Dating after divorce isn’t easy. Spend any amount of time in Worthy’s Facebook group, and you’ll see lots of women venting or asking for advice. One of the most common questions is – when should I introduce my new boyfriend to my kids? How? Where? We all want to get it right, after all.
But what if the reverse is true? What if you’re the one meeting his kids, and you don’t have any of your own. Not all divorced women have children, and not everyone dating a divorced person will have kids of their own. I spoke with two women who’ve been in this situation, neither of them who have children of their own, about how they made it work.
Kristina Ferrara has been with her boyfriend for a little over two years. They’d been dating a year before she met his two girls, ages five and three. Angelina Tucker and her now-husband also waited before she met his kids, as she puts it, “I wanted to wait to see if the relationship had legs before meeting them.” They both took that introduction seriously.
Sometimes it’s best not to put too much pressure on the first meeting. Tucker met her husband’s three boys at a park where her family was having a picnic. The presence of family and friends put less weight on the meeting, though the youngest one immediately asked, “Dad is she your girlfriend?” The older boys answered, “No! Dad doesn’t have a girlfriend!” Everyone got a big kick out of it, though Tucker admits to crying in the car later on the way home when she realized her life was about to change forever.
Deciding to marry or date a man with children is a big step. Becoming overwhelmed is both normal and a sign that you’re treating it with the seriousness it deserves.
Deciding to marry or date a man with children is a big step. Becoming overwhelmed is both normal and a sign that you’re treating it with the seriousness it deserves. Children of divorce have already had their lives disrupted, and may push back against more change. Tucker says that the middle child often reminded her that she wasn’t his mother, and admits it hasn’t always been easy.
Even though Ferrara hasn’t married her boyfriend, and her position is that of “Daddy’s Friend,” she says that it “sure does feel like ‘step-momming’ most of the time!” It’s a challenging position, not mom, or “just” a step-mom, but both committed and involved.
Even in an in-between state, Tucker advises that you not be a doormat. You have a right to be treated with respect. Accept that there will be times when you’re a third, or in her case, fifth wheel. Learning to disconnect when an issue is beyond your control is key to maintaining your perspective, as well as taking care of the things you CAN control.
There will be “challenges that come with responsibility with less authority and decision making,” Ferrara admits. Because she’s more of a disciplinarian than their father, Tucker had some concerns when they moved in together after three years of dating. She and her husband scheduled a sit-down meeting with the boys and talked to them about their concerns.
If your step-children or bonus kids are old enough, including them in some of the decisions you make can help get them on board with further change. Preparing them for how your presence in your significant other’s life will impact them also helps smooth the transition.
When my Step-Mom married and moved in with myself and my two siblings, it was a disaster. Having grown up in a military household, she had strict rules, expected a spotless home, and just assumed that three children under age thirteen would have the same standards. She had no children of her own and had never lived with a partner.
Instead of easing us into the rules, adding them on slowly, or giving us the grace to adjust to major changes, there were constant arguments and family meetings. Yelling, tears, and accusations that our forgetting one the new rules meant we didn’t respect her. I can’t help but feel it would have gone better if there had been more communication between my dad, her, and us kids, and a more gradual transition to living life together.
All of the best advice on dating someone with kids boils down to – be intentional. Be intentional about how you meet them for the first time. Intentional about how you combine households. Intentionally communicate with your SO’s children when preparing to move in together, but do your best to roll with the unexpected. “Whatever you do, do it from the heart and accept it may not be acknowledged,” says Tucker.
It can take some work, but the rewards are great. When Tucker first met her step-sons, they were young, sweet, and undisciplined. She’s had the joy of shaping them into teenagers who respect their elders, are excellent students, and are loved by their teachers. They do charity work and are athletes and honor students. She sees so much of their father in them, but she also sees some of the impact she’s had on their lives and is rightfully proud of that.
Becoming a “daddy’s friend” or a step-mom when you’ve never had children will bring more challenges and love into your life than you ever thought possible. But, in the end, it’s the love that truly matters.
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