You’ve met a wonderful man. After being on your own for six months or six years—whatever it’s been for you—and raising the kids single-handedly, you’ve met a guy you really click with. He’s caring. He’s considerate. He’s thoughtful. He’s helpful. He’s a good lover. You can really see yourself married to this guy. Though the wedding officiant is going to say, “For better or for worse,” you’re pretty sure that with this guy around it will mostly be “for better.”
There are more than just two of you in this equation. There are also the kids to consider.
By the time you’ve gotten this attached to the guy, he’s probably met the kids. Have you had a chance to examine the way he interacts with them? How about the way they react to him? Have you talked to him and gotten a feel for his views on kids, their behavior, appropriate discipline, appropriate rules, and all?
A skewed view -
You can put just so much stock in the way the kids react to your new love. Their actions will assuredly be colored by their emotions. Some kids will reject even the most sterling exemplars of step-dadhood, the three most common reasons being that they resent anyone trying to take their father’s place, they feel they would be disloyal to latch on to a new father figure, or (assuming you are divorced rather than widowed) they still harbor fantasies of you and their dad reuniting.
On the other hand, some kids, starved for a father figure and for a dad’s love, will latch on to even an inappropriate person, just to have some kind of dad. The man may be mean or cruel or simply clueless about how to deal with kids, but your kids may cling like leeches all the same.
So you really can’t go by their reactions.
Do listen, though, if they seem to have valid concerns. If one of your kids reports any inappropriate touching, for example, take it seriously. Pedophiles often seek out women with kids whom they hope to prey upon. Inappropriate discipline is another concern: Has he taken a belt to one of your kids, for example?
More common/less awful errors -
Not every error that your new love might commit is necessarily grounds for dismissal. But how does he react when you tell him, “I think you were too harsh with Ryan. Taking a cookie without permission is wrong, but I think you overreacted.”? Does he at least listen to your feelings, even if he isn’t persuaded to your point of view? Better yet, can you get him to see things your way? (Remember, though, that depending on what the infraction was and on what your feelings are about it, it’s possible that his viewpoint is a valid one.)
What are his feelings about discipline and rules overall? I once had a friend who ran a pretty loose ship. Her kids had a great deal of freedom and latitude—more than the average parent would give. For example, on weekends they were free to go to bed whenever they were tired, rather than hewing to a set bedtime. Mealtimes were not set in stone, and if a family member didn’t find it convenient to eat when the rest of the family ate, he or she could eat on his/her own later on. This woman fell in love with a Marine officer and married him. The Marine had very strict ideas about bedtimes, mealtimes, discipline, and rules, all of it at odds with the way my friend had been bringing up her kids. Trying to live under his rules and precepts was exceedingly difficult for both the kids and the mother, but the Marine was inflexible about his beliefs. Need I say that the marriage hit the rocks? Make sure you and your new beloved do not have ideas about child-rearing that are polar opposites of each other. You needn’t be in perfect lockstep, but you ought not to be diametric opposites either.
Is he comfortable around your kids? If he’s never had kids before and is awkward with them at first, that’s not a fatal flaw, but there are degrees of awkwardness and different ways of expressing it. Watch how he relates to them.
And on an allied subject, does he try to buy their love? Does he buy them too many presents or presents that are too expensive? Does he spend too much time with them, at the expense of something else he really should be doing, because he hasn’t learned to say No or because he is trying to buy their love not with gifts but with excessive attention?
Does he respect their love for their father, whether the man is dead or alive?
All these questions are telling, and it’s important to know how your new love relates to your kids and what kind of step-dad he’ll be if you marry him.
After all, it’s a package deal.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 50 conventional books and another over-50 e-books. Many of these are for parents or kids, and many help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens and The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family. All four of these are available through Amazon.com or from your bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers. Her books also include Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way, e-books available from http://www.secretcravingspublishing.com/CynthiaMacGregor.html. Cynthia is also the host of Solo Parenting on WHDT TV in the South Florida viewing area. Learn more about it at http://www.soloparentingtv.com. She is siteowner of http://www.TheSoloParent.com Cynthia’s own professional website is http://www.cynthiamacgregor.com. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.