I Married a Man With Kids But I Am Not a Parent

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In a gorgeous and ever-so-intimate ceremony on a perfect summer day, I married a man who was nothing and everything of which I ever dreamed. Life will sometimes surprise you in that way. On a lavender farm as the sun shone down upon us, I made a commitment to him and in what some might see as an even greater act of importance, to the other women his life: his daughters. Oh – and of course – their mothers. Yes, you read that correctly; mothers, plural. The girls were part of our ceremony and it could not have been more beautiful. It was official. Despite the both of us swearing we’d never do it again, we were indeed MARRIED.

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There is some irony in our marriage. I never wanted children and I certainly did not want to marry a man who has them. It was not in the cards for me… And then it was. Things change. I changed, but you may be surprised to learn I don’t feel any of these changes make me a parent.

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Now lest anyone want to get technical, yes; in the eyes of the law and on paper I am a step-parent. Having the girls in my life is a bonus and we use the term bonus-children and bonus-mother as a light-hearted way to recognize our significance in each other’s lives. Having determined steps are for staircases, we want to avoid the sometimes negative connotation associated with step-families. For us, it goes without saying that this does not make them MY children nor does it make me their mother. I realize each family is different. We most certainly walk to the beat of our own really big, really loud and really nonconformist drum.

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I posed the question on my blog’s Facebook page and all but one person told me the act of marriage made me a parent. The day before the wedding, I fiercely loved the girls and their father, but we weren’t married so was I not a parent? Was simply signing a marriage license also an instantaneous license into parenthood allowing me to skip the childhood rites of passages their moms and my husband went through before I arrived into the picture? Reasons included I have financial responsibilities, I love them, I care for them and I am in their lives. All true.

And I’m still not a parent.

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Our dynamic is a special one. The girls live 1,800 miles away. My husband is in the military and we see each other about four times a year when we are lucky enough for him to get leave time. We text, I buy them mementos during my travels and we do stay in touch, but I am not an active participant in their daily lives. This is due to present circumstances and not necessarily choice. I am also still learning how to find the happy medium between caring and over-bearing. Striking the balance is easier for some than others. I’m sometimes in the ‘it’s not so easy’ camp.

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Simply put, a parent also gets to parent. A parent disciplines. A parent counsels. Bottom line, a parent has a say. There are times I’ve sat on the sidelines biting my tongue to keep the peace which, of course, happens in blended families. Not so easy camp, take two.

So what about what the kids think?

During a quiet, cold night a couple of days before Christmas I decided to go straight to the source and ask my almost fifteen year old bonus daughter her opinion: “Do you see me as a parent because I married your dad?” Her mom got married in November so she also has a step-dad. He lives with her and he is in her life every day. He is a good man and he loves her.  I could sense hesitation not only in her voice, but in her eyes because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. After I let her know that I would be completely fine with her answer, her reply was, “To put it in perspective, I see him as an adult friend who I trust and confide in. That is how I see you.” I emphasized I love and would do anything for her and that I completely understood what she was saying. We agreed that if I had been around since the girls were babies, it might be different, but in her life parental roles have long-been established. Her dad is her dad. Her mom is her mom. The word parent means mom and dad to her and it does to me, too. I respect her and her sisters too much to insert myself as such. One of her sisters will soon be eighteen and the other just turned nine – thought it might be a little too mature of a conversation with her, but suffice it to say she has her mama and I would venture to ascertain does not include me in the parent category.

You see, when establishing my role I take the girls’ feelings into consideration. I take our experiences and our presence in each other’s lives into my heart and I know better than to call myself a parent because it doesn’t fit for us. Perhaps in the future as the years pass us by, this may change. But for now, I’m pretty happy being the trusted friend and role model. It works. And it works really well. For all of us.

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