July 17, 2006

Why I Will Never Be 100% Childfree

My boyfriend has a 7 year-old daughter and even if I never meet her I will always in some way have a child in my life. This was a hard pill for me to swallow and at times still gets my stomach in knots.

I met my boyfriend more than 3 years ago and fell in love harder than I ever had before. He was going through a difficult divorce when I met him but despite all that I was taking on I was sure fate had a plan of it’s own.

I remember very well the day it really sunk in that he had a child already and I remember an intense feeling of panic. I realized he had a child he was responsible for and would be a part of his life forever. I had to put a lot of thought into whether he was worth taking all of this on and to the shock of many people he was.

Even though I still at that point didn’t want children of my own I began my own process of accepting his child in whatever way she was going to be in our life. I knew however it worked out it wouldn’t be easy but I felt our relationship could withstand anything. In my mind I saw at some point she’d stay with us on some weekends and holidays but I figured it would be unlikely we’d ever have sole custody.

Not only did we not get full custody but over three years later I’ve still never met her and she is not a part of our daily lives. She is although very much a part of my love’s heart and soul. I have to live with how it eats him alive to not have her a part of his life and how helpless he feels. Considering he also pays child support; his daughter effects us significantly in a financial way even though he can’t be a part of her life.

So whether or not she’s staying at our house or we’re just helping financially raise her, she’ll always be a part of our lives and that is something I’ve learned to accept. It’s hard being someone who doesn’t want the financial and emotional aspects of having children still having to bear the burden but it’s something I had to come to terms with to be with the man I love.

If ever the day comes that I will be a living/breathing stepmother to her I will do the best I can and try to be someone she can look up to. At the very least I can be someone she can talk to; that’s something I know I can do.


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13 comments:

Elise said...

Hi Robin,

Wow, what a very wrenching situation for your boyfriend. It sounds like you are being as flexible as possible. Best to the both of you; I hope that he is able to be fully present in his daughter's life, at some point --- for her sake even more than his. How this might affect you, who can tell?

My fiance Rob, whom I've known for 3.5 years, is the step-father of a 24-year-old woman, whom I'll call Rita. He met Rita's mother when Rita was 4, and essentially raised her as her father (her bio-dad was/is a loser and was generally out of state; he'd send cards and sometimes a $5 bill, then show up every few years and want to see her). Rob was the daily influence in her life; she lived 24/7/365 in the house that Rob shared with her mom.

Unfortunately, Rita's mom was/is a really materialistic, shop-aholic type, who overspent on a nearly pathological level and undercut Rob's authority at every turn. It was fine for him to pay the majority of the bills, but when it came right down to it, she would always go against Rob's wishes and undermine his authority in front of Rita. In my experience, this is a (not exactly rare) problem step-parents experience.

Nonetheless, Rita has been expressed thankfulness to Rob, but has more or less followed in her mom's footsteps of being a shopping-obsessed fashion plate who has terrible credit and debt due to unconscious spending. He's co-signed some loans (student and car) with her, and been thanked by getting late notices; she doesn't pay and then doesn't even let him know that she hasn't, so then his sterling credit rating is threatened.

All of this was moderately tolerable until she got pregnant. She is due in September. She'd had a nice little apartment which she'd just moved into (her first place), but when she got pregnant she moved back in with her mom (who is newly re-married and has only a small townhouse). How Rita's mom's new husband is coping, I've no idea. The father of Rita's child is often there as well, and apparently hasn't been working; Rita herself has been working part- and full-time. When she had her own place, she'd gotten a kitten; when she moved back in with her mom, we took the cat off her hands (her name is Prrrrrl, and she's adorable, but we really weren't looking for a third cat).

So I have these incredibly mixed feelings, at this point: on the one side, absolute admiration for Rob, a man who did more as a step-dad than my own bio-dad ever began to do for me. On the other, I have a bit of a sinking feeling that since Rita's mom never allowed Rob's sensible, live-within-your-means ethic to penetrate Rita's consciousness, now she'll never "get" it. With a baby on the way, an incomplete college degree in fashion merchandising, living in a microscopic room at her mom's, and atrocious financial habits, what will become of her?

Rob has vowed to never co-sign anything else with Rita, or bail her out financially any more. He has also promised that she will not be allowed to stay under our roof (by herself would have been OK, but with an infant and dead-beat boyfriend, no thank you). It is painful to see these chickens coming home to roost, and to realize that while he was a "walking wallet" in that family system, he wasn't allowed to be much of a parent. He got all the drawbacks and responsibilities of parenthood, but almost none of the authority.

I thought, when I met him, that I was "in the clear" in terms of step-parent issues (as I had vowed to be when I went back on the dating market after my marriage broke up), but now it seems I'm a step-parent-once-removed and the "brown wind is blowing" (i.e., the #$%^ is hitting the fan). I love Rita in a way, but her habits and her core values just make me crazy...she can barely care for herself, and she felt it necessary to bring a baby into the world? Reminds me of that ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times".

Robin said...

Dr. Band - what a story and what a man you have. It blows my mind all the different steparent stories I've heard and how so many seem to be far better parents than the actual blood related parents. Thank you for sharing that.

Teri said...

Robin - I am humbled by your writing. This is straight from the heart.

Dr. Band - These are the things we do for love. Sometimes tough love is the best to give, eh?

You know, I always thought I'd be a parent the "easy way", such as marrying a widower who was a parent. Parent and easy do not belong in the same sentence (even if modified with a hyphen). No such thing. I've been educated.

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to post these.

Robin said...

I firmly believe being a stepparent is the hardest kind and I know many would disagree with me. I don’t mean the stepparents that see the stepchild twice a month but I mean the ones that are a significant part of raising the child.

As a stepparent you have to find a medium to properly stepparent so you don’t overstep your boundaries and society gives you little credit. To say you are a stepparent means very little in this world I think and given all the amazing stepmothers I know, they are the hardest working mothers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

Maureen said...

Stepparenting is a very special kind of 'childfree', isn't it? No matter what your SO's relationship with his child, he or she will never be completely 'yours'.

When I first married, I wasn't sure if I was going to have any children of 'my own', either. Everyone called my every-other-weekend-and-most-of-the-summer stepdaughter my 'instant family'. And, while that sounds so easy, it most certainly wasn't easy to forge the relationship that I have with my stepdaughter. Every single step-parenting relationship is unique and must be built from the ground up, with everyone respecting everyone else's already established and newly created relationships with the others in their lives.

And, even if you do end up with a great stepparenting relationship, it can still leave you publicly calling yourself childfree and even feeling yourself to be childfree, because, as far as society is concerned, the parental roles for that child are already filled by other people.

Ripley said...

Great post.
I always thought I WOULD have kids.
Then I met my partner who already had five & doesn't want any more.
Let me tell you, taking on even a partial parenting responsibility for them made me really rethink parenting! LOL
It's a daily and sometimes a very difficult choice, to love his children while foregoing children who will call ME "Mom". To pinch pennies on our end while not getting a lot of say in how the money is spent.

Full custody is always a possibility, but I don't think it will happen. But over the almost-six-years of stepparenting (one of the top two hardest things I've ever taken on), I've formed some very satisfying relationships with my stepkids. I still can't figure out what my "role" in their life is, but it seems to be there anyway and I think it's good for all of us.

And it's definitely the weirdest thing to have no kids on the one hand, and to have kids on the other.
*hugs*

Ripley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robin said...

Thank you Maureen and Ripley, great comments and additions to this post. Nobody knows what it's like to be a stepparent unless you've lived and breathed it.

Teri said...

Hey all, I removed a duplicate of Ripley's comment.

Welcome to Purple Women Ripley!

Logical guy said...

Although I am in a secure relationship, I decided ages ago that I would not date women who had children, even adult ones. The reason for this is because, and most childfree people have probably thought about this - but when you are 'gone' you are 'gone'. When you are a parent you are leaving something very significant behind.

So probably about 10 or so years before a person expects to die, they start to relate to their child(ren) differently, because something living will be left when they die. However, when you don't have children, you go through an entirely different process.

I didn't want the degree of disparity that being with a parent would create, so I chose to date only non-parents. It's an important issue for me, but it's something that I have yet to read about in childfree literature.

Robin said...

Logical Guy - Believe it or not I felt the same way years ago. I actually said only months before meeting him I didn't want to date a guy over 30 (I was 23 then), a guy who'd been married, or a guy who had any kids. My life is at times all too ironic because I got all 3 in one in the man of my dreams. I fought it and fought it but he was the guy I was meant to be with. I had to decide at one point if he was worth it and he was...he still is. Most people don't know how I could handle going through what I've been through but I haven't had a second thought...he's worth all of it. I often wonder if I was given this whole thing for a reason...I suppose I will find out someday.

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