Ask Dr D; ‘I don’t want to be a full-time stepmom’
Q: My husband had a daughter with his first wife and he wants her to come and live with us. His ex-wife is relocating to Durban and she thinks it would be better for their daughter, nine, to stay with us. We are planning to have a child of our own and my husband didn’t say anything about having his daughter come and live with us before we got married. I don’t want to be a full-time stepmom – this isn’t what I bargained for. I want to raise my own child, not someone else’s. My husband thinks I’m being unreasonable, and it is causing a lot of tension between us. How can we resolve this?
A: Talk about bursting a bubble! Funny – except it’s not – how a lot of ‘happily ever after’ dreams are shattered when life gets in the way. So it obviously seems to you that what wife number one wants is more important than how you feel. Not a comfortable thought. She clears out, forgoes her responsibility and ‘dumps’ her daughter on you! This is the tough part.
Your husband isn’t going along with his ex-wife’s wishes only to please her; they are his wishes, too. Marriage is a package deal, especially to a partner who has children from a previous relationship. This is no à la carte menu. You want the chicken, you get the Brussels sprouts, and the soup is compulsory. Of course, it’s not compulsory … you do not have to accept his daughter into your home, but I guarantee that, if your answer is a blanket ‘no’, she will be there anyway, lurking in the shadows.
Being a full-time stepmom isn’t what you bargained for, but – guess what – it’s not what your husband bargained for, either. He feels trapped, in the middle of a minefield of women without a metal detector. One thing is for sure, though: he loves his daughter, wants to do his best, be a good father, protect her and take her in. I have no doubt that he loves you, too. What he might hope for is your understanding and support. What he cannot expect is for you to jump for joy at his request. But if you talk about this constructively, without accusations, he will understand your huge reservations and fears, he will support you and appreciate your sacrifice and efforts.
You do need to say that the arrangement is conditional. Your conditions and boundaries need to be laid down as clearly as possible and reviewed along the way. These include issues such as: Who is going to be in charge of discipline? In what way does your domestic regime differ from that of her mother? What are your acceptable guidelines? How much time will you have alone with your husband? Do you share all your meals? What about pocket money? Will your husband support you and not contradict you in front of his daughter, even if he disagrees? All of this needs open and honest discussion. Most importantly, you need to feel reassured about his support of you as his wife. This is the only way you will begin to believe that there could be a chance of making this work. I suggest that you take it. You might be pleasantly surprised, even amazed, at the outcome.