I moved in with a single father twelve years ago. I had no children of my own then. He had two girls living with him. One was hurtling fast towards her teenage years and the other towards womanhood. A third daughter was already living away from home with her boyfriend.
At first, I saw the children as bonuses of my new relationship. They were friendly enough, ready to say goodbye to my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend and to welcome the new one. Looking back with one of them, this process was way too easy and should have highlighted a coldness that I would suffer from later on having allowed her into my heart.
I suppose I tried to treat them and too often went down the route of buying them new things. I wanted them to have the best in life and getting to know them made me understand my own mother's frustrations. Trying to put old heads on young shoulders, trying to protect them from heartache. There were also happy times watching Who Wants to be Millionnaire, going out for Sunday lunch and cooking together.
I bonded most with the older girl but she left to be with her Mum after a row. The relationship between my boyfriend and her mum was not good at all so there was erratic contact after she left. I felt her loss for many years and am grateful that she is back in my life. As a step-parent, you tread a path trying to be fair to different people and usually end up pleasing nobody in my experience.
The younger girl and I were very different types of people. She tried and I did. There were good times for a few years and then she too left after a row. Maybe I really am a wicked stepmother. Or more likely, just one who did not know what she was doing and walked into a situation where much damage had already happened.
There is now polite contact with my three adult step-children. They now have three half-siblings courtesy of me and I can understand that must be hard to deal with sometimes. I have no complaints about how they treat my children and know that they all make efforts in their own individual ways. I think they understand more now that they are older that sometimes when I appeared against them, things were not quite that straightforward.
I have to say that I would caution any friend about getting involved with a man or woman who already has children. Parenting is challenging but step-parenting more so because there is not that unconditional love to fall back on. Nor do you have any fixed right to discipline step-children and that can be a barrier to progress at times. You have to rely on the parent to do it effectively.
There are horror stories out there
Step-children who steal
Step-children who go missing
Step-children who verbally or physically abuse
Then there are lovely stories
Step-children who ask to call you Mum
Step-children who read at your wedding
Step-children who sort of get that you are doing your best, however inadequate
But it is still a tough call and not for the faint-hearted
What is your experience?