I am a stepmother. I have a stepson who I have known since he was a toddler and he is now a teenager. It wasn’t easy at first. There were many times when I felt more like a glorified nanny with no say in his upbringing, even when he was spending time at our house. I’m sure he didn’t like me at first, this weird woman who wasn’t his mommy telling him to eat his green beans and not to throw toys. But I must have been pretty lucky, because all I remember from the early years of knowing this human was that when his father went to pick him up it felt like Christmas, and when his time with us was over it was amazingly painful, and I would basically count the minutes until he was back on our doorstep. We didn’t have any weird growing pains with our children getting to know one another, at the time I had one son from a previous marriage and it seemed like the boys just became brothers in a heartbeat. There is a two year age difference, but they have always been friends. I may have lucked out because my stepson came into my life when he was little. I’m sure bonding with an older child or teenager poses a whole new set of stepparent issues, but this piece from the Huffington Post makes me wrinkle my forehead in all sorts of unflattering ways:

Their words and tone come across as a whisper, a hush. “I need to confess this to someone,” they tell me. “I feel so bad about this, but I don’t, um, I really just don’t, well, you’ll think I’m a crazy person for saying this, but I just really don’t love my stepchildren.”

These women are surprised and more than relieved when I say, “Well, why would you? They aren’t your children. If I took you to the nearest mall and pointed out a group of kids and told you that you needed to love them, you would think I was the crazy one. It’s quite normal that you don’t love your stepchildren. Just because you fell in love with their father doesn’t mean you will automatically love his children.”

They thought they were the only ones.

For those who aren’t involved in stepfamilies, these confessions may seem blasphemous. We are a culture that seems hell bent on happy endings. “The Brady Bunch” continues to, without rationale or reason, serve as the template for modern stepfamily life. The expectation for a “blended” family is automatic.

 Many stepmoms feel “thrown under the bus” when it comes to their partner’s children and that the kids are prioritized over them. Their stepchildren treat them with disrespect and their partner’s continual refusal to correct their children or teach basic good manners does not bode well for the marriage.

Ding! Ding! Ding! This last quote sums up the issue perfectly I think. If you are having issues with your stepchildren, it’s because your partner isn’t parenting them. Think about it, these little humans come into our lives from divorce, which is hard and scary and painful and confusing to children. and it’s the biological parent’s job to set limits with their kids . If you are having issues loving or caring about your stepkid, it’s probably because your partner isn’t teaching them basic respect and how to behave in a family, even if they are only with this family part-time. As a stepparent, it’s not your job to instill these behaviors in your stepchild alone. This is where the whole “evil stepmother” thing comes from. The parents need to have a united front about what the rules are, and be consistent with kids, whether they are your biological children or not. There is always an issue of guilt on the part of the divorced parent, and they may have concerns that their kid sees themselves as being “abandoned” or left behind, and a lot of parents feel the need to placate these kids or make up for this by overcompensating, either by forgoing rules or letting the stepkids disrespect the “new” parent. All that does is confuse a kid.

I really don’t think any fault can be put on the child, especially when discussing kids younger than preteens or teens, which is a whole other set of issues. If your stepkid is a monster, it’s probably because they aren’t being parented. Kids want to feel like they belong and that they are loved by the people entrusted with their care. If the biological parent is firm in setting up rules, so many of these issues just wouldn’t take place. In a family we all speak kindly and respect each other. We all listen to each other and care about each other’s feelings. If we don’t follow these rules, there are reprocussions, whether it be a time-out or a favorite toy taken away. Maybe I just never had huge issues with my stepson because my husband always enforced these rules with me, no matter which kid we were parenting. And sure, the full-time custodial parent may be a total evil person who tells their child they can act like a jerk at your house, but kids are magical. They are able to follow different rules at different places, which is why the majority of our kids don’t go to school wearing pajamas or why they don’t throw a baseball when at a doctor’s appointment. Once again, it’s your partner’s job to discuss this with their ex. If your partner isn’t communicating with their ex than your partner isn’t being a good parent.

Parenting can be hard, whether parenting kids you gave birth to or parenting stepkids. I’m pretty positive more than half the battle is making sure you and your partner agree on how you want to parent. At times it hasn’t been easy, at times I had to take my husband aside and voice concerns I had over my role as step-mother, but through the years, the most difficult part for me has been not being able to see my stepson every day. Any issues I had with him weren’t his fault, but the fault of miscommunication between me and his father.

(photo: Disney)