Emily was single and in her mid-20s, and made a New Year’s resolution to try a new hobby. She started learning swing dancing, and that’s when she met John.
“I immediately thought he was attractive,” she remembers, “But I didn’t think much more of it, and apparently he had the same thought!” They have a 10 year age difference, so it took about year of getting to know each other before they realized they were very compatible.
Emily learned John had a son long before they started dating, even before they became close friends. Andy was always around at the swing dances and she thought he was a sweet, outgoing kid. He was about 11 when Emily first met him.
Many single parents wait until they are really sure of their dating relationship before their child meets their significant other. Things happened a little differently for John and Emily, since Andy already knew her and saw her regularly. He also saw his dad dance with her.
Emily later learned that Andy could tell she had a crush on his dad, even when John was still very hesitant about the age difference. She commented, “Andy was encouraging his dad to ask me out before we ever started dating!”
Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You
Dating happened very slowly. They spent a lot of time together alone, as well as with Andy, for many months before they even kissed. “For a long time neither of us knew really if we were dating or just very close friends, and it didn’t matter too much. This time period really allowed me to get comfortable with the idea of dating a man with a child,” Emily said. This time also helped John get comfortable with their age difference and learn that she was a good influence in Andy’s life.
Dating a parent was vastly different than anything Emily had done before. She felt a lot of responsibility and pressure, because just by being present she was part of this young boy’s life. “It was very scary for me at first to think that if it didn’t work out with us, Andy might suffer,” Emily worried. “I was so nervous of this, in fact, that I saw a counselor for advice on how to pursue this relationship without hurting Andy if it didn’t work out.” John and Emily also had extensive talks about how they would involve his son in their dating and what would happen if they did break up. Slowly she became more comfortable, and things started to feel natural.
“Andy actually adds to our relationship. I cannot imagine my life without him now, or my relationship with John without him.”
Once Emily was comfortable pursuing this relationship with John and getting to know Andy more, it became so much more than she expected. She never thought she would be a step mother or date a man with a child. She grew up in a very traditional nuclear family.
“I expected the fact that John had a child to be something we dealt with and worked around, but what I realized is that Andy actually adds to our relationship. I cannot imagine my life without him now, or my relationship with John without him. So much of what made me fall in love with John was watching him parent Andy,” Emily reflected.
While dating, they enjoyed many fun activities as a group. Andy quickly got to know Emily’s friends through activities like ski trips and races they all ran together. None of her friends had dated someone with a child, and they worried how this would play out for her – but Andy grew on them all very quickly too.
In addition to group and trio activities, Emily also bonded with Andy on lots afternoons when John worked and she didn’t: “We would go to movies together or get sushi or burgers – foods John wasn’t as into as we were.” One of her favorite afternoons with Andy was spent choosing a new spring wardrobe for John as a Father’s Day gift. “He was in desperate need of clothes and we had fun styling him up!”
Emily’s parents were concerned about her seriously dating a man who was 10 years older and had a child. However, like her friends, they quickly got on board after meeting John. Emily took a bad fall skiing and had to use crutches and give up physical activities for quite a while. Her worried parents came to visit shortly after her fall. When they saw the care and attention John was providing, and how funny and smart he was, they realized they enjoyed his company and their concerns eased. Their approval also ensured Emily that John was a quality guy and good match for her – she wasn’t just lost in infatuation.
“We think that in some way, we were all meant to be a family all along.”
Several months into their relationship, Emily’s parents met Andy. Everyone loved Andy immediately and it all felt very natural. She said, “We have talked since and think that in some way, we were all meant to be a family all along. What we worried would be a complicated and intense situation was super comfortable and enjoyable.” Emily’s brother and parents enjoy Andy too, and are sad when they visit on a weekend he isn’t with them.
Family Ties, and Tangles
John shares custody with Andy’s mom. The specific arrangement is pretty complex, but John and Emily basically have Andy with them on Wednesday evenings, every other weekend, and alternating holidays. Andy’s mom lives in another county, and he goes to school there, but he gets to spend a lot more time with his dad and Emily during the summer.
“You can imagine all this is hard to keep track of, and we keep a detailed calendar,” Emily commented, “I can say for certain that both his mother and John wish they saw him more. Sharing a kid sucks for everyone involved. This is the bad part.”
John handles most interactions with Andy’s mother and step father, but Emily has met them and they have been nice to her. There is a very difficult past between John and Andy’s mother, but Emily knows Andy loves his mother very much, so she always tries to speak positively about her.
When John and Emily got married, Andy was already a teenager with no need for another mother. “John is the parent, and Andy and I are family,” Emily explained, “but I am not a parent figure.” She suggests chores for Andy to do while they are both at work, helps drive him to and from school or activities, and insists that he speak to them and any visitors with respect (which is usually not a problem, but sometimes teenagers forget). John makes all of the choices about discipline, and what Andy can and can’t do.
Adjusting to a New Family Dynamic
Emily has been a step-mom for a year now, and she and Andy still have an excellent relationship. He is a teenager now and has less interest spending time with them and more interest in his friends, but they still enjoy movies together and talk a lot. He talks to her about his school friends, and even girls sometimes!
“The best part about being a step mom is definitely the love in our home,” Emily shared. “Andy is so appreciative of any meal I cook – even if it is burnt he tells me it’s great, and any activity we do he says was ‘amazing’. It really makes every day he is with us so special.”
On the other hand, the most difficult part of step parenting for Emily is worrying she will mess it up. She worries that her changes in mood or bad days will negatively impact Andy.
When she first moved in with John, she had been living alone and had a hard time adjusting to living with two very energetic (and messy) men. She got snippy with Andy several times, until he finally shared that that hurt his feelings. She was glad he felt open to share, but felt guilty hurting him.
Now they try hard to help each other. Andy gives her quiet time when she needs it, she accepts that her boys are messier than she would like, and they try to give each other lots of respect. Still, Emily can’t help but worry that one day Andy will grow up and remember that his step-mom wasn’t the best.
From the moment Emily and his dad got engaged, Andy practically begged for a sister (his mom has two other sons with her husband). Then for Christmas, he said wanted a sister. They got him an Xbox, which he said was even better than a sister. On December 23, Emily’s pregnancy test was positive!
When they told Andy the news on Christmas Eve, he reacted like a typical teenager and was happy but not enthusiastic. (It could be another brother, which was not as exciting.) Several months later, when they learned it was a girl, Andy was very enthusiastic and couldn’t wait to tell all his friends.
Andy has been very helpful in preparation for his baby sister, including helping assemble her furniture. “The poor kid was even patient when I picked him up at school and had to throw up in the grass nearby,” Emily said. He insists when his sister arrives, Emily won’t have to do anything, and he will do it all. “I never thought my first child would have a sibling that wasn’t my child, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.”
Emily’s life and family are not what she had originally planned and envisioned for herself, but as she awaits the arrival of her baby girl with her husband and step-son, she couldn’t be happier.