They say that being a mom a thankless job. Just stop and think for a second what that means for all of us step parents out there.
Now before those of you who haven’t experienced the step parent role lose your mind and start thinking what a horrible human I am, let me clarify something. Being a step parent is one of the most emotionally taxing, heart breaking, bang-your-head-into-a-wall, no-one-cares-about-my-feelings kind of experiences, but at the same time it is also the most fulfilling, rewarding, magnificently beautiful thing you’ll ever encounter.
You hear moms reference their children and say, “I loved you before I met you.” And while I have never given birth to a child, I have to tell you with all my heart that’s exactly how I felt about my step son.
SO, IS IT WORTH IT? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY. ALL OF IT.
I love my husband more than words can describe but seeing him with his son makes me love him on a level I never even knew was possible. His son absolutely adores him, and it melts my heart every time he says, “I love you daddy”.
MEETING MY STEP SON
I remember the first time I met my step-son. I have NEVER in my entire LIFE felt that scared. I was terrified he wouldn’t like me. That he wouldn’t understand who I was. That it was going to be a complete disaster. That he was going to go back and tell his mom what a terrible human I was. Knowing he was coming; I completely renovated a room just for him. Complete with a bright orange back wall, a big letter “B”, dinosaur bedding, as many toys as I could possibly find, clothing, kids body wash, I mean name it, I bought it. I had been waiting for this time to come for what felt like forever. The reality of actually having it happen was freaking terrifying. I didn’t sleep at all the night before he came.
The anxiety and worry over meeting him quickly melted away when it finally happened. This little boy is absolutely amazing. I remember when he wanted me to read him a story instead of daddy, and tuck him in. I remember him falling asleep next to me and me just closing my eyes, thanking God for this blessing, and crying my eyes out. I’m crying right now just remembering it. These moments matter.
TITLES AND WHY THEY DON’T MATTER
I started out as “daddy’s wife.” I remember him seeing our wedding photos on the wall and saying, “My Mommy married Daddy too.” As a step mom you’ll have many of these “Oh shit” moments where you honestly don’t know what to say. I remember the first few visits I really loved spending time with him, but I also felt sad and a bit lost. I felt like I didn’t know my role or my place. There were a few times on the first visit where he forgot my name, and I have to admit that really stung. I just took everything one visit and one day at a time. I then went from “Daddy’s Wife” to “Jessi” which I’m a-ok with. My title has never ever mattered to me in this situation. Knowing I love him, and he loves me is all that matters. It’s important for him to understand things on his own time. If you’re currently in this situation, just remember, your bond and relationship matter far more than a title.
HAVING A STEP CHILD IN A DIFFERENT TOWN OR STATE
My step-son lives in Denver. This is a whole other beast. If you are a step parent and have the blessing of having your step-child in the same city, hell, the same state as you, realize how lucky you are. He is 6 years old and we don’t see him even half the amount of time that we would like to. Simply “hopping a flight to Denver” cost us almost $1,200 for 2 days the last time we went. No one can keep that cost up. Which means that as he gets older, it’s going to be very difficult to go watch him play sports, perform in plays, do school presentations, etc. This is in no way, shape, or form a lack of desire, but a lack of funds, and that’s the reality. You know life is pretty damn unfair when you have to ask yourself if you can afford to go visit and if it’s “worth” spending upwards of $1,500 to go watch a play. Come on now. Do I sound bitter? Because I am.
WHAT THEY DON’T TELL YOU
The one thing people don’t tell you about being a step parent is just how much you’ll miss them in between visits. It genuinely breaks my heart how much I miss him. The difference as a step mom is that I do not feel I have the right to just call him whenever I want. As a step parent I’m also constantly wondering if I’m saying the right thing, doing the right thing, feeling the right way, overstepping my boundaries, and figuring out where my boundaries are. I also feel like my feelings and opinions don’t really matter. And while I am not saying that I’ve ever been told that, it is hard to not break down the situation into the simple reality: there’s a mom, there’s a dad, so what am I? Why would I get a say? Why would anyone care? I often get my feelings hurt simply by overthinking and reading way too much into something that was said or done. It is extremely hard not to be overly sensitive.
And then there’s disciplining. Do you have the right to do that as a step parent? If so, how? This one is super tricky in the beginning, but over time you’ll figure it out. The little things are hard, like when I’m doing something I hear, “No, my mom does it this way.” or, “Well in Denver we do this…” Those little things are like daggers to the heart even though they are perfectly normal and acceptable things for a child to say. Often with these little things we bury them down and suffer in silence because we fear if we say anything to someone, they will say we are overreacting or have us led to believe that our feelings are invalid. They’re valid my friend. And they justifiably hurt.
THE OTHER SIDE
I know way too many people that have these absolutely horrendous relationships in split families where there is constant fighting and hatred with the child’s mother. In these situations, the child is often used as leverage and it becomes more about the adults than the child’s best interest. I do not want any of that. Do your very best to keep the peace so you can have a healthy co-parenting relationship. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends or have one of those magical unicorn relationships you hear about that I believe are pure BS, but a little effort goes a long way on both sides.
I fully know that I will never be his mom. My intention has never ever been to replace anyone. The hard realization that you are not the legal parent will hit you hard over and over when you least expect it. You’ll get these sneaking thoughts in your head such as:
“WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMETHING HAPPENS TO MY SIGNIFICANT OTHER? WILL I EVER SEE MY STEP-CHILD AGAIN?”
I’m speaking to divorce, death, etc. Is this morbid? Maybe. But if you’re a step parent I can guarantee this thought will cross your mind at one point. And if by some chance you’re hearing this for the first time, my major apologizes. Feel free to take a second for a good cry then get back to reading. The reality is that in the end, no matter how much you do, how much you love, how much you sacrifice, you will never have any legal right to that child.
On that super positive note….
IF YOU’RE IN THIS SITUATION AND YOU ARE STRUGGLING
You have to step back, take a deep breath, and remember to stop being so hard on yourself. Is that cliché? Maybe. But you really are doing the best you can. Everything that happens is a learning experience. And guess what? Drumroll……It’s okay to make mistakes!! There is literally no perfect parent out there. You have every right to make mistakes and learn from them just like anyone else. Remember to give your step-child the time and opportunity to process things. This is difficult for them to figure out as well, no matter their age. The most important thing you can do is not force anything. Your bond with your step child, the understanding of your role and where you fit in, how to discipline correctly, and everything else, all comes in time. Be patient with yourself and your situation no matter where you’re at right now.
IT WILL GET BETTER
The difference between the first few visits and now is literally night and day. For example, he used to say, “my house” and “your house” and now he says “Denver” and “our house”. He knows the rules at our house such as “no whining” or “no tablet or phone when eating”. He went from not remembering my name, to our last visit where he said, “I love you more than all of the animals in the entire universe!” Be patient. All good things happen in time.
FOCUS ON CREATING THOSE MEMORIES THEY’LL NEVER FORGET
Do things with them that they enjoy. Take them places that you know they’ll love. Do things alone, just the two of you. I work from home, so I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my step son while my husband goes to work. We do lots of crafts, play dinosaurs, swing on the swings, make up silly songs and stories, dance around the house, and even go to movies together. As long as you remember to love them fiercely, you’re doing it right.
Something you don’t hear often enough is that as a step parent, even if you haven’t birthed a child, you ARE a parent. If no one has told you that, listen to me. I’ll say it again. (Insert claps between each word for emphasis)
YOU. ARE. A. PARENT.
You are choosing to love and care for someone else’s child. Think about that for a second. That in itself deserves the utmost respect and recognition. Surround yourself with people that love you and support you. Make sure you have someone to vent or cry to OUTSIDE your home. We all need that listening ear of someone who actually understands what we’re going through. If you don’t have that person, or you just want another one, don’t hesitate to reach out to me any time. I’m a great listener. And I’m pretty cool. Like I’d be my friend.
Take everything one day at a time. And hell, if sometimes you feel like your feelings or opinions aren’t being heard by your significant other you have the right to yell or cry.
BECAUSE THIS ENTIRE SITUATION AFFECTS YOU JUST AS MUCH AS THEM.
And most importantly, please remember: YOUR bond with YOUR step-child is important. YOUR role matters. And ultimately – YOU matter. YES YOU.