kids

'I was a single mum when I fell in love with a younger man who wanted to be childless.'

For the one in six parents in Australia who are single, finding love again is a minefield.

Hell, finding love at all is a minefield.

But imagine if you’re searching for that very special person with gorgeous but needy little people in tow. People who don’t always understand that you need love beyond them, who won’t always offer you the space to find and grow it.

Watch the true love stories that will melt your heart. Post continues after video. 

Then imagine that, despite the incredible odds, you find that very special person.

And now, beyond almost anything in the world, you want to try and keep them, make them love you. Make them love your kids.

Two years ago, I fell in love. Hard. I was 40, newly separated and had my three daughters aged nine, six and four with me almost full time. The man I desired was 32, with no children and almost no experience of them.

I met Michael at work. He knew I had kids, but they hadn’t come up much in conversation. He didn’t see me as a mum and I was so very often grateful he never saw me in my home life, wiping my youngest’s bottom, frustrated on the school run and exhausted after bedtime.

But if we were to have a future, he would see all of that. Would he still find me attractive? This was a guy who didn’t have to deal with nappies or tantrums, for whom time after work meant a relaxing dinner and a movie.

Could it ever work?

I listened to the dating stories of my single mum friends. They were usually complicated, but the complications often revolved around the parenting demands of them and their beloved. At least they both understood the reality of life with kids.

For me, I knew what Michael and I had was special, and I had faith in our future – but I couldn’t quite picture it. I feared once he saw how demanding the role of a stepdad was, he would bolt.

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But while I was nervous, he remained unfazed. “It doesn’t put me off,” he would say.

I introduced him to my four-year-old first. We took her for a walk along the harbour, had a picnic in a playground. I gazed adoringly as he pushed her on the swing, and snapped a photo when he carried her, and she flopped a sleepy head on his shoulder.

With my nine-year-old, it didn’t go quite as smoothly. The three of us had lunch one day at a cafe. My daughter, who knew Michael as my work friend, was in a goofy, silly mood. Michael played along, but I felt on edge. “She wasn’t at her best today,” I told him later.

It was a sentiment I would come to know well – unease. Over the months that followed, I would listen in on conversations between Michael and the girls, jumping in to course-correct if things weren’t flowing, or bounding in to remind the girls to use their manners so as to represent me – and us – in the best way possible.

Then I would feel sadness and guilt, for inadvertently putting pressure on my kids to be a certain way to please Michael.

After all, it’s a lot to expect of your children – to love someone just because you do. They didn’t ask for their parents to separate and they didn’t ask for a step-parent to come into their lives. Just as Michael didn’t ask for noisy, bickering children to permeate his life.

We all know that when you really want your kids to be at their best, they’re usually at their worst – probably because they’re needing your love and attention more than ever.

Sometimes I would find myself in the middle, looking at the four people I loved most in the world, with no idea in that moment who needed me most.

The answer, of course, is communication – with each of my kids one on one, and between Michael and I. Our theory is if we keep talking honestly and kindly, we’ll keep resentments at bay.

Michael reassured me time and time again he was there no matter what, and we decided we’d never do anything that would make the girls feel uncomfortable. We waited months, until they were happy, before he slept over.

What has helped us all is me relinquishing my need to control, which has happened naturally over time. Michael and the girls must develop a relationship on their own terms. And the best way for him to start, we decided, was to be their friend.

At 13 years younger than their dad, he offers something different. He has newer tastes in music and film, he is a feminist and is unfazed by gender and sexuality in a way Gen X never quite was. He grew up with technology; he plays Xbox games with a skill developed as a child.

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He’s fascinating and fun to them, but also a source of love and stability. As an extension of their mother, the girls confide in him their thoughts and concerns; they snuggle into his chest.

Some things I’ve had to teach him, such as the dark territory we enter when a three-year-old becomes overtired, and how dangerous too much sugar can be.

But most of the job of parenting is about following your instinct. Any good person can do that.

There’s no doubt it takes a special someone to become a wonderful step-parent. Michael never planned on having his own children, so the journey has been unexpected – but often he tells me how much he loves it.

More than anything, children just want their parents to be happy. My girls have two father figures in their lives, which is more people to love them. And with Michael and I, they have a wonderful example of how a relationship should be.

As for us, we’ve learned that the cliche, true love can conquer anything, is pretty true. We’ve diffused those mines; our path ahead looks far less treacherous now.

Are you a single parent? What has your experience of dating been like? Tell us about it in the comments section below. 

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