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?

 

 

 

 

Without children, what marks the mileposts in our lives?

When my mother was 22, she got married and became a wife. At 25, she gave birth to me and became a mother. At 43, she attended my high school graduation. At 47, she attended my college graduation and my first wedding and moved into a new empty-nest phase. At 56, she attended my second wedding. At 58, she became a step-grandmother and at 60 a grandmother. At 75, she died of cancer. She did not go to college or have a career of her own. She lived in the same house all of her adult life.

The events of her children’s lives served as the markers for my mother’s life. There were other events: the year her brother was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The year my father broke his leg. The year Dad retired. The years that her parents died. But for the most part, her roles as mother and grandmother marked the stages of her life. If she had a gravestone, it would likely say “loving wife and mother.”

Not so for me or for you who do not have children. In some ways, our roles never change. I’m still the daughter and the sister, never the mother or grandmother. I mark my life stages with my own weddings, graduations, jobs and book publications. I earned my bachelor’s degree at 22, my master of fine arts degree at 51. I was married at 22 and at 33. I was 38 when my first book was published. I was 44 when we moved to Oregon. I was 50 when my mother died. I was 52 when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, 59 when he died.

I attended some of my stepchildren’s graduations and both of my stepdaughter’s weddings. I was around when her children were born, but somehow these events don’t mark MY life. I was too young to really be a grandmother, and I was not the one the kids called “Mom” as they posed in caps and gowns.

Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time reconciling who I am on the outside with who I am on the inside these days. If I had children to mark the milestones of my life, I would have felt the progression from daughter to wife to mother to grandmother to great-grandmother. I would see the gray hair in the mirror and think well of course; I’m a grandmother, instead of holy shit, what happened. Maybe I wouldn’t cling to my father so hard if there were other younger people filling out the family tree behind me.

Ideally, I think the major events of our lives should be a blend of our own and our children’s, but if we have no children, how do we mark the stages of our lives? How do we progress from one role to the next when the circle of life is a straight line? When do we finally feel grown up? Look at your own lives. What are the major events you will remember, the things that changed everything? How are we different because we haven’t had children?

Related reading:

http://www.higherawareness.com/lists/major-life-changes.html  “Major Life Changes—A List of Choices” Here’s a list of things to think about.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/lifes-25-major-milestones-ages-5721180 “Life’s Major Milestones and the Ages You ‘Should’ Have Achieved Them” This list is just for fun. You will probably laugh at these.

http://jezebel.com/your-official-list-of-new-life-milestones-612710155 “Your Official List of New Life Milestones” from Jezebel gives us something to think about.

So what are mileposts markers for your life? I welcome your comments.

Step-parenting is No Fourth of July Picnic

Dear Readers,

I have been on the road again this week helping my father. He is 95 years old, and he broke his upper leg very badly in March. He went from the hospital to a terrible nursing home to a somewhat better one.

On Tuesday, we saw the orthopedic surgeon again. After three months, the leg still isn’t healing much, but the doctor believes the hardware he installed around the bones will hold him up. He says Dad can start walking with a walker AND he says Dad can go home. This young ortho expert doesn’t know what he’s saying. Dad lives alone. His will is strong, but his body is fragile. My brother and I both live far away. This situation is wearing us out. We’ll both be doing some commuting while we figure out how to get things organized. Moving Dad from his three-bedroom house in suburbia to some kind of senior residence would be much easier on us, but it’s Dad’s life, and he has the right to live it the way he wants to. He wants to go home.

I arrived in the middle of a heat wave. Driving Dad’s car through the horrible traffic in San Jose, sweating, tired and hungry, I told myself taking care of Dad–and my dog Annie, who just had knee surgery three weeks ago–is my job now. Perhaps I was denied motherhood so I could devote myself to caregiving for my husband and our parents. It’s not really what I want to do, but it’s the job God has given me. I would so much rather focus on my writing and music and maybe take an actual vacation. Someday.

Meanwhile, it’s that time of year when we’re forced to look at pictures of everybody’s kids in graduation gowns or on vacation. Babies seem to be everywhere. Right? And, those of us who have stepchildren may suddenly find them arriving for extended visits, disrupting our usually childless lives.

A 2012 post, “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” has drawn a barrage of comments this week. You might want to read them and join the conversation. Step-parenting is tough, and folks who think they’re a perfect substitute for having your own kids are wrong. It’s the not the same.

What do you think? What’s bugging you these days? Thanks for being here.

Sue

 

 

They stayed in a childless marriage

Last week I asked the question “Did They Go or Stay?” Several readers responded. In general, they stayed. The one who left her marriage indicated that the marriage was not good in other ways.

Are they happy?

Kat: “Stayed in a very happy relationship. Found out last year that I couldn’t have had kids anyway, and needed surgery. Phew, glad I stayed.”

Tamara: “I knew that he was special and that I would never find someone that I loved as much as I love him. I still wish we had a child, but in the end I know that an unknown child could not give me the feeling of love nor could it complete me as much as my marriage does.”

M2L: “I have stayed, for now, and have watched my ‘childbearing years’ disappear. It is hard not to be resentful of a man who is now enjoying a grandchild. We shall see how it all works out!”

Jay: “I stayed, believing that God wouldn’t bless my leaving.
“We’d both wanted children before we got married. A few years in he changed his mind.
“My yearning has been powerful.
“I’ve forgiven him — over and over, as I continue to grieve unchosen childlessness.
“Now it’s too late for me to have children. I struggle with anger toward myself for staying. Anger towards his unkindness in expressing enthusiasm for other women’s pregnancies, his being baffled at why this could be troubling for me.
“His lack of concern for my lost dream compounds the pain.
“I often wish I had left, as the refusal to have children was only one part of the unhealthiness in our marriage. Still continuing to evaluate whether to stay in this marriage.”

Please keep the responses coming. We’d really like to know what happened, especially if you decided to leave.

I think most of us will not leave a marriage that is otherwise good. When I divorced my first husband, it was not because of his refusal to have children. I still believed we could work that out eventually. No, I had found out he was cheating on me and had been for most of the six years we were married. That’s what I found intolerable.

The men I dated between marriages were all willing to father my children, but none of them would have been good husbands. In fact, they would have been terrible. Then I met Fred, and he was so wonderful I was willing to spend my life with him, no matter what. I wanted children but not at the sacrifice of a good relationship. And I did get a sort of “motherhood lite” with the stepchildren and step-grandchildren.

Which is more important, finding the right partner or having children? That seems to be the essential question. We shouldn’t have to choose, but if we do, which way would you go? I look forward to your comments.

***

Update: Two weeks ago, I wrote about rushing to California to help my father, who broke his leg. His leg is still unusable, and he spends most of his time in bed. It was a bad break, above the knee, and he will be 95 on May 1. Except for the leg, he’s in surprisingly good shape, but we don’t know when the care home where he’s staying will decide to discharge him and force us to find another facility or full-time care for him at home (could be this week!) or if he will ever be able to walk normally again. So keep him in your prayers, and thank you for the kind words so many have sent.

Which is worse, no kids or a dozen?

The novel I’ve been reading, A Place of Her Own by Janet Fisher, takes place in the 1800s. It’s based on the true story of a woman who came to Oregon by covered wagon and settled not far from where I live. The heroine, Martha, married at 15, has one baby after another, 11 in all. She’d probably have had more, but her husband died. I almost want to add “thank God.” He was an abusive SOB.

But that’s not my point. The story takes place in the 1850s and ’60s. Martha has no access to birth control, abortion doesn’t even occur to her, and there is no such thing as a vasectomy or tubal ligation. If you have sex–and her husband isn’t going to take no for an answer–you have babies. She spends the 21 years of their marriage either pregnant or nursing. Think about that. One baby after another, with no way to stop them from coming.

There comes a point in the novel where she has had two babies die in infancy and discovers she’s pregnant again. “I don’t want to have another baby,” she cries. She already has so many to take care of and she can’t stand the thought of losing another one.

Her husband treats her horribly, at one point beating her with a whip. She leaves him for a while and tries to divorce him, but discovers the laws at that time  allow him to take all of their seven living children away from her. So when he promises never to hurt her again, she goes back. She has two more babies.

Why am I telling you about this when you and I don’t have any babies at all? Think about how few choices women had back then, long before they earned the right to vote. When Martha, as a widow, went to buy land, the guy selling it preferred to deal with her 11-year-old son because he was male.

Only in recent times have we had any say about whether or not we would get pregnant and have babies or when we would have them. When I was born in the 1950s, abortion and birth control were not legally available. Nor did women have many career options. Most became wives and mothers. They started their families young, long before age-related infertility might be a factor. We never heard about spouses refusing to have children. I’m sure it happened but not nearly as often as it does now.

Today we have so many choices it’s frightening. We make those choices and then we wonder if we’ll regret them later, whether it be birth control, abortion, vasectomy, or committing our lives to someone who is not able or willing to make babies with us. In these days when divorce is common, we’re often the second or third spouse, and our partners have already created families with their exes. They’ve had their children, but we have not. They want us to be happy taking care of their children, but it’s rarely enough.

Sometimes I wish we didn’t have so many choices. Life was less complicated in the 1860s. But to be honest, I would no more want to have 11 babies and have two of them die than I would want to have none. Also, considering the lack of choices back in the 1800s (when my great-great grandmother had 13 children who lived), why would any of us let anyone else decide this most important life choice for us now?

What do you think about all this?

***

Last week’s stepmom post has created quite a hot discussion. Take a look at https://childlessbymarriageblog.com/2017/01/12/he-already-has-his-kids-but-i-dont/.

 

 

 

 

He already has his kids, but I don’t

Ooh, those stepchildren. I was all set to write about something else this week, but then I got this comment on a previous post. I’m dying to share it with you and get your opinions.

The original post, “Stepparents caught between two worlds,” is still drawing comments. For so many of us, our childless lives include dealing with our partners’ kids from previous relationships. Sometimes they feel like our own kids. Note the second book I talked about last week where the author fell completely into the mom role with her two stepsons. More often, we have mixed feelings. We want to love them and make them our own, but they already have two biological parents. They may accept you or treat you like dirt. You may have a good relationship with your partner’s ex or be constantly at war. And when it comes to your partner choosing between his or her children and you, well, guess who loses that contest? Blood trumps love most of the time.

So often, accepting this partner with kids means you will not get kids of your own because that partner has already been there and done that.

That said, let me share what “Honest” wrote:

I’m very thankful I have stumbled upon this blog. I’ve been searching for someone, anyone really, who I can relate to and to see that I am not alone in this whirlwind of step-parenting.

Last year I met a man that I was completely not ready for. He was the most incredible man I have ever met, Kind, nurturing, persistent, caring, understanding, supportive and above all he was completely and utterly in love with me. He had been in a relationship for 10 years and had two kids 9 & 5. His ex had left him a year and a half before we met. He was the bigger man and moved out of the house they had just recently built and moved into a rental, while still paying for the house and all her bills, (which I think is completely and utterly insane. I know if that was me I would not be funding her) But his excuse was he was doing it for the kids as she would not be able to afford the house and bills as she did not work. I have come from a hard upbringing. My father was abusive and my mother worked three jobs to support our family, so you can see why I would have a bad taste in my mouth to begin with from his ex not wanting to work even though both children are at school when my mother raised us all and worked three jobs, but that’s just my view. I guess.

My partner won my heart after months of my hesitation to commit to him. I knew deep in my heart I would be in for a whirlwind of a ride once I committed. He was still going through the sale of his house, she was still living in it, he works away so he was gone for a full week and the week he was home he had the kids for the whole 7 days. So from the very beginning, I knew if I stepped into this I was becoming a half-time stepmom. That when I saw him, I knew I would be seeing the children too, never a moment alone to have our own relationship. But, love won me over.

Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Not only was he pushing for it, as at the time he was coming home and staying at their ‘old home’ which she still lived in, and would go to her friends the week he was home, but my current rental was about to run out of lease. So we made the plunge and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. As his ex had run him dry of money, I ended up paying and furnishing the entire apartment (which included a room for his two kids, with whom I had only spent a handful of time) and accepting the fact that I was now involved.

The two kids are beautiful. I have grown to love them very much. I take them to school, I pack their lunches, I cook them dinner and put them to bed, do all the things a mother would do. But, at the same time, all I can see when I look into their eyes is her [the ex]. She would call and abuse my partner at ridiculous hours, she would start messaging me abuse, he would try and be reasonable with her and she just would not have it, and that absolutely kills me inside.
My partner from the start told me I was the love of his life and he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me and have children of our own. Up until recently. Now he has decided that he does not want any more children.

When those words came out of his mouth, it absolutely ripped my heart out. I’ve wanted children my whole life. I have had three abortions with exes, because they did not want to be fathers, or the time was not right, and they would not be around if I was to have the child. So I did the right thing ( so I thought) and went through the traumatic experience of having an abortion, because I want my children to grow up in a family with both a loving mum and a dad, and not a dad who does not want them. I know firsthand how many times I wished when I was a child my mum did not have me because of my abusive father. So now I’m 28 and the man who I thought I was going to marry and start a family with has changed his mind on having any more children. Do I leave and attempt to find someone else I will fall in love with and we both want a family, or stay in hopes he will change his mind? It’s not like he cannot see the mother I will be. I’m more of a mother to his children then their actual mother. It breaks my heart to know that I’m 28 and I’m still completely and utterly unsure of what I’m doing in life. I don’t think I could live the next 20 years with his children and none of our own, I feel like that’s taking something special away from me, away from us, that he does not want us to have that connection, and it leaves an awfully bad taste in my mouth.

HERE’S WHAT I SAID: Honest, you’re not going to like my response, but I’m going to say it anyway. Looking at it from the outside, I think your guy is taking advantage of you. You have provided him a place to live and free child-care while he’s preventing you from having your own children and still supporting his ex. Maybe he does love you, but the whole situation sounds messed up to me. I wish you all the best.

What do you all think? Respond here or on the original post, where you can read some other step-situations.

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.