10 DADS IN 10 DAYS
Being a stepdad is not without it’s challenges for all of us, because it’s a new family unit for everyone to get used to. But I was unfazed by it. I met Audrey when I’d just turned 40 and the reality of being a single man in your forties is you’re going to date women with children. And I would recommend it. Highly.
There’s something super wonderful about dating and falling in love with a woman that has a kid. It’s a different energy. The thing I found about Audrey straight away was that she just had her shit together. Cause there was no time to mess around. She was a single mom raising Georgia alone and she just had it together because she had to.
And I was thrilled.
The advice that I’d have for anyone that’s becoming a stepdad for the first time is to understand that there is an existing relationship that you are now allowed to become a part of. That’s the relationship between the mum and her kid or kids. And that will always be and has to be the priority. Always understand that you will never be No.1. It’s not about you – that’s the thing. It’s not about you anymore. And having that humility brings you extraordinary opportunity.
It can be hard at first. But that’s OK.
Becoming a stepdad is like you’re pulling onto the freeway, my friend. It’s not like when you have baby and you’re just getting up to a jogging pace, then you get up to a sprint, and then now you’re running a marathon. You don’t have that slow curve of getting used to the other things in your life dissipating and now this is the priority. Everything changes in one day to the next. And it’s worth it. And you become more of a man because of it. That’s not to say the gear-change isn’t a shock. But it’s the opportunity to man up.
You have to make it OK for your partner to choose the kid over you every single time. Because you’re a grown man and you can look after yourself. But there’s a child in the situation with questions and opinions and emotions that need to be considered and taken care of. That absolutely has to be the priority. Suck it up.
And you have to be super-aware of how you can affect the relationship of your partner and her child or children. There’s no point in you enriching your life by having a relationship with someone if you destroy another. No! The only reason that you would want to be with this person is to make sure that those lives, everybody’s lives are lifted up. So you’re not just enriching the life of the other person in the relationship. One plus one equals five if you do it right.
I think what I didn’t really expect about becoming a stepdad is how much things changed from one day to the next. One day, Georgia was my girlfriend’s kid that I hung out with and played Dance Dance Extreme with on the Wii. And then the next day I felt like: “I would do anything to save this person’s life! Even if it meant pushing her out of the way of a train and I’d get killed, I would do it.”
It was like this switch got flicked in the back of my head and that was it. It’s never changed since then. Boom! Locked in.
I’ve heard mates describe that happens sometimes in the first hours or days after their baby is born. It took a little longer for me because obviously, Georgia is quite a grown-up kid. She was 10 when I met her. But it didn’t take long. It was only a couple of months of us hanging out. And it’s just brought everything into utterly super-sharp focus. I’m really grateful for her.
Are there any key dos and don’ts? The No.1 “don’t” is don’t try to be her dad. Just be a person in her life. Be a person of integrity in the child’s life. Be a person that is able to show the child what a loving and caring relationship can be like. That’ll be the greatest gift you can give to them. They will call the shots of the depth of the relationship you have with them. You might just be the person that drives them around. That’s OK. You might be the person that they ask for advice. You might be the person they don’t want to hear a thing from. That’s OK.
The greatest advice given to me about being a stepfather, or taking a father role, is that, yeah, they might ignore you. But the most important thing is that you’re there for them to ignore. You’ve just gotta be there. Just. Be. There. As long as you show that you’re there and that you love their mum, and you have love and care for them – down the track that will pay off.
What’s the secret to a lasting marriage? Full disclosure: I’m on my second time around. Communication is important. Validation is important. Making sure that you are man enough to not let your ego jump in the way. Admitting when you’re at fault and taking responsibility. Being super-accountable.
You may have brought things from your previous relationship into this one. And it may be habitual, like when you rent a European car for a weekend when you’re in another city and you keep turning the indicator on when you’re trying to change the windshield wiper, or the other way around. Like you don’t mean to do it, it’s just a reaction. And you need to go: ‘Oh, that’s a thing that doesn’t belong here. Sorry. I’m gonna try and work on that. I know I shouldn’t do that.’ Do everything you can to try and change that, and show her that you’re trying to change that.
The relationship is going to change under your feet, and that is fine. Those first six or nine months are blissful and wonderful, and then it can get down to times when it seems like the only conversations you seem to have are about bills and logistics about moving kids around.
It’s also important to remember a relationship takes work. You don’t just accidentally have a great marriage. You make critical decisions, every hour of every day. You make choices every hour and every day that takes you towards that great marriage. And that’s what a great relationship takes. It takes work.
It’s like anything. You can’t just set it and forget it or it will perish. It will perish like a pot plant that you bought one weekend when you thought “I’m gonna have an indoor garden!” And what you’re doing now is you’ve got a bunch of empty pots stacked on top of each other on the balcony because they all died. No, you’ve got to work on your marriage every day. But it’s worth it.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE BACCON