A Guest Post by Anne Sleeman,
President, Kids on Time, Inc.
It’s a funny thing, becoming a step parent. Not sure if I have ever heard of anyone who said, “When I grow up, I really want to be a step parent”. For whatever the reason, being a step mom is that one step further away from anything anyone ever dreamed of. I mean the negative depictions of the evil step mom are enough to frighten off even the boldest and the bravest of soles. What’s even more “funny” is that moment when you come to the realization that you are in fact in love with a person who has kids. Whoa. Okay. Breathe. Time to assess what this means for me, for them, and most importantly for the kids who are involved.
Every family and every situation is different. I cannot speak of every situation, but I will speak of one I know well, my own. When I first started dating my now husband I had never given any thoughts to having kids, raising kids, or really anything having to do with kids. When he was ready for the kids and I to meet, I wasn’t even in the slightest bit nervous or scared. I was always a person who was well liked and well received. It never occurred to me that meeting his kids would be any different.
BOY WAS I WRONG! Without getting into too many of the details, let me just say that things did not exactly go as I planned. It was NOT love at first sight. I tell the story now, 15 years later, with a smile on my face and love in my heart, that the daughter of my soon to be husband made me cry more than any other single individual in my life.
At first, in my naiveté and lack of experience, I thought…forget this. What is her problem? I’m a good person, I’m funny, I’m nice and to quote Stuart Smally of Saturday Night Live Fame: “Gosh darn-it, people like me”. I fought back tears at every meeting. I dreaded being in the car or alone with her. There was, however, a defining moment, when I came to the realization that this person is a child and I am an adult. I need to be the one who makes the effort, whether reciprocated or not. I need to make more of an effort than I have at anything in my life. I am in this for the long haul. I need to embrace, accept and love my husband’s kids as if they are my own. It is only fair to them. I need to change the way I go about making decisions, and make them now with their best interest at the focal point of all things I do.
I also realized that these kids need to have positive adult role models who have mature relationships that are respectful and cordial.
I came to a peaceful acceptance that the kids’ mom is a person with whom I will forever have a relationship, so why not be nice to her? She didn’t do anything to me personally, and likewise me to her. So, that is what I set out to do. It was not easy, and it did not come over night. But what I came to realize over the course of the next several years can be summed up in the following bullet points:
• Being a step parent is a privilege — not a right.
• Being a step parent means having to make the sacrifices of a biological parent knowing that you may never be rewarded or even recognized for them.
• Being a step parent means making every effort to participate in the lives of the kids of the person you love as an “extra” parent/adult who loves and cares about them.
• Being a step parent means sometimes being on the outside or not being included in family photos or older memories and having to choke back the tears so no one notices that it hurts.
• Being a step parent means making lifestyle changes to support being the best parent figure, friend, role model and person you can be.
• Being a step parent means you sometimes have to hear others speaking about how they wish your spouse and the kids other parent were still together…for sake of the kids. Even if their bio-parent isn’t better suited for the job.
• Being the step parent means being introduced as the step-parent. You cannot imagine some of the weird and judgmental looks this brings about.
• Being a step parent means helping with homework, and talking about drugs and sex and morals and friends and bulling and finances and right from wrong and a whole host of other subjects that come up that you never would have dreamed of discussing with your parents.
• Being a step parent means attending concerts as the chaperon, or should I say chauffeur, attending sporting events and plays and parent teacher conferences and all those other “parental” events.
• Being a step parent means back to school shopping is now more important than shopping for your own wardrobe.
• Being a step parent means, somehow, with all the effort along the way, being proud of the young person you have helped to shape and mold.
• Being a step parent means feeling proud when your step child does something good for society, themselves or others.
• Being a step parent enables you to love and be loved in one of the most unique, misunderstood and underrated relationships in our society.
So, is being a step parent worth it? YES! In more ways than you can count. Remember, when meeting and falling in love with the person who is already a parent you are entering a relationship that is more than just about you. If you are not ready for all that being a step parent brings about, gracefully and maturely walk away, it’s not about you, it’s about the kids. If you are ready, jump in with both feet and a full heart. Enjoy every moment, even the ones that at the time don’t seem all that enjoyable. Every experience happens once in a lifetime.