- Family and Parenting
The 5 Hardest Challenges To Being A Step-Parent
Being a parent is hard. We’re handed these little bundles of joy that God has entrusted us to watch over, guide, and protect for the rest of our lives. We weren’t provided with a handbook and the only thing we can do is try our best to teach our children and raise them in the way we see fit. We take knowledge that we’ve learned over the years along with things that our parents taught us and hope for the best. But something that’s even harder than being a parent to our own children is coming into the lives of others children and taking on the role of step-parent.
Just like being a biological parent there are things that should be common sense. As step-parents we still make-sure that they are safe, well fed, and loved. But there are so many obstacles that are over-looked by outsiders that it’s difficult to understand just how challenging of a role it is until you experience it for yourself.
The Children Aren't Going To Accept You Right Away
Whether you’re walking into their lives as a step-dad or a step-mom, odds are your significant others children aren’t going to be understanding at first. If mom and dad recently split this will only make the transition process that much harder. This means that it’s not a wise idea as a new step parent to make your “position” known. Walking up to little Suzie the first time you meet her and saying “Aw, you’re a cutie. My name is Jackie, but you can call me mom” is about the fastest way to lose the trust of that child before that relationship even has a chance to develop.
I was lucky enough that when my fiancé and I first got together he had been single for quite some time and it was actually his oldest son that pushed us to start dating. I am a firm believer in trust isn’t just given, it must be earned so I wasn’t going to try and make his kids love me. Instead they have fallen in love with me on their own over the past year and a half. Let me tell you, nothing will ever compare to the first time that my eleven-year-old step-son looked at me and said “I love you mom.”
Love Them Like They're Yours
Seriously, from the moment whoever you’re dating says “I have children” you should be prepared to fall in love with more than just the person you’re having dinner with. If you don’t think you can love those kids from day one, then you should probably think twice about whether or not this relationship is for you. Trust me, ending it right then and there makes you a more respectable person than getting kids’ heart strings involved when you have no intention of ever being a parent to them.
If you choose to love them like your own, there will be days that are easier than others, especially in the beginning when they will be pushing buttons to see what all they can get away with. My eight-year-old step son, even though I’ve been a part of his life for almost a year and a half, still tries to push my patience (especially at dinner time) but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Remember That You Didn't Raise Them
Yes, I understand that there are circumstances where this isn’t the case. In fact, my fiancé is the only father my four-year-old son has ever known and although he isn’t his father, he has helped raise him. Most of the time, however, step-parents come into the picture after children have already grown used to certain things. For starters, as a step-parent you have to remember that your step-kids more than likely have already developed their own personalities, rituals, and habits from being raised by both mom and dad until you came along. This means that there is a chance that their little quirks will, at one point or another, irritate you to no end.
I had a girlfriend that confided in me one time over coffee, that her husband’s children were driving her insane because they never had any structure before she came along. There was no bed time, there were no family dinner at nights, and there were no rules when her husband and his ex-wife had been together. The only piece of advice that I could give her was to discuss it with her husband and perhaps develop rules for the kids to follow while at their home.
There Is Another Parent You Must Work Around
One of the most annoying things about being a step-parent is when you and the other biological parent that you’re not together with can’t see eye to eye. But there is this lovely document called a parenting plan that you MUST follow. This means that all of your family vacations or holidays must be planned around when you will have your step-kids.
My fiancé and I are lucky enough to have a good relationship with the boys’ mom so if whenever we want the boys we get them unless her and her husband already have plans. It doesn’t always work this way for other blended families. I have a friend who doesn’t have full custody of his daughter and whenever him and his wife want to do something with her, they must approve it with her mother. Because she views his wife as a threat to her title of “mommy” she absolutely refuses to let them take the little girl anywhere, even if she doesn’t already have plans. If they want to go out of town on their time with the child, the biological mom has it written in the parenting plan that she must first approve the location and the timing. Not only is this unfair to the child, but it also makes it difficult to make vacation plans.
At the End of the Day, You Are Just the Step-Parent
Yep, I said it. As much as it hurts to admit, that's all we are at the end of the day. We may love these kids like they're are own, and we may live and breathe them every single day, but that doesn't make them ours to claim. I don’t care how long you have been their step-parent nor do I care how much you may think your opinion matters, at the end of the day you are not mom nor are you dad. You are just the step-parent. This means that if you and your significant other want to put little Jimmy in drama and the other parent says no, you have to back off and let your significant other fight that battle. This means that if you don’t agree with something the other parent has done, you can voice your opinion to your significant other and it’s their choice to pursue talking with their ex about it. This also means that if you don’t agree with how your significant other is handling a situation involving their child you should just give your opinion and then let them make whatever decision they feel fits the situation.
I had a friendship end over the past couple of weeks because of my opinion on this. The biological father of his step-sons made a choice that he didn’t agree with and he went off the deep end. His wife told him to let her and her ex handle and he exploded his top. I think he expected me to take his side in the situation, being a step-parent myself, and I just couldn’t. When I looked at him and said “You’re not dad. At the end of the day you’re just the step-parent. It’s not your call” he looked at me, called me a backstabber, and hasn’t talked to me since. Being friends with his wife, I know the turmoil this has caused, not only in their household but the boys’ fathers household as well and it’s not fair to anyone involved.
I Wouldn't Trade It For Anything
Although there are so many more challenges than just these to being a step-parent, I don’t know a single step-parent that would trade the experience for a million dollars. The trust that my step-sons have in me is trust that I have worked to earn. Trust me, there is nothing more rewarding than having a child who isn’t biologically yours look at you and tell you that they love you. That makes everything that you’ve sacrificed for them absolutely worth it.