Marrying a man who already had a child might stop some women in their tracks. Melanie Campbell fell in love with being a step-mom.
I had never dated a single father before, not for any other reason than I just hadn’t met anyone with children. For many women, dating a man with a child is a deal breaker.
Some people’s deal breakers are another person’s blessing.
The reality is 50% of our population in the dating pool is coming from divorce and of that, 50% of divorcee’s it’s highly probable that they have a child, or children. So I always find it rather ironic that women will date jerks and put up with a man’s lying, or cheating, or inexcusable behaviors and bad habits, yet will automatically rule out dating a wonderful, dedicated, loving man with children.
When I met my husband, I found his honesty refreshing. He was open about his struggles and challenges in having a career, being a single parent and going to University. He told me that he wanted shared custody and that one day he had hoped to have 50/50. He never complained or felt sorry for himself. He just did what he had to do to be successful and provide for his daughter.
After a few months of dating, and seeing each other exclusively, he invited me to join him and his daughter for a date at our local coffee donut shop. She was very shy, smiled a lot when we made eye contact but didn’t say much. It was cute how she held on to his arm, not in a possessive way, but for comfort, as she wasn’t sure about me yet. My attraction grew on a deeper level as he “slowly” built up his trust, exposing me to his biggest vulnerable side, his daughter.
I don’t know about you ladies, but I find there is nothing sexier than a dedicated hard working father, who expresses his love and affection for his children.
A man who puts his children first.
Watching my husband play with his daughter, and care for her won huge bonus points for me. How many women dating a single man get an intimate view of what kind of father your potential husband will be? I already knew I loved the man I was dating, but what sealed the deal was the kind of loving and involved father I knew he was. I considered myself lucky. It was clear he was the one I wanted to have children with. He possessed all the qualities I wanted in a partner, and everything I wanted in a man as a father.
He was a catch, and I knew it.
Most couples when they get married typically have a few years together as newly-weds before they start planning for a family. You have time to work out all your living pet peeves likes and dislikes.
Marrying someone with a child already, changes those dynamics not for bad or for good, it’s just different. There is no settling into the marriage before kid’s stage. Once I moved in with my husband, reality kicked in, and I embraced the importance in “being” a real grown up.
As a mom or stepmom, your responsibilities change the moment you have a young impressionable little person observing and listening to everything you say and do. My world changed instantly for the better, when I fell in love with my husband and his daughter. I went from being single with no dependents to an instant wife/mom overnight.
Sure, I was a tad nervous wondering if I could live up to my own expectations as a wife and step-mom. Here was this brilliant, shy, adorable and vulnerable four-and-a-half-year-old, who had accepted me into her world.
Now—what do I do?
Even more precious was that she allowed me to enter her sacred Daddy world. Before me, she had Daddy all to herself for the last 4 years. Friday night pizza and video games, or Saturday afternoon swims at the local pool, now had an intruder tagging along. She was the only girl in her Daddy’s world.
He was “her” man, and she was his fabulous little girl.
I loved that my husband and his daughter were so close, and I never wanted to be the reason that would interfere with their relationship. Especially as she was growing older, her relationship with her dad was becoming more crucial than in her earlier years. I believe that girls need their fathers especially in the most critical developing years. From the beginning, it was very important to me how my relationship with my husband would have an effect on my step daughter’s overall self-awareness.
Parent’s relationship with one another or their new spouses can impact their children’s future relationships, in a positive or negative manner.
I wanted to set the stage for a strong marital relationship so that she grew up knowing what a healthy loving, marriage was.
I wanted her to know that two people can love each other and remain committed and work through their issues respectfully. My husband and I have committed to having a strong friendship within our marriage, built on mutual trust, respect, love, understanding, and open communication. Since her parents were no longer together, I knew she would be placing my relationship with her father under the microscope. How we interacted with one another would have a profound effect on how she views women, and how she viewed her own self-worth.
If we grow up with a supportive and loving dad, we will look to mimic these positive qualities in other men. My husband already had the supportive, caring father perfected. But I wanted to ensure I did my part in contributing to a healthy family and a strong female role model in her life. We wanted to establish a truly meaningful, supportive and loving marriage for ourselves, as well for my husband/s daughter. So things like sharing affection for one another once we were married—in front of his daughter and our baby girl—was one way of letting her know it’s normal and healthy to show affection between adults.
I never pushed my relationship with her. I respectfully followed her lead. I waited for her cues, her comfort level, after all I was this new stranger, and not by her choice, suddenly thrown into her life, her house, and having to share her dad with me. I can tell you I have many wonderful fond memories with her over the last 9 years, but I will never forget the first time she gave me a hug. Or the first time she gave me a (step) Mother’s Day card. Or the first time she told me she loved me.
When it comes to affection, I am a big believer that children should always be in control of their choice/right to give and receive affection. I respected her, I put her in the driver’s seat as she always felt in control of the direction and pace our relationship was developing and evolving into. When she first hugged me, that was my “ah ha” moment. I asked myself what is my purpose here, how could I contribute to this little girl’s life. Where can I add value? She already has a mom who she loves dearly. So how could I impact her life in a positive, meaningful, joyful and fun way and not just for her but for everyone (my husband, and her biological mother) involved?
There was no book or step-parenting manual I could learn from, and even if there was, I don’t think they could really assist me because each family has their own unique set of challenges, positive and/or negative. But one thing I was 100% certain about was that I didn’t want trample into her world, by trying to be her mom, or what I thought a step-mom should be. What I did do, was let her be herself, and call me whatever she was comfortable with by giving her permission to call me by name, nickname, or my dad’s wife, or my step mom. I asked her what she would like me to be for her. What can I contribute to her? I told her that I would be whatever she wants and requires me to be. And if she requires something I can’t deliver, I needed to be humble, in asking how I could assist her in getting what she needs.
Sometimes that meant going to her mom for advice, (even if her mom and I didn’t always get along.)
All that mattered was that my step daughter was happy, comfortable and secure in our home, and I was going to ensure I made every effort on my part to support her.
I made sure to be mindful, and respectful, that I never infringed on his special time in allowing him to continue making his daughter his first priority.
It wasn’t about making his daughter more or less important than me.
It’s not a hierarchy. Dating a single parent or even being married to a parent with a child before you is really about being aware and honoring what is required for each person to make it work for everyone.
As a stepmom when you walk into a relationship with a single parent, you can’t take the history of that child’s feelings personal. Your stepchild could very easily love you, but still wish for their mom and dad to be together.
You can’t ever take that personally. Kids need both parents. It’s normal.
It isn’t about you. You’re the adult, they are the child, and they need lots of love, support, acceptance, patience and most importantly one on one time with their mom or dad. Children need both of their parents to remain equally involved in their lives. You have to be prepared to accept the other biological parent is part of the family dynamics ,even though they are no longer together.
Co-parenting is a healthy loving and supportive way to raise children of divorce. If you care about your partner and his children’s well-being, and overall happiness, then you need to be on board with supporting them. Recognize that they have a mom and they have a dad, honor and respect the biological parents, and appreciate your role and honor in being the ‘bonus’ adult in their life.
Find a way to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
It’s not about giving form and structure to how that looks either, it’s about being totally present, patient, and flexible with what’s required in the moment, and not taking it personally whatever shows up.
I am not the perfect parent, I don’t have the perfect daughter or step-daughter, or husband, or family because I don’t believe in perfection, I believe in progress.
In marrying my husband, it opened my heart to loving a child, someone else’s child, yes, but because of her accepting me into her world, I became a mom after all. She essentially made me a mom for the first time.
I am grateful for the lessons and experience she has brought me thus far in my life.
Several years later, after trying to conceive via six IVF cycles, my husband and I finally had a beautiful baby girl in February of 2013.
I’m grateful that I dated a single father because now I have two beautiful daughters. Our three-year-old has an amazing, attentive big sister. I am thankful that my stepdaughter allowed me to be a part of her world, and taught me how to be the mom I am today.
So for all you single ladies who “make” dating a single father a deal breaker, I thank you, because I married one of the good ones you passed up!
Photos: Courtesy of author