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:
- 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?