Childless step-parenting not an easy job

Step-parenting can make you crazy, especially if you have never had your own children. You want your partner’s offspring to fill that baby-yearning hole in your life, but they have their own mother and father and you are neither one.

To them you’re a stranger who showed up late and wants to claim a family connection. You’re a lot like the substitute teacher who knows nothing about what they were doing with their regular teacher and whom they don’t have to obey because she’s only here for a few days. Your partner may or may not help you make the connection. He has known them longer than he has known you. They are flesh of his flesh—and you’re not. You come from a different family with different traditions and different memories. You’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit.

I’m not the only one who has called herself the Wicked Stepmother. Turns out that’s quite common. You just pray the kids laugh when you say it.

I have been looking through old files and just read through a fat one from my days when my youngest stepson lived with us, his older sister stayed with us intermittently, and his older brother lived in various places. It was tricky. I had the responsibilities of a mom, whether it was conferring with teachers, baking cookies for Boy Scouts, or taking my stepson to the doctor. We were tied down. If my husband and I wanted to go out, we couldn’t just leave him in the backyard with a bowl of water like a dog. We had to find a babysitter or stay home.

My friends insisted I claim motherhood on Mother’s Day. But to my stepson, I was just “Sue.” He resisted my attempts to hug him or to connect him with my own family.

Since my husband and his ex never officially changed the custody agreement, his real mom could reclaim him at any time. Besides, it was obvious I had no experience at being a mother and didn’t know what I was doing.

Reading my old journals makes me squirm. I sound resentful and selfish. “The kid won’t obey me.” “He wrecked my car.” “None of them remembered me on Mother’s Day.” “I’m trying to work, and I keep getting interrupted.” I’m human. I’m not Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” taking in all those kids with nothing but love and selflessness. But there were moments of love, too, times when I tearfully thanked Fred for giving me this family.

When you marry someone who has been married before, he or she will probably have children. He or she may not want anymore. They want you, but they don’t want to do babies again. Been there, done that. They are happy to offer you the children they already have, but it’s not the same, is it?

Today my stepchildren are all adults. The daughter is not only a mother but a grandmother. Since Fred died, we don’t talk; we Facebook. I’m proud of their accomplishments. I don’t know what our connection is now, if any, but I hope they know I tried. I really tried.

It’s not the same as having your own babies. That’s just not possible. But it’s something. As long as people keep getting married multiple times, stepchildren will be part of the picture.

Here’s an interesting report by the PEW Research Center on marriage and remarriage.

I have received a lot of comments lately about step-parenting. Previous posts on the subject include: “Stepchildren and Holidays Always a Tricky Mix,” “Must Childless Stepmothers and Their Stepchildren Hate Each Other?” “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” “Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right,” and “What Am I to My Stepchildren Now That My Husband has Died?”  There are even more. Use the search box at upper right to find more posts about stepchildren or whatever you want to read about.

Let the conversation continue. How has it been for you?

 

 

 

 

Men agonize over childlessness, too

Day after day, I receive comments and emails from women who are struggling to decide to stay with their male partners who don’t want children or leave in hope of finding someone who wants to father their children. But it’s not all women. Men agonize over this issue, too.

On Sunday, I received a long comment from a man calling himself Rollcage. Here are excerpts from what he wrote:

“So I’m 30/m and my partner is 26/f. We have been dating for a year and compared to many on here with years of marriage behind them that’s nothing, but this woman is extraordinary. The love of my life and I am on the verge of proposing to her.

“Apart from a few ups and downs we have a perfect relationship, we can talk without getting bored nonstop, we share so many similar interests and I could never have imagined a woman like her existed.

“So you probably can guess where I’m going with this. She is already a mother of one, a 2 year old boy from a previous relationship. . .

“She never wanted to have kids before they did and he managed to convince her to conceive. She had always said that she didn’t want kids and that if she did circumstances would be different (she would be married, post career, etc.). You could almost say she was deceived by him. He had no love for her, he simply wanted someone to give him a child after he lost his previous to a previous partner . . .

“My gf is an incredible mum, even more so when she coped so well raising him under the most difficult circumstances! She’s sweet around him and I found that part of her more and more attractive. I started to think to myself hey if we ever do decide, I know she’ll be a great mum.” At this point, I didn’t really think about kids, but I thought that it was possible that we may end up having one someday.

“Then something happened around two weeks ago. She was looking after him (he spent 2 weeks with his mum and 2 with his dad) and he got sick with the stomach flu. He was often sick when he visits her, we think because of the childcare he goes to, and my gf would often get sick herself as a result, something she can’t afford to do with her job. She also has emetophobia and doesn’t do well when he is vomiting. This always prompts her mum to visit to help look after him and clear the mess.

“This isn’t anything new, but this time this event, coupled with her current form of sickness and also a decision having to be made in the future about where he should stay for pre-school (they live in different towns), she decided that she just wasn’t made up to be a mum and that she should give her ex custody and see her son only every other weekend . . .

“I just don’t know how to feel. I can’t leave her, and I know I’ll be happy with her without our own, but her changing her mind about her own son has made me see things differently. I still don’t know if I will ever want kid,s but the woman who I love who I always saw was such a great mum is now convinced motherhood is just not for her. She has told me she doesn’t want me holding it against her and she doesn’t want me trying to change her mind. Equally she told me she doesn’t want to make me unhappy if she can’t give me what I want . . .

“I desperately want her to just notice how great of a dad I would be and to crave a child of our own, but the stupid thing about that is I don’t even know if I do want children. I feel as if I’ve always expected to be the one in a relationship who probably sides more with not having kids, but suddenly I find myself wanting kids more than her (even though I’m not sure yet) and her lack of desire vs mine puts me off . . .

“My heart tells me I’m going to marry this woman and deep down I hope spending more time together she will change her mind.

“My head tells me I need to get used to the idea of not having children as most likely it isn’t going to happen.

“It’s almost like her wanting it less than me has made me feel unloved. I want her to be able to give me what she gave her ex and I want to prove to her that it will be different, that we will enjoy it. Whilst she is the opposite trying to convince me it’s a bad idea . . . ”

There’s a lot more. You can read the whole comment by scrolling down to the end of the comments on the original post. Then you can add your own comments here or there.

While I’m sharing links, here are some articles about the male point of view:

“The Untold Grief of Childless Men”

“Childless Men Speak Out”

“Why Do We Never Worry about Men’s Childlessness and Infertility?”

“Men Aging without Children”

Also check out my previous posts “What Do the Men Say about Being Childless by Marriage?” and “Father’s Day Tortures Childless Men.”

No, my friends, it’s not just the women who suffer with this dilemma. Please feel free to comment.

Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas follows shortly after. Will your stepchildren be with you or their biological parents? Holidays get tricky when two sets of parents claim the kids, shuttling them back and forth according to the terms of custody agreements.

I feel for the children. Back in the days before Fred’s youngest turned 18, he was always coming or going. For years, his mother lived in Texas and we were in California, so he flew back and forth, often arriving with headaches and an upset stomach from the stress of traveling alone and facing a different family.

When he came to San Jose, we would take him to my family’s holiday gatherings, but the poor boy didn’t know half those people, and suddenly he was expected to call near-strangers Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt and Uncle. Here are your cousins, kid. No, they weren’t.

If he stayed with his mother, then he had to deal with her boyfriend’s people and he didn’t get to see his dad. After he moved in with us, his mother would take him away just when he probably wanted to stay home with his friends and his toys. She and the kids partied together while Fred and I cooked a turkey for just the two of us.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the view of the childless stepmother, having Fred’s son with us at family parties gave me a certain legitimacy, especially if his older siblings joined us. See, I’ve got the whole package, the husband and the children, just like everyone else. When they were with their mom, we were the childless ones who didn’t fit in. Sometimes we all got together, bio- and step-families. That was weird, all of us making nice and pretending we were family.

The best Christmas of my life was the one where somehow we had all the Lick children and grandchildren, plus my parents, at our house. I don’t remember why, but nobody had to leave for another party that day. I remember music, laughter, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere, and smells of turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember little ones calling me “Grandma” as we sat at the piano singing “Rum pa pum pum.” It never happened quite like that again.

When I was growing up, everyone came to our house, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their kids. No one was divorced. Nobody had anyplace else to go. My mom said grace and thanked God for everyone being there. Dad plagued us with the bright lights of the movie camera, and we celebrated as one happy family. Things are so different now. Complicated.

Step-relationships are often troubled. Has anyone heard, “Leave me alone! You’re not my mother (or father)!”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes it’s easier to get through the holidays when the kids are somewhere else. Sometimes it just hurts. You buy presents and get nothing back. You watch the bio-parents get all the love. You hug the dog and wish the holidays were over. Right?

Of course sometimes, the holidays are great. The kids are great. You feel blessed.

So, how is it for you? If you have stepchildren, how do you handle the holidays? What are the best parts and the worst parts? If you were a stepchild, what was that like? Feel free to vent here in the comments.

Stepparents caught between two worlds

In response to my Halloween request for subjects folks want to discuss here, Evil SM commented last week:

In thinking about my biggest concerns as a childless woman that I’d love to discuss with other women who “get it”, I’d say it’s definitely the tension between feeling 100% childless and still having to reconcile the relationship with my stepkids. I’m not going to lie, I’m very resentful, and am trying to make my peace with it all. Sometimes I want to embrace having no children, and then there are my husband’s kids. I feel stuck between two worlds, and no matter how much I have given to them, tried to feel something parental towards them, I just don’t. But, I can’t say that. I have to put on a mask and pretend I feel like a certain way about them and my role, or lack of, in their lives. Some days it eats me alive. I have most, if not all, the responsibility of a parent, and none of the warm feelings. Like you, Sue, we are custodial. My husband expects that if/when the kids have kids I will feel like, or want to feel like, a grandparent, and that’s just not my truth. In the beginning of our relationship I thought I wanted a baby, but for some reason that changed and now I’m almost completely on the other side of the fence, though I still have some of those baby blues days. I feel more childless with my husband and his kids than I would otherwise. It’s constantly in my face. Anyone else feel this way?

I do, Evil SM. My stepchildren are all grown now, and with my husband gone, I rarely see them, except on Facebook. But I remember those feelings. To be accurate, only the youngest of Fred’s three lived with us. Sometimes I felt like his mother. Sometimes I felt like I was co-parenting with Fred’s ex. Sometimes I felt like a mother, but more often I felt like a babysitter who had no idea what she was doing. I loved him, but I’m not sure how he felt about me. I was always aware that he had a “real mom” who had first dibs on him.

As for the other two, we tried, but that warm fuzzy feeling proved elusive. I’m watching my words here because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or start a war. (We have enough problems with the fallout from the election.) They just didn’t feel like my own family. Even when I became a step-grandmother, it was like I was playing a role. I wish we could have made it one big happy family. I wanted that so bad. But they weren’t mine. So now I “like” their Facebook posts, send Christmas and birthday greetings, and pray for them every day.

To Michael, Gretchen, Ted (and Shelly), if you read this, I love you and miss you and feel so far away. You haven’t reached out, and I’m afraid that if I reach out to you, I will be rejected.

Oh, God, I feel as if I have opened myself up too much here. Thanks a lot, Evil Stepmother. 🙂 I used to call myself that, too. Thank God the kids laughed.

So, readers, it’s your turn. Many of us have stepped into relationships that include children from previous partners. Does the presence of these offspring make you feel worse about not having your own children or does it ease the pain? How do you get along? Can you love them like your own? What gets in the way of that?

Let’s open up this can of worms and see what’s inside. It might take more than one post. You can be as anonymous as you need to be. Me, not so much.

Thank you for being here and sharing with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Stepchildren add stress to childless marriages

In last Friday’s post, I asked whether having stepchildren made you a mother. For me, it’s part yes, part no. Fred’s kids have been in my life for almost 30 years, but their biological mother is the one they think of as Mom. And that makes sense. If my father remarried, his new wife might be the most wonderful woman in the world, and we might love her very much, but she could never take the place of our real mother. That’s just biology, plus family history.

If your partner has children from a previous marriage, he will always have a connection to them that you can never have. They are his kids, not yours. When a conflict arises between you and the kids, who is he going to side with? The new wife may find herself competing for her husband’s time and attention, as well as his money. This can put a real damper on a marriage.

When he (or she) has kids and you don’t, that can add to the stress. As several readers have commented here, it gets even worse when his children grow up and have babies of their own. Now he gets to be a grandparent and you don’t.

Now some couples have no problem with any of this. They and the kids become one happy family, and they don’t even think the word “step.” They’re all “our kids.” They are blessed. I hear from plenty of people for whom having stepchildren makes a painful situation even more difficult.

How is it for you? Does your partner have kids from a previous marriage? Do they live with you or with their other parents? Do you get along? Does having them make your childlessness more difficult? Let’s talk about it.