Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Stepmom panics at idea of taking on two boys
Maryland: My husband and I have just signed on for primary custody of his two sons from a previous marriage. Initially I was excited, but now I'm panicking.
I like kids, I adore these kids, and I'm not really nervous about "sharing" my husband. But I am anxious about all the big changes coming up and about learning on the job. I also worry this will cause us to have to interact more often with his very unreasonable ex.
As half of this couple, I technically have the right to tell my husband I want to bail on our decision, but I know that would alienate him and probably be really selfish. I feel stuck and at a loss.
Carolyn: I can argue two different points in favor of honoring your commitment.
The first is strictly logical: Panic is not a good reason to reverse a big decision. Deep, thoughtful misgivings would be, maybe, but panic is the antithesis of deep thought. It's the raw emotion that springs from a fear of change.
So, respond to your panic with careful thought. Assure your husband that you aren't changing your mind — you don't want him panicking with you — but do tell him you're scared and need to talk.
The second point I can argue involves morality, compassion and strength. These boys have (from your perspective at least) an unreasonable mom — one who, apparently, either doesn't want them or can't handle them. So while it's your right to bail, decency demands that you suck it up and help raise them.
Yes, it will be hard, and yes you will have to learn on the fly, and yes, you will make some spectacular mistakes that will send you to your room to cry in private. But you married a man who has kids, and who is therefore obligated to act in their best interests, even when those interests run counter to his own or to yours.
Marrying him meant accepting his obligations.
Where you have the most say is in how you help him fulfill that obligation — and what you contribute will largely determine what you get out of it.
These boys have a mom, so you don't need to be that. But you can be a reasonable partner to your husband; be good to the boys while also honoring your marriage and being true to yourself; make mistakes, and then admit fault, pick yourself up and start over — all excellent examples to set for these kids.
You can also embrace this as the life you've got, even if it isn't the one you had in mind — and you can embrace the kids, literally; there is absolutely no downside for kids to have more adults caring about them — even when those adults don't get every little i-dotting and t-crossing just right.
Anonymous: For Maryland: I think a little anxiety is healthy in a new situation. It helps keep you on your toes and aware of what's going on. In my opinion, we do ourselves a great disservice as a society by wanting to feel calm and accepting about every single situation. Life is complex; embrace the chaos and remember to breathe. You will be fine.
Carolyn: Standing O, thanks.