The term step can be confusing as to its meaning when applied in context to families. You maybe a step parent with no biological children of your own. Your children may become the stepchildren in the counterpart to that scenario. Or you may have entered into a relationship where you are both bringing children to the table.
To myself that doesn’t quite cover all that being part of a family like this embodies. It really doesn’t convey the minutiae that comes with trying to form a family unit out of parts collected out of the scrap yard of life, into some kind of Frankenstein family.
There are lots of mixed emotions and trials to overcome as anyone who is on their second or even third time around will testify. You’ve not had the chance to grow together as an orthodox family would of before you find yourself thrust upon each other, and are expected to all play nicely.
Does this then leave the question of do stepfamilies work?
It’s not so plain sailing
When I met my partner my daughter Loopsy certainly wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. If I am honest I was more concerned with finding a witty way to flirt, than considerations regarding whether our children would make compatible siblings.
I really had no idea of the issues that were about to unfold and require attention when we began to function more as a family and less as visiting friends.
A sibling or a sparring partner?
The disagreements our children had at first and continue to have on occasion are some of the less subtle causes of friction, they started almost from the off. Loopsy, in particular, struggled with jealousy, especially over me.
Until this point, it had been me and her. So in her mind when there was competition for my time and attention with the arrival of a full grown sibling Curly, it just simply was not cool. I wasn’t something that she wanted to share. Although I haven’t found a suitable way to fully resolve this, for the most part, jealous behaviour has got less over time. Even though when it comes to situations like saying goodbye she makes sure she is the last one to give me a hug.
It wasn’t just us parents which were on the most wanted list either. Our two little girls (Loopsy 7 and Curly 9 years) are normally considerate, caring little ladies. Who will happily share their toys and art supplies, suddenly became territorial monsters. Who found it necessary to compete over the smallest of things. It still astonishes me even now how a piece of paper or a chair nearer a power outlet can become, a valid cause for the kind of violence usually reserved for a PPV event. You live and learn I guess.
Are others allowed to correct your child?
Having to tell our children off is something that no parent enjoys, although it is a vital and a healthy part of raising children it can be upsetting for both kids and parents. So when you’re placed in a parental role over someone else child it can become a political minefield.
Perhaps the first concern I had was whether or not it maybe even acceptable for me to do so? Will I cause friction between me and my partner?
I still remember how I felt awkward and clumsy as I tried, as gently as I could, to explain to Curly why it was not ok to draw on the dining table. Something which I would have done quite animatedly with my own younger child.
You’re not my Dad(or mum)!
The real gold, however, was saved for my partner as she was herself trying to navigate this topic. Upon being told that she was not allowed to do something Loopsy came out with the most cliche of responses.
“You’re not my mum!”
Yes, she was right. My partner is not her mum, but does that mean that she has any grounds to question her authority especially when I am not present? In my opinion, no, the fact that I left my better half in charge should have been enough kudos.
I’d of been a little taken back and perhaps hurt if it was me but luckily the whole situation on this occasion was quickly taken care of in the most diplomatic of ways.
My partner pointed out that indeed, she is not my little one’s mum, but as an adult who is looking after said child, she is in charge. The request which was made (to take a scooter to the park instead of a bike for child management reasons) wasn’t unfair or optional.
Awkward isn’t the word
As a man and a father who has never been squeamish or overly prudish with my own daughter. I quickly found that I had a steep learning curve when it came just how many possibly embarrassing situations could arise when forming our Frankenstein family. Here are just a few of the many instances I have encountered thus far:
- Whilst trying to show off how easily I can manage children took the girls swimming to give my lady a much-needed break. What I didn’t consider was how I was going to get changed without exposing myself to a child.
- Bath time (I wash my daughter’s hair, trying to explain to my stepdaughter why I couldn’t wash hers was not fun)
- When one of the children decide how great a story of how Mummy and Daddy used to like kissing would go down at the dinner table.
- Mixed laundry, not signals: I once wore my adult stepsons boxer shorts, he was happy to point this out and happier to tell me I could keep them.
Concerns of a biological parent
It was all fun, a great adventure when we were forming our new family. Sure there were lows but there was a lot more highs and things to look forward to, then things to be afraid of. Until one day when I had a call from my little girls Mum letting me know that she would be introducing another man to my daughter.
I’m not ashamed to say I got my hackles up. I wanted to know everything about the guy. What did he do for a living? Does he have a criminal record? Is he going to be hanging around or is it likely this is a short relationship? (I didn’t want people coming and going in my daughter’s life) Is he a good bloke who will be kind to my little lady?
In short I wasn’t happy, and he better not start trying to play Daddy or else!
I acted like an idiot. Not because of all the questions I had. I think it’s good to be protective of your children. To be concerned about who will have an influence on them. But because I failed to see that someone may have once had those very questions about me.
Step vs Real families
The question whether a stepfamily can be better than a real family is one I’m deeply uncomfortable with. Sure it is possible that a step parent may become a better influence than a biological parent. But can a step parent ever really love someone else’s child as their own?
It was only after I spent a long time thinking about this that I drew a conclusion and came to some realisations. In short no, you can’t love anything in the world in the same way as your own child. Yet that doesn’t mean that the relationship or emotions between a stepparent and a child is of any less worth. They just simply aren’t the same.
Which lead me to my own personal epiphany which helped me be more comfortable with my own daughter having a stepdad, is that non-biological parents role isn’t to replace a parent. But to compliment a child’s parenting.
Loopsy’s stepdad is a good guy, he always makes time for her, they always seem to be creating games and ways to have fun. When she comes home I look forward to hearing what they have gotten up to and have stolen a few of his ideas myself.
I’m glad she has him in her life because now there is an extra person looking out for her and helping to make Loopsys life, that little bit more fuller.
I hope I’m giving Curly’s daddy the same piece of mind~MG
NOTE: I am by no means implying that adoptive parents are anyway lesser with my usage of the word biological. I have simply used it as a tool here to differentiate between step and biological parents.