Parents vs. Step-Parents
I’ve been a dad for nearly 17 years. It’s getting to the point where I don’t even remember what it’s like not to be a father. I wake up knowing that my decisions have consequences. I go to sleep knowing that decisions I made throughout the day could affect my children for many years to come.
But I also go to sleep knowing there are four little angels out there who love me no matter what. When they hug me, it’s the purest connection I know. Just unadulterated love poured from one person to another.
And in that regard, parenting is easy. The reward is inherent in the task. You get to love another person, and that love comes back to you tenfold.
And so we scrape our way through the tough years. We tolerate when we are vomited upon. We survive years of children playing parents against one another. And we power our way through the arrogant, all-knowing teenage years.
But there is a person who deserves as much praise if not more than the parent. And that is the mighty step-parent.
The Mighty Step-Parent
I am not a step-parent. God willing, I will never be one. Therefore, it can definitely be argued convincingly that I have no right to speak about the subject. I can’t possibly understand the struggles of working hard with a partner to raise children who are not my own. I will never quite grasp the nuances of this special and ultra-complicated role.
But I’m watching a step-mother every day. And I’m fascinated by the process. And more impressed than my sweet Devorah will ever really know and understand.I can't possibly understand the struggles of working hard with a partner to raise children who are not my own. I will never quite grasp the nuances of this special and ultra-complicated role. Click To Tweet
Therefore, this and the next post are dedicated to the unsung heroes: The step-parents. The ones who put themselves out there every day, not because they watched a child from birth until now. Not because of an inherent biological connection to the child. But because their nature is kindness. They love and care for other little people completely unsure of whether that love will be reciprocated.
And thus I present, five insane challenges of being a step-parent:
1) Becoming a Step-Parent is Too Quick
The step-parent process is anything but gradual. When you raise your own children, you watch them grow and develop. You see the formation of their personality. And you might even have a hand in guiding the child from where they started to where they are now.
But when you are a step-parent, you get a semi-complete package, replete with any and all of the baggage that was picked up along the way. You don’t have time to appreciate how far the child has come and certainly had no impact in them getting there.
Yet you are expected to jump in and be there for them. To be parent-like, without the benefit of years of developing a relationship and familiarity. What you see is what you get… no matter what you see.
2) Step-Parents are Wildly Underappreciated
You can be everything to the step-child, but it is unlikely to be rewarded in the same way a parent gets rewarded. This is both by the child himself, and by society at large. Being a step-parent can be a whole lot of hard work. Children reward parents with hugs and a whole lot of unconditional love. Society recognizes the mighty parent for their self-sacrifice, ever-present commitment, and their adoration of their precious children.
Step-parents, no matter how great they are, are lucky to get a pat on the back. Children thank them like a helper in school and society at large wonders what their purpose is.
3) Step-parents Fear Dual Loyalty
Children have always and will always pit parents against one another. It’s a classic ploy. But ultimately, in a healthy household, parents deal with it like champions. They never fall into the trap. And it never interferes with the couple’s relationship.
But what about with step-parents? Obviously a parent can discipline their own child… and it’s usually wildly inappropriate for a complete stranger to do so. It would seem, at least to them, that a step-parent falls somewhere in between. But where exactly?
Even if a step-parent is as close to being a parent without actually being a parent, and there is an understanding with the couple that the kids must relate to the step-parent as an authority, does this change how it feels when the step-parent has to be strong or harsh? Not in the slightest. They fear how the “real” parent will react when they are putting the children in their place. Or not giving them their hearts’ desires.
Is it a logical fear? Well, sometimes very much so. And the step-parent needs to survive with that insecurity hanging over their head.
4) Step-Parents Never Feel Certain
There is a level of certainty that comes with parenting (with definite exceptions). Yes, you’ll need to discipline your children at times. You’ll have to say “no”, despite begging, screaming, and crying. And you might have a fear somewhere in your system that you’re damaging the relationship. But you dust off your shoulders, stand up, and get right back to it.
And tomorrow’s another day. The love is not diminished. The hugs are just as strong. Yesterday was quite awful… but it’s over and long gone.
Step-parents don’t have such luxuries. They fear, day in and day out, that anything they do “wrong” will get a response akin to “You’re not my real mom”, followed by a permanently damaged relationship.
5) Love Isn’t as Obvious as it Should Be
The words “mom” and “dad” ideally should be laden with adoration and admiration. Endorphins spread through my whole system to this day every time my beautiful children call me “abba”. Their hugs are true gold. And I feel the blessings of having them in my life each and every day.
But step-parents are often called by their first names. There isn’t necessarily something that binds them together that is deeply inherent in the relationship. And if the day should come that they cease to be a step-parent any longer, the bond that was there is often broken immediately, never to return again.
Is this the reality? I’m sure it is in some cases. Perhaps most. But even when the step-parent does bond with the children, and the love is real and powerful, does it remove the fears? Does it help them fall asleep at night? Does the uncertainty get swept away? Or do step-parents worry, with each passing day, that their bond is breakable, if not easily destroyed?
Step-parents need to be amazing, and fulfill their role daily, despite the love not being anywhere near as obvious as they might want it to be.
And with all this, they do it anyway. Step-parents do it daily. They do it with a smile, even if it will turn into tears a few hours later.
And they do it well.
They are the true heroes.
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