“Once upon a time… there lived an unhappy young girl. Unhappy she was, for her mother was dead, her father had married another woman, a widow with two daughters, and her stepmother didn’t like her one little bit. All the nice things, kind thoughts and loving touches were for her own daughters. And not just the kind thoughts and love, but also dresses, shoes, shawls, delicious food, comfy beds, as well as every home comfort. All this was laid on for her daughters.
But, for the poor unhappy girl, there was nothing at all. No dresses, only her stepsisters’ hand-me-downs. No lovely dishes, nothing but scraps. No nice rests and comfort. For she had to work hard all day, and only when evening came was she allowed to sit for a while by the fire, near the cinders. That is how she got her nickname, for everybody called her Cinderella.”
How many times have we told this story to our children? How many times have we heard it ourselves? When our friends get the short end of the stick, how many times have we said they are getting treated worse than a ‘red-headed step-child’? Through out time stepparents have gotten a bad reputation. However undeserving it is, good stepparents constantly feel that only the negative and never the positive are measuring them.
Being a stepparent is somewhat different from regular parenting, not so much in the technique you may choose to use when raising your stepchildren or influencing them should they not live with you, but the way you must go about teaching them. Every situation is different and depending on the level of intelligence and civility both you and the natural parents have, being a stepparent can be a joy or pure hell. I hope to touch on each of these views in this article.
There are a great many people who feel that a stepparent could never love a stepchild as they could or do their own children. This is not true. For many stepparents there is a special bond with the stepchild just as a natural mother or father would have. In some cases it is even stronger than that of the natural parents.
When you agree to be in a relationship where there are already children you must make some serious decisions before committing yourself to a long-term relationship. First and foremost you must always put the children first and expect that the natural parent will as well. That means that you are second in the relationship. If you cannot live with that then being a stepparent is not something you should take on. Being a step-parent can be very trying at times and natural parents may not see you as an equal in matters that involve their children, not even the person you are in a relationship with. Some other things to consider would be how well you and the ‘other’ parent get along. If you do not get along with the natural parent with whom you share your duties then you either need to sit down with them and work out the issues or you may need to reconsider getting involved. While it is possible to be a stepparent and not get along with the shared duties parent, it makes life 100% harder for the children and for you.
You may also want to consider how well you get along with the child. You will NEVER replace the child. You will NEVER get the parent (if they are in fact a good and responsible parent) to choose you over the child and you should not expect to do that anyway. Another factor is how serious you plan to be with your new partner. Is this planned for the long term or is this a relationship you doubt will last? Getting involved in a relationship where you have the potential to be a stepparent is something that you should never weigh lightly. It does not just affect you. Everything that happens will affect the children.
I understand that people cannot always determine the length of a relationship, however, the majority of people do know whether or not they are in a lasting relationship. Stepparents must be extra careful when considering this because if the relationship should be dissolved the stepparent has no legal rights to the children. If you have been in their lives for a while it can have damaging effects on you and the children. When a marriage breaks up and natural parents separate the children will usually still be involved with both parents. When a stepparent and a natural parent separate, the stepparent no longer has the right to see or be involved with the children. You need to really consider the possibility of this issue and determine whether or not you will be able to live with that. If you can’t or you think you may not be able to, do not get involved. While we all get married with the idea that our marriage will be the one that spans a lifetime, nothing in life is certain except death. It is a fact you must face and plan for prior to becoming emotionally attached to someone else’s child.
When you have thought over every possibility and decided that you are indeed ready to enter the world of step parenting there are a few more things you should consider. Sometimes children are eager to welcome you into their lives. This could be the case if the natural parent you mirror is not or was not much of a parent. It could also be the case if the natural parent has died and sometimes it is just a very warm and loving child. However, allowing a child to call you “Mom or Dad” before a legal commitment is made is something that should be reconsidered. It can be hard to resist sometimes but allowing the children to give you that title can cause some major problems. First if the natural parent is still in the child’s life they can become terribly jealous and fearful that the child will love you more than them. This can cause serious issues with visitation and custody arrangements. Also, should the relationship dissolve the child is left feeling that ‘another’ parent has left them. Lastly if you allow the children to label you with the title of “Mom or Dad” and the relationship should be dissolved it will make it harder to leave because of guilt over leaving the children.
There was a case not too long ago where a young woman became involved with a man who had a couple of children. One of them lived with him and the other did not. Everything seemed fine at first until the natural mother saw the stepmother forming a very strong bond with the child that lived in the home. The child soon called the stepparent “Mama” and the natural mother became enraged. The natural mother had very little to do with the child and in fact was pregnant by another man. Despite this fact she could not stand the thought that her child could possibly love another person in a child/parent way. The stepmother did everything she could to give the stepchild the love and attention that had been lacking in her life. She taught her things to get her level of learning where it should be for a child of her age, she cared for her when she was sick, she trained her to the potty and loved the child as if she were her own. All of this only further enraged the natural mother. In this case it would have suited the natural mother just fine if the stepmother had really been a wicked stepparent. Eventually she decided that her child should not be loved by anyone else and had the child removed from her father a year after she had walked out on him and their child. That was not enough for her though. She continued to try and get the visitations limited and actually talked badly about the stepmother to the child and to the man’s other child. When her efforts fell short of driving the step-mother away and fell short of destroying the bond the step-mother had with the child she tried to do everything in her limited power to separate the natural father and the step-mother. When she was finally confronted with her behavior she explained to the natural father that she had done all of this because she did not like her child calling the stepmother “Mama”.
Eventually she got her way and the stepmother left. It wasn’t enough to just move, she had to get as far away from the natural mothers as possible and moved across the country just to find some peace. She now has no involvement with the children.
Another case involves a stepmother who went into a relationship where there were two natural children but neither of who lived with the father. However, one day the eldest of his natural children came to live with him on a permanent basis. The stepmother did not like the child and the conflict caused great pain to all parties involved. Eventually it led to the marriage being torn apart. The stepmother had not considered the possibility of having a stepchild even though she knew prior to getting involved that there were other children. However, she did find out before she got married but was so consumed by the idea of being married that she failed to think of all the aspects of this new life as a stepparent. She believed that she would be able to squeeze the natural child out of the life of the father. Even though she has two children by him, he still chose to put his child first. The problem lies in the fact that this woman could not handle being second in line.
When teaching or influencing a stepchild you must always be mindful of the ways the parents have chosen to raise them. Personal beliefs and preferential politics can cause serious issues. You can still influence a child to your personal beliefs without spelling it out in crayon to them. Your actions and they way you treat them and the people around you will set an example. Children are not stupid and they do see through smokescreens. So always be aware of the choices you make and they way you are acting. Always take the high road in situations that involve the stepchildren. Sometimes that can be trying but it is worth it. When you chose to be the better person in a situation the children will never see any negative reactions from you where they are concerned. This will help build up a sense of trust and security for them. When they are over, if they do not reside with you, play with them. Do activities together no matter how small you may think they are getting your stepchildren involved will mean a lot to them. Try to include them in family decisions. For example asking their opinion on where to go for dinner, or what to cook for dinner, what movie to pick up, what activity to do for the night. Small things like that will mean more in the long run than say trying to buy their love or affection. Leave that to the shared duties parent. By all means get them what they need and every now and again it doesn’t hurt to buy them a surprise or something they wanted and you feel they deserve.
However, taking them to the toy store every time they come over sets a bad example and will lead to serious problems. Once you indulge in the manipulation of buying affection you teach the children that they are able to make you and the shared duties parent compete. Then it becomes less about being a family and more about who buys me what I want when I want it.
In conclusion all I can really say is to use common sense when contemplating becoming a stepparent. Treat your stepchildren with love and respect no matter how you are treated in return. When they get older and mature they will remember that you were the one who was always there for them and they will come to understand how much they really meant to you.