What to Expect from a Step-Mom

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m divorced and have full custody of my daughter. I’ve been dating someone for about six months and we practically live together, but I don’t think she’s doing enough to help me out. She says that this is her first real relationship and wants to take things slow. She never offers to help on her own—only does when I ask her to. Am I over reacting? I mean, she knew I had a daughter from the beginning and knows that my daughter is my world. I can’t understand why she’s so unwilling to help.

A: Becoming a step-mother is a huge step–especially for a woman who’s never had a real relationship before. I think that by taking it easy, she’s doing the right thing. It’s very hard even for more experienced women to get into a situation where they know they’re going to be playing second fiddle. As you said, your daughter is your world. In non-step relationships, your girlfriend would be your world. She wants–and needs–to have a solid relationship with you before she can feel confident in her role as step-mother. So don’t take her reluctance to get involved as an indication of lack of support or lack of caring on her part.
She’s probably just trying to find her footing. Be patient, let her know that she’s incredibly important to you, and ask how you can help. She needs to know that you love her for herself and not because you’re looking for a mother for your child (I know you’re not, but sometimes it looks that way from the outside). Asking your girlfriend to take on a parental role before she’s even had much of a chance to be a spouse, is pushing things too quickly.

Finally, keep your expectations reasonable. Do not expect that your daughter and girlfriend will love each other (or even like each other) right away. It may happen, but it might not. Ever.