I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t take the easy approach to marriage. My love story was complicated and occasionally frustrating beyond belief. As I came to understand that I loved Dave, that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I was also forced to confront the fact that spending my life with him meant I would also be spending my life with the people who were irrevocably attached to him, most especially his eight-year-old son.
When the man or woman you’re sharing your life with has offspring, be it a horde of ankle-biters or just one kid, things can get complicated. We live in a society that commands us to love children, to revere their innocence, to take joy in their silliness and abundant energy. If you feel that this noisy, needy creature attached to your significant other is an imposition on your accustomed way of life and are not immediately flooded with feelings of affection for the kid, you might feel like Ebenezer Scrooge at a Christmas party – cranky, harassed and confused by the utter impossibility of understanding why society thinks you should enjoy this mess you’re in.
What’s worse, your partner’s children didn’t come from thin air. The presence of kids means that your significant other has a permanent tie to the other person responsible for bringing new life into the world. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the vast majority of people are much happier never having to deal with The Ex. (Feel free to insert ominous music here). With kids in the picture, the odds of your having to negotiate some form of peace treaty with The Ex (dun dun dun….) are very high. I’ve done it. It’s not fun.
I’ve come to terms with being a stepmother, but I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by claiming that it was easy, but it was a learning experience. If I had it all to do over again, here are the things I would tell myself; things my husband told me when he saw that I was struggling.
#1. Be gentle with the kids. You don’t have to love them. You don’t have to be their new favorite person in the whole wide world. You don’t even have to like them, but you should keep in mind that they are young and possibly very vulnerable. They deserve the same kindness and respect you would show anybody whose life you have the power to influence. You are a good person – don’t let a difficult situation change you.
#2. Be gentle with yourself. Yes, the world at large is screaming at you to fall immediately in love with the precious little bundles of joy… but relationships, any relationships, take time to build. Some people never become friends, and that’s just the way the world is. Don’t hate yourself for being “Scrooge.”.If you come to love them, that’s excellent. If not, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. I promise you. It doesn’t.
#3. The kids are not The Ex. They may be the reason that The Ex (*scare chord!!!*) comes into more contact with your life, and with your partner, than you would like, but that isn’t their fault. Try to see them as people, not as their other parent’s conduit into your home. Don’t let The Ex have any more power over your life than you can help. Letting the kids increase his or her power is, to a large degree, your choice.
These days, I get along well with my stepson. He gets on my nerves at times, and there are days when, despite my best efforts, I still resent my husband’s continued contact with his ex-wife. But I’ve chosen to take the high road, and as hard as it can be to hold on to maturity in the face of a difficult situation, but I’d do it all over again. By the way, it’s completely Kosher to remind your partner occasionally that you do take the high road whenever you can, and that he or she is damned lucky to have you. ‘Cause I promise you, he or she really is.