Every step-parent’s experience is as different as apples and oranges. Approaches differ tremendously. Expectations are oftentimes unreasonable. It is often as thankless as the teaching profession. One thing is common to each step-parenting experience – when blame and resentment are to be delegated, it starts and stop with the non-biological parent.
I was a step-parent for 13 years, and not a very good one, at that. Ironically, during those years I felt that I was a pretty good step-mother: dedicated, caring, willing and selfless. Now that it’s all over, along with the marriage of which the children were a part, I realised that I failed at the role thrusted on to me; a role that I, all too willingly, accepted.
They were young children at the time and perfectly lovely: fun, excitable, willing to accept me for the sake of their father’s happiness. I was close to them, I thought. I loved them, spent almost all of my time with them. I thought and felt that they loved me. I looked after their school work and other education matters, being the teacher in the reconstituted family. For many years I felt that we were all happy together. We all knew it was not the most ideal situation, as children should really be with their biological parents. We made the best of it. Their mother and I got along better than she and their father did, which was ironically funny for us all.
It may have been happening much earlier than I had realised, but somewhere in the last five years of an extremely tumultuous marriage, all had started to go awry between me and the children. They witnessed every nasty argument, accusations of infidelity, physical abuse and generally unbecoming behaviour from the two adults who should have been setting the example. Even if their father did not know better, I should have. I should have stopped. I should have left sooner. I should have done something different.
In retrospect, I see the many mistakes I made:
– I should not have been so involved in their academia. Being an educator or not, it should not have been my primary role.
– I should not have participated in their discipline. If their parents were fine with certain things, then I should have been as well. If their parents were dissatisfied with certain things, I should have been neutral.
– I should not have involved myself in their babysitting when their parents could not be there. They were not my children. I was reminded of that many times.
– The gifts I bought them were because I never had siblings and I was thoroughly excited about special occasions like Birthdays and Christmases…it was how I was raised. So even when their father discouraged it, I should have listened to him, that they could do without.
– There should have been a separation between my life as an individual and my role as a step parent. I should have travelled more to visit my mum, rather than be solely financially responsible for the raising and maintaining of children who did not love me the way I loved them.
– More importantly, I should never have been responsible for paying off the debts of their mother, when their father couldn’t.
– When money and clothing was stolen from me, and clothing was damaged repeatedly, and their father said he couldn’t do anything about it, I should have let it go. The battle was not worth it between me and him and me and them. They were just material things.
– When I found out that they were complaining about me bitterly to their mum’s family for years, I should not have been devastated and depressed and hurt and betrayed. I should have shrugged it off. They weren’t my children, after all.
– When their mum’s family told people I treated them badly and that I instilled too many rules, I should have stopped. Wanting the best for them was not my responsibility.
– I should never have gotten into uncountable arguments with their father about him having a better and closer relationship with them; even after he complained that the girls remind him of their mothers and he just couldn’t. These were not my battles to fight.
– I am sorry I pushed a university education and exposed when lies occurred – that really was not my business. Only my money was.
This list goes on and on, full of mistakes I made. The general rule I broke as a step parent was that I became over invested in something that was never mine and was never going to be mine. You can’t be a good or successful step parent by yourself. You need parental support just as they do, from whom they do, as well.
Children learn so many things from us, adults. They learn how to give or withhold respect, honesty and integrity. If children see a parent disrespecting the step parent, they learn from example. If a parent doesn’t appreciate all that a step parent tries to do, then failure is destined. Being a step parent was very hard for me. I tried with everything within me, but failed every step of the way.
Loving children that are not yours is no easy task. Parents and children can judge all they want, but unless you actually are a step parent, you truly do not have a clue! You can easily make a thousand assumptions…but you are still a step parent dunce until you become one. Nothing you do is right. Nothing you do is enough. You are always deemed as having ulterior motives. You are blamed for every problem under the sun.
Yet, the hurt you feel, is the same as a parent; the worry when they go out is the same; the panic when they don’t answer the phone is the same; the nervousness during exam time is the same. Their feelings were always of the utmost importance. It was until after the divorce I even realised how much feelings I had. Hurt was the most overwhelming one when they decided after the divorce that I was the devil’s spawn.
Life is so funny…for thirteen years they were the reasons I never wanted children…because I was so happy to have them. Now the reality of parenting that they taught me, is also the reason I don’t want children. This blog entry is by no means a pity party…just my experience – apples or oranges.
If I had the chance to do it all over again, I’d pass on the experience. Being a step parent is emotionally overwhelming and complicated. It entailed way too much responsibility – emotional, psychological, and physical. I understand that reconstituted families work well for many – I’ve seen it in our first years together, and now in my profession. But being a step parent isn’t for me. I tried it. I loved it. I hated it. But I wouldn’t want to do it again.
Despite my influence, they turned out well…all credit to the real parents.