When I became single again for the first time in decades, I decided I only wanted to date men who didn’t have children despite being a mother myself.
I remembered having stepparents as a kid, and I hated it. They always felt like a thing that was being forced upon me and shoved into my life. They were people I didn’t have room for and making a space for them felt like something I didn’t have enough control over so I didn’t even attempt it.
As a single mom, there was a part of me that was afraid a child would feel that way about me when I entered the dating world if I met someone who had children. I figured it would be best to avoid it altogether.
But also, if I’m being truly honest, a bigger hurdle for me to climb was the thought of having to “deal” with another person’s kids. No thank you. I’ve got enough shit to worry about.
Perhaps I sound horrible admitting that, or maybe you can relate. Either way, it was my truth at the time– my plate was already stacked so high with my children, career, social life, and household obligations that I didn’t feel I had room for one more responsibility.
But I was wrong. Having another person to love is in no way a responsibility; it is a gift.
After being in a relationship with someone who didn’t have children, I could not deny the void I felt. You simply can not know what it’s like to be a parent, much less a single parent, unless you’ve been through it yourself. I realized I needed that commonality in a partner since being a parent is the biggest part of my life. A big reason for ending that relationship was the fact that being a mom was so wonderful, I wanted another parent to share that with.
I’m not saying that is the right path for everyone. I am saying after dating a person who didn’t have kids, I realized how much I needed another parent as a partner.
I met my current boyfriend last summer. He was the first person I went on a date with who had kids. During our first few meetings, we talked about our children a lot. It was the breath of fresh air I needed and it confirmed what I’d been feeling. Then I had the honor of meeting his daughter.
She’s not a responsibility or an obligation; she’s another person to love, period. I don’t need to have any expectations from her, and she certainly doesn’t need any from me.
She already has two parents who love her so much and provide her with everything she needs — I am just bonus. If she wants to vent to me about friendships or how her dad doesn’t allow her to have more than one person spend the night at a time, she is free to, but this is up to her. She gets to set the pace for our relationship, and there is no pressure from me for it to be a certain way.
This past Christmas Eve, I spent the day with her and her father while my kids were with their dad. It’s always been a tough day for me, and as I watched her dig in the stocking I brought her and clutch her new mascara and talk about how much candy was stuffed in there, I thought, How did I ever think I didn’t have room for this? Why did I think opening my heart was a job or a burden?
Her father and I talk about being together forever. Just the other day he said, “I’m so thankful we can vent to each other about the hardships and joys of having kids.” It’s as if we’ve lifted a bit of a burden for each other and it’s brought us to a level of intimacy I wasn’t able to achieve with someone who didn’t have kids.
I don’t know what will happen in the future — divorce teaches you that. But I do know we don’t need titles; we don’t need to measure love; we don’t need things to always be perfect during this journey, because they aren’t going to be.
I do know that meeting her, and the fact that she is sharing her father with me, has been a gift. I didn’t know how much it would change the perspective I’ve carried around in my mind since I was a teenager.
I didn’t think I had room for her. I didn’t think I could risk being rejected by another child. But I also didn’t know how wonderful it could be to just be an extra person to love a child and help raise her in big and small ways. Not to mention, I have the amazing opportunity to give my kids a bonus friend (or sibling, however they want to look at it), as well as the power to make a difference in her life.
She’s changed me; she’s made my heart grow in ways I didn’t expect. And I’m not taking this granted.