Raising Other People’s Children- The Call of Stepparents…

I have found it interesting during my tenure as stepparent how frequently others second-guess and in some ways undermine the influence I have with my stepchildren. Let’s be honest, the “Get out of Jail Free” card bestowed upon biological mothers is seldom extended to stepparents, and stepmothers in particular.

Our motives are questioned, our intuitioin negated, and yet, still, we are expected to devote (fully, in the minds of some) our time, energy, money, and resources for these children.  Children, we are reminded in both subtle and not so subtle ways, that are not ours.

I had a recent experience with my stepdaughter that called  into question again exactly what my role as stepmother is to be- confidant?, pseudo-parent?, adult sharing living space?, over-the-hill au pair?.  Who knows?  The role is so poorly defined, it is amazing that most of us carry on as well as we do.

My stepdaughter came to me seeking help.  It was an obvious ploy on her part.  Looking back, there was no mistaking in her gestures and words the message I was to receive.  So, I sought help for her, only to be rebuffed by her biological mother, who insisted “all is fine”.  And, as the biological mother, she has that right, at least how things are currently set up.

Stepparents can be recipients of all the problems (and we are told to be recipients with a smile on our face), yet we have little power or authority to make decisions that impact the child.  Those, we are told, should be left to the parents.  All of this makes rational sense, except for the part that is overlooked.

I do not make-up problems for my stepdaughter.  I do not seek to become overly-involved in her issues.  Yet, I am an adult whom she respects and admires in her life, and someone, in all honesty, she seeks out in her time of need.

By seeking help for her, am I tryingt to cause problems or make the biological parent look bad? No, of course now.  What I am trying to do, what some fail to acknowledge that ANY stepparent is trying to do, is I am trying to RAISE my stepdaughter to be a healthy, confident, loving person.  That’s it, and that’s more than enough.

As stepparents, we are not some gawking by-standers in the lives of our stepchildren.  We are active, engaged people in their lives, people who by their very actions are attempting to RAISE children and all that this act entails.  Our actions and commitment in relation to raising children that have entered our lives should be acknowledged and honored, not called into question.

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11 thoughts on “Raising Other People’s Children- The Call of Stepparents…

  1. *deep breath count to ten (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10) exhale* In the moment of one of these “episodes” it seems like the cost of being the engaged, wonderful, step-parent you always strive for is sometimes a high price to pay – your relationships are strained, your peace of mind is disrupted, sometimes even my sanity feels threatened – but if you are anything like me, in time, and in retrospect, you see that price really isn’t too high and was completely worth it. Getting through the “episode” and surviving and having the ability to put it into perspective always seems to give me the strength to handle the next one; but I know that in the step-parenting gig all to often we are aren’t afforded those opportunities for peace and reflection before the next “episode” is already into full swing. Kind of like being caught in a repeated cycle of incoming waves and undertow… it can be exhausting. Sometimes the only peace of mind we can carry with us at times is that despite how all the other players are playing their parts, we are doing what we believe is right.

    • Oh, thank you, thank you for these wonderful words. And, I agree, the price is not to ohigh to handle for helping a chlid. You have made my day with your spirited, insightful words- thanks!

  2. In many ways, a stepmother is treated like the father: shell out the cash, handle the problems, but back off because you are not a “real” parent. No caring, compassionate could turn their back on a child in need, and when you multiply that by the life interactions a stepparent has with a child, it is even more interwoven and difficult to step back. It is a disservice to the child to undermine a giving, active stepparent, especially when one of the biological parents (the mother, in our case) is grossly inept and unwilling to parent or provide proper care.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! I love what you wrote about the number of life interactions, the interweaving and how difficult it is to step back. And yes, it becomes much more difficult when a biological parent struggles so much in their own role as parent. THANK YOU!

  3. As a stepparent, your job is to support the biological parent. It is not your job to “raise” his/her children even if you see that as your calling; those children already have parents, they don’t need you shoving your morals and beliefs down their throats as well. I would say the best you can do is model the behavior you would like to see. And then stand clear.
    As a stepmother I shop for, feed, organize, financially support and clean up after a family of 6. Only one of the children is “mine”. I respect my stepchildren’s mother and give her a wide birth, she IS their mother and always will be. Their father is their parent, I am support staff. I care for them, and do the best I can to model how to be a kind and empathetic human.
    On the other hand, my child’s stepmother has taken it onto herself to “save” my daughter through the church, to cut and style her hair, and incessently lecture her on what an inept parent (mother) I am; all to the enjoyment and encouragement of her bio dad.
    Realize that you really have no rights or obligations to “stepchildren”; if your husband divorced you you would not have to pay support to them nor could you file for custody of them or insist on visitation rights. Being a stepparent is NOT the same as being a bio parent, but as all parents should support the other parent, that is the MAIN role of the step – support staff. Try not to overstep your bounds and strut; its very unbecoming.

    • Interesting that you state you “shop for, feed, organzie, finanacially support and clean up” for a family in which 5 of the children are not yours. To me, it sounds as if you are “raising” these children. Rather than being seen as a support person, to me, you seem to be a very intergral part of their lives. I wonder if you are doing all those things, then what are the biological parents doing? You and your work should be valued and I truly hope it is.
      I do wish I were in the situation that you allude to – in that both biological parents are fully engaged with their children. Sadly, that is not my situation. To give the biological mother a wide berth is wonderful, however when the biological mother is incapable of meeting some very basic needs of the children, the issue is at a different level. THANKS for your input.

  4. I’m so glad I read this… I have been raising my step daughter since she was 4 years old. She will be 14 years old in a few weeks. She wanted to go live with her mother when she was 11 and she lived with her for 1-1/2 years. After visiting us during Christmas of 2010 she called us from her mothers home in another state crying that she wanted to come back “home”. Her mother didn’t give us any problems in getting the papers changed. I don’t want to get into all the details…but her mother basically has never paid for anything. We’ve gotten a little over 3K in child support since she was 4 and we have always paid for health insurance while living with us.

    I met my stepdaughter when she was 10 months old and now she’s almost 14. I love her like she were my own. I have an 8 year old son also.

    My problem is ….every time she visits her mom for 2 weeks during Christmas and 4 weeks during the summer…she comes back sad and constantly texting her mother saying she wants to be with her. This only lasts for a few weeks, however it turns our family upside down and it breaks my heart every time. Her mother has never done anything for her – she’s remarried and has 2 young little girls. Her mother doesn’t do much for her – only the bare minimum. It breaks my heart, because I have already claimed her as my “own” and have tried to over compensate for what her mother hasn’t done for her. When she leaves her mother, she always comes back behaving stand offish and as if she resents me for the first couple of weeks. It just breaks my heart.

    Explaining how I feel to my husband – doesn’t work. I am constantly remind how I am not her mother. BUT….I’ve done more for that little girl than anyone has her entire life! Even her father! I take care of her, I feed her, I buy her clothes, school supplies, take her to the doctor, pick her up at school, take her homework to her when she has forgotten it, pay her phone bill, pick her up and drop her off, give her medicine, take her to the movies, take her to get her hair done, make sure she isn’t on facebook, make sure she’s friends with the right people, make sure cleans her room, take her to church on Sunday and Wednesdays, make sure her homework is done….there soooo much more. I do everything for her…everything a mother does.

    I feel so bad for her that her mother doesn’t know just how special her little girl is. She should be back in 2 more weeks; I’m so excited – but also so afraid. She’s going to start High School next month and I want this to be a happy time for her…and me…

    I secretly wish she were all mine…

    • Wow, what wonderful words you write. My first thought is how very, very lucky your stepdaughter is to have you. I don’t say that lightly. I am not surprised that you have done more for her than either parent. You know what she needs and in your infinite compassion, you respond. I remember my stepchildren’s Mom once telling me that I was “highly involved with the children’s needs”, I remember thinking at the time that yes, I was and the process is called “parenting”. I so understand your sense of excitement and fear with your stepdaughter’s return. Always know that your heart is in the right place. Children of divorce tend to have slow reactions to certain things. It may take her a little time to warm-up to your home and life again, but she will. She trusts you, even if she is unable to say it sometimes. THANKS for your wonderful response;)

    • You took the words right out of my mouth! Same situation here… Ive know my daughter (actually Step…I just hate saying step because she is SO much more then that to me, as I am to her.) She brings me the joy that could move a parent to tears. Her dad and I got together when she was 2, but I have always been a big part of her life. I held her just hours after she was born, Plus it’s always been 50/50 if not more in our favor! I feel like no one can relate to this kind of situation because it is so rare! I am also biologically childless…

      • I am so glad you found this blog and that my words resonated with you. Stepparenting has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. It has called upon resources and insights I was not even aware that I had. Thank you so much for writing. I believe we gain so much through supporting one another. 🙂

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