Being a step-parent is without a doubt one of the most challenging things I have ever done, including, at times, simply being a parent. It's made to feel significantly more difficult thanks to the many misconceptions about step-parents that other parents have — ranging from "completely unimportant" to the "source of all evil." Honestly, most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle. We're involved with our families and step-kids and we're not evil, we're just trying to navigate the tricky waters of co-parenting. In fact, there are things every step-parent wants every other parent to know, and I think it's time to set the record strait.
First of all, could the stereotypes of the wicked stepmother or stern stepfather just die? See also: the clueless step-parent who doesn't know anything, the step-parent who tries too hard and fails, and the gold-digger trying to steal some unsuspecting kids' dad or mom. Some people have some painfully off-base preconceived notions about what I'm like, as a human and a woman and a parent, based solely on the fact that I married a man with kids. Guys, that's not fair.
Step-parenting isn't easy. People just don't seem to understand that as much as I love my husband and all of our kids, being a stepmom is hard and I am still learning, so regularly screwing up is absolutely going to be a thing. To be perfectly honest, you don't fall in love with your step-kids in an instant, and they definitely don't fall in love with you right away, either, and no matter how hard you try. The relationships you have with your step-kids and the other co-parents are complicated. But honestly, what relationship isn't complex?
I think it's time for everyone to give step-parents a break, because this gig is hard enough all on its own. Guys, our plates are full. So from one step-parent to all of the other parents out there, here are a few things I want you to know:
We're "Real" Parents
When people find out I am a step-parent, they almost immediately make a comment about me not being their "real" mom or them not being my "real" kids. But, what makes a relationship with your children real? All of my kids — biological and non-biological — are "real." And honestly, love doesn't require biology. There are lots of different, but equally "real" ways to build a family, including becoming a step-parent.
It Can Be So Hard
Being a step-mom is one of the most challenging things I've ever done. It has taken a lot of patience, creativity, and occasionally locking myself in the bathroom to cry in order to get through the hard days. And even when I think things are going well, I often find new ways to mess up. My step-son will stop acknowledging my existence or my step-daughter will roll her eyes and call her mom to complain about how mean I am.
So no, this isn't easy, and judgment from people who have no idea how hard it is only makes things worse.
We Love Our Step-Kids
It definitely has its difficult moments, but being a stepmom is one of the best things I've ever done, and there have been so many wonderful moments I will never forget as the result of marrying a man with children. To be perfectly honest, you don't instantly fall in love with your step-kids and they don't instantly fall in love with you, but that doesn't make that love not real.
We're Not Evil
Society has some seriously problematic preconceived notions about what I'm like, based solely on the fact that I married a man with kids. It's almost like our culture has a love affair with first marriages that makes second spouses and step-parents get a bad reputation, whether they deserve it or not. The truth is, I am not evil. Like, not even a little bit, and even if my step-kids think I am when I make them do their homework or go to bed.
We're Not Trying To Replace Anyone's Parent
Over the past couple of years, my step-kids and I have endured our share of ups and downs, and definitely some eye rolls and tantrums, but please don't assume you know anything about how our relationship works. TBH it's different than the relationship I have with my biological kids, but that's OK. My step-kids have a mom and a bonus mom in their lives. I am not trying to replace her, and we play totally different roles.
Jokes About Wicked Stepmoms Aren't Funny
Disney has given stepmoms a bad reputation. It's not funny, and it's so not true. I love my step-kids, and I try really hard to treat my step-kids and my biological kids fairly. Of course, that makes them think I am "evil" when I do things like enforce bedtime and make them clean up after themselves, but that's the normal blowback any parent, biological or not, experiences from a defiant child.
We Have More In Common Than You Think
There are so many different ways to make a family, but despite our differences we parents and step-parents have so much more in common than most people thing. As someone who has been both, I can tell you that the most important word in the phrase step-parent is "parent." We all love our kids and are trying to make it as parents, despite the many challenges each day brings. While there may be some crappy step-parents in the world, most of us are just trying to do our best.
It's Lonely Being A Step-Parent
It's so lonely. We are the parents who don't get mother's/father's day cards or invitations to school events; the parents who learn not to cry when our step-kid screams "you aren't my mom" or "I wish my dad had never married you"; and the parents who get treated like elephants in the room at parent-teacher meetings, doctor's appointments, school concerts, and family events.
Here's the deal: we wouldn't show up if we didn't want to be a part of our step-kids' lives, and it hurts when people say, "Oh, you're just their step-mom" with scorn, or worse, don't even acknowledge that you are there.
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