There’s a pivotal moment in your online dating experience where your cursor hovers over the ‘children’ question. To click the no option is to exclude any male with a child, and if you are in your 40s, probably reduce the pool of matches to something like the number of people you’ll see in a lineup at your local takeaway food shop when you are picking up your Friday night noodles for one.
Flippantly click the ‘I don’t want any, but yours are ok’ doesn’t seem like a big deal. Statistically, the male is unlikely to be a solo parent with full custody, which means kid-free windows, and if they spawned whilst very young, the offspring may be a well adjusted being in their early 20s, who might turn out to be like a cool younger brother. So you click it, and then wait for your laptop to shriek an alarm greater in decibels than the combined female audience at a One Direction concert. It doesn’t. You wait to see if it triggers a pop-up box offering up the latest iteration of Crocs as a sign that you are on a path that is incongruous with every molecule of your being. It doesn’t. You log off leaving a rather large floodgate wedged right open and head off for a glass of something sparkling.
Two of my most fiercely independent, tremendously successful, childless by circumstance friends have found themselves precisely in this situation. A lawyer and a corporate high-flyer, they both met fantastic men, things went riotously well, and nary a thought was given to the prospect of the miniature humans lurking in the shadows. Speaking to them independently about how this went down, here are the recurring themes about inheriting a child, even part-time, late in life.
Its not about you anymore
Biological mothers. know this. They aren’t born with this insight, but that’s the reason why Mother Nature invokes a nine month pregnancy window, where suddenly something that feels vaguely parasitic takes up residence inside you, jostling your internal organs, controlling everything about what you eat, how you sleep, denying you the consumption of soft cheeses, causing involuntary daily expulsion of your stomach contents and dictating the wearing of flat shoes. If you didn’t understand that your life was no longer your own, once this period is up your body will literally turn itself inside out trying to expel the small being and nothing will ever quite go back in its rightful place again. This is followed by a period of sleep deprivation so insidious that Guantanamo Bay is trying to clone the process, and eventually this just eases back to a general loss of the freedom and spontaneity you once had.
If you acquire a small human late in life, without going through this rite of passage to get there, you have no framework available to deal with it. You will realise very quickly that you are no longer the princess, the focal point for all attention and the consensus is that it’s a little like being left on the side of the road while the family drive off in the car.
It appears that this is why, universally, you will take up drinking wine.
You will need to come to grips with the S-word
Take a moment, have a cup of tea or a glass of something chilled and try to cite a positive example of a stepmother. Trawl the depths of your Disney experience and your entire back-catalog of fairy tales and you will not find one instance of a glamorous, fabulous and much-revered stepmother. Not a one.
If you’ve shacked up with a rockstar some 20 years your senior, you can try to pass yourself off as a sibling of the child, but if you can’t pull this one off, at some point someone in the street is going to pass comment on the child you are with and you are going to stumble when trying to describe that you are not their mother. It hardly trips off the tongue to describe yourself as ‘little Robbie’s dad’s girlfriend’ or even worse ‘partner’. If you don’t elaborate that you are not the child’s mother, the laws of early childhood behaviour will mean that he/she will pick that moment to pull a full scale tantrum and you’ll want to step back and point out that you share NO genetic material and had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the upbringing of this child, save for plying them with a few Freddo frogs and Chicken nuggets over the last couple of months.
You are going to have to use the word stepmother at least descriptively, and my surveyees suggest you make it your life’s mission to band together with others to create a critical mass of glamorous, kind and supremely fabulous stepmothers so that in several hundred years the Disney version becomes urban myth. Alternatively, simply rock that wicked stepmother persona with all the panache of Cruella DeVille in her Dalmatian coat.
You have a whole new category of ineptitude
You know nothing about this caper. You may have sued corporations, saved lives and run multi million dollar deals, but you don’t know anything about raising children and even if you did, you have no role to play as you are not a parent.
What you will inevitably do is overcompensate, spoil the kiddie rotten, indulge a little in all the things you liked as a kid and eventually assemble some degree of life skill.
If you don’t, Google can tell you pretty much all you need to know.
Just when you think you are not cut out for this craziness, I’m told there is a moment when it all turns around. It could be something as simple as you nailing some respect as the Uno Queen of the household. It might be the day that you actually appear in one of the fridge-paintings, albeit trailing a sorry last behind the pet dog, the next door neighbour’s turtle and the kitchen windowsill Venus flytrap plant …and the kid has drawn you in a manner that adds a few kgs.
But hey….you made it……
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