"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Dating a man with kids

Photo by Kevin Delvecchio on Unsplash

When I met my (now) husband, as much as I liked him at first meeting I wasn't at all sure I wanted to be dating a man who had younger children. Children who still lived at home. It made me hesitate just a bit when he told me that, firstly, he had three, and secondly they were quite a bit younger than my guys. The age gap between my oldest and his youngest is over 12 years, in fact. At the time we met, his kids were 10, 14 and 15, while mine were already in their 20s.

Courting the kids too
The year we were courting, many of our dates looked a lot like the photo above, except not so much at the beach. But there were often three "extras" (or actually in truth I was the "extra"). We did a lot of the "come over for dinner and we'll play cards with the kids" kind of dates. It was fun, truly it was, and we laughed a lot. Not a bad start to a relationship really.

When I look back, knowing my selfish self as I do, I'm amazed that I was able to "go with the flow" as much as I did. Testament to how much I liked this man I was getting to know. And testament also to what good, good kids he and his ex-wife were (are) raising.

It wasn't always easy though. There were times when the weekend chaos would get the better of me and I would retreat back to my own home and leave them to it. During the weeks we had more "us" time as the kids would be with their mum. That was when we could have "proper" dates, just the two of us at the beach, or the movies, or out for dinner or coffee. Just not on weekends very often.

Journalling in order to process
Towards the end of the year, and only about 2 months before we married, I wrote in my journal about how tricky I was finding it to be in a "second-time-around" relationship when there were kids in the picture. There just seemed to be so many challenges and complications that I didn't remember ever having to deal with while dating in my youth and meeting someone as young, carefree and single as I was at that time.

What had triggered my journal entry was finding out that my soon-to-be-stepdaughter (although none of us knew yet) had told her mum (who had told her dad) that she wasn't getting much time alone with him. I knew from personal experience that when a little - or even a not-so-little - girl feels as though she needs more of her dad, it was something not to be ignored.

Here's the gist of what I wrote (some "frustration" may or may not have been edited out........):

I'm a child of divorce, so I should get this better than I do. I know from first-hand experience the treacherous waters that result for all involved when marriages end. It should be no surprise that she feels like she can't get enough of her dad's time, and I know that I'm the "extra" person he's trying to make time for in his life, as well as the kids who he doesn't get to see every day anymore. Frankly I don't feel like I see him enough either at the moment! But I can at least reason this through and I know it's just temporary because of work circumstances. I guess it's not so easy for an 11 year old who feels like she just wants more of her dad.

Let's talk about this
A few weeks later I was driving with this girl who is now my stepdaughter, and I took the opportunity gently to introduce the topic of divorce and stepfamily experiences. Mostly I told her how my heart had been utterly broken when my parents divorced, what a shock it had been, and how hard I had found it that my dad had replaced my mum (and me, or so my 18 year old self thought at the time) with another woman. I told her how it had been for me, no longer able to see my dad every day, knowing that he was choosing to live elsewhere and not with us any more. And then the challenge of gaining a stepmother at the age of 21 (whether I wanted one or not), and I told her that although it had been hard in the beginning to share my dad with this unfamiliar woman (and her children), I now had a good relationship with my stepmum.

She then, a little surprisingly, told me how she often felt broken-hearted too, but didn't really like to talk about it too much because it just made her feel like crying. My heart ached for her, and her innocent desire to have things back the way they had been, and her inability to fully understand that it simply wasn't possible.

Careful navigation
Amazingly (or not) I was able just to listen (that in itself is a small miracle - ask my sons.......), acknowledge what she'd said, and tell her I understood (because I truly did). I also did then gently tell her that I thought perhaps her dad might like to get married again one day and have a happy marriage, and she agreed that she wanted that for him too. I suggested to her that anyone her dad might marry in the future would mostly want to be her friend - after all, she already had a wonderful mum, a wonderful nana, and she didn't need another mother. She agreed wholeheartedly!

Later, as I thought more about the conversation, and although I was under no illusion that things were now "all sorted", I felt confident that we had made some progress in the right direction.

And now?
More than 6 years after I started dating this man with kids - and quite often this man AND his kids - her dad and I have been married for over 5 years. I AM her stepmother, and she IS my stepdaughter, for better or worse. We (she, her brothers and I) have had our fair share of struggles along the way (and no doubt will have more), and I've discovered just how hard it is to be a stepmother.

I'm confident though, that because of God's grace to us and through us, she and I will continue to learn to love, forgive and extend grace to each other as we navigate this stepmother-stepdaughter journey together.

Just recently she arrived for dinner. We'd just returned from a couple of weeks away, so we hadn't seen her for a while. When I answered the door she was grinning with delight, which made me think she had some good news to share with us about her year 12 progress or her travel plans for next year or something else exciting. But no, it seems she was just really delighted to see us. Big hugs and lots of happy conversation.

Dating that man with kids actually turned out to be so much more of a gift than I ever expected.

4 comments

  1. Sue I can imagine that it would be a really tricky adjustment for every one of you involved in the creation of a new relationship. I guess if each person is willing to work at it to the best of their ability - and all the adults involved behave like adults! Then adjustment and acceptance gradually settle in and a new dynamic is reached. It's nice to see that your blended family is finding its feet and everyone seems happy and okay with their new normal.

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    1. It has been an ongoing process of adjusting for all of us Leanne, and there will be more to come as ages and stages change and we encounter new situations that shake up our status quo. Not unlike any other family really, but the lack of "blood bonds" does bring some particularly unique challenges. At the moment we are tracking well, but I've learned not to get too comfortable!! Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comment xx

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  2. Wow, that would be so incredibly tricky. I can't imagine how tough that would have been for all of you - I'm sure that there are still challenges, but you've done amazing well to navigate them as you've done. It is a testament to both your commitment, but also, as you say, how your husband and his ex-wife have raised their children. When the adults forget they are adults is when the troubles starts.

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    1. That is so true Jo, and there have been more times than I care to admit when I've been the one who has forgotten than I'M THE ADULT!!! I would say this stepfamily journey has been one of the most stretching, growing things in my life so far!! But having read many blogs written by stepmothers, I know our situation is tame compared to some, so feel incredibly grateful for that. My stepchildren are really great young people!
      I appreciate you reading and commenting xx

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