As said in the first part of this series, I met my wife when her girls were 8 and 5. My wife and I met through some mutual friends and I traveled 3 hours to go meet her for the first time. We had a date set up to go out to dinner and I arrived a bit early to pick her up. She was frantically trying to get ready as her babysitter had just canceled and she was trying to line another up. I was sitting on her couch when her daughters came home from school. The look I received from the 8 year old would have made some hide…she saw a man there to take her mom out on a date and that man was not her father. I can’t imagine how this made her feel – she thought I was there to replace her dad.
The five year old, not having a lot of time to spend with her dad because his job had him traveling more than he was home, acted so nonchalant about my presence that it was almost humorous. She asked me what she could have for a snack. I still chuckle about that memory.
Seeing an opportunity to help my date out, I asked if she was OK with the girls coming along with us. This actually was a very good choice as it gave us all a chance to talk and have dinner together. The date went very well! My wife later told me that it was the first time that they had all gone out for a dinner in a long time and that it was nice that the girls could enjoy some time away from all the stresses they were experiencing.
Over time, I began to see where my place was. The 8 year old, no matter what I did, would always have that place in her heart for her father (no matter what he did). The 5 year old, not having a lot of time with her father, warmed up much faster to the thought of having me around. After several months of dating (I would drive up every Monday to go see them), my wife and I started to get more serious about our relationship. She opened up about a lot of things that had happened the previous year and about all the pain and scars that she and the girls had. When I finally realized everything they had gone through, I understood why the older daughter was tentative around me and why the younger daughter took to me so well. Though they both went through the same stuff, their individual experiences made any adjustment very interesting. I guess I was also starting to understand that I wouldn’t just be able to step in and be “instant dad”. During those first few years I guess my thought was that I could make up to them whatever they had gone through. I was very wrong in thinking that because no matter what I did, I couldn’t hold myself accountable for things caused by someone else. That line of thinking wouldn’t be fair to the girls…
Granted, every situation is different – depending on the relationship between the divorced parents and their children. Some step-parents might have it easier, some much harder. I don’t think it’s easy to gauge what difficulty a person will have stepping into this situation.
What I can say is that it did take time – the older daughter still has a spot for her father that I will not ever be able to fill. I stopped trying. Not because I don’t love her, but because who am I to take that away from her? The younger daughter – she doesn’t have a desire to speak to her father. Regardless of my opinions of him, neither of the girls is wrong in their approach. They each have their path to happiness and now that each is an adult, they can certainly make the decision on their own.
I caution step-parents to be aware of their actions and feelings. Regardless of how you feel about your step-children’s biological parent, please do yourself and them a favor and not let your feelings be known. Your feelings about that parent do not matter – whether you feel they are right or wrong, you aren’t the person to dish out blame or judge. I’m not saying become a martyr, falling on an invisible sword for the better of everyone…I’m saying that, as a step-parent, you need to support your step-children. They will say things that hurt you – it isn’t intentional, just their way of creating a balance in their lives. As long as you remain that constant fixture for them, it will play out well in the end.
He is a co-host on the DoD Podcast airing live every Friday Night at 9pm CST at www.twitch.tv/dadsofdestiny .