22 February 2022

Dear Fiona: I’m not sure I can be a step-mum

22 February 2022

The problem…

“I am going out with a man who has two children from a previous marriage. Because of his ex-wife’s problems, he has custody of the children, and so I’ve seen them quite a lot from early on in our relationship. We get on really well together, and I know (and understand) how important that is to my boyfriend. I’ve never had children of my own, so it’s novel for me and it’s been fun getting to know them.

“My boyfriend has asked me to marry him, and we’ve started to make plans to do so later this year. However, I’m now starting to be concerned about the reality of sharing my life with not just a new husband but his children as well.

“Seeing them for outings and so forth isn’t the same as sharing a home and a life with them. It feels like a huge responsibility, especially as they’ve been let down badly already by their birth mother. I don’t know if I can cope and am thinking it would be only fair if I called off the wedding.

“Don’t get me wrong, I really love my fiancé and his children are great, but what if I let them down?”

Fiona says…

“It is not an easy thing to become a stepmother, but you are starting out very positively by having a good relationship with your partner’s children. Nor is it surprising you are concerned, and I am sure pre-wedding nerves are playing their part, as much as anything else.

“You are not alone in this though. You are marrying a man who I’m sure will have considered the implications of marrying again very carefully too. He will not only have thought of his own needs but those of his children too, before asking you to share your life with them. He will want it to work, and he will want to support you.

“There are sources of help you could turn to as well, and with all the goodwill you seem to have already, I suspect you probably just need help in thinking things through. I’d really encourage you to contact Relate (relate.org.uk) as talking to a counsellor would, I’m sure, help you to clarify your thinking. Relate also produce a book that I’m sure you’d find useful – Step-Families: Living Successfully With Other People’s Children by Suzie Hayman. It looks at problems that may arise and ways in which you can cope with them.

“Parenting someone else’s children won’t necessarily be easy, and you should be talking to your fiancé about what he expects so that you aren’t contradicting one another. Children can learn to play one parent off against another anyway – which is why it’s so important for parents to be clear on their values and expectations. Obviously, there’s potentially a greater risk of this with a step-parent, so please do talk to your fiancé about your fears and anxieties. If it does get tough at times, remember all parents have problems coping with children occasionally.

“You are worried about letting these children down, but what if you succeed? What if you can give these children the very thing that is missing from their lives? They are obviously already fond of you and like your company, so you could be the very person they need in their lives. Not only would you be supporting them, but you’d also be supporting the man you say you love in bringing up his children successfully. Now wouldn’t that be something wonderful to do.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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