Being A Step-Parent Is Hard
Some things that helped remind me I'm not insane.
I became a step-mom at age 22, and it was one of the most challenging things I’ve faced in my adulthood, and continues to be challenging years later. Between figuring out boundaries, where you actually fit into the relationship, and finding the courage to seek support, it’s something I am still trying to figure out, and I know many others are as well. I dove into searching for help as a step-parent, and what I found didn’t make me feel any better. I saw countless articles about how important it is to be a good step-parent, how amazing it is and how big a role it is. While yes — being a step-parent is a wonderful experience, it also isn’t. From a realistic perspective, it’s hard and not always fun. I wanted to share a few things that I’ve learned since becoming a step-parent that I think may help you.
Being A Step Parent Doesn’t Magically Become Easier — Ever.
There are a lot of things that are confusing when it comes to step-parenting. When do I intervene? Am I supposed to help discipline? Should I give my opinion? Should I be upset when they don’t listen to me? The questions continue forever and if you’re anything like me, living in limbo, wondering where you stand in the relationship with the child. My partner and I only have his child every other weekend and Wednesday evenings on a normal schedule, which makes it even more confusing for me to figure out, because my partner barely feels like a parent himself since his visits are so sparse, leaving even more on my shoulders.
The first thing I had to come to terms with is that I am not always going to be happy with the way my partner is raising his daughter. I will not agree with his parenting style all the time. I occasionally will not agree with the way she acts or lives. Sometimes I’ll throw in my opinion or give a comment and I’ll be listened to and acknowledged whereas occasionally I’ll say something and my partner completely blows off my statement, giving me the chance to sit back and think about the fact: She is not my kid. Raising her correctly is not really my responsibility. I like taking that stance instead of being frustrated and causing a fight.
“Stepparents are not around to replace a biological parent, rather to augment a child’s life experience.” — Azriel Johnson
Now before you come for me with the “You knew what you were getting yourself into” comments, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help raise the child when you are such a huge part in their lives. I’m saying that it’s not worth getting upset over when they’re not being raised how you would ideally want your own child to be raised. You’re allowed to guide them while also remaining a slightly non-parent figure.
It’s Okay To Step Back
This is another hard lesson I had to learn when becoming a step-mom. I am allowed to leave if I want to and it’s okay for me to do so. At the beginning of our relationship, I felt obligated to be there. I felt obligated to stay home with my partner when we had his daughter because I knew he wasn’t able to go out. I felt guilty, like I shouldn’t be able to go out without him. I no longer feel that way and it has helped my relationship with him as well as with my step-daughter tremendously.
If I get invited to go out with my friends, I will go. I will leave my partner to spend the time with his child, and allow myself to have the freedom. It’s necessary to do this sometimes, to cool off and allow your partner to be a parent without you. It is in my experience that the best way to be a step-parent is to be supportive, but also don’t take on the same amount of responsibility because again — it’s not your kid. Let go of the guilt, let go of the control.
It’s Okay To Seek Support
When I was overly involved in my step-parenting role, I felt like I was losing my mind half of the time. I felt like I was growing more and more insane with each “Daddyyyy” I heard. I almost left the relationship multiple times because I just couldn’t stand it, and frankly, I couldn’t stand her sometimes. Which made me feel like a terrible person because I mean, she was a child. It made little sense. I was growing so far away from my partner because she was just constantly there, constantly calling for him, whining, making him take his attention away from me. I was resentful towards myself because I felt ridiculous being almost jealous of my partner’s own daughter.
That’s when I turned to Google.
I realized I wasn’t alone in these feelings. Reading discussion post after discussion post about people who struggled with being a step-parent because of their step-kids’ attitudes, or feeling like they were being neglected by their partner whenever the child was around. I felt validated; I felt heard, and I realized — I wasn’t crazy. I had never been a parent before. I got thrown into being a parent because I fell in love with a guy who had a four year old. I didn’t get eased into the process. Suddenly I was in this huge role that I had no preparation to be in.
The bottom line: Your feelings are valid. You are not insane, you’re not a terrible person. It’s normal to struggle with this, and I promise you’ll get through it.
After going through all my phases of jealousy, confusion, anger, and feeling like I was insane, I finally have found a balance. I no longer feel uncomfortable in my home, I make dinner when I feel like making dinner; I do what I want to do; I co-parent with my partner when I feel like it and I step back when I don’t have the patience. I have fun and I make sure I put my happiness as a top priority.
There’s a lot of fun that comes with being a step-parent, as long as you allow there to be. I don’t have to be the one responsible for all the strict parenting. She has two other actual parents to do that enough. So instead, I stick to the fun stuff like blowing bubbles outside, having random dance parties enough to annoy her dad (this happens when she’s not at our house so might as well continue it with a small partner), watch cartoons that I actually enjoy with her, do stupid little crafting projects and teach her about things I believe in that her mom probably tells her are ridiculous.
It’s like having a niece or nephew, just one you have a little more responsibility over. Set clear boundaries and don’t make it more than it has to be. Being a step-parent can be fun. It’s up to you to let it be.
Exes… Oh Boy.
My last piece of advice? Stay out of the baby mamma/baby daddy drama. It is oh-so-not worth it. The drama is not yours. It’s not your battle, to a point. In my personal situation, I have nothing to do with their drama. I go to pick her up from the police station, but I don’t do any of the communicating myself. I pay attention and keep my step-daughter’s best interest in mind. If there’s not anything going on that hurts my step-daughter, I stay out of it. I treat it the same way I would treat a random child I don’t know — if they’re being abused; I intervene. If not? Not my business.
Being a step-parent is one of the most difficult things I’ve navigated through as an adult, and something that has me constantly learning and growing, but something I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have gone through my fair share of highs and lows with being a step-mom, and I know I have many more to come. I hope this can help you navigate those waters yourself, and if you have any more pieces of advice, share them in the comments. We all appreciate some help sometimes.
“A stepparent is so much more than just a parent: they made the choice to love when they didn’t have to.” — Unknown