Being a stepparent is hard and there is no easy way around that fact.
I was recently reminded of this by another parent. The parent assumed that I didn’t love my stepchild enough because I expressed that I wanted to have another child with my husband. We currently have a 22 month-old daughter and he has a 9-year-old son from his first marriage. Had both children been born to me, then I would have been just another 30 something yearning to fill her nest, but because one of them isn’t biologically mine, this parent assumed that I must not love him enough, or want him, or feel he is mine. She couldn’t be more wrong.
For me, being a stepparent means always being on the edge of parenthood but never fully being allowed in because it’s overstepping or “not my place.”
Stepparents don’t fit into many parenting circles because we aren’t seen as real parents. We aren’t allowed to vent about the latest load of laundry sacrificed to the crayon gods in the dryer and are often thwarted when we try to pick our sick and vomiting step children up from school… those tasks are best left to the real parents. Stepparents aren’t seen as real parents; we are something in between, a placeholder for our spouses but still expected to dutifully tend to raising and loving a child into an actualized adult.
For the past 6 years, I have helped raise, nurtured, and watched m y stepson grow. I have fought for him and advocated for him when no one else would. I have lost sleep wondering if he was okay when he was sick and pulled all-nighters creating what I believe to be the best Valentine’s Day treats ever. I do those things because I am a parent, my stepson’s parent, with no strings attached. I am his parent and I want the best for him so I swallow my pride and feelings and stand back when it comes time for parent/teacher conferences, award banquet nights, and parent celebrations. As much as I am his parent and as much and I love him, I know that he will never be mine and I can not replace his biological mother. I do not want to replace her.
I am my son’s stepmom, his almost parent, and his father’s wife.
I am not allowed to cross that threshold into parent territory. I can’t complain about his socks or the three-week-old liquefied banana in his backpack because only a cold hearted witch complains about another person’s baby. I can’t post pictures of his first day of school, first lost tooth, or school achievements because those are rewards reserved for his parents.
As a stepparent, I have quickly learned to love fully and unconditionally knowing that my heart will be broken.
My heart breaks every time I am forgotten, every time I take the brunt of frustration of an angry child who is mad about his parents’ divorce, and every time I am reminded that to some, I am not a real parent to my stepson.
I am a real parent to my stepson though! I am real to him and I make real impressions in his life. My parent credibility should not be defined by whether or not I carried him inside of me. Judge my parenting based on my choice to stick with my stepson when the times get tough, my choice to jump feet first into parenthood without any preparation, and my ability to quietly hold it together when I want to break down because parenting is so incredibly hard! I love my stepson enough that my feelings don’t matter. I will be crushed a thousand times this week and another thousand next week, but I’m not going anywhere. Parents don’t leave.
I am not looking for a celebration or applause, and I don’t need a card or even a thank you from my stepson. What I do need is acceptance from other parents. I need less criticism and more support, that what I am doing has merit and value. I want to feel like I have a seat at the mommy table and have my voice and experiences heard. I want the “step” in my title to be recognized after my contribution to raising a fine, well-adjusted and sensitive soul. I do get to call my stepson mine, even if I am only borrowing him for the moment.