I became a stepparent to my stepdaughters when they were very young. The older one barely had a memory of her mother, who had given my husband full custody in exchange for not having to pay for child support, left her home, and was never heard from them again, while the younger one was less than a year old before her mother left. I met my husband three years after his ordeal, and then married him a year later.
In truth, I think I have it easy. My girls have always been very polite and well-behaved, and they had no qualms about welcoming me into their life since they knew no other mother. While I know I have my boundaries and will always be a step-mother to these girls, I love them like my own. And while it’s easy to write and talk about what it’s like, ultimately, only a stepparent could truly understand the woes of being a step-parent.
There’s the “Evil Stepparent Stigma”
Thanks to Hollywood TV and movies, a lot of people think that stepparents are the bad guy. When my daughters were little, and my husband had recently proposed, I overheard them telling one of their playground friends that I was going to be their stepmother. The little girl then asked, “Like in Cinderella?”
Single parents’ fiancées and fiancés are depicted as gold-diggers with little care about the child’s welfare, a person who desires the single parent but hates children, or cruel people unfit to raise children with their adult-like ways of thinking. But in reality, I’ve met other stepparents like myself, and while some of them don’t love their children in the same way as I or other parents do (the same way not all biological parents love their own children), we’re not evil people.
At the end of the day, we decide to love a person. And if that means loving – or at least being kind and respecting – their children, then we accept that deal.
Not All Stepchildren Are Making It Easy
I count myself lucky because my cousin was in a relationship with a woman who had four children from a previous marriage, and for five years, he had acted as a stepparent in his girlfriend’s children’s lives. After they broke up, he confided in my how it wasn’t easy being a stepparent to them. The eldest, a teenager going through his puberty years, refused to accept his mom was dating again and supposedly hated my cousin’s presence in their home.
My cousin recalled that being a stepparent was a test of his pride and his love for his girlfriend. The eldest would tell his siblings to ignore him, mock him openly, and even once lied to his mom in an attempt to break them up. Eventually, my cousin felt like it was unfair for him to force himself into the kids’ lives when the mom supposedly made no effort to mediate between them, and they parted ways.
Unlike parents that watch their child grow from a newborn to a child to a teen, you’re pushed into the role of a parent with a child that is already in one of those stages. I thought that coming into a relationship with my husband, I would instantly develop a maternal instinct towards my children. After all, the girls were six and four years old, how far was that from raising newborns?
Turns out, it was. I wasn’t instantly good at telling what they wanted or when they were sad. I didn’t know how to give an effective scolding or reprimanding without seeming like I’m overstepping my boundary. But suddenly, I was supposed to act like I had been there for my stepchildren since birth.
I don’t know how their mother was as a parent, but I know I’ll never get to say I did the same things she did for her children. I didn’t give birth to them, I didn’t lose sleep trying to calm them down when they cried at night, I didn’t laugh with joy when I heard them say their first words. That doesn’t make me love them any less, but it means I wasn’t there in huge moments in their lives, and sometimes I feel they know it, and that has affected how our relationship differs from a relationship they could have had with their mother.
Unlike their father, who parents them from his heart, I helped raise them with parenting that comes from logic and experience as a child psychologist. Yes, they can come to me whenever they need advice or a shoulder to cry on, but I’m always in that state of feeling like I don’t love or raise them like a biological parent would. And while we have a good relationship, sometimes I do feel insecure and wonder if it’s enough for them.
Competing with Their Biological Parent
While I’ve never met my husband’s ex, at the start of the marriage, I felt like my stepdaughters, especially the older one, would judge if I was a better or worse mom than their biological mother. When a divorced couple shares joint custody, the kids go back and forth between two family homes. I know some people who have had to live with this type of scenario and having to compete with the other mother or other father can be exhausting.
Best case scenario, the ex remains amicable for the sake of the children and doesn’t try to poison his or her children against you. They’re decent people who just entered an incompatible marriage and wishes you all the best. On the other hand, you could end up with a vindictive ex who thinks you’re stealing your family from her and tells your children to treat you accordingly.
Even if my husband keeps full custody and hasn’t seen his ex in almost two decades, during the first few years (and admittedly, at times when I felt inadequate as a stepparent), I felt I was living in her shadow.
At the end of the day, stepparents aren’t evil. We know we’re not our stepkid’s real mom or dad, and that’s okay. Most of us are just trying to do our best and become a part of our stepchildren’s lives.