Sometimes I wish discussion regarding certain situations was more practical and real. I’m not saying that I wish it were insulting and rude, but I wish we would more frequently address aspects of life that genuinely happen and feelings people go through. At this moment, I really wish we’d have a more open and honest dialogue about being the partner of a person who is a parent of children under 18.
While searching for “what to do when you don’t like your partner’s children,” I came across a few scattered articles that discuss how some women don’t really like their male partner’s children; I’ve seen question-answer columns where women ask if it’s okay – or even remotely normal – to be jealous of their partner’s children. They’re not talking about how they hate them; that isn’t the case. They’re just saying that they don’t immediately like them, and they’re torn by the social pressure that women are supposed to like their partners kids (and the fact that we have so many stories about the evil step-mom lurking in the background to actively work against).
I just don’t feel like the discussion about this is open enough. To add to it, I didn’t find many articles by men who dislike their female partners’ children when I googled rather vague statements; they always came from women. When I tried to be more specific toward men’s reactions to the children of their female partner, I kept finding advice columns written by men to women who asked why their male partners won’t spend time with their kids. (Hint: “Men do what they want.”) This expectation isn’t placed on men; we don’t expect them to be good with the children of their parent-partners. But we insist on placing this expectation on women, and that is ludicrous.
I rarely see the same open support for women who genuinely don’t want to date men who have kids that we give men for avoiding women with children; we’re expected to be so much more tolerant of this fact, even if we’ve made the decision to be child-free adults. I literally have had family members tell me how ludicrous it is that I wouldn’t give a man with a child a chance because he could be really great, while they tell a male cousin in the same breath that he’s being ridiculous for even considering getting married to a woman who already has two children because it’ll be “too much responsibility.”
And just for fun, I also tried being even more specific because, as a bisexual woman, I was wondering if anyone has had this experience in a queer relationship. I genuinely couldn’t find anything about it, and my own experience in queer relationships has never involved already-existing children.
It’s not to say that I hate or dislike my partner’s children, but it’s certain aspects of their existence that can and do often frustrate me. I have a small list of things that have been getting on my nerves since day one (sorry, Twitter), but the biggest part is that I don’t feel like I have enough space to actively engage in the discussion about parenting them while they’re living under our shared roof because they’re not my children. I don’t feel like I have a place to say anything, and I feel like my (legitimate) complaints often go unheard because of his bias for the children.
Both they and I know I’m not their mother; I don’t want to be their mother, which is largely because they already have one and because it’s not a role I want to take on. For the kids, they might be wondering why this woman is trying to tell them what to do; I’m flustered because they won’t listen to me, even though it’s also my home, which means I do have some say in regards to the way we all treat it (clean your dishes, put your clothes away, don’t eat food in your beds, don’t leave messes for others to clean up). I mean, this place is more my home than theirs because of the amount of time I spend in it, yet my few small requests matter not at all.
It probably doesn’t help that we, as a society, also love skewering biological mothers who openly state that their children come second in their life, while they actively work on their own relationship with their husbands (which actually can have positive benefits for their children). If a mother is taking care of herself or being selfish for a whole moment, we assume she’s forgotten entirely about her children. For whatever reason, we believe that the mother should give up everything in order to make her children the center of her world; this same belief is not imposed upon fathers, even as they start to take more of a role in parenting their kids than their own probably had.
These beliefs and values are especially played out in the way that a lot of women perceive their partner’s ex, too. I don’t even want to go into how many posts (with similar comments) I found with the non-parent partner giving a scathing review of how terrible the mother of the children was, which often sounds identical to how many men describe their exes: money-grubbing, crazy, uneducated, fat. It’s disappointing, especially as it is just another level of women disrespecting each other because of how society continues to teach us that being catty is ‘just normal’ behaviour.
And, unfortunately, I can occasionally be momentarily guilty of it. I’m not immune from it, but I do have a lot of unlearning to work through.
I feel as if a lot of this plays out in how we talk about the non-parent partners when they’re women, too. While we don’t expect them to give up nearly as much – they’re not the biological mother, after all, and they didn’t make the decision to have those children – we still seem to expect them to sacrifice a lot (time, space, energy) for the care of children who are not theirs.
Some of these sacrifices I don’t necessarily mind; I love cooking, so spending time and energy teaching my partner’s daughter how to cook (because she genuinely wants to learn) is pretty fun and interesting. I love science fiction and fantasy, so talking to his daughter about books and giving her suggestions is quite fun; I adore that she asks me questions about them, even if they can sometimes be silly what-would-you-do-if scenarios. I love table-top and video gaming, so I have no problem spending time with his son and trying to help figure out which games are best for a growing 10-year old.
But sometimes I just want to be left alone, to read a book in peace and quiet; sometimes I want to work on the projects that I’ve been meaning to do but can’t because there’s always an argument or some nonsensical and overblown problem to resolve.
I don’t want to be the person who has to give up most of my time and freedom to do everything for or with them because their father is at work or in a conference or sleeping because he pulled another all-nighter finishing a work-related presentation; he’s allowed to put his work first as the biological parent, yet there’s an odd expectation of me as the non-parent partner. It makes no sense.
Perhaps it’s my job – I’m a middle and high school teacher, after all – that makes this even more of a conflict for me; I make a living from taking care of children that aren’t my own on a daily basis, and I love every moment of that. But that makes sense; I’ve consciously made the decision to do that, and there is a context for what I’m doing. Teaching has a written set of expectations, and I know why I’m there; I know what I have to do in order to be successful, and building relationships with my students comes naturally and over time.
Being the partner of a person with children doesn’t come with a list of role-related responsibilities; it comes with expectations, and they’re often unrealistic. And it would just be nice to have the space available to openly address them.