When Pat married the love of her life, she also "married" his two children by a former marriage. Three years later, she has this advice for any woman who's about to marry a man with children:
"Think a lot. Talk a lot. Know that nothing you've ever done has prepared you to be a stepmother. And know that if you expect gratitude for your dedication and effort, you'll die of a broken heart," said Pat, 32, when we met at a seminar for working parents.
"Jim and his children and I spent a great deal of time together over the three years that he and I dated. But we were always going places -- to the zoo, the park, ball games, movies, the pool, restaurants, etc.
"Now I realize that you don't get to know anyone's kids very well when they're having fun, fun, fun. You get to know them only after you're married and their father leaves it up to you to entertain them," she said, with some bitterness.
"Before you marry a man who already has kids -- even if he's the love of your life and his children are angels -- first ask yourself some searching questions," advised Pat.
These questions might include: Have he and I talked -- in detail -- about his children's visits to our house? How often will they come? For how long? How much notice will we have?
What house rules will be in effect? Who will enforce these rules? Who will be responsible for meals, entertainment, etc. during the children's visits? How will their father and I ensure that we have private time during these visits?
"Ask yourself how you'd feel if his children came to live with you, too," said Pat. "They might!
"Then ask yourself how responsible this man is now with his children. If he's passive and waits for you to take over now, you can assume that he'll be twice as passive and helpless once you're married.
"Remember: You're a woman," she added. "So as soon as he marries you, he's likely to see you as a built-in mother for his children. Most men -- even the best of them -- do this unless their wives set very specific ground rules ahead of time."
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.