How I coped when my kids’ step-dad came to stay

Knowing there’s a new man not only in your ex-partner’s life, but in your children’s lives too, can be daunting.

Father and young daughter playing instruments in a living room

Seeing my ex-wife with someone else has been a big challenge — not because of any residual feelings (they’ve long since dispersed), but because it means my kids have a ‘stepdad’.

I knew that one day my ex-wife and I would meet new people. We were both in our mid-30s when we separated a couple of years ago, and both pretty good people.

I also anticipated finding it a little difficult when she met a new significant other — as my kids would have a ‘step-dad’.

We co-parent our kids, but they have more time with their mother, in the house that was once our family home.

Their mum’s new partner lives there too, and as a result, he sees my kids more than I do. That broke my heart and was really hard to take.

It felt unfair and wrong, but it’s just the way it is. No matter how much I might originally have felt ripped off.

But in fact, it was me who first introduced a new partner to our kids. That person and I were a few months into a relationship and it felt like the right time to bring everyone together.

I talked with a few people about how they went about that introduction, and then spoke with my kids’ mother.

We arranged a casual meeting for my kids and partner — dinner at a nice outdoor area nearby, and a ride on a local attraction.

My kids were excited, which was a relief and a blessing. Leo, Gus, and Ada (all still very young) had seemed to accept their parents were happier apart, and they were happier as a result. It would have been so much harder if they didn’t.

When my kids met my then-partner, they got along really well and we ended up watching a movie back at our place.

I’d spoken with her beforehand and also advised my ex-wife that it wouldn’t be a sleepover, but a gradual introduction over a period of time.

A lot of experts and friends suggested that was the best way, as the kids would acclimatise to the new situation without feeling too jarred by a sudden change.

Mid-last year, my ex-wife called me to say she’d like to introduce our kids to her new partner, who she’d been seeing for a few months.

I wished her well and reminded her the kids had responded well to the gradual introduction I’d managed a few months earlier.

In terms of us as exes, I was and am genuinely happy for my former wife having found a new partner, because I do want her to be happy: if she’s happy, it means a happier home than when we were still married, which means happier kids, too.

My kids all liked their mum’s new partner and from what they said, he was and is great with them. As a parent, that’s what I’ve made my focus — if good people are in my kids’ lives, they’re more likely to be good people themselves. That hasn’t always been the natural instinct, though, but I’ve worked hard to focus on it.

In the year and a bit since then, a few things have been more challenging for me to handle.

Arriving to pick up my kids from their mum’s place was one such thing for a while. There was a new man there most of the time, and seeing another guy’s car in my former parking spot was a cold reminder of my failure at the nuclear family thing.

Men of previous generations and social environments would probably have been more macho about it all.

“He sees my kids more than I do. That broke my heart…”

I saw and heard about many rough incidents among my friends when I was younger, and I’m so glad we’ve evolved.

While my red hair also came with a ‘quick to become passionate’ tendency, I’ve worked on that over time to become more level-headed and constructive. Besides, I’m a shithouse (and very reluctant) fighter, anyway.

Natural awkwardness from both me and the other guy, to be expected, has made being at my kids’ sporting and social activities a bit strange.

We don’t have rules about who the kids sit with — it’s up to them and they naturally tend to split the time evenly between us.

The first time one of my kids referred to their mum’s partner as their ‘step-dad’ was utterly gut-wrenching, to be honest.

It wasn’t unexpected, but it still cut incredibly deep. Hearing that term cemented the fact I was no longer the only male parental figure in their lives.

And not the only one with the word ‘dad’ in their salutation. I felt replaceable and on fragile ground.

So the thing I remind myself of a lot is that I’m so much happier now I’m out of my former marriage. Unbelievably so.

And I’m fortunate their step-dad (I’m becoming more comfortable using the term, myself) is a great guy from what I know, because this wider-family dynamic is my new reality.

My children don’t have any step or half-siblings, but they may at some stage. I have a much younger brother myself (from my father), so I’m cognisant of that dynamic from a child’s perspective.

My mother was (and is) always fantastic about my youngest brother, and he stayed with us quite a bit when he was younger.

He wasn’t my mother’s child, but he was the brother to her sons, so mum welcomed him and brought him more into our lives.

I hope and plan to be the same if my kids end up with more siblings from their mum, and I’m sure she will if I have any more children.

I’ve often reminded myself that after my parents split up, no one would ever have ‘replaced’ my father in my eyes.

Even if I had a step-dad who lived with us, my dad was always my dad. He died more than 20 years ago and no one will replace him or my love for him. That’s been helpful to remember when it comes to my kids now having a step-dad.

I will always be my kids’ father, and their “dad” forever. Nothing and no-one can change that.

READ MORE FROM JC CLAPHAM:

Get the best dad tips in your inbox

Ooops