I’ve been dating a woman for about a year. We get along very well and have discussed marriage. However, she has two kids — a 12-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl — who are with her most of the time. Their dad is not very involved in their lives. My own two children are grown. I’m not terribly excited about helping raise two young children as their primary father figure. But I really love the woman, and the kids are pretty good. I doubt I could find someone as compatible. Can you help me weigh the pros and cons of marrying her and taking on her kids vs. ending the relationship? Thanks. – Steve L., age 46
The decision you are about to make will impact four lives in a huge way: yours, hers, and both of her children. Becoming a stepfather is a huge responsibility, and in this case, it is even bigger because her children do not have the full participation of their biological father. Therefore, your role will be more significant than that of most stepfathers, so you are wise to do some serious soul-searching.
You have said that you’re not terribly excited about being the primary father figure to these two children, and that’s a problem. Put yourself in their shoes. Someone marries their Mom, and therefore becomes a stepfather, but isn’t much into that role. How should they respond? How do they process the fact that their new stepfather isn’t really that into them? How would it impact your new wife to realize that even though she has remarried, she is still basically a single Mom—responsible for all of the parenting?
I am exaggerating a bit to make a point, which hopefully you now see. It just doesn’t work to become a member of a family and approach it with anything less than full-on commitment to both of your new roles. Over time she will resent you, the children will be terribly confused as well as hurt, and you’ll feel like a failure. That is not a great way to begin a new marriage.
Do you really love her?
Here’s what I suggest. First, ask yourself: am I really, really in love with this woman? Don’t choose her because she’s compatible and you doubt you could find someone else as compatible. Choose her because you can’t imagine your life without her, because you love her with your whole heart and full commitment, no matter what life brings your way. That’s the only way to go into marriage with the odds in your favor. Anything less than that is settling and is not worth it.
If you conclude that you really love this woman, the next step is to consciously choose to be a great stepfather and primary father figure to her children. Even though you don’t feel drawn that way naturally, you can choose it, and you can change your own attitude from lackluster to devoted stepfather. But really make sure you transform your attitude before you commit to her. Here are some re-frames that may help you do that.
One: instead of seeing your role as stepfather as a burden, see it as an opportunity to make a positive difference for two children. These kids have already been mostly abandoned by their own father. You have the chance to add nurturing and love to their lives, to model what a father should be. You have the opportunity to turn their lives around so that they will choose good relationships when they are adults.
You have much to offer her children
Two: consider what a positive difference you will make to the woman you love—giving her children the father figure they never had. Real love is all about contribution, and not about what you will get. By focusing on what you are giving her and them, you can’t help but grow personally and spiritually because you are coming from a place of real love.
If you can’t re-frame this and powerfully choose; if it feels like a terrible burden you don’t want, that is your sign that you should move on. She and her children deserve only the best—a guy who loves and is totally devoted to all three of them. You deserve to be in a situation where you can shine as a husband and give someone all the love that she deserves. Anything less than that is settling and will serve neither you nor her.
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Copyright 2012 by Nina Atwood. All Rights Reserved. Permission granted to www.singledadhouse.com to publish this article.