Monday, June 24, 2013

On Step-Parenting

Falling in love with a man with children is not something I would have chosen for myself. But falling in love is rarely a choice. 

And the longer I’m in my current relationship, the more I’m able to look back on the past two years objectively and see that I’ve tried to fool myself into believing it’s no different to dating a childless man. But it is. Very much so.

And it has been difficult.

From that first awkward meeting in his lounge room being presented to an interview panel of two single-digit-aged boys, through fortnightly visits and school holidays trying to be friendly but unimposing, coming up with ideas of things to do, making them feel comfortable talking about their mum, and the girlfriend who came before me, it has been hard.

But it got easier. I told myself it did. And perhaps that’s true. Or perhaps I grew accustomed to the feeling of being a living reminder of what these boys would never have.

And then the youngest came to live with him, when we still lived separately and my struggles involved remembering to pack spare clothes for work and sharing his towel and always forgetting where I’d left my shoes.

And even though I knew it would be hard, that it would change him, that it would mean making lunches and supervising homework and trimming toenails and steaming vegetables, I supported the decision. I encouraged it. I reassured him that it wouldn’t scare me away and that I wouldn’t love him any less. That it was the right decision. Because I wasn’t one of those heartless women who turn a man away from his children, distracting him with a shiny new brood.  Because I wouldn’t deny a son the chance to live with his father. So I told him it would be fine.

And it was. In a way.

And it wasn’t.

Because four months later we decided to move in together, and in one weekend of removalists and delicate negotiations about interior design, I became the woman this child would see more than any other. His city-step-mum. The primary focus of his attention.

And I’ve welcomed it, and loved him, and worked hard to fill the gap left by not having daily access to the things only a mother can offer. But I wasn’t prepared for the sheer relentlessness of his need for attention. And despite my best efforts to remain disinterested, an instinct I can only classify as ‘maternal’ has doggedly put down roots in my cynical soul and I feel as if, in that weekend, I leaped from carefree kidulthood to middle-age, without any say in the matter.

Because whilst I’ve grown to love my boyfriend’s son and treat him as if he were my own, the fact is he isn’t. Not only because that position is already filled but because he was not a choice for me. He was a choice made by the man I love and another woman in another time and though I will continue to love and care for him as long as I’m afforded the privilege, I can’t help but be reminded of their love and failed hopes every time I look at him.

Which, I get it, isn’t really a big deal. Except that it denies me the bliss of ignorance. It reminds me that what you are certain could be the one thing that will carry you through the rest of your life in a cocoon of awesomeness is actually just as likely to turn out to be horseshit.

But the worst part is that I’ve begun to question whether I actually want to have kids of my own, when I’d never had any doubts about their inevitability, and I feel as if I’m in mourning for my own children. 

And that’s a feeling I don’t quite know what to do with. 

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