The Ultimate Balancing Act- Otherwise Known as existing as a Stepparent

So we recently had my husband’s children for our 2 week period.  (The children switch homes every two weeks). Wait, you ask, that seems to be a strange custody arrangement- how do they do it?  Well, it is “no problem” for us, as the children’s Mom moved in directly across the street from us when my husband and I had been married all of 2.5 months. Her act just screams “Mentally unstable and controlling”, doesn’t it?  But that is another time and another blog.

Today, I am focused on the tight rope act that is constantly required of us as stepparents.   You know the one I mean- the constant balance of what to say and what not to say, when to discipline and when not to discipline, when to step in and when to step out, when to lead and when to follow, when to act and when to wait…. we all live it moment to moment.

Some may read this and think- “Well, hey, that is everyone’s life with marriage and kids. What is so hard about being a stepparent?”  I can answer those who think like that with the simple words of “You wrong, so wrong.  Stepparenting is NOT like parenting your own children.  Stop acting like it is.”

Wednesday Martin tackled this issue in her wonderful book Stepmonster– which should be the Bible of any stepparent (and well, let’s be honest, any parent who divorces and thinks their children and the situaiton is just going along “fine”).

At one point, Martin interviews a woman, let’s say Denise, who is a stepmother and mother.  Denise nails it when she states how much more difficult being with her stepchild is versus her own children. Denise admits to the uncertainty, the second-guessing, the modifications that go along with participating in the raisinig of other people’s children.  Every act requires an assessment- what is right?  too much? too little?  I know this is part of parenting, but as Denise relates- she does NOT have this second guessing with her own kids to the extent she does with her stepchild.

And I can so relate to this.  My husband never understands why his kids wear me out so much. Because it is a constant balancing act, I want to scream at him!  I work under stress and constraints that he will never have to worry about.  Why? Because the children are “his”.

When the children are “yours”, as a parent, and the children feel this to, there is an unbreakable bond it seems. My husband can say or do almost anything to his kids and they will still see him as “Daddy” and he will see them as “his” and everyone is secure in that.  Not so with a stepparent. My relationship with his kids is built step by step, moment by moment (and please know, this is not all about me. His kids have really, really put in effort into having a good relationship with me). But, for myself and his kids, there is no security on the other side. We were thrown together by fate and chance without the unbreakable, “given” bond of parent and child.

So, let’s be honest of what it takes to be a stepparent- it is in so ways, much more difficult than parenting our “own” children. We need to let up own ourselves with the expectations of “this should be easier” and “what am I doing wrong that this is so hard?”  Raising other people’s children IS DIFFICULT.  And we display a wonderful heart and openness in the fact that we are even willing to try it.

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5 thoughts on “The Ultimate Balancing Act- Otherwise Known as existing as a Stepparent

  1. Love this post, so glad I found it. I am very much in that boat, and my husband doesn’t understand why it is so taxing on me either. My brain is constantly reviewing, analyzing every step of every move that I make with his kids… and it is exhausting. You don’t want to mess up…. and you’re right when it’s your kids… you just put it out there, it is what it is … your kids like it or don’t…. but when they are not bonded to you as a fraternal parent… its very different reactions.

    • Hi, thanks for the comment- it is so tiring reviewing almost every action, wondering if it is the “right” one! I mean this in a positive way- but it is the reason I am sometimes counting down the hours until his children leave. ONce they are out the door, I feel I can breathe a bit easier.

  2. Oh I know that feeling all to well also, and the guilt that smacks you in the face as you’re counting down his kids leaving. It’s awkward for sure…. and there really doesn’t seem to be any ease in it!

  3. Sometimes I think you must be my soul sister. I constantly tell the King that its not fair to expect me to enforce all the rules and let him continue to be Fun Dad for precisely this reasoning. I am already at a disadvantage of being the “other woman” and being the sole disciplinarian would be the icing on the Wicked Stepmother cake. Its a very strange feeling to look forward to their visits and then once they are there look forward to their departure just so that you can breathe easy again.

    • I feel the same about you- Your post about not knowing if should you get involved with the late night TV viewing or not really hit home. I really appreciate what you write about being at a disadvantage. My husband always assumes that I am on equal footing with him and his kids – as you write- we are not on equal footing as stepparents and fatigue quickly sets in. I sometimes feel I have two personalities and lives – “Stepmom Kim” and “Normal Kim”.

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