Stepparent Two-Step

At a party recently I met a fascinating man. An adventurer who had been with the Peace Corps for several years, he had returned to the States and reunited with his long lost first love from high school, who in his absence had married, had a daughter, and divorced. A very romantic story.

Then I asked what it was like to be a step-dad to a 15-year-old girl.

"Awful," he said. "A totally impossible job. I am completely a third wheel, unwelcome, unthanked. But I love her, she's a great kid, and obviously I'm really happy about being with her mother. Everything I do is like training for a marathon. My goal is that in 10 or 15 years, all my hard work will pay off and we'll have a great relationship."

Good grief. I was surprised (and you know me -- thrilled) by his candor. It is really difficult to get stepparents to open up about how hard it is to step into parenting mid-stream. For obvious reasons, they are not eager to make a touchy situation touchier.

I was also taken aback by the reality of his situation. Stepparenting is "impossible" -- compared to living in Malawi? He's hoping for a payoff 10 to 15 years from now? Parenting and marriage are hard enough, thank you. But to go for more than a decade without gratification? Give that man a medal.

So let's dig into it here, behind the cloak of Internet quasi-anonymity. Do you have stepchildren? Were you a stepchild? Do you see good and awful examples of stepparenting in your life? What (if any) are the rules of finding balance as a stepparent?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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Oh, my. I was demon stepchild. I was 9. First time I met the man who would become my stepdad, I threw a knock-down, drag-out tantrum -- ostensibly because my friend had 10 cents for candy and I only had a nickel, but my mom swears it was because I could see that this guy wasn't just a casual date.

I seriously don't know how he made it through the first few years of marriage. I pouted, I sulked, I ran from the room in tears, etc. I was tremendously, deeply hurt that I wasn't "enough" for my mom, and that she'd brought in someone to "replace" me. Yes, I realize how stupid all this sounds now in retrospect, but I was 9 -- I didn't even have the words to say what I was feeling, and never would have been brave enough to do so if I had.

But through all of my horrid awfulness, he was calm. He never once took the bait, never once yelled at me; they both let a lot of stuff go because they understood it was just me venting, but when I did cross the line, he left it to my mom to discipline me. He gently teased me at dinnertime, let me know it was ok to tease him back, and ultimately we bonded by both ganging up on my mom. I will remember those dinnertable conversations the rest of my life.

Now, 32 years later, I can't tell you how glad I am he stuck around. He became my model for a good husband and father. He's very quiet, and we don't have the same chatty kind of relationship I have with my mom, but he was just a solid, unflappable presence through all the ups and downs of my life.

Posted by: laura33 | January 25, 2008 7:56 AM

Remember that she is 15, a very difficult age. Things will begin to smooth out around 17 or 18.

She may go away to college, and will eventually see the man who loves her mother.

oh, yeah....first

Posted by: chemguy1157 | January 25, 2008 7:57 AM

Step-parenting is the most thankless job in the world.

I hope this guy gets his "payoff", but he shouldn't count on it.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 25, 2008 8:02 AM

It's been a while since I post here (though I kept reading the blog), but today's topic it's really close to home. I married my high-school sweetheart after more than a decade apart. We both have kids from previous marriages (all boys - I have a 11 YO and he has a 11 YO and a 8 YO) in shared custody (they live with us half of the week). We now have a beautiful 4 YO daughter. Our "patchwork" family has been together for six years now.
Step parenting is a rollercoaster, but it tends to get smoother as time goes by. I believe there are a number of factors that may help. It's easier if you happen to come into the picture when the kids are young and less exposed (in my experience) to the loyalty requests from the other parent, who tends to resent your presence deeply. It also helps that, as a couple, we are both parents and stepparents, because it keep things in perspective (everybody, adult or child, knows how it feels to be on both sides)..
We're also lucky that the kids get along very well, even better then most siblings I know of. And DD really made us a sort of a "blood" family, in a very sweet, strong and unexpected way.
A lot depends on each child personality (and on your own!) but really it all comes down to the rules you set with your partner. I am not their mother. They don't respond to me in that particular and unique way. And, conversely, I cannot be expected to be in charge of some issues and tasks on a permanent basis (though I can and often will step in to help).
I learned that lesson the hard way. My 8 YO SS has a severe physical disability (muscular dystrophy) and, all too understandably I guess, I took him under my wing as "my little baby" when we moved in together. By the time he was barely 2 YO and I went out of my way to be there for him - feeding, bathing, playing, reading. I became the only person who could make him do stuff like using the standing frame or the oxygen mask (witch, fortunately, he no longer needs). But then, when he had a doctor appointment or needed to be hospitalized for tests or in a crisis, I wasn't allowed to be there or even to visit him in the hospital!. His mother requested that I become invisible - and everybody (my husband and the grandparents, who live nearby and are very involved) complied. It broke my heart, but I couldn't do anything about it since the situation was painful enough for everybody. Gradually, I learned to achieve balance by retreating and letting my husband and the boy's mother fully occupy their places by his side. In retrospective, I believe I played an important role in the big picture at a time when the "blood parents" were still too overwhelmed by the grief of learning their own flesh and blood had MD. Now we all learned to live with it, and the boy is a blossoming 2nd grader, remarkably happy and just a tiny bit spoilt.
Its about time we re-think step parenting. A lot of ill-adjusted expectations, either too high or too low, are still attached to it. Stepmothers are neither monsters nor saints. And it's very different from being a mother, although it can be very similar as well. Go figure.

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 8:13 AM

My Step-Dad came into the picture when i was 8. At first, he was just this really cool friend of my Mom's who traveled all over the world and brought me neat presents. Then they decided we should move to VA, where my Step-Dad was based, taking me away from my entire family in KY. Oh boy did I hate him then. I called him the "big fat bald dude". I was out of line 80% of the time. But the difference between my Step-Dad and the experiences already posted is that he DID set rules and discipline me. And Thank God he did because I am a better person for it. His presence and force in my life are why I am where I am in my career and life. And now he's just "Dad"--I started calling him that when my half brother started talking, so as not to confuse him. But now I really mean it. He's more of a Dad to me now and always than my real Dad has ever been.
Sometimes exerting control and some discipline is just what the kid needs--regardless of who their real Dad is.

Posted by: JMurphy2121 | January 25, 2008 8:39 AM

Oh, is it ever a thankless job. I said to a friend of mine the other day "Maybe she (my stepdaughter) will appreciate me someday. Like when I'm dead." I'm only half kidding. If you're a stepparent, you get all the crappy parts of being a parent but almost none of the good. There have been times when I am so, so grateful that I am NOT the mother of my stepdaughter. If that makes me an evil witch, so be it. My stepdaughter and I are currently in a state of detente after her shriekingly miserable teenage years. My MIL and mother both have said that there were plenty of times they thought I'd throw in the towel on my marriage because of my stepdaughter, but that was never even a thought.

There is a special place in heaven for stepparents. I truly believe that.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 25, 2008 8:59 AM

I had a step-mother who came into my life when I was 16 (possibly the worst time to become a step-kid). My sister and I felt lulled into a false sense of security, and maybe she felt that way, too, because she went from sweet and fun and cool to step-monster in record time. We waged an all-out war for the next several years. She probably wasn't prepared to live with us and become a full-time stepparent- we'd only seen each other weekends until my mom moved away. Anyway, my sister is now in a weirdly what-goes-around-comes-around situation- she is a step-parent to a nine-year old. She used to say she wouldn't be like our step-mother, but she is being surprisingly tough on the kid, penalizing him hard for mistakes, and making lots of comments about his mother having "warped" him, etc. Maybe she sees herself as needing to fix him or rescue him, but I don't think she sees how much like our step-mother she is becoming. Maybe it's inevitable that a lot of step-parents get too invested and do what they think is good for the kid. She has a very tough job, and I try to support her as much as I can.

Posted by: librabass | January 25, 2008 9:01 AM

WorkingMomX

"My MIL and mother both have said that there were plenty of times they thought I'd throw in the towel on my marriage because of my stepdaughter, but that was never even a thought."

I had many thoughts of strangling my MIL when she compared my parenting & step-parenting skills to those of the kid's SAHM!!!!!

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 25, 2008 9:05 AM

Chitty, that sounds awful. My husband's family has no fondness for his ex, but we have always instructed them never to speak negatively of her in front of stepdaughter. If my MIL ever said anything like that, I like to think I would have left her presence and never ever seen her again unless there was a big time apology. But in families, you put up with a LOT, don't you.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 25, 2008 9:08 AM

I've watched a couple people close to me deal with being step-parents and I agree it's not easy. There's just no road map! I think it does help to be able to stand back, stay calm in the face of a lot of drama and keep your expectations low! But that's really hard when you care about a child.

Posted by: anne.saunders | January 25, 2008 9:11 AM

I could write an entire book about what stepparents do right and wrong in dealing with their new families. My parents divorced when I was still in diapers, and I eventually ended up with both a stepfather and a stepmother. My stepfather understood that I needed my mother to myself sometimes, and that it might take me a long time to warm up to him. My stepmother never understood that. The result? I'm now in my 30s. My relationship with my biological father and stepmother is virtually non-existent, and I call my stepfather "dad."

Step-parents need to realize several things when they decide to marry someone who has a child already. First, you are a stranger to that child, and they are scared of you. So if he/she "acts up" around you, it's because they are terrified you are going to change their already uncertain life. It's NOT because they are spoiled or bratty or manipulative. Second, the way you handle the situation today could have life-altering implications on that child. The way you treat them today will be remembered forever. Third, if you're not willing to play second fiddle sometimes, then under no circumstances should you get into the marriage. Being a good stepparent means making sacrifices for the benefit of the child. If you can't do that, then do everyone a favor and get out now.

Posted by: louise | January 25, 2008 9:16 AM

These are incredible posts today. Thank you all for being so candid. Moving and wise. I'm not an SP but these insights give me far more understanding about that part of parenting.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 25, 2008 9:19 AM

Louise, I have to say as a stepmother of 11 years that I kind of resent your presumption that we aren't willing to play second fiddle, that we don't make sacrifices on a daily basis for our stepchildren, and that they're not (at least occasionally, and, often, frequently) spoiled and bratty instead of scared. I went into my marriage knowing that it was a package deal to the point that my stepdaughter was included in our wedding vows, both as a couple and as a family. Our entire world essentially revolved around her from the get-go and I wouldn't have it any other way. My frustration comes from the fact that though I act like a parent and think like a parent a feel like a parent to this girl/young woman, I will never, ever get the respect due to a parent because I am simply not her biological mother. She used to remind me of that all the time, when I'd say such flaming things as "Please clean your room before you go out." And I'd hear "You're not my mother, you can't tell me what to do. I hate you!"

You tell me how this could have been better handled, and don't say it should have been my husband telling her.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 25, 2008 9:22 AM

Don't even get me started on MILs - first wives weird alliances topic...
My MIL never misses a chance to make me feel my stepsons are not related to me - which becomes more and more bizarre as my relationship with them grows stronger and our family of six develops its own unique dynamics. She also keeps very in touch with their mother (although when she was married to her son they could barely stand each other) and makes sure she tells me all about it. But she won't even mention my name in front of the boy's mother, who makes a point out of denying my existence. Isn't' it sweet?

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 9:24 AM

Louise

"My stepfather understood that I needed my mother to myself sometimes, and that it might take me a long time to warm up to him."

So true. My mother remarried less than 6 months after my father died. The guy had less than zero chance with me and my 5 siblings. We were pissed at our mother for remarrying ANYONE and we didn't care if it was any of our business, because, well, we were kids. We gave the guy and his kids a really hard time. We felt it would be disloyal to our father to do anything else. The marriage lasted about 2 years.

My mother later married a heck of a guy who remained her husband until her death. It helped a lot that we all were adults for my mother's 3rd marriage and that she and the 2nd stepfather lived thousands of miles away.

The experience was helpful when I was widowed. I have not remarried and put my kids and myself through the whole "blended family" thing. Once is quite enough.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 25, 2008 9:33 AM

Well, the stepdad should know that MOST 15 YO girls have little use for their dads, too - so it's not just stepparents - really - I had two sisters, so the four of the 'girls' would hang out, and dad was just a periphery. It's possible it's just cause of his issues, but I think it was only a small part of it.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 25, 2008 9:36 AM

WorkingMomX

"You tell me how this could have been better handled, and don't say it should have been my husband telling her."

In some cases, it can't be better handled. That's part of the risk of being a step-parent (or any kind of a parent). The adults have a choice; the kids don't.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 25, 2008 9:38 AM

Louise wrote: "Being a good stepparent means making sacrifices for the benefit of the child. If you can't do that, then do everyone a favor and get out now."
Oh well, if things were only that simple, right? First, define "being a good stepparent", when we can't even agree what it takes to make a "good parent". Second, if you care for a child you live with, you will end up making a number of (daily) sacrifices on her behalf. The open question is their extent: unless you're some kind of saint, you just don't have it in you to go to the lengths you would for your own child (whether biological or adopted - the question here is not blood but that unique mother/child relationship). Third, you should never get out when there's something as worth fighting for as your soul mate.
That said being said, I do agree that people should be aware of what it takes commitments-wise to enter into a marriage with step children. They seldom are. I surely was not. My advice (as some of the previous step-children-posters pointed out) is give it time. Don't be afraid to feel aggravated, irritated, less-than-a saint. But don't pity yourself either, don't even start on that" if only I would have met him/her earlier" road. Relax, focus on the positive, enjoy the tiny steps. It is a marathon, in a way. Don't go running out of breath the first couple of miles.

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 9:46 AM

WorkingMomX,
I sympathize with your frustration. You should have heard the things I used to say to my stepfather (the one with whom I have a good relationship). I cringe when I reflect on it. I have no idea how or why he put up with me, but he did...thank goodness. I don't know your stepdaughter. Maybe she really is just a spoiled brat. But I'm guessing it's something else. I'm guessing she feels exactly like I did and is not yet old enough to know how to deal with her feelings. You might be saying, "Please clean your room," but what she's hearing is, "Your father and I have officially ganged up on you, and I am now more important than you in this house and if I want to, I can go to your father right this instant and he will take my side." Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds. But that's how she feels. She doesn't really hate you. In fact, I'm willing to bet she hates herself when she says those things to you. Every time I said something cruel to my stepfather, I regretted it. But I didn't know how to make up for it. It was a nasty cycle for a while. I know 11 years seems like it should be long enough for your stepdaughter to get over that, but you'd be surprised. I didn't truly warm up to my stepfather until I was in college, and at that point he had been a part of my life for 10 years. Come to think of it, though, he never did ask me to clean my room! That was always my mom's job. :)

Posted by: louise | January 25, 2008 9:47 AM

Just another thought--never undermine the importance of the "biological" parent. My Step-Dad had every reason to dislike my real Dad but he never vocalized it nor did he begrudge my real Dad's presence at graduations, etc.
One thing that might help is trying to find something to bond over. My Step-Dad is and was an avid traveler. He took me on my first trip out of the country and instilled in me my love for adventure and world travel. Maybe finding something unique to do together would help form a new bond without usurping the biological parent.
Just a thought!

Posted by: JMurphy2121 | January 25, 2008 9:59 AM

Portugese-Mother,
"Don't be afraid to feel aggravated, irritated, less-than-a saint. But don't pity yourself either.." I totally agree. I now know that my stepfather took up a weekly bowling league just so he could have SOME kind of outlet after dealing with me. Whatever it takes, I guess. :) You asked about what kind of specific sacrifices I'm talking about. I can only speak to the sacrifices my stepfather made (but stepmother never did).

1. Bite your tongue. This is probably the hardest, and it is, indeed, a sacrifice. YOu are willingly walking away from the argument and letting the child get the last word. Ouch.
2. Allow the child and his biological parent to spend quality time alone together without a hint of complaint or resentment on your part. Let them have a tradition that is theirs alone. Don't feel left out. Look at it as your opportunity for some "me" time.
3. No matter how tempting, never utter the words (or any variation of), "Just because your mother lets you do this at home, you're not going to do it in my house..." If you have a problem with something the child does, speak to your spouse about it and let HIM handle it.

Bottom line? I wish more stepparents would simply remember this: THEY are the adults. They are equipped to handle their emotions in a way that children (even high schoolers) are not. If you can bite your tongue and remember that when your stepchild is screaming "I hate you," you will eventually see the pay-off.

Posted by: louise | January 25, 2008 10:00 AM

"You tell me how this could have been better handled, and don't say it should have been my husband telling her."

But, WorkingMomX, sometimes that IS the best solution. You at least need the bio parent to lay down the rule of "you WILL treat X with respect." Dad picked you, the kid didn't; she'd probably be just as happy to see you on the other side of the globe. So you have no authority in her eyes -- only her dad does, and so only her dad will be able to effectively convince her that treating you like crap is not acceptable behavior. Unless he's got your back and is willing to take the lead with her, you just end up like Eric Cartman, running around yelling "respect my authori-tay!"

I can only speak from my personal experience. But if my stepdad had come in and started telling me what to do, it would have forced me to dig my heels in and defend my "turf." I would have seen everything he did as rejection, as me not being "good enough" -- which would then have pushed me into a "get them before they get you" mode. I needed to hear when I crossed the line, yes, but I needed to hear it from someone who I was 100% sure loved me, and who I trusted and respected -- not from some stranger who didn't even know me.

My stepdad had to be incredibly patient and calm for what must have seemed like an eternity to convince me that he loved and accepted me as I was. Because my acting up was really a test for him, to see if he really meant what he said -- "you care about me? yeah? well, do you still care about me when I do this?" By not rising to the bait, by always staying calm and fair even in the teeth of the storm, he proved that he meant what he said. And once I realized that he really did care, and really did have my best interests at heart, then I could put my guard down and listen.

Which also explains why I never developed as close a relationship with my stepmom -- who, ironically, I gave far less of a hard time (I was only 5 when they got married). Deep down, I always knew that she didn't really accept me for who I was, and that she would always put her sons far above me -- and persuade my dad to do the same. That gut sense was confirmed after they divorced, when I found out some of the stuff she had done. And now she's surprised I don't stay in touch!

Posted by: laura33 | January 25, 2008 10:03 AM

haha I just remembered that I would leave notes on my Mom's bed that said "Who do you love more me or ____(Step-Dad's name)?"
I always made sure he saw those notes too. My poor Step-Dad!

Posted by: JMurphy2121 | January 25, 2008 10:21 AM

I can't speak from the perspective of a step-parent, but I'm a step-child!

My mother remarried when I was 15 (and I'm a girl!), and things have always been great between my step-father and me! Their relationship moved oddly fast (met in January, married by June), but it was a surprisingly easy transition for me. I think it was due to a few unique factors:

1. My father was pretty much out of the picture. He only lived up the street, but the relationship was kind of nonexistent (parents divorced when I was 3).
2. Before we moved into SD's house mom and I started spending nights at his place. It actually made my life easier- instead of living an hour away from my high school (where mom taught), I was 15 minutes away when we stayed with SD.
3. They both had kids. He had 2 sons- one my age and one 3 years older. I have a brother who is 4 years older. So I was the youngest, the only girl. I was also the 'good child', which I enjoy reminding them all the time!

For me it has never been an issue- I have always thought of him as a parent. No, he is not my father and that's perfectly fine with all of us. As far as I can tell the transition was also fairly easy for my older brother. My SD is a great guy who we both love, and who sure as heck loves our mother. Having my mother and SD walk me down the aisle when I got married this past June felt great- I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Before my real father passed away I knew I would want my SD to fulfill that role when I eventually got married.

The step brothers are a whole other issue. They lived with their mother for the most part but were often at our house. At different points in time they have lived in our house, but I feel like I am the only child who really 'grew up' with the parent/step-parent combo. While I love my step father and can't imagine him out of the picture, I could take or leave the SBs. One of them I get along with, but there is nothing like the love and closeness I have with my real brother. The other I flat out do not like. We get along fine, but interact very little.

Unless the step siblings are living in the same home full-time, I think it is nigh impossible for them to ever feel like actual family.

I think my parent's perspective is somewhat similar- the only issue they have ever had was the kids. SD thinks my mom managed my life too much when I was young, the rest of us think his sons take advantage of him and don't care enough for him. It's dicey at times, but overall we're pretty darn happy.

My father's wife was never a step-mom to me- she just eventually became his legal wife, they lived together for years. DH's parent's are also divorced, and both his parental situations are very different. There's no real formula for making it work, but I just wanted to share my experience because it had been good.


Posted by: jessica.corrado | January 25, 2008 10:23 AM

I have been divorced for about a year and a half. My ex and I have 50/50 shared custody and essentially both spend time with the kids almost every day. We live 5 minutes apart and it is written into the divorce agreement that we remain in that specific proximity until our youngest is 18.

I remarried in August and my kids, daughter, 11 (12 in May and pre-teen hormones already established!), and son, 9, are not thrilled, to say the least. They don't act out against him or in his presence--to see us you'd think we were a regular family because they are actually very outgoing and seemingly happy around him--but they make plenty of comments about him to me. I don't know if it's easier or harder for them that they have a "real" dad who is very engaged in their lives on a daily basis so their stepdad is more a mommy's husband than a stepdad, or if that makes it harder.

My husband is very much like Laura describes her stepdad--he doesn't try to be a dad to them and doesn't push hard to have them accept him or anything. When they want to play with him or talk to him he is always happy to engage, but he doesn't pursue them or do stuff to try to win them over or anything. I know it's hard for him because he never had any kids of his own and would love to have my kids be his "real" kids, but he seems to realize that, like the guy at Leslie's party, maybe eventually they'll grow to care about him and think of him as some kind of father figure but doesn't take it personally that it probably won't happen anytime soon.

The weird/hard part for me is feeling tugged in different directions when we're all together. The kids fight about who gets to sit next to me--but at least now they don't get upset about having to sit next to their stepdad. I remember one of the first times we all went out together--a movie and pizza--they were so adamant about not sitting next to him that the kids and I had to sit on one side of the table and he had to sit across from the three of us!

It's hard because they only sleep at my house half the week so when they're there there is definite competition for my attention--to the tune of both kids and husband all sitting on the sofa and kids clamoring "sit next to me!!" and my husband often relegated to the other end of the sofa while both kids basically fight over who gets to lie basically on me. On one hand I feel my loyalty should be to the kids because they're not there all the time and I have plenty of alone time with my husband when they're at their dad's, but at the same time, I don't feel good about shutting my husband out when they're at our house. It's definitely a hard balance; I know they aren't happy about having a step dad but I'm not sure the extent to which I'm supposed to indulge their wish to have me to themselves versus force the issue that whether they like it or not he is part of our family now.

I am lucky and proud to have a husband like the guy at the party--a guy who is willing and able to see the big picture and who loves me and my kids unconditionally.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 25, 2008 10:34 AM

Louise: I'm really enjoying the chance to hear from an "adult-stepchild" like yourself. It's a new perspective, and so far I find my (sometimes painful, sometimes tortured, sometimes knee-jerk) options as a stepmother validated by your feedback. Bearing in mind I won't be able to have such a conversation with my stepsons for at least some 15 years...
"1. Bite your tongue" - I'll couple this one with the old parenting favorite "choose your battles". Sometimes I will bite my tongue, sometimes I will not: it depends on the issue
"2. Allow the child and his biological parent to spend quality time alone together". By all means. In a family every member needs quality time alone with one another (as well as time alone with oneself, I should add). That applies, even if not as often, to step-parent / step-child - and the outcome can be truly surprising. My oldest SS grows really close to me when we're alone, or just me and the kids. I guess only then can he fully shed his "loyalty pressure".
"3. No matter how tempting, never utter the words (or any variation of), "Just because your mother lets you do this at home, you're not going to do it in my house...". Oddly enough, such words are only used by my youngest SS... but the other way round. He is a bit spoilt by his mother, and at our home is treated on a more equal foot with his siblings. So, being a child, it's only natural that he should try to explore the difference to his benefit when told to eat his vegetables, to turn off the TV or the PSP, to go to bed...My standard answer? "Ok, honey, but this is our home and that's how it works"..

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 10:38 AM

Well, we saw my dear teen step daughter for less than two weeks last year. Total. I've had a gift certificate for a family portrait since March of last year, and since she decided not to spend any time with us over her one-month winter break, and hadn't bothered to mention that to her Dad, who, after several emails called her mother (who leaves everything to the step-daughter, how's that for passive-aggressive) I'm left with the not-the-entire-family option. Did I mention that she hasn't met her new half-brother at all? She is looking forward to meeting him for the first time, in March. He was born in late October. Mom has bought ponies and puppies at the time her sibs were born. It's frustrating and ridiculous. Fortunately the baby is oblivious. What bothers me the most about step-parenting is the kids learning behaviors that just wouldn't fly if the family was intact. Step-daughter and remarried mom and court are 400 miles away, (mom moved, then filed for divorce) so going to court is an exercise in burning money. I'm somewhere mid-marathon, and the endorphins will kick in in March for 4 days. I'm hoping we'll see more of her this summer. I love her, I just don't have The Warm Fuzzies at the moment. It's a lot harder on my husband, who wants to be an active part of her life, and feels like a wallet most of the time.

Posted by: slazar | January 25, 2008 10:40 AM

Bom dia, Mãe Portuguesa! Não leio nada de você durante várias semanas. Espero que tudo vá bem com a sua família.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 25, 2008 10:40 AM

JMurphy2121--my kids have never left a note like that but have asked me that, luckily when my husband wasn't around! My son has been known to sit near/on me and say "Mine!" when stepdad is in the room, though....luckily my husband/their stepdad is able to joke about it, which we often do.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 25, 2008 10:46 AM

I'm stepmom to DD, who is 14 going on 28. I'm also the youngest of four moms she's got (lesbian moms who divorced and the remarried) and the only one of the four that doesn't have kids of her own (the other stepmom has two from a previous relationship). I'm kind of lucky, though - I came in when DD was turning 11, she met me first on a trip to Florida (where I lived) and we took her to Sea World, and being the youngest I'm still 'cool' compared to the others (being 15 years younger than everyone else has its advantages). I also started out by teaching Sunday school at DD's church (in her class!) and substitute teaching in her district, sometimes at her school, so I got to know her friends early. It's not easy - the ex-wife is a real witch and badmouths us and treats DD like slave labor for her business, so we feel obligated to give DD more freedom when she's at our house. We have 50/50 custody, so there's the dilemmas of which house she left her iPod or her backpack or her ROTC shoes. I am lucky to have her in my life, though - I wouldn't pass it up for the world, and nothing makes me feel so warm and fuzzy as when she's laying on the couch and puts her head in my lap and wants me to stroke her hair and tell her it's alright if she's sad or tired or sick (this happens less and less as she ages, but sick kids seem to revert to 5 years old no matter how mature they want to seem). I love being a stepmom.

Posted by: RebeccainAR | January 25, 2008 10:50 AM

"Unless the step siblings are living in the same home full-time, I think it is nigh impossible for them to ever feel like actual family"
Correction: half the time will do it, providing they get along (like any other siblings!). Our four kids are blood-brothers, half-brothers and (what we call) heart-brothers and most of the time they don't even bother to explain the details to strangers: "he's my brother", its what they'll say. And I'm sure they feel it.
(mehitabel: olá! Não tenho tido muito tempo para escrever. Está tudo bem, obrigada. Um abraço!)

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 10:53 AM

Mãe Portuguesa, do you celebrate Carnaval where you are in Portugal, and, if so, how? Are there special parades etc. for the children?

Posted by: mehitabel | January 25, 2008 11:05 AM

I've been a stepdad for about a year. My stepdaughters are 14 and 11, and we haven't had the kind of problems that folks are posting about. Their mom and I dated for several years before getting married, and we made sure to include the kids in most of our weekly dates.

I've had a different problem - now that we're married, my wife seems to have lost interest in our relationship. We don't talk much, and we don't spend much time together without the kids. She's either busy or exhausted (or both). My question - is this what I should expect from parenting? Is it normal for spouses to not have much energy for each other when there are kids at home? It feels like a problem to me, but I haven't made much headway in solving it, so I need a reality check.

Posted by: sprenge777 | January 25, 2008 11:06 AM

My cousin has a nearly six-year old step-daughter... one interesting dynamic emerged when she got into the battle of wills stage around 3/4 years old with her mother. He, as step-dad, took over the bed-time routine, because she would accept his firm, but fair adherance to the routine rather than fight her mother tooth and nail. They also battle the Disney Dad syndrome (literally as her dad lives in FL) and have to reestablish routines/rules after each visit.

My father remarried when I was in my 20s. I generally use the my father's wife label instead of step-mother. I never lived in their household (unlike her kids) and was self-supporting.

Posted by: tntkate | January 25, 2008 11:07 AM

mehitabel
In some parts of the country there are parades, but mostly kids just wear their costumes to school and have fun with their friends on Sexta feira de Carnaval. Sadly, it's nothing like in Brazil - much too cold this time of the year, and the Portuguese are not as merry as the brasileiros...

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 25, 2008 11:13 AM

"the Portuguese are not as merry as the brasileiros" -- LOL!!!

Posted by: mehitabel | January 25, 2008 11:18 AM

I met my 2nd husband when my daughter was 4. I didn't introduce her until the relationship was more serious. She always got along with him because we took things slowly. We went to his house for dinner or he came over to ours and then we went out to other places all together. When my daughter was 5 she asked him when he was going to marry her mom. I thought that was hysterical. He was a good sport and told her when mom would say yes. (I wasn't sure about ever getting married again at the time) We married when she was 6 1/2, she is almost 13 now. Even though her bio-dad is only 2 miles away in the same town, he isn't involved much beyond his every other weekend visitation. Her step-dad has stepped up and been a great dad to her. When it came time for the daddy daughter dance it was her step-dad that she asked to accompany her. You should have seen his face, he was overjoyed. They have a great relationship. The only issues we encountered were when we first married, for example, she would ask me for a cookie and I would tell her no dinner was in 10 minutes. She would then ask her step-dad and he would say ok and that is where she got in trouble. After we established the rule of who you ask you need to abide by the answer and not get a second opinion she was pretty good. I think it helped that when we were together he went by the established routine and rules of the house. As time has gone by we created our own routine and rules, adjusting as she gets older.

Posted by: melinda.gentry | January 25, 2008 12:06 PM

I have been on both sides. Both of my parents have remarried. My dad when I was in my early teens and my mom when I was in my later teens. I have a good relationship with my step-father although he is not a father figure. I had the same experience as someone else with my stepmom. My stepmom was all cool right up until she moved into the house and turned into the wicked witch. We do not have a good relationship and I don't trust her or her mother. I don't have a close relationship with any of my siblings because we were all basically too old (in our teens) before the families were joined. They are nice people but just people to me.

I am now a step-mother of a 3 and 5 year old girl and boy. The kids live with their mother full time and I see them once a week when they come to stay at our house or we go to visit them at their house. I don't have problems with the kids and I give a lot of credit for that to their mother. She has seemed to be supportive of my role in their lives.

It can be hard though. I am not their mother and they don't live with us so I miss out on some important things that make me a little sad. For example, the little boy just went to his first day of school. The mother and my husband went to meet the teacher but I did not. It was not my place I suppose. I had to live that moment through what my husband said. Because I don't have children (and might never), it will be hard to miss out on things that I will never have a chance to experience but my husband will.

What I have struggled with was the amount of time my husband used to spend with the kids. When he was employed he would go see the kids after work every night until my bedtime and then want to spend time with them on the one day I have off (Sunday). There was almost no couple time except with the kids. When he was unemployed, he would go see the kids first thing in the morning and stay until 10 or 11 at night. He couldn't understand that him spending most of his off-work hours with his kids and not even spending a few hours with me made me feel totally left out and not a part of his life. Like someone else said... What am I? A wallet to help you pay your child support? She put some restrictions on him and that has helped our relationship. We actually spend an evening a week together. If that doesn't sound like much... I work 60 hours a week so 3 of my evenings and Saturdays are spent working so we don't have much time couple time to begin with.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 25, 2008 12:12 PM

"I generally use the my father's wife label instead of step-mother. I never lived in their household (unlike her kids) and was self-supporting."

tntkate, I did the same thing. It was really nice to realize, at that stage, that we didn't have to have any relationship other than "she's my father's wife." I think she would have been equally uncomfortable with the step-mother label at that stage.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 25, 2008 12:17 PM

Wow...just reading these posts upsets me as former stepchild. My father remarried when I was 7, and he married a Truly Awful Woman who HATED kids (and I also have two older brothers). She was vicious, and never missed the chance to say something terrible about my mother in front of me. She accused me of stealing things. She called names, pulled hair, and was generally very rough with me. My Dad worked all the time and went to law school at night. My Mom would try to intervene on my behalf but would get shut out. It was awful. He finally divorced her when I was 22 (best day of my life!) and fortunately, my relationship with my Dad has recovered somewhat. But I'll never get those 15 years back, and even though she lives hundreds of miles away, if I catch a whiff of her perfume, my heart races and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. PARENTS: Your kids have to come first. Please, please, please recognize this. You made the decision to have children and you're stuck with them. Protect them, keep them safe and happy. STEPPARENTS: Be patient, be kind, be gentle. The kid(s) have already been though hell, and they are scared and needy. Never badmouth the parents or other family members. It makes me so sad to look back on my childhood and realize how sad it was because of that woman. No kid should have to live like that.

Posted by: blkgb | January 25, 2008 2:02 PM

"At a party recently I met a fascinating man. An adventurer who had been with the Peace Corps for several years, he had returned to the States and reunited with his long lost first love from high school, . . .

"Stepparenting is 'impossible' -- compared to living in Malawi? "

By Leslie Morgan Steiner '87 | January 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET

He should thank his lucky stars he got back to the States without incident. Etienne Mehul tells the story of a young adventurer who was 18 years old and living in Germany when a longing for novelty seized him. He went to the shore and boarded a ship to go see the wide world. Pretty soon, though, the ship began to toss, the mainmast broke, and the ship sank. The adventurer struggled to swim for his life and climbed onto a reef. He thought for sure the waves were going to drown him, until he spied another ship in the distance. He dived off the reef, swam to the ship and was pulled out of the water, thinking that he had been saved. But no! It was a pirate ship, and the pirates sold the adventurer into slavery somewhere under the hot sun, where he suffered for years until a prince came and redeemed him and six other Germans, too. He told them, "I'm traveling to Stettin. I'll drop you off in Germany. Live free and enjoy life there!"

The adventurer Leslie met at the party not only got back to America without shipwreck or slavery, he got his long lost first love back, too. Sounds like he got a better deal than Mehul's adventurer.

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | January 25, 2008 2:27 PM

sprenge777 - whenever someone wonders why their relationship has gone flat or their SO is uninterested the very first thing to look at carefully is yourself.

How have you changed? Now that you're "married" have you slid back into your old ways? Have you settled into your normal rut-bound self?

It's normal for things to settle down, but pointing the finger at your spouse is always the wrong place to start.

Remember - YOU have to be the change!

Posted by: RedBird27 | January 25, 2008 2:36 PM

By chance is there some forum where step-parents can discuss concerns or what to expect as a step-parent or when you wonder if the parent has stepped over the boundary in their relationship with the kids/ex.

I already spoke about the time he used to spend with his kids but I also have questions on how much is reasonable for child support. Is it reasonable to have the parent give 66% of their income to their children? (There is no judge or court order involved - they make their arrangements privately) My second part-time job brings in more than my husband's contribution to our household from his full-time job (both jobs making about the same amount per hour).

Or should I be upset that my husband wants to go to the zoo with the kids and the ex - and I am not welcome knowing full well that I love going to the zoo and we haven't gone once because he doesn't like it. His excuse is that he will do it for his kids because they are his kids - what about doing it for your wife? Oh and his ex just moved here and has no friends so he wants to take her out too.

I am trying to be patient, kind, gentle and respect his relationship with his prior family but I have no idea what is over the top and what is normal.

Posted by: Billie_R | January 25, 2008 3:11 PM

I've been a stepdad for about a year. My stepdaughters are 14 and 11, and we haven't had the kind of problems that folks are posting about. Their mom and I dated for several years before getting married, and we made sure to include the kids in most of our weekly dates.

I've had a different problem - now that we're married, my wife seems to have lost interest in our relationship. We don't talk much, and we don't spend much time together without the kids. She's either busy or exhausted (or both). My question - is this what I should expect from parenting? Is it normal for spouses to not have much energy for each other when there are kids at home? It feels like a problem to me, but I haven't made much headway in solving it, so I need a reality check.

Posted by: sprenge777

I think it's VERY likely given the ages of your stepdaughters (14 and 11) that your wife is dealing with a lot of the common problems talked about here. Maybe she isn't including you in working out the solutions, which is why she's so exhausted and you think everything is fine except that your relationship is flat.

Maybe an exploratory conversation of, "Honey, I know the girls are heading into a really difficult developmental phase. How can I help?" or something open-ended like that would start the conversation. Or as simple as, "You seem really down. Is something bothering you?" the tone has to be just right, though--supportive, not confrontational.

But also, are you asking her out on dates? Do you bring her flowers/candy/whatever like you used to?

The romance does have to flow both ways, and if what you loved was how the two of you always went out to nice places together, and now all you do is sit on the couch, maybe it's because you haven't invited her to go to any nice places lately...

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 25, 2008 3:12 PM

Stepparenting is all of the work of being a parent without any of the benefits.

When I married my husband, his son was ten years old. DH and I had been dating for six years at that point and I had been a regular fixture in his son's life that whole time. We had a great relationship. I loved his son, had fun spending time with him AND doing spelling homework with him. DH had sole custody of his son so I was kind of thrown into full time parenting with no breaks. But that's how most people come into parenting, isn't it?

Within a year of our marriage, my relationship with my stepson was in the toilet. This child who had been loving and cooperative and only occasionally defiant (basically a normal kid) turned, within that year, into a sullen, rebellious, non-compliant and just awful person. It was hell.

We saw family counsellors, we had him in private therapy, we read every book on the market about both parenting and step parenting (of which I think there were two books, maybe). We kept this up for five years and nothing ever got better. My stepson had always been a fair to middling student and suddenly he was failing school (he failed two grades, largely because he simply refused to do the work). His teachers were frustrated, his psychologists gave up because they just couldn't figure out what to do to help him. At home he was constantly either aggressive or just horribly negative.

When he was fifteen, my husband and I had our first child together. A few months later my stepson asked if he could go live with his mother. We agreed because we just felt helpless at that point--he was so clearly not happy and our relationship was plainly not working, and it was by then coloring every aspect of our lives and was a source of stress for everyone.

I look back now (nine years later) and see my own failings. Now that I have a couple of biological children of my own, I see that the unconditional love I have for them is a big part of what makes parenting bearable. Without those rewards, it's just thankless work. Add to that a child who really just doesn't want you there but doesn't have the emotional maturity to be able to verbalize what he's feeling or come to terms with what life has handed him. When I think about the internal conflict he must have felt I'm amazed that things weren't worse. He DID seem to love me before, but marriage changed that--made him realize what he was missing in his real mom, who never really participated in his life at all; it brought home the plain fact that his parents wouldn't ever get together again. He must have felt horribly rejected by her and would take out his feelings on me. There was no logic behind that--just anger and pain directed at me, and eventually at his father as well for having the nerve to marry me. I don't know that I could have done anything differently than what I did, but it really was awful. When he left home I was relieved and happy to see him go. Now I just feel so sad for him. I wish I could say that our relationship has gotten better over the years, but so far there has been no improvement, although he has mellowed with age so the anger and rebellion aren't so stark and on the surface. His time with his mother was no better than his time with us, and now he's drifting through his twenties with no direction, still unhappy and not quite sure why.

Posted by: sarahfran | January 25, 2008 3:17 PM

My partner is a divorced dad w/ two kids, 13 & 10. Their mom lives a mile away and is married to the man she left my partner for. The kids spend every other week with us, completely 50/50.

We've been together almost 2 years, and I get along well with the kids, very little drama, respectful relations all around I think.

Here's my question, though -- I don't think of myself as a step mom. Their real mom is very much on the scene, and they are not babies, and it would feel presumptive and false to me to claim that title. Their dad requires them to be respectful to me, and they call me "Miss (firstname)", which feels right. I am more than a babysitter or part time caregiver, but I am not their mom, and I wonder if it doesn't actually make it easier for everyone that we aren't trying to 'make me' into their parent. ???

Does anyone else have this kind of experience? I contribute to their care and education in a number of concrete ways, and I hope that my role grows and deepens, but I don't think I'll ever feel like their parent. I think that's ok -- I think that kids need to know as many sympathetic and supportive adults who AREN'T related as they can, because the point of raising kids is to make them into ADULTS, not into better children.

Posted by: lorikay | January 25, 2008 3:21 PM

I know there are great stepparents out there. I am grumpy about it because my niece & nephews, whom we supported for a few years, have gotten a new stepdad who also has bio-kids and their lives have totally changed in difficult ways (3 moves in 2 years).

What's happened with them it is seems like the two parents, the new couple, have joined forces again all the kids (total is 5). I just wish there was more sensitivity to the idea that kids are not just accessories to a new relationship (this is their second "new dad" in 5 years, and yeah, not blaming the men for that :)). I would not really like it if my husband moved in a new person and told me if I didn't like it to shove it, you know?

"Is it reasonable to have the parent give 66% of their income to their children?"

Obviously it depends but in general I think the answer is yes, it very well may be. Those kids did not ask to be the fallout from a failed relationship.

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | January 25, 2008 3:30 PM

Bille R -- No, I don't think it's reasonable to give 66% to his children. Most courts have a formula they use to determine child support based on a percentage of the mortgage, utilities, etc. The amount you're talking about sounds very high to me. I think at the most we paid about $1100 (for one child) in child support, but as it turned out, when child support was to be paid to us, it was in the paltry sum of $180 if you can believe that. Ugh. But don't get me started, that's years ago now.

This has been a very interesting blog to read today and I'm sorry my earlier posting appears to have been eaten. Louise, I apologize if I was a bit squiffy this morning, and your gracious response reminded me to chill out. There is a lot of food for thought in today's blog. I've enjoyed it.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 25, 2008 3:49 PM

Off topic alert: Frieda's surgery was this morning and Fred will be posting an update later today, tonight, or as soon as he is able.

Thoughts are with you, Fred and Frieda. Hope it has all gone well.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 25, 2008 3:49 PM

Frieda and Fred, All relevant digits crossed on Frieda's behalf. Thinking warm thoughts for Frieda and the entire family.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 25, 2008 4:01 PM

the point of raising kids is to make them into ADULTS, not into better children.

Posted by: lorikay | January 25, 2008 03:21 PM

My vote for Quote of the Day. well said!

(Is that Fred's to give out?) :)

Posted by: newslinks1 | January 25, 2008 4:06 PM

WorkingMomX

"There is a lot of food for thought in today's blog. I've enjoyed it."


Bravo.

I request a sequel to today's topic.

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 25, 2008 4:10 PM

"I am trying to be patient, kind, gentle and respect his relationship with his prior family but I have no idea what is over the top and what is normal."

Billie R, sounds like you are trying hard in a challenging situation, my hat's off to you. I've never been there, so take this for whatever it's worth (which is probably nothing), but will knowing what is "normal" make a difference in how you or he feels about the situation? It seems like in the end, the important thing is finding something that feels ok to both of you - even if it's normal, is it going to keep bothering you? Or even if it's not, will he resent being asked to change it to something more normal?

Posted by: LizaBean | January 25, 2008 5:02 PM

Billie_R--it sounds to me as if you married a man who is very devoted to his children and doesn't want them to suffer any neglect from him just because he isn't married to their mom anymore, so he spends every spare moment with them, he willingly gives 2/3 of his salary to them (I'm guessing he was thinking that he's 1/3 and each child is 1/3 of his family, so they should get 2/3 of what he makes), and he happily engages in activities with them that he doesn't particularly enjoy.

If/when you have your own children, you might be able to understand his thinking a bit more. I know I didn't understand it until I had my own kids. At this point I simply can't imagine not being able to spend time with my children every single day, or not using the money I make as a way to support them more than to support me. If my husband and I divorced, I can totally imagine doing what your husband is doing. But as a stepparent, it would have driven me batty. In fact, I look now at how little contact my husband has with his son and wonder how he manages without at least talking to his son each day!

Remarried parents don't have it very easy either, especially non-custodial ones. Your husband loves you, but he also loves his kids and knows that they need him. He's torn between the two and can't physically be both places at once. And a stepparent isn't in a very good position to request that the parent spend LESS time with the children, or thinking about the children, or working to support the children. You're just not going to win that one--you'll only make your husband feel worse about his situation.

So you do what stepparents have done since Cinderella's stepmother got her come-uppance. You suck it up and make the best of the situation you're living with. You get as much fun and emotional nourishment from the time you have alone with your husband (if it helps, remember that if/when you have kids of your own you'll have to pay a babysitter so that you can occasionally have a quiet conversation with your husband) and grin and bear it when you're excluded from activities with the kids (although I might start including myself in those). And when you meet anyone who is dating a person with children, you tell them to give it serious thought before committing to a lifetime with this person.

Posted by: sarahfran | January 25, 2008 5:16 PM

Agreed, Chitty. Will try to find a good hook for continued discussion in the near future.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 25, 2008 5:32 PM

Hey Guys,

Frieda's operation was a bit more than we had expected but she is resting--as comfortable as one who has just had breast surgery. I am sure that many who read here have had that surgery or know someone who has.

As for a positive note, my little Luddite has become computer literate--a very little bit. She can scroll down a screen now! (provided I bring up whatever page she wants to view.) She was touched and appreciated y'all kind words of last Monday.

Fred

Posted by: Fred | January 25, 2008 6:35 PM

Great news, Fred. Please give Frieda my best! Keep us posted.

Posted by: leslie4 | January 25, 2008 6:45 PM

"unless you're some kind of saint, you just don't have it in you to go to the lengths you would for your own child (whether biological or adopted - the question here is not blood but that unique mother/child relationship)."

I'm prepared that I may have misunderstood this, but it bothered me so I'm posting late when no one will see it. Oh well.

My parents divorced when I was an adult. My father remarried, but because I was grown and living on my own, we didn't go through that whole power struggle. Nevertheless, it was really hard, especially since Dad's new wife insisted on calling my sisters and me "my kids" immediately after the ceremony. So, I've seen this situation handled poorly and am glad I was an adult because if I'd been a kid (or heaven forbid a teen!) I would have been more than a little resentful. As it was, as an adult I was unhappy.

However, my experience watching other families who have young stepchildren and dealing with step parent issues has been very positive. The step parents never loved those children less because they weren't theirs biologically or failed to "go to great lengths." I don't think they were saints. My uncle ended up formally adopting my cousin (bio dad had been AWOL for years). Another uncle is still called "Dad" by his now adult "step" children, who honored him with that title about a year into their parent's marriage. And, yes, they saw their "real" dad regularly. In our family, these cousins were never considered "steps." They were cousins.

Easy for me to say -- I'm not a step parent. But I don't think one should go into a marriage that involves other children unless one is committed to going all the way with the kids, while still of course respecting the "other" parent. Ideally, all of the parents should be working together toward that common goal of launching a happy responsible adult. This is a challenge even for families in "intact" homes, so I don't mean to underestimate the additional challenge facing step parents. I was just concerned because this post had a hint of "this kid isn't mine, therefore I don't have to try so hard," and wanted to call that out. I apologize if I'm overreacting.

Posted by: vegasmom89109 | January 25, 2008 9:03 PM

"My uncle ended up formally adopting my cousin (bio dad had been AWOL for years). Another uncle is still called "Dad" by his now adult "step" children"

vegasmom,
Either you are over-reacting or you misunderstood me. Bear in mind we have 50/50 custody of my stepsons and their mother, who lives two blocks away, is a full presence in their lives. I could never adopt them and it would be a nonsense for them to call me "mom". They do have an engaged and committed mother - and I'm not her. As I said in one of my previous posts, I will step in a lot of times, but some responsibilities are just not mine to bear, otherwise I'll suffer the bitter consequences (check my 08:13 AM post). If my SS mother was out of the picture, you bet I would take a more active role in their lives; call it maternal instinct or whatever you like: if you're a mother and you see a neglected kid, your heart jumps to the rescue. But my SS are emotionally stable and well loved by their mother; the last thing they need is having me compete with her. Finding the right balance depends on the circumstances.

"Easy for me to say -- I'm not a step parent. But I don't think one should go into a marriage that involves other children unless one is committed to going all the way with the kids, while still of course respecting the "other" parent"

See my point? You can't go all the way with the kids without disrespecting the other truly involved parent. Plus, your partner is their parent as well and he should be ready to assume the primary role as far as they're concerned. It just bothers me that people assume that stepmothers are surrogate mothers. That's not what they are, unless the real mother flees the picture. Exactly what they are is worth another blog - I'm with WorkingMomX and Chitty on requesting a sequel to today's topic

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 26, 2008 6:09 AM

I agree w/ portuguese-mother. In so many cases described here, the steps are just going to have to take a secondary role. If your stepkids' real mother is entirely present and participating in raising her kids, then there's an extent to which it is very hard to properly identify and define the role we new spouses / partners play. I reject 'stepmom' because I think it is freighted with unhappy baggage, because I think it suggests that I'm taking over a role that is already being done just fine by someone else. I think of myself as occupying a role that is a cross between an aunt and a teacher. I'm a grownup who they have to respect and listen to when Dad isn't there to make calls. I can teach and model good behavior and judgment, do things with them, and within carefully delimited boundaries, correct them. I take great care to work this stuff out OFF LINE with my partner away from the kids. In fact, I do most of my contributing to their parenting by talking with their dad about my concerns and thoughts and letting him drive the agenda on contentious issues. I am completely at peace with my auxiliary role in their lives, because, hey, it's not like there's not enough to do.

I think this only works well because my partner doesn't put me in situations where I am going to get jammed up with the kids or their mom, and because he takes the concerns I do have about kid related stuff fully to heart.

So what are we going to call ourselves, that's what I want to know? "My dad's wife" sounds impersonal and almost hostile. 'Step' anything is out. I'm baffled.

Posted by: lorikay | January 28, 2008 2:30 PM

lorikay,
I totally agree with you. We take the same approach and it seems to work just fine.
I would really like someone to come up with a good name to call ourselves though. My SS call me a very sweet nickname made up by the younger one when he was learning to speak. But then again they can´t use it to refer to me or to introduce me to someone, right? Ideas, anyone? Or should we just re-write SnowWhite, Cinderella and ther likes?

Posted by: portuguese-mother | January 28, 2008 5:53 PM

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