The Stepparent

For 8 years I have been a stepparent to a live-at-home-full-time stepchild. Over those 8 years I have endured scrutiny, criticism, heartache, and joy. I have been accused of doing things and acting certain ways just because I’m the stepparent. As it turns out, it’s true. Many of my actions and reactions have been just because I’m the stepparent. Had I been the biological parent, things would have been handled differently. This is my confession.

Because I’m the stepparent, I have worked twice as hard to prove my love as I have with my biological children. Something they knew intuitively had to be proved and re-proved with my stepchild. And not just to the child, to everyone. No one really believes a stepparent loves a stepchild as much as his/her own children. Ever.

Because I’m the stepparent, Every. Single. Move I’ve made has been scrutinized and questioned. Even when that move affected all the children in the house, the concern was always about how fair or unfair it was for the stepchild. Because apparently treating a stepchild just like every other child in the house just isn’t fair enough.

Because I’m the stepparent, activities that are hard enough on their own are even harder with a stepchild. Going to the doctor, enrolling in school, and scheduling parent-teacher conferences are not as simple as an email or a phone call when you are the stepparent. The world just doesn’t trust stepparents the same way it trusts biological parents. There is good reason for this. That fact does not make these tasks any less frustrating for a stepparent.

Because I’m the stepparent, if there is a problem with something I have (supposedly) done, I rarely get a chance to defend myself or give my side of the story. It’s just easier to call the biological parent and fuss. This is a problem because the biological parent probably wasn’t around when the incident happened. So now it’s the stepchild’s word against someone else’s interpretation of what I’ve said happened. Guess whose side everyone is going to believe? Hint: it isn’t the second hand version of the stepparent’s story that’s going to win.

Because I’m the stepparent, I’ve had to fight for respect and obedience. It’s true, raising children is hard. Teaching them to listen to and respect their peers and guardians is hard. Doing the same thing as a stepparent is even harder. As a stepparent, you are the intruder, the one who doesn’t belong. This isn’t your child, so why are you acting like the child is yours? Hopefully you’ve noticed the irony of the last sentence. All along you are fighting to be as good a parent to your stepchild as a regular parent. But your stepchild knows you are not his/her actual parent. Because of this, the stepchild will fight with all of his/her might to not follow the rules set by the stepparent. This is an unfortunate circumstance if the stepparent is the one responsible for enforcing said rules most of the time. Then there are the consequences for not following the rules. Refer back to the previous paragraph for an idea of what happens when the stepparent enforces those consequences.

Because I’m both a stepparent and a biological parent, I’m living with the stress that already comes with raising children, plus the stress of constantly defending myself and asking myself over and over again if I’ve been fair. I’m constantly over-thinking even small decisions to make sure no one can find fault with those decisions. Inevitably, someone will find fault anyway. Because of this and everything else I’ve written about, I snap more often than I would if I didn’t have a stepchild. I can admit that the stress gets to me on my worst days. I’ve yelled, I’ve cried, I’ve cussed, and I’ve said things I shouldn’t have. I do my best to admit when I’m wrong and work on doing better next time.

Because I’m a stepparent, I’ve been blessed to have a hand in raising a child I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It’s hard. It’s stressful. But on the days we do get along, we are able to share genuine laughter and have wonderful heart-to-hearts. We aren’t always able to let our guards down, but when we do, it makes the struggles worth it.