New family. It’s not what you lay in bed dreaming of when you were small and imagining how your life might be as a grown up. You don’t ever really want to end up sharing your own children’s weekends with another woman (or man) only linked to you by virtue of the fact that your former love has ceased to be yours and is now theirs. But that is how it is now.
For one reason or another, life has conspired to make that your truth and now you have to deal with it. You have to deal with the fact that your children will accidentally (or not) call you by her name and they may well fall completely in love with her.
They will fall in love with her for a few reasons. One, they are 50% built with the DNA of their other parent. They know this and they associate with their other parent on a base level because of this. They want to display the same traits and values around that parent as they know that this will endear the parent to them.
If there has been some separation and loss, the child will automatically and subconsciously be trying to make themselves ‘good enough’ for their lost parent, and liking the things that she or he likes is a damn good way to start.
Not always, but often, the new partner is going to be meeting the children on occasions when the drudgery of washing, packed lunches, PE kits, toilet cleaning, hoovering, homework, supermarkets, school runs and post-school starvation isn’t making life a total wasp-cake of shitness. They may well get the cinema trips, the trampolining centres and the Sunday lunches in gastropubs with the in-laws who now hate you. Those venues are infinitely more conducive to making a person appealing than your bathroom or kitchen. They will almost certainly be more exciting than you. And they will be trying their hardest to be amazing to show your old partner how amazing they are.
You are the rock they need and she can be the fireworks.
And then again, they may be amazing and your children may also fall in love with them because they are amazing. And lovely. And gorgeous. And younger than you. And more fashionable.
But you MUST NOT become waspish yourself. You must not be unkind. If they met after you ended you must suck it up and enjoy the new partner. You must allow your children to love him or her. You must give them permission to do that. Because a part of them will want to try out loving her eventually and the greatest gift you can give is the freedom for them to decide that the school Easter card is going to her this time and not to you. You are big enough to do this because you know that you will ALWAYS be there for them.
You are the rock they need and she can be the fireworks. The fireworks are amazing and so exciting, but they are not always around in the same way as the ground. You HAVE to be their parent and not their friend. They will want to kick out to find the boundaries and they will be comforted to feel you providing those boundaries. The stepparent will not have to do that and will feel more exciting as a consequence; but parenting is, hopefully, a bloody long game and you will not lose out by being less exciting for a short while.
You can teach them about respect and love and kindness and they will grow up remembering that you did that. That is a gift without rival.
And you know what, you may well end up really liking her too. You may well totally see what the craze is. You may end up meeting her wonderful family and actually feeling blessed that she is part of your children’s brave new world.
Alice Wilde is a teacher and a mother of two not-yet-teens. Alice’s own children have a stepmother. She has a partner who is a single father, with a grown-up daughter and three teenage daughters at home. Alice is one of 15 siblings herself; she has step-siblings, half-siblings, full siblings, stepparents and she has also been a stepdaughter for over 30 years. Alice has seen both the challenges and the total joys of blended family life. Visit Alice on her website halfwavinghalfdrowning.com or on her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.