On a chilly night in early March, I met up with a guy for drinks at a bar down the street from my house. Who was he? A dreamy eyed, goal oriented musician and producer. And a father. He dropped that bomb on me as we were texting one night, before our first date.
“What are you doing tonight?”
Right when I walked in, my heart leapt in my chest. I sat down, unsure of what to expect out of the night. It had been a while since I had actually enjoyed being out with someone. He was kind and curious about my endeavors as a writer. We even talked about how we had both lost parents to cancer when we were young. It was a dream date, if you will.
Then we got down to the dirty stuff (not that dirty stuff). The stuff that you don’t really want to talk about, but kind of have to. He was newly separated, but very transparent about his previous marriage. Considering he was so young, I couldn’t believe he had already been married and had two kids. They were two and three, brothers, and quite seriously the light of his life. He talked about them with such happiness in his face that it was hard not to coo.
When he asked, “Wanna meet my kids?” at first, I hesitated. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was nervous. These were the most important people in his life, and I was about to meet them. I was also about to see him in the most important role in his life; being a dad.
We waited a little over three months. I really wanted to meet his ex-wife first, but somehow it didn’t line up, and before I knew it, I was having a picnic in the park with two kids and a dad. My heart was basically beating out of my chest. The oldest didn’t take to me at first; he was cautious and had questioning eyes. The younger of the two was friendly and inviting, asking me to play and watch him do tricks. Eventually they became a really big part of my life.
Shortly after meeting his kids, I had the opportunity to meet his ex-wife. Really, when you think about it, it isn’t typical that you would have to interact your partner’s ex. At least not as frequently as in my situation. I was pleasantly surprised that there was zero animosity, and very little awkward feeling. I feel fortunate to actually enjoy the presence of my partner’s ex to this day. Some people in my same situation aren’t as lucky.
It feels strange that almost two years have gone by since I set out on this relationship, but here I am. Things for all of us seem to flow pretty evenly. It isn’t often that I find myself super uncomfortable in my position. For that, I am grateful.
So what exactly does it take?
For starters, I put the children and their feelings above my own insecurity. Meaning, when they come to me crying about how they miss their mother, I comfort them. I tell them that they are lucky to have such a good mom, and that she loves them so much and she misses them just as much as they miss her (if not more). Kids are more intuitive than you think. So when you are speaking of their parents, speak with honesty. Don’t fake it. And whatever you do, don’t walk away from them in this moment because it makes you feel weird. They are showing you they need you. Be there. Of course it felt awkward at first, just as I am sure she felt awkward the first few times they mentioned me. It takes a lot of maturity to overcome some of that initial discomfort.
Next up, learn to add, not replace. I will never be these kids’ mom. I don’t want to be. They have two amazing, selfless, and loving parents who brought them into this world. When I set out on my relationship with my partner’s kids, I made it clear that my only intention was to add to their lives. You can love someone else’s kids like your own, and still know your place. There are invisible boundaries – learn to respect them. Learn that sometimes, your opinion isn’t needed. Know that the sole thing you should contribute (unless otherwise asked) is unconditional love for the little ones.
The final part of my role revolves mostly around support. There have been times in the past when my partner has needed emotional support and someone to lean on. When you’re a step-parent, remember that although what you are going through may sometimes be awkward, it’s almost always ten times more painful for the person experiencing it first hand. When he feels emotional about the situation he is in as a father, I have to do my best to understand and be as supportive as possible. In all honesty, this can be hard at times, because there is nothing I can say to soothe the pain of him missing his children. All I can do is listen while he sorts through that part of his life that has nothing to do with me.
One last thing here, and probably the most important thing. As a person dating a parent, know this: they are a parent first, and a partner second. I respect his role as a father immensely. I respect that every single decision made is made with his kids in mind. If my partner was a father who didn’t put his kids first, it’s likely I would find him unattractive.
Going into this situation really sparked some anxiety. It’s been humbling, though. Sometimes frustrating and exhausting. But for every moment where it feels negative, there are a million moments where it feels so gratifying and worth it. I feel incredibly lucky to have my family. I love my partner’s boys a lot. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of things more rewarding than them trusting me and getting to hold their little hands, read them books, and watch them develop personalities. Also, it’s nice to laugh at the occasional fart joke.
I feel grateful that their parents have done their part to make this all worth it.