend needs to really hear what your saying is significant. People are amazingly good at filtering out the information that makes Perfect Situation less than perfect.
    There’s this thing called the Relationship Escalator that says “dating –> dating exclusively –> engaged and/or living together –> married –> kids” is how relationships are supposed to go, and if they aren’t going that way, or aren’t going that way fast enough, the relationship is stagnating and the members should cut and run.
    As one option among many, The Relationship Escalator works just fine. But as *mandatory, single option*, it is bullshit. I’m bringing this up because you mention in your letter that you have moved to a primary relationship with Boyfriend now that this is an option… and I’m wondering if you wanted that, or – since you mentioned not getting time to yourself as a mostly-single person to sort your own stuff out – if you just did it because it seemed like the right “next step” to take.
    I’m wondering if it would be possible to back things off again, to pre-divorce status wherein you are your boyfriend’s awesome sweetie, a break from being Dad First, Self Second once a week while the kids are at grandma’s or a sleep-over or whatever arrangement you had wherein you weren’t a significant part of his children’s lives purely because you’re a significant part of their dad’s.

    If that’s not an option – if it’s not one that you want (because you *like* having him be a primary-type partner) and/or because Boyfriend isn’t comfortable with taking a step “backwards”, or whatever – then you really are stuck making a decision to either break up with Boyfriend, who is awesome but also a parent, OR to love his kids as much as you love him.

    I’m one of those child-free-on-purpose people and I am that way because, no, I don’t like kids. Not even unusually awesome kids who can entertain themselves to some degree, only pitch a fit when they’re tired or overstimulated, and whose parents have been teaching them Good Boundaries from birth. Teenagers get the heck on my nerves, but at least they can have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around stickers or minecraft or insisting on playing candyland for the umpteenth time.
    That said, I do like adults.
    Someone above mentioned that kids eventually stop being kids because they grow up.
    This is a relevant thing to consider. As such, my other question to the LW is this: How old are these kids? Are they in the 0-10 years age-range, or are they in (or at least near) their teens already? They sound like they’re on the younger end of things, but I could be wrong and four kids can account for a fairly significant span of ages. I’m asking because, while parenting (and, as such, step-parenting) is For Ever, the part where you are parenting *children* (or semi-fledged, somewhat obnoxious teenagers) is temporary. They grow up. They move out. They and their parents renegotiate their relationships so that they are adult-adult rather than adult-child.
    If you want to continue having (and deepening) a relationship with this father, it may benefit both of you (in conversation with each other and not in a sneaking around kind of way) to decide to pace the deepening of your relationship so that it more-or-less matches the growing independence of the kids. Yes, you may have to deal with someone moving home after college or similar and yes, having caring, cordial relationships with the kids will still be necessary, BUT (see: My mom’s partner who is, by mutual unspoken agreement, Never Going To Be Our Step Parent, Ever) it won’t be as necessary as it would have been when they were ten. As a non-parent, I have no idea how you would organize such an arrangement, but it might be something worth considering. Yes/no?

    Good luck!

  89. Okay, I’m a step-mother (although not married, but anyway). It’s not easy all the time but it’s part of the package and I willingly signed up for the package. Not sure if this has been said already, but here are my main things:

    1. It is not a competition for his love. She is his daughter. I am his partner. They are totally different things. Sometimes his daughter makes comments and tests the boundaries of this, and I try to make it clear we are not competing here.

    2. There will be times when the kid pisses me off. This is because she is a kid. (I have my own biological kid too, which helps clarify this for me.) It is irrelevant to my relationship with her father.

    3. My relationship with my step-daughter is its own thing, and I have to curate it because I am the grown-up. Equally, I can’t just somehow avoid having a relationship with her! She’s just starting with the snark and puberty and so on, and I have reflected that I may have to play a very long game (it’s not really a game, I just need to think of a movable end-point when it’s awkward). Her mum and dad will always be her mum and dad, those bridges are harder to burn. I as the evil step-mother can set boundaries but I think I have to be a bit more strategic about the long-term. It’s a lot easier on everyone if we all generally know where we stand. And she’s going to change much more over the next ten years than I am.

    From the other side, when I was a kid there were variously a few other people around. We knew when they weren’t interested in us (and probably made their lives difficult, but we could not un-exist). We moved in with one bloke who underwent a complete personality transplant as soon as we did so, and it made all our lives difficult for two years before we escaped, with lasting ramifications. Don’t move in unless you have spent some serious time thinking about your kids and their relationship with this proposed partner. I’m not saying it should be necessarily easy and all slot into place, just that it should not be toxic. Finally, as a side note and the main thing I learnt from all that as a kid: you don’t really know someone if you’ve only seen them where everything is going well. Get to know how they deal with adversity.

  90. I’m a step-parent. I knew my wife had a 2.5 year old son before it even occurred to me that she might be a potential partner, so he was very much part of the package when I fell in love with her.

    What I want to say is: In my experience, step-parenting is a Really Hard Thing. There are times when you’re the boss, but then the arrival home of Real Parent means that you’re no longer the boss and sometimes immediately countermanded. You don’t get to make rules in your own house or family without consultation, and yours is never, ever the final word. Small rules, often about the little irksome things that matter out of all proportion, can and will be overruled. Parenting style doesn’t get to be a negotiation, like it is between two ‘real parents’; it’s dictated to you by the ‘real parent’. And yet despite not having a full say, you have full and equal responsibility for making sure that parenting happens and the household runs. It can be an extremely awkward and fine line to walk, between overstepping your bounds and under-meeting your responsibilities. There can be 3ams when you want to say “screw it, your kid, I’m staying in bed!” but you don’t, because it matters that you don’t… and yet there’s days when your partner will say “my kid, my choice” and you’ll say nothing, because it matters that you don’t. It’s stressful, and after nearly four years there’s still days when that tension drives one of us to the slamming door point. Thankfully, fewer than at the beginning.

    I love my stepson, and thankfully he’s chosen to love me too. My partner and I have fairly similar desires in terms of parenting, though I’ve been overruled on outlawing ‘bum’ and ‘telly’ (*cough*class issues*cough*). Our points of difference are minor, but that isn’t a given. Step parenting means never being fully in charge of your own household, and it can be a source of huge resentment. I was lucky given that I wanted kids anyway (we hope I will have one too, in the next few years) and made a conscious choice to make step-parenting work, but it’s been HARD. It’s honestly not something I’d recommend for someone who didn’t passionately want to do it.

  91. “He understands, but he doesn’t think that it would be as bad as I fear and that I would be a good influence on the kids (which is probably true, as I believe in boundaries, fair discipline and structure within child rearing which they have not had much of in their life and it shows in their behavior).”

    This is the bit that rings warning bells for me. It is perfectly possible to be a step-parent whose relationship with step-children develops over time, who never has a full parental relationship equal to the biological parent, but who has a strong and positive relationship with the children that is good for all concerned. This is especially likely where the children are older and the other biological parent is closely involved in family life.

    But it sounds like your partner – and potentially you – envisage you as being the primary carer for these children and that is a very, very different scenario. They are HIS children and he needs to be doing this stuff, not assuming that you will waltz in and solve all problems. That isn’t about your feelings, that’s him passing the child-rearing buck and it would be a good reason to consider the relationship carefully even if you adored children and wanted 8 of your own.

    1. There is a lot in the dad’s behaviour that I’m finding disturbing here, though obviously it’s hard to get everything from a letter. Partly this idea that the LW might be a ‘good influence’ which seems to suggest that he wants her to take a major parenting role, and not just that but to actually be stricter than he is himself – which seems like a horrible idea from the kids’ point of view.

      They already have a parent, they don’t need to be passed off to someone new who they _don’t_ have a deep long-term bond with and who doesn’t love them, to be ‘taught to behave’. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit strict if it’s withing a very warm and loving relationship, but it needs to be within a context of love. If he’s unhappy with their behaviour or thinks more structure would be good for them that’s his job. Besides which, if they’ve been raised a certain way and are 10 or 14, having the rules suddenly change on them is -hard-, and if it needs to happen it would be kinder and healthier coming from their dad instead of a newcomer (let alone from someone who doesn’t even really like them, let alone love them. Or someone who may leave). It sounds like he could use support to be a more confident parent himself, not someone to come and rescue him and take over. If he’s overwhelmed, then counselling, better child care options, family therapy, parenting classes (you don’t have to be a ‘bad parent’ to learn useful things there)….

      The second thing that disturbs me is that he seems to be doing nothing to protect his kids. They’ve already been rejected and abandoned once (in their eyes at least, that’s what happened, whatever the adults meant by it), which a deeply traumatic experience (it’s hard enough for an adult, whose personality is already mostly formed), and he seems to be letting them get close to someone who he doesn’t know will be there long term for them, and who has actually expressed that they are very ambivalent and unsure about the kids. This seems cruel and harmful, whether intentionally or not.

      I would reiterate what many others have said that there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong at all with not wanting to be a parent, or to suddenly adopt three or four preteen children! But if that’s how she feels, then in my opinion it’s cruel and wrong to put the kids in the situation where they feel like that’s happening. Kids can’t help interpreting an adult acting like a parent as some kind of promise to them, which it isn’t fair to make to a child unless you’re going to keep it. IMO, back way off from the kids’ lives until you’ve had time to figure out how you really feel. It doesn’t have to mean leave or break up, but _slow down_, at least where the kids are involved.

      There are all kinds of different relationships an adult can have with a child – parent-child is only one of them. But to be healthy the child needs to know where they stand with you, and the amount and kind of emotional involvement needs to match on both sides (don’t let those kids fall in love with someone who’s going to leave them, or not love them back, or resent them or dislike them).

      1. It’s possible we’re reading too much into the ‘good influence’ quote, of course. It could just be the dad trying to be reassuring and encouraging. Especially if he’s interpreting her ambivalence as being mainly lack of confidence rather than actual dislike of the prospect.

        1. I think that this is closer to the truth. Some of it though, is that he has felt guilty about their mom leaving and some other things that happened in their childhood so he has been a rather permissive parent. I have suggested a few things to try to bring in a little more structure into their lives (things like, no tv until after homework is done, getting clothes/backpacks/shoes ready before going to bed so there’s no rushing around trying to find them in the morning and then being angry about it, everyone sitting down and eating the same dinner together instead of making three different things and everyone eating on their own, etc) and they have reacted pretty well to it. These are things that he knew, but was not being consistent about before – which is mostly I believe what he means when he says that I would be a good influence.

  92. Don’t do it. If you don’t like kids, dating someone with kids or marrying someone with kids will not magically convince you to like children. This sort of thing is the kind of problem that chews on a relationship. Right now, you don’t have to deal with the kids, and you can have awesome sex and do things on your schedule and have all the free time you want…that’s going to go away if you get too involved here.

    I’m sure he’s a great guy, but I’d say this is a dealbreaker.

  93. I have a nearly four year old stepson. I met his dad when he was around 15 months. I’m very young, and if I could somehow have my flat and my partner and my life without the child, I would, but that isn’t an option. All things considered, I would rather make the (enormous!) effort to be a stepmother to Cam and be a family with my partner, than have neither of them in my life. However I can’t overstate how difficult it is. I generally don’t like kids, and I’m sorry but I particularly dislike rambunctious little boys. You know, the ones who that awful phrase “boys will be boys” was basically invented for? That’s definitely Cam. Where you are constantly going “why would you break that?” “stop jumping on that” “don’t throw that at the dog’s head!” “why are you making that noise?” “oh my god can you please let me sit here in peace for thirty bloody seconds before the next scream, almighty crash or snot-voiced demand for my attention?” I was never like that, I’m not like that. I was a preternatually introspective child, and I like kids like that.

    There were a bunch of complications, too, like having custody of Cam dictated entirely by his mum’s whims, and my partner’s mother also being a primary caregiver for a while with very different ideas about parenting to myself and my partner.

    The stress, plus other life stuff, had me pretty depressed and hibernating for the first few months of Cam living with me. Now I’m venturing out, it is very important that my partner do the majority and lets me stepmum in stages, because I’m a control freak and am forcing myself to learn to let my partner parent, so I can stop overloading by trying to inwardly or outwardly micromanage every interaction. I don’t really do mornings because I’m a night owl, but I get up early for daytrips and other than that I come along to a couple of small outings a week. I’ve also been trying to dedicate myself to an hour or two of playtime with him a day. I usually do quiet time with him before bed, then my partner is responsible for the bedtime routine. Despite the upheaval and a constantly changing routine, Cam is starting to settle in. It’s important that my partner and I are on the same page, parenting-wise because I think anything else is just madness. We negotiate any new situations, like he’s at that age when he pulls a new bad behaviour out of the hat every other week and we always talk about how we’re gonna deal with it. I think it’s important because he is too young for one of us to call the shots and the other to be uninvolved or making it up as they go along. He gave up trying to play us off each other after the first couple of months, so it seems to be working well, but I expect that’ll come back when he grows into more advanced tactics.

    Every day is hard, but it’s getting more rewarding. I would say I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are completely positive it’s what you want. And I was, at first! It wasn’t Cam himself that wore me down, it was the fact that I had resigned control of my own life, and other people making decisions about my household, my money, my schedule, my everything became a daily occurrence – I don’t think that is necessarily part and parcel of being a stepparent, especially to a young child where you are very much filling a parental role. I still think there ought to be give and take. So it started to send me absolutely crazy, and I went off and hid at my mum’s house for about a month to decompress. I was pretty conflicted at that time, but I decided I wanted to stick with it and work through these issues, even though the fantasy I had at the start of how rewarding and joyous it would be was well and truly decimated by the reality.

  94. My mother raised me as a single mom and didn’t date while I was little, but when I was 11, she got married. I always got along with my (now former) step-dad, but he never felt like an actual parent, more like the guy in my house who happened to be married to my mom. This was pretty much okay with me since I had a dad, just not one I was geographically close to, and was used to only being parented on a practical level by my mother. The thing I did not like was when they almost divorced, later separated, reconciled, and then actually divorced it ended up impacting my life in a way that never felt fair, since for various reasons it ended up in me having to move once a year every year in college (on top of moving in and out of dorms), though hey, I was technically an adult at that point (although not so much when I though I would have to move during my senior year of high school, but luckily that didn’t happen). The strangest thing to me was finding out after they divorced that he was kind of upset I never treated him like a father figure since nothing in his actual behavior ever signaled that to me. I don’t know how true it even was since people say weird stuff during breakups and he remains childless to this day (and I don’t know of any reason why he isn’t other than never having remarried/personal preference). Personally I wish she’d never married him, and thought it was a bad idea at the time (even at 11!) but it wasn’t a terrible experience overall, just not SUPER AWESOME.

    My step-mom, who married my dad about a year after my mom got married, I’ve always liked, but never had to live with. Plus, she has two daughters and is clearly excellent at mom-ing and I actually like that she’d taken to calling me her daughter and non step-daughter in conversation, like I occasionally refer to her daughters as sisters without specifying. (She made it explicitly clear she doesn’t at all expect me to call me mom, and she thinks my mom is great and my mom thinks she is great so things are good). My mom’s current husband I would not ever want to live with for various reasons (about his habits/preferences/attitudes, not, like, his moral character) but I’ve never had to relate to him as anything as a fellow adult, so it’s totally different, and we do get along fine. Plus he has kids around my age so he’s used to dealing with someone of my generation hanging about.

    I’m sorry, I don’t know if this is the kind of thing that would be in any way helpful to the LW, except please, please, please thing twice, thrice, about a million times before you enter a close financial relationship with a parent. It’s probably less an issue if your partner already owns a house and you wouldn’t be the primary breadwinner, but still. People who are financially dependent on you in any way end up being dependent on you in lots of other ways by necessity.

    1. The part about him being upset about you not treating him like a father figure:
      My first thought was: He probably contributed money to the household. A lot of people expect kids to validate them with love if they’ve spent money on them. Which can never work if that’s all they give but that’s how a lot of people think. My stepdad behaves just like that and IDGI.

      1. That kind of makes sense, since he made more money than my mom, although I think it was could have been a matter of realizing too late that he wanted a parental relationship and not actually being willing to discuss it with me or even my mom in any way when it would have made a difference.

  95. It took me a hell of a long time to realize this, but it helped me get over my dislike of kids: KIDS ARE JUST LIKE PEOPLE!

    Some kids are assholes and you won’t ever like them. Some kids are nice and you will. If it’s possible, stop thinking of them as kids and start thinking of them as people (which for me doesn’t work until they are at least elementary school age). My partner’s sister’s kids are a prime example. One is a selfish jerk and the other is caring and nice.

    If you can think of it in terms of personality, it’s less of a mine field mentally. At least, that’s what worked for me.

      1. haha, I’m the opposite. I like kids until they start talking back. So basically I just like babies lol

    1. Kids ARE people, they are not ‘like’ people.

      Just like elderly people, sick people, people from other cultures, different genders, developmentally disabled people, autistic people, neurotypical people.

      We are ALL just as much ‘people’ as anyone else.

  96. My secondary partner has a teenage kid. Right now we are each other’s secondaries, but even if we weren’t — his kid will always be his most primary relationship. (I don’t want a stepmom role, so I am just known as dad’s friend. And actually, my dad referred to my stepmom as his “friend” for 13 years — right up until they got married.) My recommendation would be, don’t level up.

  97. Oh man. Whatever you do, don’t go into this planning to fix the kids or undo whatever parenting/lack of parenting they’ve had so far. Especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with kids, but even if you did. It’s very slow work integrating a parent’s new partner into a family, and the more you can leave the kids’ care in the hands of their parent, the better. I have a stepdad I lived with growing up and a stepmom I didn’t. We all got along well enough, but that was because they didn’t try to parent me. Whatever issues I had with my parents, they didn’t try to interfere.

    Why not just keep things how they are now? If you’re happy as his girlfriend, who says you ever have to marry him or become the mother to his children?

  98. Hmm. I’m giving a pretty strong side-eye to much of what the Captain has to say in her response. Yes, it’s important not to be a jerk to the kids, and yes, it’s important to ask yourself how you feel about these individual children rather than about children-in-general…but the fact that they seem to have bonded with you shows me that you’ve probably spent some time connecting with them, and that you generally treat them well. LW, if you know that you don’t want to be a parental figure for these children — if you know that you don’t truly enjoy spending time with them and that you dread the prospect of seeing them more — that is important information for you to know, and I think you should listen to yourself and respect your own needs.

    However, I am definitely nodding along with the following paragraph:

    *** just because you are divorcing, it doesn’t meant that all relationships in your life automatically rearrange themselves up one level – you don’t need a “primary” for this to keep being a secondary thing if both of you agree, and it sounds like you need to be 100% honest about your ambivalence and that your partner needs to really hear what you are saying. What changes for him, if he knows that you never want to be with him AND his children? At the very least it probably means: all talk of stepmommery stops, your partner has a talk with his kids about Daddy’s Friends And What That Means, you take a back seat in terms of being around his kids and most likely see him far less than you do right now. ***

    I think there are a couple of really good bits of advice in here, but they involve different (albeit related) interests, so it might be easier to look at them separately.

    1) I don’t think you need to automatically default to primaries just because neither of you is dating anyone else. (Nor does that have to change if and when one of you meets someone new to date; the senior partner is not necessarily the primary partner.) I think that you should have a talk with your partner about each of the agreements which you had previously set up together about your relationship, and see if they still fit both of your needs now that the situation has changed in such a big way. How much time do you want to spend together? What kinds of rules do you have about how to approach dating other people? Do you WANT to call yourselves primaries, and what exactly does that mean to each of you? LW, in the wake of your divorce, are you moving house, or making financial or other changes in your life which will affect your relationship with your boyfriend? Assuming you still want to be together, sit down and think together about everything that may have changed now, and decide all over again, point by point, HOW you want to be together.

    2) You may be able to still have a relationship with this guy without taking on the role of Unwilling Stepmom. However, the kids are always going to be a huge part of your boyfriend’s life. By limiting the amount of time you’re willing to spend with this guy’s kids, you’re effectively limiting how much of his time this guy is going to be able to spend with you. Talk with him, in detail and frankly, about how much time each of you wants to spend together, how much time (if any) you are willing to spend with his children, what times of the day/week/month are best for getting some kid-free time with him, and how that’s logistically going to work (or if it can). Make sure he understands that you are uncomfortable with being called by parental terms like “stepmom.” You should also think about how you will handle events like weddings and funerals that you’re both invited to, along with his kids. After you have this talk, take some time separately to each think on your own about what kinds of compromises you might be willing to make. Are you willing to see his kids once a week, if that’s the price of entry for Sunday brunch at his house? Can he agree to find the kids a sitter once a week and have a night out with you? Pay close attention to yourselves and each other and make sure you feel good about the agreement you make. If you can’t agree to something that feels good to you both, then maybe this relationship has run its course. But given that you two functioned for a long time as a “secondary” relationship, and given that that seemed to go mostly okay despite your dislike of children and the existence of his, I’m hopeful that you might be able to keep seeing each other.

    Good luck!

  99. I know that they are going to act like kids – but I also believe that they need to learn that there are rules that they are expected to follow and proportionate consequences for breaking those rules.

    One thing that I’ve not seen mentioned so far. Kids are perfectly capable of understanding that different rules apply in different places and with different people. Obviously. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do the playing one adult off against another thing as this youngest one has been doing up until now.

    Speaking personally, we’ve had two kids of our own and we lived by firm boundaries, unconditional love, lots of parental involvement and authoritative, rather than authoritarian, discipline. And lots of fun! Cooking together, playing games together, dad was still reading to them at bedtime when they were 10 years old – they all enjoyed it and it was his chance to do lots of silly voices.

    Kids of the age you’re talking about are a bit beyond the period where these habits and attitudes are generally inculcated. However, you’re perfectly at liberty to stipulate that when you’re dealing with *me* this is the way I want things to be, and no, I don’t care if Mrs Nextdoor or Granny Giveaway or Auntie Anythinggoes does things differently. I’m not them and I’m not like any of them. It’s also perfectly OK to say that you’ve agreed with their dad that he will deal with whateverthisis and that you’ll not interfere with that. (If you disagree with dad on this, you don’t tell them, you tell him. You discuss it with him away from them and out of earshot.) Though it is OK if a kid openly asks you to intercede with dad on something. You have to be non-committal about your own attitude unless you know it’s completely out of the question or if it’s obvious you’re being played in some way.

    I’ve never been a step-mother, but I’ve had lots of unwanted opportunities to try undoing or counteracting some pretty abysmal parenting. I’ve tutored hundreds of schoolkids – aged from 5 to 18 – and had very little trouble enforcing my own rules, any rules, on kids behaviour. Some of them had significant behavioural problems with ADHD or learning disabilities, but many of them were simply kids who got too little sleep and too much latitude to behave badly. All of them were discouraged and disheartened by their (mostly avoidable) problems with schoolwork.

    Much worse was trying to instil some confidence and competence into kids whose parents or teachers seemed to devote all their waking hours into telling the child they were lazy/ stupid/ /stubborn/ inadequate. After a while it’s almost automatic to be supportive and encouraging because you know full well one or more parents will try to undo your good work an hour later. (Even though it’s depressing when you reflect on it.) We also had a friend’s adolescent child stay with us for a few weeks/months a couple of times. The mother loved that child beyond reason and she was a nice person and a good friend to us. As a mother? Incompetent, demanding, perfectionist, authoritarian, inconsistent – bad enough on their own. When dad died, it just got worse.

    It’s perfectly OK to take on a relationship with kids on the basis of offering kindness, compassion, consistency and reliability. Relationships formed on this basis can sow the seeds of love. If the children reciprocate, then love may blossom, even if it’s not the full-blown parental unconditional love that too many people idealise as the only way to do it. Lots of laughter and lots of other enjoyable experiences are good for everyone. Friendly, easy compatibility makes for better family life than confusing, overwhelming, inconsistent, unpredictable “love”. I’ve seen too many people who obviously love their kids make a complete hash of raising the child or managing a household with kids in it to think that love solves all.

    Last of all, four kids is a lot of kids. Though with one away, and at these ages, it wouldn’t be too much (for someone who wanted to do it) to turn them into an ace kitchen team or a friendly bunch capable of doing their own homework at times when it should be done. As for the problem young one, you have to think about whether life with him would be easier with more/better routine in the household. Though I’d try to devise some discipline methods that can’t be undermined by other people. Depriving kids of something that another person can give back, or an equal substitute, is a losing strategy from the outset if you know that there are others willing to do so. Personally, I’d want to be involved – or insist on dad being involved – in getting a formal diagnosis of behaviour problems along with a management and treatment plan. Then you’ll have some written guidelines, that everyone has a copy of and that they adhere to, that can be explained to the child.

    It’s really up to you and whether you think you and the children’s father can work together to make this easy on yourselves and on everyone else. Good luck whatever you decide.

    1. The youngest sees a therapist once a month, but it’s overseen by grandma so I don’t have a lot of faith that they’re addressing the anger issue. I have strongly advocated to my boyfriend that he needs to get more involved in that, either by having direct contact with the therapist himself or if necessary, finding a new one that will teach the boy methods of coping with and managing his anger rather than just talking about how he feels (not that that is not important as well, but all talk and no action gets nothing done). My bf has reasons to be anxious about this, but seems to actually be doing something about it now which is a relief. This is one of the few things that we’ve actually fought about, as it was endlessly frustrating to me to see how the boy’s behavior was affecting everyone and yet NOTHING was being done to help him. You can’t just punish away an issue like that, it has to be dealt with.

      I think that this is also what he was referring to about me being a good influence. He is an engineer so his natural reaction is to analyze the situation to death and can be prone to “analysis paralysis”, whereas I am action oriented and prod him to just make a damn decision and do it already!

      1. LW,

        Right now your fellow has a at least two co-parents, and his parenting style seems to be to allow the women to decide.

        Think about his four children. The oldest is reared by her mother, the youngest by his grand mother, and apparently the two middle ones will be reared by you.

        Please think very carefully about how much you want to be in charge here.

        1. Excellent points – for someone who has procreated four times, he seems awfully good at side-stepping taking responsibility/action for it. I don’t like/want children and kids are an instant dealbreaker for me, full stop, no exceptions, but I would give SO MUCH side-eye at a guy who had four children and seemed to be farming out the responsibility and not-fun part of parenting to other people. Other people including a girlfriend who doesn’t like/want kids!

          1. The more LW posts about this situation the more I very very very much believe she should not proceed with cohabitation and (ye gods) marriage to this person.

            LW, if you are set on continuing down this committed, cohabitation route, I think you two need to see a couple’s counselor so you can get on the same page about….well, everything, really.

  100. Going to echo the, this doesn’t have to be your primary relationship now just because your primary ended.
    Also even if it does get “upgraded” to primary, you don’t have to live with him or his kids if you don’t want, and it can still be a meaningful to you two. You’ve bucked relationship norms before, you can buck them again if that’s how you two want this relationship to work.

  101. I hope I am not too late to this party, but since I am have direct experience of what the LW is going through I thought I would add my tuppence worth…

    I lived with a guy who had two older teenage kids who did not live with him. I should add as context that the relationship did not work out–the guy was twice married, separated from Wife #2 and the kids were with Wife #1. He had a ton of baggage and some of that involved needing someone to look after his kids (18 and 15) when they stayed with us, because he was hopeless at it. The kids already had one stepmom, since they also stayed with Wife #2 and lived with Wife #1. So I didn’t feel it was OK for me to suddenly become a stepmom but I did my best to provide a good adult role model for them.

    It was tough because the kids were messed up from their life circumstances. The eldest one would particularly be trying because he would do stuff like dump his dirty laundry on the floor and expect me to wash it. I did wash it but it did piss me off that his father would not have any responsibility for it. If I were not available to wash it, the father would take the washing to Wife #2 to do.

    Looking back on the experience I can see that I messed up with them because I should have been more understanding of their situation, although in my favor I did put a lot of effort into trying to be a good pseudo step parent. I just think it was too much too soon, and the pressure from Wife #2 who refused to get a divorce and would not see me or talk about me, and Wife #1 who took Wife #’2’s side, was horrible. There were also difficulties with boundaries over things like food, I cooked for them most of the time but I thought it was better if their father did that, because that would show he cared about them, instead he sat glued to his laptop and ignored them. There was also tension over the fact that the kids were eating masses of junk food and daddy would not deal with that. Ultimately, their father needed a partner who would mother him as well as them.

    Having to be a step parent is a massive commitment and really is something that needs to be worked out with your partner, and hopefully his past partner if the relationship is not irrevocably broken.

  102. Okay, this letter – sans open first marriage – could have been written by my sister years ago. She started dating her now-husband close to ten years ago. He already had two kids from his first marriage but they lived with their mother – despite her being very unstable due to hard drugs and an untreated mental health issue the court gave her custody – so my sister had only limited exposure to the kids. Now my sister was all for making it work and even trying to get custody of the kids b/c we’d had an unstable upbringing and she sympathized with them, but she also felt that the longer they waited to try the harder it would be to integrate everyone into a family. The kids loved my sister as she was really the only stable mother figure they’d had and they both told her several times that they wished she was their mom. But it took many years to get full custody and by that time my sister had kids of her own. Becoming a stepparent? NOT easy. The countless support groups for stepparents speaks to that. Many stepparents are placed in this awkward situation of being expected to be loving and nurturing and Martha Stewart 24/7 but cannot discipline the child or function as an authority in any real way. There is always a whiff of You’re Being A Mother to Them and You Must Love Them as Your Own But They Aren’t Really Your’s, So… Essentially, she’s always ‘overruled’ when it comes to anything to do with his children from his first marriage. A million other things made the situation difficult, including the kids’ Opinions and Feelings that children in their early teens are going to have about gaining a stepparent (I’m not mocking them, of course they’re going to have feelings about the situation- I’m just saying Moody Young Teen isn’t the easy phase for any parent to deal with much less a stepparent).

    I’m not trying to be a downer here. After some time you might come to realize you really love these kids and want to be their stepmom. But you might not. My sister was willing to make it work out of sympathy for the kids’ situation but: she had never wanted to become a stepmom. The imbalance in the family w/r/t to her role as stepmother – which is caused in large part by his expectations for what that should mean – is the source of 90% of their fights. One more than one occasion she has said “if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have married him.” Which…yeah. She bakes with the kids and for their parties, she does the girl’s hair and takes them to their after-school practices and games no matter how little sleep she’s had. She works more hours than she has to or wants to so they can go to camps during the summer with their friends and have nice clothes. They go to her with their problems. Everyone comments positively on her role in their lives but it is something she has to work at. The emotions have never really developed for her; she cares about them but…not everyone can just magically become instant-bonding-love-perfect-stepparent-singing-nun about it.

    God, such a long rambly post I’m sorry. She’s still with her husband and does get a lot out of the relationships but her feelings have actually not changed really over the years. So, that’s something to consider. (I have no children. I never wanted them and still don’t. I am, however a bitchin’ aunt loved by all.)

  103. LW, I got here a bit late but wanted to reiterate that you don’t need to automatically turn things into a primary relationship! Check out SoloPoly.net — I won’t link directly in case I get stuck in spam but look under Aggie’s popular posts and maybe read a few things. It is really easy to do that automatic relationship escalator, since it’s pretty well built in to society. But you don’t need to at all.

  104. When I was 25ish I married a man who was in his late 30s with three children age 3 – 8. Things I learnt:

    1) Most children worm their way into your heart. I am not a kid person, but I loved these kids pretty quickly (I’d say 1.5 years? That’s quick enough.) You will probably never love them like they were yours from the start but if you give it a chance you will probably love them deeply and painfully.

    2) Raising children consumes your life. ESPECIALLY if you have a drive for excellence and are trying to be better than the shitty mother who abandoned them. It’s a whole extra level of pressure you will put on yourself, and you will have something to prove – that part is not like having biological children. This stepmother job will be fucking hard.

    3) Once I got involved with his kids it felt like breaking up with him was breaking up with them, and this was a big change in dynamic. It was SO HARD to leave. I left my husband after years of abuse. If it wasn’t for these stepchildren who I loved and thought needed me and that I couldn’t take with me (I had no legal right to in my country even though I raised them for years and was their non-abusive parent), I would have left up to two years earlier. My big lesson: if you think breaking up now is hard, it will be so much harder if it happens after you’ve made a commitment to his kids.

    In summary: if you’re not happy at the thought of parenting his kids, don’t do it. All kinds of sexism and family of origin issues come into play as soon as you become ‘the mum’, and it’s so much worse in families that existed before you stepped into them. If you’re not keen to do it, don’t. Listen to your gut. Also, remind yourself: you don’t owe these kids a better mum. They have a mum and a dad to look after them, and if these parents are shitty or inadequate you do not have the fix that. The best thing you can do for these kids is to follow your gut and be true to yourself, whether or not that gives them a mum – because the whole world is a better place when all of us do that, and making yourself sad does not make the world better.

  105. TW: Violence and threats of violence
    So my parents split the sheets when I was about 12. This was not an issue for me, I felt no abandonment and I knew for a solid fact that their divorce was in no way my responsibility or my fault. (I’d actually been asking for about 3 years when were they going to get a divorce.)
    So, all good there.
    Step-parents on the other hand:
    Thankfully I only had one of each to deal with, oddly enough they were the people I knew with whom I knew my parents were having affairs. (Not something I should have been privy to but whatever.)
    My Stepfather is still with my mother and taken as a whole is a very good man who loves her very much and treats her well. At this point I would say that while I find him a tad annoying and overly possessive of my mother’s attention; I love him but I still don’t consider him my father or a parental figure. SF had a whole ‘nother family before he and my mother met and fell in lurve. He had always worked construction so wife #1 is who actually raised his 6 all american, type A, extroverted, beautiful, fun, athletic daughters; guess who he thinks gets that credit? So all 6 of his kids were at least 8 years older than me and off to college or beyond in their lives.
    Imagine what he thought of bookish, quiet, introverted, awkward me? He thought I needed to get out there and have more fun and meet more people and go to parties and drink beer and go to the sports games at school (which is grand for thems that likes it) this sounded, to me like the lowest, coldest level of hell. We butted heads quite a bit, which was hard for me because I am extremely non-confrontational. It took us getting in an actual (verbal verging on physical fight) for everything to come to a head and all this to get settled. I was doing my homework instead of the chores he thought I ought to be doing. We got really verbal and up in each other’s faces and he raised his hand as if he was going to hit me: I relaxed completely and started laughing at him and told him “Hit me, see what happens if you lay a hand on me.” This apparently isn’t a typical reaction so he looked over at my mother, who was furious. She told him that he was not my parent, he was not allowed to try to parent me, if he ever laid a hand on me he’d go to jail and she’d kick him out. Then she said “Plus you damn idiot, if you ever harm a hair on her head her father will in all seriousness murder you and everyone you care about.”
    I wouldn’t say we got along after that but then I went to college and we weren’t forced into each other’s constant company. He still acts like a damn toddler if I am up there to visit for more than a day or two. He’ll pick fights with her just so she is paying attention to him.
    Stepmother moved in 1/2 hour after my mother left; I felt that was a tad presumptuous. Seriously give a kid a week or so to adjust. She wanted to work on blending our families, immediately. She tried to interfere with the daddy/daughter relationship which was a damn stupid mistake. (I am his only child by blood and I have been the universe to him since I first drew breath; he loves me just as much as a sociopath can love someone that isn’t themselves). She wanted me to confide in her and call her mom; that got a severe set down from me. She actually told her son where I could hear, that a change was going to come and priorities were going to change. They broke up within a year. She never raised a hand to me and I still dislike her more than I have ever disliked my stepdad. She was like the Dolores Umbridge of step mothers; or she tried to be anyway.

    If you are going to be a parental figure, try to take cues from them, their father, and their mother if possible about what your place in their live is really going to be.

  106. Long time reader here, first time commenter as this is a subject close to my heart. There really might be a middle way here if all parties have the patience. I’ll always be grateful to both of my parents for the way they handled subsequent relationships after their breakup when I was 10. When my mother started dating, she kept it discreet, then when she started seeing someone seriously she did the following: introduced him to me in a casual/neutral way by inviting him round for dinner just as she did with many other adult friends; letting him stay over only very gradually, and again keeping things chill; framing any family trips out with him in the same way as family trips out with other adult friends; not exchanging displays of affection with him much in front of me; not moving in with him; being straightforward about the fact that she was dating him but in practical matters basically just gradually upping his status to that of favoured family friend. This process took place over several *years*.

    They were together for almost a decade, my entire adolescence, and because they were so sensible and easy-going about things – and because he also was very respectful of my boundaries as a prickly teenage girl and didn’t try to force any kind of relationship with me – I grew *very* gradually and naturally to be genuinely fond of him, and these days, if I’m back in town I can pop round and have a cup of tea with him like I would with any good family friend of many years and it’s just nice. At the same time, it didn’t disrupt my life hugely when they finally split up, because he had never stepped into a parental role. Maybe he never wanted to be a parent: I’ve no idea, and it doesn’t matter because he never became one! I don’t think my mum ever even asked him to babysit – that would have crossed the boundaries. He did though become a genuinely important and stable person in my life, for whom I have lasting affection, and who provided another safe presence and perspective on some aspects of growing up. With my dad, it’s a similar story – he had two important relationships in the years since he split up with my mum: neither caused problems for me, but both women became dear to me.

    You can have a long lasting, serious, monogamous, primary relationship with a person with kids, without moving in or becoming a secondary parent. Really. But you do to some extent have to be willing to develop a relationship with the children as well – a respectful, friendly, non-invasive one that sees their vulnerabilities and boundaries and engages with them as people. I understand the LW’s partner’s children may be younger, and that makes a difference in all kinds of areas that I as a non-parent might not think of, but I also think it might make it even more important to take things slowly, not less!

    I feel wrath for parents who bring their significant other into their children’s lives too soon and too intimately. Different strokes for different folks of course, but my personal timescale would be that you don’t even consider moving in with a person with kids until you’ve been dating them for at least 5 damn years, and the relationships have had a chance to stabilise and develop in a natural way, and no abusive “you have a new mummy!” bullshit is even possible. And if a person with kids even talked about maybe someday moving in together before they’d been dating me for at the very least a couple of years, I would personally consider it a very dubious comment on their parenting, and it might well make me rethink the entire relationship. A child’s home is their sanctuary, and an adolescent’s no less – sometimes parents have no idea what harm they can do when they make the bounds of that sanctuary too easily porous, and its population too variable!

  107. LW, there is nothing wrong with you or what you want. It is 100% okay to not want to parent–I love my tiny guy, but holy hell, so much of the raising of him is not fun. And I want to offer all the support for you thinking clearly and carefully about whether you want to involve yourself with your boyfriend’s kids. I think it speaks volumes about you as a conscientious person.

    My dad’s second wife probably wanted kids, but she definitely did not want us, and I feel it is not an exaggeration to say it destroyed a) my relationship with my father, only now (in my late 30s) being carefully and shallowly rebuilt and b) the integrity of my entire early life. I was miserable because I wanted to please her but I could never figure out what would upset her–things that seemed like normal kid behavior to me were clearly not okay for her. She rarely yelled or anything, just spent the time that we were there in her bedroom, being AWAY FROM US in a way that was deeply distressing to me as a sensitive little person. When I was sixteen, a tiny incident provoked her declaration that she could not live with us any longer, and that was it–I have been out of the house ever since.

    Now, clearly my dad was an asshat about all of this, or it would not have been allowed to unfold in this ridiculous manner, and clearly my stepmother came with capital-I Issues, but I do think it’s worth saying that this is a high-stakes kind of thing. I know it’s been said already, but what about keeping separate residences and dating? Your relationship with your boyfriend doesn’t have to change in relation to your divorce–it should change according to what you both need and want.

  108. I’m coming at this from a slightly different perspective: it wasn’t me who dealt with step-parents, but my parents, after my grandparents got divorced (paternal grandparents) and my grandmother died (maternal grandparents). All grandparents remarried, which means (for those keeping track) that my dad has both a step-mom and a step-dad, and my mom has a step-mom. Of those three relationships, only one is still viable, several decades on. Neither of my parents have good relationships with their bio-parents, and both attribute it to the fact that step-parents made bio-parents choose whether to prioritize them (partners) or the kids (my parents). One bio-parent chose the kids but later regretted it, two bio-parents chose the partners and later really regretted it. My parents happily have a very good relationship, and both credit it (in part) to having had parents who didn’t care enough (Dad’s words) to try. I don’t really have any relationship with most of those grandparents, in part because my parents don’t get along with them well.
    I’m in my mid-twenties, so all of this happened in a very different era, with very different cultural mores around divorce and remarriage. I don’t know the specifics, because no one involved wants to talk about it, and to be honest, I don’t want to push. But I want to remind LW that, whatever choice you make (and your boyfriend makes), it will continue to affect the kids, whether or not you want it to. It will affect them all their lives, as other commenters can attest. It will affect their (possible) future relationship(s) with their partner(s), and with their own children. It will affect your boyfriend’s relationship with his grandchildren.
    I’m not trying to scare you (or anyone) off! but just- a lot of this gets passed down in generations. My parents are very, very leery of my boyfriend, not because of their relationship with each other, but because of how my grandparents’ relationships went wrong. They’re not worried for me: they’re worried that *they’re* going to screw up my relationship, because they screwed up their parents’ relationships. (Both parents are in therapy, because all involved acknowledge that this is not ok thinking).
    That’s a really heavy burden, and I’m not trying to put it on anyone (a few people involved put it on themselves, and that’s it’s own issue). But just- be aware.

  109. I was one of the people who had never ever never never wanted kids, until I met the love of my life who was planning to be a single parent. We dated, got serious quickly, and started talking about what it might be like to be together as non-coparenting partners. The idea of being serious with each other and not being involved in caring for my partner’s child just seemed impossible to me. I really had to decide whether I wanted to be with this person and become the sort of person who loves being a parent, or have a casual fling and move on to “just friends” as quickly as possible. And only one of those was going to work.

    Long story short, we’re married, our baby is fantastic, and though I’ve had some rough moments* I’ve never regretted the decision. It is possible to grow into someone who loves kids, or at least loves the ones who have become yours. It is an attitude change, and one that takes a lot of work, and that work might or might not be worth it even for the most delightful person you’ve ever met.

    There has to be something for you in your relationship with the kids, too. Kids are very sensitive—they know if you do not like them, and to be disliked by a parent is deeply damaging. If you are not prepared to accept his kids for who they are, not who you think you could make them with your “boundaries, fair discipline, and structure,” DON’T DO IT. Much of the cognitive science research on parenting strongly suggests that kids who are raised by authoritarian parents tend to lack control over themselves; they may never learn to make good choices for intrinsic reasons rather than because they fear punishment.

    *(Other parents have told me that even people who have always dreamed of having kids, now and then, just for a moment, have thoughts like “IF YOU DO NOT STOP SCREAMING AND GO TO SLEEP THIS INSTANT I’M THROWING YOU OUT THE WINDOW AND MOVING TO GHANA.” It doesn’t actually mean you hate your kid or shouldn’t be their parent. If it did we would all be raised in automated creches by perpetually-loving robot-humanoids. It’s what you DO in that moment that matters.)

  110. I have two relevant stories:

    1. My parents got divorced when I was twelve. My mom had custody. She never did much dating, but I will always remember – the one guy she had an on/off thing with. She didn’t tell him about the four of us until they’d been together for a few months. He was a nice guy, but didn’t want kids. So, they tried to make it work, and he was funny, nice, sweet, engaging with us. But he wasn’t happy, and it showed. Even with him trying to fit us into his life – and succeeding, mostly – he wasn’t happy in the relationship. It was better for them to end it. We knew he wasn’t happy, they knew he wasn’t happy.

    2. My sister actively, generally dislikes children, but she is the best mom I know. She knew as soon as she had her two daughters that she was absolutely in love. even though the job of being a parents sometimes sucks, and isn’t fun. She loved them and knew that.

    Basically, it sounds like this should not be your Long-Term-Relationship. You will be unhappy, the kids will be unhappy, and by extension, he will also be unhappy.

  111. I can only really speak to the child who grew up with a single parent who dated part of this, but I am happy to share my stories there.

    My parents divorced when I was 3 and my mother started dating again within a year. When I was 6 my younger half sister was born and I had it in my head that her father would be my step father and hopefully treat me better than my father had (abuse and neglect started young). We got along really well; he taught me to play chess and watched Beast Wars with me and took me for walks in the graveyard because the gravestones fascinated me. By the summer of that year my mother and my sister’s father had broken up and in a drunken rage he said where I could hear that he wanted nothing to do with another man’s spawn. So it hurt and I thought at that point that it would be just the three of us and we’d move on together, no more mean men (my 6 year old logic was that 2 men had been hurtful to my mother so best not to try any more men). Another relationship popped up within a year and even though I said what he wanted to hear (yes you are welcome in my family) I didn’t trust him; within a year he stole all of my mother’s money, spent it on cocaine and skipped province. I thought that we had to be done this time, but no, another man was in the picture when I was 9. And he is a good guy, to this day. But after all of that crap, I could not trust him even though he was always joking and never raised his voice at me. I was 15 or 16 before I started referring to him as my step-father instead of by his first name. The thing I was most thankful for was that I did not want a replacement father (or even my biological one) and he did not insist on filling the role. He acted more as a family friend would to me and that was easier.

    So I guess where I’m going with this is keep healthy boundaries between the kids and the new partner. I experienced all of my mothers break ups alongside her, major (the ones listed above) and minor and there were some things that I really should not have had the details for. Every relationship felt awkward to me, like we were trying to be this perfect family on the surface while in reality my mother worked 2 jobs, I babysat my sister, cooked for her and got her to and from school once she hit that age, and the new guy worked and rarely took an interest in us (step father exempted). None of them really helped with my sister since she was very young but they did hint at a parental role with me and it was awkward and largely unwanted. And since I had been taught that good girls were quiet and made compromises, I rarely voiced my concerns. So, depending on the age of the kids, just being a friend can be easier on everyone involved instead of trying to be the new parent. I honestly wanted to just stay an all girls household, but if a man had to permanently be around, I wanted someone who was more a friend than trying to be my father. I also wanted someone who would let me still have one on one time with my mother since it was in such short supply. And I needed help with my sister, which I never really got until she was a teenager.

    So how the kids feel and whether or not they actually want a new parent, whether they can accept one, is probably going to depend on their age and their reactions to their mother having left them. That sort of hurt fades with time but it does not ever leave. So I don’t think it would be fair for the letter writer to a) take on a parental role she doesn’t want and b) take on that role, thinking it will likely be temporary and dashing the kids’ hopes by leaving. I think they need to know that some things may or may not happen (new mother) and that things will be okay regardless and that none of it is their fault.

    First time commenter, sorry for the long post ^^; Sorry I couldn’t speak more to the LW’s side of things.

  112. I’m a stepparent and I always wanted kids (and I have one of my own now) and I have always gotten along well with my stepdaughters. But it was still REALLY HARD when they came to live with us as children. Most of the difficulty was from my husband not being much of a parent to them, which forced me into the primary parent role with two kids I barely knew.

    If you decide to stay and step into a stepparent role, do it with your eyes wide open (mine were not). Get books on stepparenting, visit a counselor with your partner to discuss the details. You say these kids have no discipline. Is that going to drive you bonkers to live with if your partner doesn’t correct it? Because you should definitely not be jumping in to be the disciplinarian in their lives. So if you and your partner can’t agree on how kids should behave and be disciplined, you are in for some massive bumps in the road. My husband just didn’t know how to raise kids and was too overwhelmed by his job to put in the time. He’d expect his 5 year old to get up and ready for school by herself and she wasn’t capable, so then I jumped in to help (because sheesh, poor kid!) but then I resented the heck out of him for it.

    I guess I’m saying, on top of deciding if you want children in your life, you also need to figure out if this guy and you can raise children well *together,* which is a whole separate issue.

  113. My parents split when I was 6 and my father had always been a “ladies man”, in that he dated a lot so there were always different women around when we were growing up. For the most part, we didn’t mind, and they were usually very nice. The women we took issue with were the ones who violated boundaries by trying to mold my dad into something he wasn’t, or who tried to parent us when they had no right to do so.

    Dad is now happily married to a woman whom my siblings and I all think is fabulous, and our relationship to the stepfamily is something we’ve more or less settled into. We’re not very close to the stepsiblings (this is kind of accepted as A Thing), and Stepmom definitely has more of a parental role than our birthmom (but that’s because BM is an absentee mom, so any parenting from Stepmom is more than what we usually get and is generally appreciated).

    Siblings and I are rather good at asserting boundaries, and there have been times when Stepmom (before they married) tried to parent in situations we thought not appropriate and we articulated such. Dad did not always like this, but we are stubborn and you can’t really argue too much with stubborn, reasonable boundary-setting.

    The point of all of this is to say that, whatever the LW’s decision, there is going to be some negotiation involved. If not all parties are on board, it’s most likely not going to work. Upset or displeasure from LW, the kids, or LW’s partner will eventually become known. Resentment on any side does not a happy family keep. Broken hearts and sad feelings notwithstanding, the choice that is made needs to be generally acceptable for all parties present, because the kidlets are going to be impacted in some way (especially if they are young, which is sounds like they might be), so there needs to be some kind of amicable “truce” reached if LW decides to stay.

    Good luck!

  114. mrsmorleystea said: LW,

    Right now your fellow has a at least two co-parents, and his parenting style seems to be to allow the women to decide.

    Think about his four children. The oldest is reared by her mother, the youngest by his grand mother, and apparently the two middle ones will be reared by you.

    Please think very carefully about how much you want to be in charge here.

    I want to second this very strongly. I get the impression that your partner’s expectation is that you will ride in and kick ass and take names and shore up the places he’s not strong. As someone who has been overly responsible and helpful and managing in a couple of relationships with passive dudes who were happy letting the people around them do the heavy lifting, this impression makes me twitch. The rescuer/rescuee dynamic is a seductive one but it’s unhealthy as hell for all concerned. (My marriage couldn’t survive it and I am only now dealing with all the things in myself and my life that I was avoiding by focusing on my partner.)

    This a family structure with many points of conflict. Traumatised children, one child with behavioural/mental health issues that are not being effectively dealt with, exes, one involved, one turning up at random intervals, a grandmother who exercises a great deal of control over her son and grandchildren. And your partner is part of this dysfunctional family system that you see and don’t like. Part of the reason for the children’s behaviour and his mother’s handling of his children is that he’s not setting boundaries or taking a lot of initiative. You’re not a bad person if you don’t want to take this on for him. And just because you are technically free to do so now that your marriage is over, doesn’t mean that you have to. Seeing the problems doesn’t mean that you have to take ownership of them.

  115. Everyone’s got such an interesting range of stepparent stories here—from both sides!

    Personally, I’ve ended up with a really good relationship with my stepmom—and also one that’s pretty different from the one my sister has with her. When our parents separated, I was a few months away from being 18. By the time my dad got remarried, I was already 19. I’d moved out after graduating high school, and custody of me was never part of my parents’ divorce; I have never in my life lived in a house with my stepmom. My sister, meanwhile, was 16 when our father got remarried, and hadn’t even started her junior year of high school yet. Between the entire last half of high school, and coming home on breaks for three years of college (thus far), my sister has lived in a house with our dad and stepmom for two years semi-constantly (our parents had evenly shared custody) and then another three years periodically after that.

    Also relevant? My stepmom is 20 years younger than my dad. She’s only 12 years older than me. Between that age difference, and the fact that I never lived with them, my stepmom has functioned as a sort of older sister figure for me. My sister, meanwhile, first met her when Sister was 15, and spent all those years living in their household, where Stepmom was, if not Lead Parental Figure, at least An Adult Of Some Authority. She did things like come home from work to find my sister making out with a boy on the couch, and had to react accordingly. This (along with additional, less relevant family dynamics involving both differences in my vs Sister’s personalities and drama surrounding our parents’ divorce), understandably, led to a different dynamic between Sister + Stepmom than Stepmom + me.

    My (somewhat roundabout) point here, dear LW, is that Age Is Important. It worked out best for both me and my stepmom that we met in a context where I, an adult child of my father’s, go over to their house 2-5 times a month for dinner, have a nice chat, leave with leftovers, and that’s roughly the extent of it. However, my sister, while only 3 years younger than me, was definitely A Kid That My Stepmom (however minimally) Contributed To The Raising Of. And their relationship, accordingly, has an…edge, I guess, that mine and Stepmom’s has just never had.

    Ironically, the first things my stepmom and I ever bonded over were:
    1) we both liked dogs.
    2) we both liked baseball.
    3) we both hated children.

    I say ironically, because three years later, she told us she was pregnant. My initial reaction was twofold: 1) “I’ve been betrayed—my compatriot in child-hating has gone to the other side!” and 2) “oh no, this means that I’m going to have to interact with a BABY…REGULARLY! OH NO”

    To my surprise, though, it only reinforced two things I’ve seen echoed in many of the other comments here:
    1) People can love their own children deeply, and still dislike children in general. My baby half-sister is nearly three now, and now when I come over, my stepmom will hand me a beer, and instead of us talking about baseball or hockey scores, or catching up on work stuff, she’ll bitch about how much she hates all the preschool parents and every single one of their kids. She loves her kid dearly—but that doesn’t mean she’s magically developed some previously untapped affection for anyone else’s.
    and 2) People who dislike kids can learn to develop attachments with individual children. It’s taken me a long time, and I’ve had to work REALLY HARD at it, but I’ve finally begun to develop a real, meaningful relationship with Baby Half-Sister. The more she becomes even more human-like and can talk, the more I even look forward to seeing her sometimes these days! Although this has indeed reinforced that I absolutely NEVER EVER want children of my own. I’m still reasonably likely to have a panic attack if you put me in a room with more than 1-2 kids at a time. But I have learned that I am, in fact, capable of bonding with a toddler, given enough exposure.

    So, COULD you maybe make it work with the boyfriend’s kids and family situation, LW? Maybe. Maybe not. But like I said, age, your existing feelings towards kids in general, and the fact that these aren’t YOUR kids are all huge factors here. Is it WORTH it, at the end of the day? I am fairly certain that if my sister and I had been much younger—certainly the ages of kids that you’re looking at—my stepmom would…not have gotten involved with my father to the extent that she did. Your gut already seems to be be telling you, “no.” I’d go with that.

    And very lastly (I realize this has been pretty rambly, my apologies,) this isn’t actually related to stepparent/stepkid relationships, but you’ve mentioned in some other comments that the youngest kid is ADHD. You mentioned that you also have ADD, so I’m sure you know this, but I just…feel the need to add, as someone else with ADHD, who definitely DID have behavioral problems related to it (although later, in high school, not quite as young as the kid in question)—that’s only going to make parenting this kid exponentially harder. And it’s never going to go away, since ADHD is not a thing you can “cure.” Add to that the fact that this kid has been bounced from mother to father to grandmother?

    I have a good friend who’s an elementary school teacher (in a different state from me), and have, for the past couple years, worked as a sort of long-distance volunteer support system for how to deal with/best serve the ADD/ADHD kids in her class, “Big Sister” mentee to some of the ADHD kids themselves, and on occasion, a sounding board and shoulder to cry on for some of their parents. And let me tell you, as someone who has sat on the phone for upwards of forty minutes while a woman halfway across the country that I have never met breaks down in tears over the difficulties of raising a 10yo boy with ADHD—and this is his birth mother, who has raised him his whole life, doing this—add in the ADDITIONAL household upheaval stuff that your boyfriend’s youngest has gone through? Jesus, there is just not enough gold, diamonds, or cupcakes IN THE WORLD to make me voluntarily walk into the situation you’re talking about here, eyes wide open, even if I ADORED children to begin with, even if this was the ONLY kid you were talking about, and there weren’t also two other pubescent children in the household.

    So. Ditto what everyone else has said here. AT LEAST pull this relationship back to your secondary, and if you don’t think you can do that, cut your losses now. Best of luck to you, LW, this entire situation blows 😦

  116. My entire family is a giant, messed-up Brady Brunch. My mother married and had one kid, then divorced. She remarried, had another kid, and her husband died. My father married and had three kids, then divorced. They finished up by marrying each other and had one kid (me.)

    Growing up, I never really had a perception that any of my siblings weren’t ‘full’ siblings. My parents played favorites, but it wasn’t ‘yours’ vs. ‘mine’…it was ‘rowdy troublemaker’s vs. ‘quiet, nerdish kids.’ My mother DID enjoy being around children, and while I think my father probably wasn’t as enthusiastic about the concept, he was in it for the long haul.

    But while my father wasn’t as ga-ga over kiddies, he NEVER expressed to us that he resented our presence in his life. My mother, however, did. I got to hear from a very young age about how much having kids changed her life and all about the things she didn’t get to do because of it. How if we weren’t there, she could have been an award-winning author…lived in a quiet cabin….her life would have been not only different, but *better*. I also got to hear all about the challenges in her marriage and how having me was the only thing that made it worthwhile…which might sound nice, but felt more like my birth tied her into choices she regretted. And my mother LIKED kids!

    So you do decide to go ahead with this, try your absolute best not to let onto the kids that you resent not taking the other road. It isn’t kind, and if you can’t do it, it’s better for them not to try. For myself, I’ve known from a very young age that I don’t want kids and I’m very content with that decision.

  117. Goodness gracious, LW, do not step in with the idea that it is very important to punish the boy with ADHD! I don’t know, maybe English is not your first language, but that level of detailed involvement with the punishment and the undermining? Nothing good will come from it.

    I have very strong opinions about parents not absolutely prioritizing their children, but that would be more relevant if this letter had been written by the father. Children are small and dependent, their grown ups are absolutely required to put their best interest first! As for your questions on how to handle this – I see no indication that you want to be a parent to these children. So, please don’t! If you don’t love them and respect them, no good will come from attempting to push them into your structure and discipline. Not for you and certainly not for them!

    It has been asked up-thread, and I don’t think you’ve replied, so I’ll ask again. WHY do you want to change the nature of your relationship with this man? You really don’t have to. If you like him in your life, you don’t like children and you’re not interested in changing don’t force yourself into a false dilemma with only two possible solution. You don’t have to choose between giving him up or becoming an instant mother of four. Carve out your own niche. This is done by honesty and communication, relentless honesty and communication.

    1. If it’s your boyfriend who’s posing the choice — mother my children or we’re over — then you should walk away from the whole damn thing, LW. Or even if he’s not putting it in quite those terms (gee, I’m so overwhelmed and need help, can’t you do it, I know you’d be great at it, etc.). Just know you can’t magic the kids with your discipline into being tolerable to you so you get to keep the man. Trying will hurt them in ways that will take a therapist to sort out later in life, if it ever gets sorted at all. That’s the big takeaway from this conversation, I think.

  118. “I feel like the logical answer is to break up, but that would break both of our hearts. ”

    This may sound cold, but adults have resources and options when their hearts are broken. Kids do not. The more they become attached to you, the more it’s going to hurt already vulnerable little people if this doesn’t work- and you don’t sound like it’s going to. I think pulling back to a secondary relationship who’s with him for adult times only or ending it is best.

    You are not wrong to be childfree. There are a lot of us out there. But being involved with someone who’s got kids, and who clearly wants you to parent his kids when you’re not into it is a recipe for disaster for everyone, especially kids who’ve been messed around already.

    1. Excellently put – all of the adults in this situation chose, in various ways, to create/be in this situation. The children didn’t. The additional details that the LW provided – like their father seeming to be sort of checked out and/or content to let other people do his parenting for him, even someone who clearly doesn’t want to do it – make me come down more strongly on the side of ending or dialing this relationship WAY back.

      I know kids are a dealbreaker for me, because I don’t like them, don’t want to be around them, and don’t want to be responsible for them. That might mean that I’ll miss out on some great people or relationships because of it, but that’s ok. It’s a consequence of my choice and that’s a choice I can live with.

Comments are closed.