Stepparents like to say that they love their stepkids in the same way that they love their biological kids, but that’s not really accurate. The love may be just as strong, and just as genuine, but it is different. There are just some things about stepparenting that cannot be totally understood until you walk a few thousand miles in those shoes. Here are just a few step parenting truths:
Step Parenting Truths
#1: The love is not instant. And this goes both ways. Parents don’t choose to love their biological kids — they just do. There is certainly an argument to made for nature versus nurture, and there are some parents who appear not to have that inherent, unconditional love for their kids from day one. In general terms, though, that instantaneous love exists. Stepparenting is different. Particularly in the early days, that love is hard to come by. You don’t want to step on the toes of the other parent whose role you temporarily fill, but you don’t want to be so hands-off that you aren’t considered a parent at all.
For me, these past few years it has meant saying the actual words “I love you” often. When they wake up. When my stepdaughter is kicking and screaming on her way to bed at night. When my stepson tells me that everyone hates him (because he has to stop playing on his computer). When my stepdaughter asks to sit on my lap during a scary part of a movie. When my stepson shows me something he wrote or created at school just for me. During the good moments, the bad moment, the mundane moments — those words remind me of what really has become a truth in my life, and voicing them is a reminder of the work it has taken to get to that place.
#2: Your example matters. You may not be one of the two primary parents, but you ARE a parent to your stepkids. The way you conduct yourself matters and will have an impact on their own lives — possibly even more than the other parents’ will. This is because your stepkids watch you with a more critical eye than they do their own parents. They notice the things you do, and the things you say, in a magnified way. In most cases, they are also only around you on an abbreviated schedule. So you have even less time to impact them, to positively influence them, and to show them the type of person you hope they will become too someday.
#3: Stepparenting is a lifelong commitment. Stepparenting requires a level of commitment that can’t be half-assed. It is wrong to assume that everything will just fall into place on its own, or on the other end of spectrum, to believe that everything will always be terrible. Stepparents are the adults in the relationship with their stepkids — the ones who made the choice to take on that role. For me, this meant a lifelong commitment to my stepkids, no matter what the future holds for my husband and I. When I agreed to play that role in their lives, I agreed to it forever. I also agreed to never give up on them, and to always, always work toward bettering their futures even when I may not feel equally repaid from them for those efforts (don’t all parents feel that way though?).
#4: It isn’t about control. Don’t waste your time trying to show your stepkids that YOU are in charge, and that they must obey you. They already know that, and quite possibly resent you for it. Respect is important in a household but you will go a long way towards earning it from your stepkids by learning each other’s likes, dislikes and quirks together. Instead of wasting energy putting your foot down left and right, reinvest that focus in really getting to know your stepkids and forming a strong foundation built on mutual appreciation and trust.
#5: Step parenting truths: it IS rewarding. There seems to be this misconception that stepparents are martyrs — that they sign up for a life of child-rearing drudgery and are victims of their unlucky love circumstances who must then learn to deal with the children that come along with their spouse. I call B.S. on that stereotype and I wish that stepparents themselves would stop playing into it. Children are a blessing, no matter what way, shape or form they arrive in your life. On the nights when my stepkids are here, the laughter in our home is twice as loud. Our dinner table overflows with cups, conversation and kids most nights of the week. I have two bonus people I get to watch joyfully unwrap Christmas presents every year, and two extra homemade cards every Mother’s Day. My life isn’t worse because of my stepkids being in it — it is better than I could have ever imagined if I had plotted it all out on my own. Stepparenting is not all work and no play. It is one of the most incredibly rewarding tasks a person can receive — if he or she really sees it for what it is.
I’m sure I’ll learn more step parenting truths along the way, but until then I’m happy to just have this family. Are you a stepparent? What would you add to this step parenting truths list?
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