What I Learned From Being a Bonus Mom/Daddy’s Girlfriend

I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile…

..but over the last six-plus months this topic has been sitting in my drafts section, my life and role in L’s life have changed. So instead of talking about it in the first person, I can now write about it with reflection, since I was abruptly removed from this role. In a previous post, I said goodbye to L. I didn’t know that last time I saw L would actually be the last time I saw her. But it was.

I do hope I see her in the future, but I don’t think it will happen. I have accepted it.

I am where I am supposed to be.

That is the mantra I keep telling myself when I falter, I feel sad, or the unpredictability of life feels a little more than I can handle.

There is no website dedicated to girlfriends of men OR boyfriends of women who have kids. There are plenty for Step Parent’s, but what about the women and men who haven’t gotten to that stage yet? I know there is a whole community of us out there, we just fight our battles or celebrate our victories on our own — no support.

Yes, I’m not a Mom.
Yes, I was not her biological Mom.
Yes, I was the girlfriend.
Yes, we were not married.

All factors you already know. But factors that make my role in L’s life hard to title. Undefined, but defined by how we allowed ourselves too. Her and I. If you ask me if I’d do it all over again, I think I’d say yes. I know they were both brought into my life for a specific lesson, but the pain, hurt, and sadness is still there. Not as prevalent as it was, but it’s there. So, again, I fall back on my mantra of knowing I am where I am supposed to be. As are they. As we were when we were a family, living under the same roof and sharing our lives together. So, yes. I’d do it again because they both have taught me more about myself that I would have learned on my own.

Here’s some unsolicited advice from my experience from my short four and a half years as a bonus Mom and/or Daddy’s girlfriend:

It’s like Fight Club. – We’re in this secret, selective group, where there are a bunch of us but no one talks about being in this club. You support yourself, even though you feel beat up more than you feel victorious. You learn by doing and try not to dwell on the things you mess up and you quietly applaud the times when it seems to be going well. You do what you can, you better OR else you should excuse yourself. Unless you decide to fully be in this role, you won’t survive.

This will be the most underappreciated role you ever take on. – Unless you are a unicorn, you will probably never get the appreciation you deserve for this role. There will be small moments where it will be shown, but overall, your efforts will go unappreciated. I’m sure they are noticed, but you probably won’t receive verbal or written appreciation very often. Here and there, yes, but regularly to reinforce you are doing well or trying your best, NO. Your actions and effort will be felt and known, but in many cases, I bet you won’t feel appreciated. You can feel content in knowing you are doing your best, and relish in that. You have too. Or else you’ll start to resent this role and possibly your partner and others. After the breakup, I shared this sentiment and various women in this role said the same thing — these women are still in this role and some previously were in this role. Becuase it is not physically your child, the child doesn’t truly owe you gratitude. I do believe it is the bio parent(s) role to show some appreciation, but you aren’t owed this either, technically. A very present partner would make sure you felt this way, but more often than not, it probably won’t happen. They are managing a lot and are probably not self-aware enough to realize you need this. And even if you ask, in my case, it may not come. I’m not saying, but I am saying, don’t look or rely on it. It’s okay to ask for it if you need it. There isn’t an issue with you asking for it. But don’t expect it to come free flowing. If you’re lucky to receive it, then appreciate it and share it in return, to your partner and the other bio parent if you can. Everyone can use a little-shared appreciation when trying to raise a little human. Keep doing the kind, nurturing, and caring things because YOU want too and it feels right to you. Do it knowing you won’t feel the appreciation you probably deserve.

The only power you have is to love the child(ren). – It’s not about the power. You have no legal power, no authority, nothing. If you are lucky, your partner, their biological parent, may let you be a part of the disciplining. In a perfect world, they would work with you to establish what is and what isn’t allowed in this area. However, it may be a “figure it out as you go” situation and you may have to learn the hard way. Luckily, I was allowed to discipline how I saw fit, for the most part. However, in the end, I think it was ultimately resented and created an issue within our relationship. It is understood that you don’t want power, per se. It is the need/want to feel like you have some say in things, especially in your household/home. And truly, it depends on how the bio parent wants to incorporate you, as well as how receptive the child(ren) is to your role within your family dynamics. Every home is different, but please remember that you shouldn’t expect to have any power when it comes to your bonus kid. Remember that the only power you do have is to love them. Love them fiercely, no matter how hard it gets! That is all they need and all you can offer.

You may (always) feel like you need to clarify you aren’t their bio-parent. – It’s almost as if society tells those who are in this role we can’t have an opinion on a child we are helping to raise, because we didn’t birth them out of our vagina, but still asked to carry a Mom-ish role. It’s a grey area you will navigate and most likely, always feel like you are trying to clarify the most undefined role in the word. Or you’ll always need to preface that you aren’t the child’s bio parent. Becuase we looked alike, more often than not, I was automatically called her Mom in public. Or referred to as her Mom or as Mom. In the beginning, I used to correct them, because I didn’t want her to think I was trying to take her Mom’s role away from her. I quickly realized, L didn’t think this at all. That was a relief. So, from them on I let L correct people if she wanted too. It was easier to just move along and smile, rather than address it. But every time I wrote about this topic on the blog, I felt like I had to tell everyone I knew I wasn’t her Mom and I didn’t want to take that role from her real Mom. Which I don’t, but I also don’t know why I felt such a strong need to make sure that was known to everyone.

Let it be organic. – Don’t force things. Thankfully, I was allowed to be the Bonus Mom to a pretty cool kid and things did organically fall into place for us. Nothing was forced, well except for the first introduction and it kinda has to be. But everything is a blend of the right time (for you, for the bio parent, and the child) and the right circumstance. To be honest, I can’t ever remember the first time I met her, but it wasn’t awkward and it was fun. I do know that I have always been fond of kids, so I had that going for me and it made it easy for our situation. Kids sense things, so if you are nervous, they might reflect that back to you. It’ll probably feel something like a first date — technically, there is a lot of pressure on you when you meet them. I’m sure the bio parent will put a lot of emphasis on the outcome of the first meeting, even though this wasn’t my experience. Early on in our relationship Juan told me he didn’t want to introduce me to his daughter until he was comfortable. I let him take the wheel on this and let it happen when he was ready. Don’t force yourself or this role onto the bio parent or the kid, my guess is it won’t work out well if you do.

Create your own special experiences/traditions with them. – Just like allowing everything to be organic, I’d say that you should also try to create special experiences and/or traditions with them that just the two of you share. This is if your partner will allow this. If they don’t, then I’d implore you to look at your situation. You should be able to have special moments with them too. However, your partner may not want to share their time with their kid, especially if their time is limited, so it really depends on your situation. Over four years I was able to create little traditions and moments that we were able to share without Daddy. We went on “coffee” dates, she came with me and did Midtown workouts, and she would hang out with me while I got ready for events/parties. I’m sure it was easier for me to have these moments because I am a woman and she is a little girl. It might have been harder if she was a boy. But I was able to give her the female attention in our home, that her Daddy just couldn’t. But I wasn’t competing with him. It was just different for us, but it also gave us our own time to get to know each other and develop our relationship and create traditions for ourselves. Whatever they get to be, make sure you nurture these moments. And if they don’t come right away, if you are genuine and open, they will show up…I think…

Set boundaries. – Set them with everyone: with the child, with your partner, and if necessary with the other bio parent. Once you’ve established these, make sure they are communicated properly, even if they are delicate. If you allow your partner or their other bio parent to treat you a certain way from the beginning, it will be hard to change in the future. Also, you should set certain boundaries if the child(ren) needs it. Luckily, I didn’t have to do this with L. She is truly a great kid and so sweet, caring, and respectful. However, my issue was more with Juan and the boundaries we didn’t set within our household. I see this now after I’ve been removed from the situation. I didn’t see it while I was in it. L’s bio Mom, V, and I didn’t really have an issue with this either. I do feel like she felt threatened at different times while I was in the picture, but I never let it affect me. I understand and empathize that it has to be hard to see another woman helping raise your child in a different home, sharing and accepting that responsibility must be hard. There was only one time I had to tell V she could not badmouth Juan too me, that was crossing the line. Otherwise, for most of Juan and I’s relationship, V and I communicated via text message and it was cordial and it worked for us. It wasn’t until their co-parent therapist suggested to Juan that I no longer communicate with V, did I cease all communication with her. I don’t think anything changed from that, but that’s just my guess. For your sanity and the relationship, set boundaries when and where necessary.

You’ll always feel like you’re doing it wrong.  – You’ll question a lot of what you say and do. Hopefully, your partner supports you and reminds you that you are doing your best (if you are and you better be). Hopefully, you’ll have a supportive tribe who will also remind you that what you are doing is hard and you are doing what you can, each and every day. I can’t tell you how many days when we had her I felt like I said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, big or small. After everything we went through over the last two years, this was heightened to an extreme for me, which was emotionally draining on me. Without the emotional and verbal support from Juan, everything felt wrong, no matter what I did. No matter how much friends and family were supportive, our in-home moments were harder than they’d ever been. If you find yourself feeling like this, I would suggest you speak with your partner before it leads to resentment. This is essentially what happened to me and I didn’t realize it until I started talking about it all, post-breakup.

It can be gone in an instant. – And there is nothing you can do about it. I provided for a child that was not mine financially, emotionally, and psychically — yet I do not get to see her anymore and there is nothing I can do about it. I can reminisce about our time together and the special moments we share. But this is just what happens when you date someone with a kid. It’s the risk you take.

Go in, all in. –  With an open mind and an open heart. But be prepared to work, to struggle, and to thrive. It will happen and unfold as it is supposed to, so be gentle with yourself, but set boundaries and be strong. This role isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s really f***ing hard. But it’s also amazing too. It’s a blend of both and I’m honored to have been given this title for the time I did. Just because I didn’t birth her, does not mean that I couldn’t love and support her like she was my child. I know there is a bond that words cannot describe between a child and their biological parents, individually or overall. That is something no one should ever look to replace or even replicate. I love L in my own way and she received every ounce of love and compassion I had to give — whether it was enough or what she needed will be for her to determine in her journey. Not her Mom, not her Dad. Not even me.

But in no way should it be sugar coated for anyone who is thinking of stepping into this role. I went into it open-hearted and I left brokenhearted. But it is okay. I learned how to give myself, my time, and attention to a child who was not mine. I realized I could easily love a child who was not biologically mine. I’m not upset or angry at my situation. I am sad. There were times where I just felt helpless. There were moments where I felt I may have had better solution or process for L, better than either parent, but I didn’t have the authority or the whereabouts to do so. So, I got over myself and did what I could, while communicating with Juan as best as I could. I was far from perfect at it all, but I know L knows how much I love her.

I never knew I was capable of accepting and thriving in this role. Despite the hurtful words Juan threw my way at the end, I knew I was the best Bonus Mom I could be to L. I knew I supported and loved her in the best way I knew how even if it wasn’t how he wanted/preferred me to do it. I realize he used hurtful words to put down me as a Bonus Mom because he knew they would hurt me to my core. I realize hurt begets hurt and I forgive him for making me think I was not good enough for L or for him. I was. I am. I did the best that I could and if he cannot see that, then that is on him, no longer something I hold onto or worry about. I see this now, but it does not take away the sadness or longing for L, but I feel more content and peaceful accepting I did MY best.

I have no reason to fear dating a man with a kid. With the right man and circumstance, you will want to try it. You will want to persevere through the ups and downs of this role. At times, I miss her more than I miss him. I miss the family life we had. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it gave me a glimpse of the family life I’ve always envisioned. It’s something I’ve always wanted and had a small taste of it. I can now fully say I look forward to the day I find the right man to create our dream together with our own family. Maybe it will be blended, maybe it will be just ours. I don’t know, but I’m completely and wholeheartedly open to it.

The risk was worth it…

2 Replies to “What I Learned From Being a Bonus Mom/Daddy’s Girlfriend”

  1. Stephanie-thanks so much for your transparency and your big heart! Your love for L was very apparent and I am sure she knows you love her still. I knew we grew to love her, as well, and feel the loss from our family. I am proud of the terrific job you did as a Bonus Mom. It is too bad J did not appreciate or realize what a positive impact you made on both their lives. I hope he looks back someday and realizes all the love you gave so openly to L and what a Bonus Mom you were! Well, you are loved & appreciated by many! I know there is someone out there for you-someone who will love you and appreciate the great person you are! Your friends and family already know how terrific you are 💜

    1. Thank you, Auntie! I hope for all those things too. It’s out of my hands and I’m leaving it to God now. He put them in my life and took them out for a reason and I am fully believing in that now. Whatever Juan wants to do and think are for him to do and think about. I know you all loved her and I almost feel like I let you all down by not succeeding in our relationship. Thank you for your kind words and forever love. It means the world to me. Xoxo, S

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