I need your advice, or at least your words of wisdom. I’m 23 and have been dating since I got back from seminary. Now I’m dating someone who seems to be everything I want. But there are some parts about him that are…problematic. He’s 33 and divorced with a child. He shares custody of his daughter with his ex.
My parents like him, which is good, and they don’t even mind the age gap (too much). The thing is, they think I’m too young to take on the responsibility of being a stepmother and not just having the daughter around every other weekend, but half the week – every week. His age can be overlooked, the divorce can be overlooked (we all make mistakes); but when you add both together and then the fact that he’s a father who’s very involved in his daughter’s life, they say this isn’t something I’m prepared for.
I knew his story when I agreed to go out with him. Mutual friends set us up. At first, I was hesitant because of all I told you, but I gave it a shot and now I really like him. I haven’t met his daughter yet, but that’s the next step. Maybe I thought that this wouldn’t work out and at least I’d get one night out, but it’s turned into more. I told my friend about this, and she feels the same as my parents: He’s good, but it’s a lot of responsibility to take on and I’m young. Also, shana rishonah is hard enough as it is, without adding a child and ex-wife into it. They all worry I won’t get to have the “fun times” that a chasan and kallah have. I understand all that, and I’m okay with it.
I’m the second of six children, and I always helped out and had responsibilities more than just taking care of myself. I’m not scared off by the responsibility everyone is talking about. How can I make everyone else understand that it’s all okay?
Thank you for the email, Perela.
You give me too much credit when you say, “words of wisdom.” I write my opinions based on all I have experienced in life, dating, what I learned in school and on the job, but thank you for the compliment.
As always, I will start by writing that I’m happy you feel that you found someone you can build a life with. But this needs some serious thought as you proceed with the relationship.
I’m a fan of “phraseology” – I just made that up. I define it as the “way you phrase what you want to say.” I think the word “problem” may be the right word. Again, I’m not you and words are subjective. Last night, I was helping my daughter with her math homework and the homework question asked: “Explain how you solved the problem.” A problem can be worked out if it’s thought about and if you want it solved. I saw the “…”(dot, dot, dot) you put in before “problematic,” and I take that to mean that you weren’t sure how to phrase it. But I like “problematic.”
I have friends who are divorced. Some of the divorces were amicable and some were – and still are – war zones. But all my friends say that no matter what went wrong in the marriage, they have their children from it, and they wouldn’t give them up for the world. You referred to your boyfriend’s first marriage as a “mistake.” “Mistake” is not the word I would use, because according to phraseology, a mistake is something you wouldn’t want to repeat. But through this “mistake,” they had their child(ren). Like I’ve always said, it’s all in how you phrase things. But I know what you mean. You didn’t mention if your boyfriend and his “ex” co-parent well together, or if they are at odds with each other. That should be taken into account, because you may not have to deal with the ex-wife face to face, but she will be a part of your marriage, a constant pin in your side, because your boyfriend will constantly be dealing with her. He may be frustrated or angry at her or the situation, and it may come out through in his behavior/words, and it can seem like he’s angry or lashing out at you. This all will affect your marriage. You need to think and talk about that.
Being the second oldest of six children does give you a picture of how much is involved with raising a family and how it does “take a village.” But it’s very different when you are the “parent.” It’s different when a child is in the mix who may not welcome you with open arms at first, may be resentful because you married her father. So, I wouldn’t compare the two scenarios. Helping to babysit or run errands or give your younger siblings a bath isn’t like being a step-parent. I suggest speaking with people who are married to someone who brought their “bonus child” along with them into the marriage.
“Bonus child” is a nicer way to refer to a stepchild. Every time I hear “step,” I think of Cinderella’s “family.” You may want to read up on the subject, as well. Shanah rishonah is hard – harder than anyone may think. There is a lot of adjusting to be done, and relearning how to do something as a couple that you may have done often and without an issue as a single – for example, accepting an invitation to dine with other people – so while the chasan and kallah try to make all the puzzle pieces fit, you now have a whole other person that you can’t control or “make” them do anything. She isn’t your child; she may want to do her own things that don’t fit into your schedule or that ruin your plans.
I’m not telling you what to do, except to think about this very carefully and do some research. Falling in love is great, but you have to think of life after the honeymoon stage. Your parents and friend are right that being a “bonus” mother for half the time will be hard. They just want to make sure you have thought this through and not dreaming of some fairytale life where everything falls into place, and you all become a big, happy, blended family. I hope that does happen, but it may not. You are young, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t handle all of this; but they are looking out for you and want you to explore your feelings now rather than saying in a year or two: “If I would’ve known...”
Hatzlachah to you all.