The Car Seat

This week marks our three-year anniversary (my favorite holiday). Since APW (of course) started as me writing about our planning and wedding, anniversary week always makes me particularly thoughtful. How does our wedding (now three years ago) relate to our marriage? How do relationships change and grow? So this week we wanted to talk about an idea that’s integral to all long-term relationships: The Breaking Point. That point where you come upon something that can either break you, or make you whole. This week, we’re exploring how major events can enrich a relationship. And first up, we have A., writing about becoming a stepmom to a seven-year-old, at thirty-two.

Wedding planning traditionally involves shopping for silver, linen, and crystal. Flowers, candy, and jewelry are typically considered to be romantic gifts. Three weeks after moving in with my fiancé, he went out while I was at work and bought something for me: a pink car booster seat. I arrived home to find it in the foyer. He had picked it out with his seven-year-old daughter, my future stepdaughter, for use in my car when she rides with me.

I will admit right now that my first reaction was not positive. I am very glad to have my future stepdaughter, S., in my life. She’s funny, smart, and eternally curious. I enjoy her company, and I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job figuring out this whole living together as a family unit thing. But a car seat… in my car? My sporty single-girl truckette, now to be turned into a child-hauling grocery-getter?

A note of explanation on my relationship to my vehicle: My petite four-wheel-drive is practical, cute, and ready for adventure—words that I hope also describe me. It’s not just a prized possession, paid off early through years of scrimping, but also one of my most personal spaces. Lacking a private study or home office, my car is the place where I can be by myself, crank up the music, and think. As in so many other areas, we have a gender role reversal in our relationship, as my fiancé couldn’t care less about cars, while I tend to view mine as an integral part of my lifestyle (especially living in an area where public transit is not viable for our daily commutes). Suddenly, confronted by the brightly colored child safety device sitting in my new home, destined for a place in my motorized sanctuary, my head was spinning and the past few weeks of remarkably little moving-related tension seemed to fall away.

I had driven S. places before, but had always just borrowed the booster seat out of her dad’s car. The purchase of a new car seat for my vehicle was precipitated by a commuting crunch. He’s a professor at the university in the next town over, and is teaching an 8 a.m. class this summer. That means he has to leave early, and on the days we have S. with us, it would be impossible for him to get her to her summer day camp on time, plus make it to class. My work starts later and is near her camp, so it follows that I drop her off when she is with us. Thus it also follows that it made sense to buy an extra car seat for my vehicle.

Because I’ve always been cautious about the idea of parenthood or stepparenthood, we had, prior to moving in, tried to keep clear boundaries drawn around the work of parenting. He’s the parent and I have been, in sequence, Daddy’s friend, girlfriend, and now fiancée. But I have never been a parental figure, to her or to anyone, up to this point. In fact, I would go so far as to say that being childless has been a defining point of my identity. In a society that encourages women to define themselves by their child-having status, and when you are of an age when many of your friends are having kids, it becomes easy to define yourself as “not-a-mom,” and to incorporate non-motherhood into your self-concept.

The thing is, now that we’ve moved in together as a baby family, the lines are blurring, physically and emotionally. The physical manifestations of this blurriness are easy to point out: We eat groceries out of the same pantry. We share a mailbox. Possessions like towels, vacuum cleaners, flatware, and dishes are now held in common regardless of who originally bought them.

The emotional blurriness is harder to pin down. I do mundane parent-y things now, like asking S. to set the table and reminding her not to jump on the sofa. We also do fun things as a trio—like volunteering at the local food pantry together, taking walks that detour through the neighbors’ lawn sprinklers, and planning Princess Bride movie nights. S. and I have found common ground in a mutual love of glittery nail polish and history books. Slowly, the lines that once separated us into two distinct social units—him and her as family with me as a visitor—are starting to get fuzzy.

As I’ve discussed before on APW, the decision to marry my fiancé is also a deliberate decision to create a family with him and S. Like any engaged couple, we’re creating a baby family—it just has more people in it than some, and thus is a little more complicated in the set-up.

As we prepared to move in together, we took inventory of our possessions and decided which items we could get rid of. Some things were easy—having two identical Ikea garlic presses meant we just had to put one in the charity box. Other things were harder. I gave up my favorite napping sofa. He gave up his 1960s sleeper couch and his bedroom dresser. Some negotiations over objects seemed little, but were actually kind of a big deal. I made the decision to use his fruit bowl in the kitchen, although I liked mine a bit better, because he was attached to it; he puts up with my enormous collection of FiestaWare dishes, to which I have my own unreasonable emotional attachment.

Feelings are a different matter. Difficult emotions aren’t as easily discarded as a spare spatula. We can’t transfer our feelings by putting them in a charity drop box. And we can’t compromise on everything as easily as where we put our apples. So we have to talk about how we feel—ad nauseum, it sometimes feels like.

While walking and talking with my fiancé, I confessed that I felt a little weird about the car seat. The thing was, as long as I was just borrowing his car seat, I was also just borrowing the mantle of “parent” and all that goes with it. With the installation of the booster in my backseat, it felt like I was taking it on full-time, and that freaked me out.

My fiancé found this kind of amusing because, as he noted, our culture tells us that men are afraid of parenthood, marriage, and “settling down,” while women push for it. Here we were, reenacting a clichéd scene in reverse. I was the one balking at the idea of any trappings of domesticity, from putting a car seat in my car, to having dinner on the table at a reasonable time every evening (a big change for someone who used to eat cereal for dinner when feeling too lazy to cook). Although he found this funny, I wasn’t laughing—I was a little scared, as I felt like I was being pushed into a mold that didn’t fit, needing to compromise who I had been for most of my adult life in order to accommodate our relationship and impending marriage.

Then, this morning, as I was driving S. to camp, her sitting in her pink-flowered car seat, I cranked up the radio. She said, “I know this song!” and started to sing along. I sang too.

She said, “My mom and dad always just listen to news in the morning.”

“I like to listen to music, to get going,” I said.

“Me too!” she responded.

So, we jammed to Top 40 the rest of the way to camp. I was doing things differently than her parents, and that was okay. We were having fun together, doing what I always do in my car in the mornings. I was being myself, and she was being herself. We were getting glimpses into each other’s worlds as I listened to her talk about her friends, and she approved my choice of morning drivetime music.

Just as our stuff has gotten mixed up since moving in, our lives are all becoming ever more swirled together. Growing our baby family doesn’t start when we say our vows next Spring—it starts now, through every small act of daily life. There are going to be concessions made, emotional fences dismantled, and self-concepts redefined. The process may get messy at times, just as our new home started as a mess of jumbled boxes. But as my future mother-in-law said, if we can blend our lives as well as we have blended our possessions, we’ll be okay.

And I have to say, I think S. liked having her own seat in my car this morning. I certainly liked having her there. Next time I think I’ll bring some Cyndi Lauper (one of her favorites and mine). Girls just want to have fun, after all, whether they’re seven years old and getting a new stepmom, or thirty-two years old and becoming one.

Photo from A’s Personal Collection

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  • I love this quote the best: “There are going to be concessions made, emotional fences dismantled, and self-concepts redefined.” It reminds me of a lovely poem:

    Scaffolding, by Seamus Heaney

    Masons, when they start upon a building,
    Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

    Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
    Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

    And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
    Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

    So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
    Old bridges breaking between you and me

    Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
    Confident that we have built our wall.

    Beautiful post in general, and I have found your points on emotions to ring true in my own small family, even though we only had stuff to blend and not anything living.

    • A.

      I love Heaney, and I love this poem. Thank you for sharing!

      • you’re welcome! It’s one of my favorite poems ever, and I’m still sad that we didn’t find a way to fit it into our wedding ceremony.

        • KB

          I’m having the same problem, too! There are so many lovely poems and novel excerpts that I want to use that I think we may incorporate them into our table settings somehow. I may have to include this one now!

          • I hear you! We had a pretty traditional ceremony (not WIC traditional, but hour long service traditional), and it just didn’t fit in, try as I might. And we got married right after Christmas, and I couldn’t work it in to our reception either. Or maybe it is my husband who is not a fan of poetry — that’s probably it, as he vetoed every poetry reading but a Kahlil Gibran. But my hat is off to you if you figure it out!

            Oh, also, if you’re looking for awesome quotes, here’s one I did work in that we love:
            “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin

    • What a beautiful poem! Thanks for sharing!

    • That poem is so amazing that I just may have to incorporate it as a reading. Thank you for sharing!

      • KB

        Leah, I love that quote, it’s so beautiful :-) I feel like we need an open post that’s a follow-up to the one from a couple weeks (months?) ago that had alternative/non-traditional wedding readings and quotes. I personally am trying to find a way to incorporate this Dr. Seuss quote: “We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness – and call it love.” I feel like it would, well, weird to have it read during our church service, but it’s just too good not to share with people.

        • Alexandra

          Actually, my fiance’s sister had that exact quote read out by the officiant during the service. As well as quotes from the Princess Bride and the Wedding Singer. People who got it laughed, those who didn’t probably just thought they were appropriate to the couple.

          The only thing I would warn about is saying it’s a Dr Suess quote. This link seems to think it’s from Robert Fulgham from a book called True Love.

          • KB

            Oh, that is so good to know, thank you!

        • So, I’m behind, but I just wanted to say this quote is great. I particularly love it because when I said our bilingual wedding vows, when I did the version in my non-native language, I made a slight mispronunciation which changed the text from celebrating my husband’s “uniqueness” to celebrating his “weirdness.” It was funny and kinda fit anyways, but this quote is just perfect… :)

  • charmcityvixen

    I’m getting married next month, and I am becoming a stepmom to a 7 year old and 8 year old at the age of 24. I totally understand a lot of the emotions in this post, although perhaps I’ve treated the idea of being a step parent a little differently. We have lived together for over 1.5 years at this point, and at age 22 when we were discussing living together, I told him I need a room that kids cannot go in where I can escape and just be myself. This has worked really well for me. Some weekends I’m super involved when they come over, some weekends I’m not (this past weekend I didn’t do anything with the kids, last weekend I saw them more than their dad and took them on a hike and to tie-dye clothes).

    I’m going to say, it’s weird to me. It’s still weird, after dating their dad for almost two years, to think of myself as a step parent. My fiance is super wise though — he said that I am the only one putting pressure on myself to behave a certain way. Kids are remarkable at setting no expectations and taking you at face value. Am I a bad person because some weekends I want to do my own thing and have time to myself? No. Am I bad person because I don’t have warm-ooey-gooey-mommy feelings about his kids? No (this was hard to answer — I have some friends who are also stepmoms, and they agreed that there is a difference between love and parental love, and whatever parental love is, we definitely lack it). Do I want to hang out with them, get to know them better, be a part of their lives? Yes.

    As for the kids? They thought we got married a year ago, that’s how normal Daddy’s house is to them. And that makes me happy — to be thought of a stable part of their life, if not the most involved part. In a world of stories about how awful split homes are, it’s nice to see that it doesn’t have to be that way… and I like to think in some small way, by taking them for ice cream or asking them about their week, I am contributing to that outcome.

    • Maddie

      “Kids are remarkable at setting no expectations and taking you at face value.” THIS. Kids are super perceptive. They know what’s up. My stepmom took a role similar to the one you’re describing. And I LOVE have an adult figure in my life who is both maternal and also not my mom. Sure, there are days that I’ve had to wrap my head around the fact that I can’t treat her the same as I treat my mom, but most days I’m just so grateful to have another sounding board for when I’m frustrated with life, or when I need advice for putting together my resume, or when I don’t know how to talk to my dad about something. I don’t need ooey-gooey-anything from her. Just straight up support.

      In short, it sounds like you’ve got this. :)

      • charmcityvixen

        Thank you. This may be the best thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Being a stepmom is hard… everyone has opinions! Thanks for giving me some hope that I’m doing an okay job :)

    • Steperspective

      This. Making a room off-limits to the kids made a world of difference for me.

  • Jessica

    This was a beautiful post. Little S. will be so lucky to have 3 (Three!) parents who love her as she grows up. Good luck to you!

    • one more sara

      Maybe 4! And think of all the potential grandparents! While blended families have their own unique set of troubles, they can have rewards equally as unique.

  • Allie

    This post and Maddie’s best friend post made me think of the night that I finally acknowledged the death of single me. I sobbed for like 6 hours and was inconsolable (to husband’s perplexed sense of helplessness that he couldn’t do anything and was pseudo responsible and was going to be covered in snot and tears regardless). The catalyst was not a major life or death situation. And I made the decision that I knew was best for us and our financial security. But that didn’t make it hurt less.

    For me that was the defining moment when I wasn’t just “playing” anymore, I was fully accepting the life that I chose and the obligations that come with it and I was (and am) throwing my lot in with his and doing this as a team. So death of single me was also birth of baby family…

    • Granola

      I’m in the middle of that stage now – I’ve been irritable, angry and short-tempered. When I finally sat with my feelings and paid attention, my subconscious was loud and clear, and there it was. Huge, overpowering waves of grief. And I just realized that I have to let it come and then process it and let it go. I wish it would go faster, but you can’t really rush these things…

    • Jashshea

      “death of single me” sounds like a post!

      Check that, it sounds like it’s own group of posts.

    • Catherine B

      Interestingly, in France, the Bachelorette party tradition, which they’ve adopted, is known as the “Funeral of your life as a girl”

    • KB

      I totally agree – it’s not just acknowledging becoming a stepparent, but realizing that your life is changing *officially* whereas before you were easing into changes. Getting married is a celebration of a love and a life together that you already pretty much have – but no one talks about the fact that you’re closing the door on certain possibilities, like running off to France to become a bohemian artist, or blowing all of your money on a Vespa. Obviously, the life that you gain with your new baby family is infinitely cooler – but there’s something to be said for mourning your single self.

    • meg

      YES. To deaths of self, and tears. (Also, it does sound like a post).

  • *squeal* This is so ridiculously sweet! This really touches my heart as a mama. My son finds my partner magical in so many ways. They have a relationship that constantly moves back and forth between best friend and parent. It’s beautiful, and I love it. Thanks for sharing. You’re doing a great job!!

  • Class of 1980


    I don’t think there is anything odd about your reaction Your fiance had nine months to get used to his baby’s arrival, and he’s had seven years with her as his child.

    Of course you would feel weird. You’re getting thrown into a reality he’s had years to adjust to. It’s has nothing to do with male/female stereotypes really.

    I imagine little S is beginning to feel you’re a permanent part of her life now that she has her own seat in your car. You handled the melding of your possessions with sensitivity and love. I’m sure you’ve got this in the bag.

    • Moz

      That is a really neat way to put it.

  • Anon for a bit

    This isn’t my area of expertise by any stretch, but I have a dear friend who married a man with a young child. The situation is different in that the biomom is not in the picture and the daughter was 3 or 4 when my friend entered the picture, so she doesn’t really remember things being different. They’ve been married many years now and the daughter is in the heart of her tween years and my friend just had her second baby. It has potential to be a fairly explosive situation (think – “you’re not my real mom” or “you had the other kids because you didn’t love me enough”), but my friend (and the daughter) have handled everything amazingly well to this point.

    Very tricky situation, but I think allowing yourself to have, identify, and work through competing emotions is the only way to make it work.

    By the way – You girls sound awesome. Can I join your carpool?

    • Maddie

      I always love stories like this, because I was the kid in this situation. Interestingly, I never even considered that I should be upset about my stepdad and my mom having kids together (I was 9 when my brother was born and 10 when my sister was born), because my parents never let that be an option for me. It was just presented as life, and I was surrounded by love, so I didn’t question it.

      P.S. My siblings, who are technically my half siblings, are one of the greatest joys in my life.

      • Anon for a bit

        The daughter in my story BEGGED from nearly day one for little brothers and sisters. She’s great with the younger kids (I stayed over when the youngest was 7 days old) and she got the older baby out of bed, played with him, fed him so that the younger baby (and the adults) could sleep more.

        As someone with one sibling close in age (which is awesome in it’s own way) there’s such a lovely relationship between siblings with that many years in between. There’s a natural…I don’t know – frustration? competition? between close aged siblings while you’re growing up. My sibling and I are solid now, but we tripped over each other a ton growing up – socially, in school, in activities.

        Longest way ever of saying: I’m sure your siblings feel similarly.

  • Kamille

    I feel you – I’m in the boat of becoming a stepmom to a 5-year-old boy – and I just had the movers drop my stuff off here last week, and it is a surprisingly emotional process to sort through which items are staying in our combined household and which ones will be posted on craigslist!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds it scary to go from single girl to having an instant domestic life.

  • rys

    This post reminded me of one of my favorite essays, Anne Fadiman’s “Marrying Libraries” in Ex Libris. She discusses how it took her and her husband years (10 of knowing one another, 5 of marriage) to combine their libraries and get rid of sacred-to-each-person duplicate book copies. It’s sweet, funny, and well worth the read.

    • Oh that would be a tough one for me. No way I’m getting rid of my books, they are non fungible :)

      • rys

        I know! My books have so much meaning. I can’t imagine marrying a non-book/reading person, but I also dread the idea of getting rid of any of my books.

    • Alexandra

      I’m pretty sure I would go “Two copies! Awesome, now I can lend out mine more often!” Shockingly though, we didn’t end up with any duplicates.

    • Marina

      Merging our libraries was Serious Business. And 3 years post-marriage we still have duplicate copies of several things.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      There are days I think he’s only marrying me for my books…

    • Jamie

      I am in the middle of moving in with my fiance (in that 95% of my stuff is sitting in his dining room and I am temporarily back with my parents because my lease expired and I haven’t found a job in the state my fiance lives in) and when he saw the boxes and boxes of books he looked at me and said “Some of these are being donated, right?” And I just looked at him and said “Nope, those are mine and they’re not going anywhere.”

      I surprisingly had little difficulty filling a dumpster up with other possessions and donating multiple bags of clothes, but the line was drawn at the books. He was smart enough not to push the point, either.

      I can’t even imagine not only blending your life with another person, but with a child as well. Kudos to you, A., for a beautiful post, and what sounds like the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in your life!

  • Sharon

    Wait, why does a seven-year-old need a car seat? Have we gone that insane overboard protective as a society? I was out of my booster by 5, and I am *not* tall.

    • Karen

      Every state has different rules. In my state, kids must be in boosters until they are either 8 or weigh 80 pounds. Check your state’s DMV website for more info.

      • Not Sarah

        80 lbs?!?! I didn’t surpass 80 lbs until I was 12 or 13, maybe 14…

        • Sharon

          I have a friend or two that didn’t break 100 lbs until she got pregnant. She’s just under 5′. It’s so arbitrary.

      • Sharon

        I did. In my state, you have to be at least 100 lbs or 4’9″. If you’re under 8, you’re required to use the booster. If you’re over 8, it’s strongly recommended that you continue to use it. Creampuff nation strikes again.

    • A.

      It varies by state, I think. Our state has a specific height and weight requirement, which she’s well under still.

    • MDBethann

      I was working at a daycare in PA when the law changed there. It went from being 5 or 6 years old to 8. I can’t imagine it was pleasant for the parents of 6 & 7 year olds to tell their kids they had to go back in a booster seat.

      I get that there are concerns about the chest restraint coming across kids’ necks if they aren’t in a booster, but it does make life a bit more complicated, especially if you travel between states with different laws.

      I also think a lot of states at least strongly recommend that kids under 12 do not sit up front. That would have made me miserable as a kid – I LOVED the privilege of sitting up front, especially when I was old enough to figure out maps and navigate for my dad.

  • Kara

    What a great image for the foundation of your relationship. I hope she’s always as secure with you (and you with her) and she is in new booster seat! Best wishes as you create your new family.

  • Amy

    She said, “I know this song!” and started to sing along. I sang too.
    She said, “My mom and dad always just listen to news in the morning.”
    “I like to listen to music, to get going,” I said.
    “Me too!” she responded.

    THIS, to me, is what is so awesome about being a step-parent. Kids don’t lay all the parent expectations on you because they already have parents. The pressure we feel to Parent really comes from elsewhere and often with completely wrong information. Sure there are challenges, but my best moments with the kids have been like the one above… something small where we find commonality that is different from their parents and connect in a completely different and authentic way. It’s just the best.

    Thank you for presenting a view of step-motherhood that isn’t about the evil ex wife or the horrible children or the failing step-mom. So many of us become parents this way and it can be really beautiful and rewarding. I look forward to those stories becoming the rule instead of the exception.

    • charmcityvixen

      YES to this:
      “Kids don’t lay all the parent expectations on you because they already have parents. The pressure we feel to Parent really comes from elsewhere and often with completely wrong information.”

      Totallllllly from others’ (society’s?) expectations. I’m tired of people thinking I must be such a BAD STEPMOM because I don’t want to spend every moment with my stepkids, or that it must be SUCH A HARDSHIP FOR ME because of babymamadrama/kids must hate me because their parents aren’t together/custody issues/whatever.

      It’s why I have a group of friends who are stepmoms as well… we try to battle these expectations together ;)

      • Victwa

        So agree with this. Especially the part about having other people in your life who are also stepmoms. Sheesh.

      • Maddie

        The funny thing is…during these transition times, the kids also probably want a break as well. They’re going to want to spend some quality time with their dad as much as you need quality time with yourself. It’s all a balance that’s about taking care of each other by acknowledging each other’s needs.

        Basically, you don’t need to be at EVERY soccer game. Just some of ’em. :)

      • Amy

        charmcityvixen, 1000% YES!! You said it perfectly…

        I’ve found myself in the position of reminding MY OWN MOTHER that I am not the mom, so not knowing the kids’ schedule this week does not mean that I don’t care about them. It means that I’m not their mom and I’m not their dad, who are both very capable parents and are the ones actually in charge of this stuff. I love the kids and think they are great… but day to day is not my area!

        On having stepmom friends: I was the only parent among my friends for kind of a long time, but just now am getting some parent street cred. I don’t identify as A Parent… I feel a little in between most of the time… but it is nice to be seen as a resource now that my friends’ children are getting older. I don’t know babies, but I can give advice and encouragement about older kids and it feels good to be asked.

        • charmcityvixen

          Amy – Oh my, moms who are not stepmoms are the worst at giving unsolicited advice. My mom and grandma (and older female coworkers and aunts and random people on the street…) have both done it. I’m like, “have you been a stepmom or a product of divorce? No? Alrighty then!”

          When they start telling me that I have to treat my children and stepchildren the same (knowing full well that I am not having kids for another ten years), I tell them: a) I am not having kids for another ten years, and b) when I do have children, my stepkids will be teenagers, and trust me, expectations for a teenager vs. expectations for an INFANT are two very different things. I will MOST DEFINITELY treat them differently… and it would be weird if I doled out the same rewards/punishments to teenagers as I did to my stepkids ;)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    While I can’t relate to the step-parenting issues, I can totally relate to the invasion-of-literal-personal-space and time-to-be-a-grown-up issues.

    My fiance moved in under all the wrong circumstances just a few weeks ago. For two weeks, I was crawling the walls. When I snagged moments alone, I’d start bawling and screaming, which is very atypical of adult me. While living together was the right thing to do, it was not at all something I was happy about.

    A concrete problem was that the move was 100% unplanned. He arrived the first night with his briefcase, gym bag, and an overnight bag. Every few days, he’d go back to his old place and pick up a trunk-full of more things. Emotionally, I felt under siege. It helped tremendously when he had all his things over and we could settle into a temporal and material routine.

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone in that feeling. My fiance has been gradually moving in over the last couple weeks (under all the right circumstances, wedding’s in two weeks, we want to come home to “our home” after the honeymoon, blah blah blah), and I’ve been SO negative about it thus far.

      Whereas for the six years we were dating he managed to innocuously worm his way into my psyche, nestle himself into a corner of my heart and my brain so that when we are apart I feel wrong, as if lobotomized, this physical merging of our lives is so. much. more. difficult. This apartment was the first place that was truly mine and mine alone (no roommates, no parents, no sister), my little sanctuary that I’d built myself, and while having my Person here full-time is wonderful, having his Stuff here full-time is invasive and claustrophobic.

      This sort of thing, the giving way of total self to incorporate others, is probably easier when starting with a blank slate; getting a new apartment together, or perhaps if A’s car had died and she and her guy got a new car together, and put a new booster seat in it–this would be building your new life and new identity together, rather than tearing down a piece of your life to fit in something new.

  • One of my roommates from college ended up getting married a year or so ago to become a step-mom. She’s had to do a lot of adjusting – particularly since her husband has full-time custody. In her case, it took almost a year for her and her step-son to fully mesh into a new family. At this point, she’s submitting paper work to formally adopt him, and she couldn’t be happier about it.

    (And I’d also argue that having to go out and buy a car seat for your own car for the first time is always a little overwhelming because having it in the car suddenly reminds you of new, serious responsibilities. )

  • First – Really, really amazing writing.

    And – I have tears rolling down my face. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that APW voices the gender role reversal issue so often. At just about every stage of our relationship (except the cooking, I love cooking) my fiancé and I have switched traditional gender roles. He brought up the “girlfriend/boyfriend” thing first and I balked, he wanted to move in together before I did, I proposed to him with an engagement ring, and he is planning the wedding. Most of the time I feel like an alien. But not here. Thank you APW for the topics you cover and the conversations you inspire.

  • Amanda

    WOW this post was a huge comfort for me. I am 33 never been married and have no childern. I love my SUV and cute little cottage I am buying. I just begun to date a man with a 9 yr old who he has custody of. I am so settled into “my” world that the thought of a kid kinda freaks me out. But it is nice to see others in the almost the same shoes and when we take steps further it can be done!

    • Amy

      Don’t freak out, Amanda! The best thing we ever did was take things SUPER slow, and it really paid off. Every situation is different, of course, but if you keep the timing of introducing the ‘next step’ attuned to what the kid is ready for it really pays off in the end. We were ready to progress our relationship (meeting the kids, staying the night, coming to family events) much faster than the kids were ready for… waiting it out a little longer reaped HUGE benefits and the kids have since thanked us for not rushing them. Their mom brought her (very kind and lovely) new boyfriend into the family too soon and had to deal with the fallout for a loooong time.

      We found that going slow, talking about the next steps A LOT before implementing them, and keeping the kids’ best interest at the forefront really saved us a lot of drama and heartache. It’s never perfect, but it’s a lot more fun if you all have time to enjoy each other without the pressure of becoming an instant family.

      AND…. kids are fun. It’s been a pretty sweet gig. I get to do all the fun parent stuff and get out of most of the heavy lifting. :)

      • A.

        I agree about taking things slow. We dated for five years before becoming engaged, and it was just right for us.

    • charmcityvixen

      It can definitely be done! In my experience, kids are smart and pick up on stuff. Honestly, I knew that I was going to marry my fiance within 5 dates (not even joking), and so I met his kids probably within two months of dating. We moved in after dating for 5 months I think… the kids never had a problem with it. I just encourage you to have your significant other do the one-on-one conversations with his child so that he/she feels comfortable voicing any and all concerns.

      My stepkids had no concerns — I was over most weekends already when we moved in, and they were already well adjusted. I definitely was the one with concerns, even after getting engaged. The best thing ever is having total honestly with your fiance (like “hey! I need to talk about what our options are if I have a good job/grad school opportunity in a different state because we don’t have custody and I don’t necessarily want to wait around for your ex-wife to decide where she wants to live!”) and tell him where you’re at with things. And then find yourself some step-parent friends, because sometimes there are things you cannot say to your fiance (or at least I cannot — like “HEY DUDE, your kids are ANNOYING THE CRAP OUTTA ME so GIVE ME MY SPACE” or for venting about babymamadrama or whatever it is). Communication is cruical in making “coparenting” decisions. Sometimes I think of things that my fiance doesn’t think of, and we were raised pretty differently so it’s important to work those issues out and figure out the rules of OUR new home.

      I’ll second what Amy said below… kids ARE fun. I love taking them places and I love not having to figure out who is picking up when and what time they are going to take baths/showers. It’s kinda like being the cool aunt that lives with you. I never really have to punish (unless I’m sole authority figure at the moment) or lay down the law, and I get to do fun things instead.

      • Amy

        Ah, the delicate dance of what to say. The view from the non-parent side can be a valuable tool, but you do have to use it with caution!

        I remember a conversation I had with our daughter’s mom about discovering some shady behavior. Mom’s disbelief that her 16 year old special snowflake would lie to her was a tough moment and she was having a hard time wrapping her brain around it. My outsider perspective can say “Hey, she’s a 16 year old girl. Of course she’s lying to you about this… that’s what they do. Hell, I was a good kid and I lied about it too!” because it’s not quite so tied up in all of the complex emotions that come with Being The Parent.

        We all band together as a family on the big stuff, help the kids grow, and I can make the most of my unique relationship to come at it in a different way. It’s different with small kids and if you’re in more of a primary parent role, but finding the sweet spot is a lot easier if you take the pressure off of yourself to be “equal”. Embrace that unique perspective and appreciate it for the value that it brings to your family. Kids just want to be loved and supported… and that’s not too hard to figure out how to do if you just let it grow naturally.

        One thing that this post brings up for me is remembering to allow myself to freak out sometimes, too. I didn’t give birth to children… I like to say that I acquired them… and in the beginning I was so busy being cool about my then-boyfriend having kids and being a package deal that I sometimes didn’t allow myself room to acknowledge that yes, this would be a big deal. I never wanted kids and now I will have them. My partner has a relationship to the kids (and their mother) that I can intellectually understand but will not experience firsthand. Those things are worth freaking out about at first! Then you’ll deal with them and move forward… but there are moments when sh*t gets real. And that’s ok.

  • anna

    thank you for writing this. although i am not becoming a stepmom, i completely relate to you emotionally. sometimes it’s encouraging to hear another person confront scary/unwanted feelings, realize they can talk about them, talk about them, and then realize that It’s Going To Be Okay.


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