Met some new friends recently, another ministry couple. She has written a book about being a step-mother. I was telling another friend about it, and that friend immediately commented about step-parenting: “I can’t even imagine. How complicated that must be.” Pretty insightful for somebody who hasn’t done it. In her book, my friend talks about step-parenting and uses the term “in-step” as she discusses the challenges and finding ways to work them out. I’m not done with her book yet…just got it over the weekend…but as I have been reading along, it is certainly a trip down memory lane!
Some of you may be saying to yourself, “So,what’s the big deal?” I suspect that there are not many relationship issues more challenging that step-parenting and family “blending” which, by the way, is kind of a mythic term. There may be shared parents, and shared space, and healthy relationships, but blending is probably more of a hope than a reality. But on my dinner plate, various dishes can share the same plate and produce a wonderfully flavorful meal, even though they aren’t all “blended” together! Sometimes they touch. Sometimes the gravy spills over into the peas. And that’s okay. But I definitely don’t want my peas run through the blender with the mashed potatoes before they get on the plate. A “blended” might just operate the same way, and that might very well be not such a bad thing.
So what is hard about it? Well, let me suggest a few possibilities. For instance, one parent believes in cell phones for the kids safety and has raised her kids that way, the other believes that cell phones are too much of a distraction for children, and they need to wait till they are in high school, and his kids didn’t have them. The families merge…who changes? And how do you communicate the values held dear while altering the practice those values had upheld? A step-mother or step-father may use an expression or behavior that they have always used, even on that is common for their gender. But in the spouse’s previous marriage, that expression may have been used in an abusive way, so when the child hears or sees it, what kind of impact do you suppose it will have? And odds are, it was only at that moment the step-parent learned the history behind the difficulty. There are plenty of times you will be compared to my “real” mom or my “real” dad (bio dad my friend calls them), usually only in scenarios where you come out on the short end of the stick. Sometimes that is followed by the reminder that, “I don’t have to listen to you, you aren’t my real mom!” It is always good to remind yourself at that point that God says children are a blessing from Him!
Or, sometimes one of the parents has been single for a while, and the eldest child has taken on extra responsibilities around the house, not quite like an adult, but definitely “momma’s little helper.” Then, suddenly, there is this other adult now living under the same roof. While it may be nice to have that step-parent around, the child can feel like their role has changed, and maybe not even be sure they are needed or wanted anymore. And that new person who has come into the house may be perceived as a threat as they share their mommy with this new person. Of course, all these things vary significantly with the ages of the children, the length of time the parent was single, the ages of the children (if any) that come with the new step parent, and a multitude of other factors.
And you are juggling all this while Christmas traditions undergo transformation as they alternate between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day year to year, or deal with ex spouses who try to interject themselves inappropriately or are excluded inappropriately. As you handle these things, the children themselves are possibly juggling two sets of rules in two different houses that might be radically different, trying to negotiate uncertain waters at a tender age. It may be harder to be a step child than a step parent!
Well, for all of you out there trying to navigate these uncharted waters, there are a few resources here and there. There are so many variables, I doubt that you will ever find a guidebook with all the right answers. You simply have to glean what you can, do your best, pray, and remember that the love you have for your spouse should be big enough to extend to your spouse’s children, or it isn’t much of a love commitment. All we can do, is try to do out best. Even without step children, we can only do our best when it comes to parenting, too, right? Step parenting is just parenting…with lots of unexpected booby traps and complications thrown in!
I will let you know about my friend’s book and website later on, as she has been invited to send in a guest blog for you to read. My friends and I are also talking about putting together some workshops that might offer some encouragement and insights…will have to let you know about that as they develop.
TL:dr Being a step parent is NOT an easy undertaking!