Step Parenting

Of course we’re all evil!

The story of Cinderella pretty much sealed the fate on this one.  There shall be no admiration for any step parent anywhere so help us God.  They are all evil I tell you.  Mean to the core.  They hate their step children and want only the worst outcomes for them.  Ok, I’m calling bullshit before this gets completely out of hand!

Most, not all, stepparents feel many of the same emotions with regard to their step-kids as blood parents do.  They feel their pain and their joy.  They take pride in their accomplishments and worry about their futures.  They want the best things in life for them.  They just don’t have a lot of say in the matter.

Having been a parent for 23 years and (unofficial) step parent for almost ten, I can say unequivocally that step parenting is much harder and far more frustrating.  You still feel all the burdens of parenting but wield next to no influence over the situation.  Now I’m sure the nature of this experience depends greatly on the other parents involved.  But certainly attempting to blend parenting styles that may have already fully developed into their own beasts is difficult to say the least.

Parenting Styles

I like to think my parenting style is well balanced.  I nurture but I don’t coddle.  I make sacrifices for my kids but I refuse to be a martyr. I support and advise but I don’t impose my freewill on them.  Then there are the other kinds of parents.  You might have heard some referred to as helicopter parents or maybe tiger moms.  But I would venture to say that there is a breed even more imposing than these. It’s the mothers who orchestrate their children’s popularity in school by buying them ridiculously lavish clothes, cars, and stupid shit that only people from a first world country would even value.  It’s the fathers who, so afraid of alienating their children during precious visitation hours, allow the kids to dictate food choices, select every TV show, and never never never ask them to do anything uncomfortable such as picking up a dish while at their house.  I know many well-intended parents that do way too much for their kids only to wonder why they are so self-absorbed and incapable of adjusting to life beyond the home when they head off to college.  If only they realized that their children’s love really is unconditional.  They are going to love you even if you are not perfect.  To be fair, this seems to be happening not just with families of divorce, but across all types of families these days.

I’ve pondered the reasons behind all of this crazed coddling for some time now.  And now we’re starting to see these kids enter the work force and sit in a cube right next to us.  You’ve probably encountered the millennial.  I’ll tell you that my son hates that label.  Of course he hates all labels and I would tend to side with him on the whole judgement-based identity-labeling pandemic that has taken over our culture.  If you ask me, people are way too focused on splicing who they are up into these little identity cultures causing them to lose sight of the fact that they are part of the human race.  One must identify their race, heritage, religion, gender, sexual preferences, and diet choices to define themselves.  Then they complain when anyone describes them using these very same adjectives.  Listen up.  We’re all in this together.

Anyway, with regard to parenting styles, I believe there are many things provoking this incessant need to ensure our children never have a bad day.  For one, maybe we remember having bad days and our parents just telling us tough shit.  Life isn’t fair so suck it up. As it turns out, that wasn’t such bad advice after all.  But at the time, it left us feeling disconnected from them.  We thought they didn’t understand what we were going through.  Or we thought they didn’t care.  But they did and by telling us to suck it up, they were arming us with the tools of adaptation that would benefit us as we traveled through this thing called life.  So with good intentions at the heart of it, we as parents try doing things differently so that our children might feel more loved along the way.

Of course, there are the homes where both parents work and they of course feel guilty about the slivers of time and energy they have left to do family stuff.  There are the over-scheduled homes which seek to expose their children to every sport, art, and childhood activity imaginable so that their kids don’t someday blame them for their lack of agility, talent, or popularity among their peers.  Of course, what they will end up blaming them for are poor eating habits and a lack of cooking skills since these same kids are too busy to ever sit down for a home cooked family meal, much less help prepare it.  And clean up after it?  Forget it.  How do you load a dishwasher anyway?

Blending Parenting Styles

Okay, so I’ve gotten a little off-track.  What I’m trying to say is that there are lots of parenting styles which are molded in us by our own parents and for better or for worse, by the parenting styles of our ex-spouses.  By the time many of us end up in blended family scenarios, we’re pretty set in our ways.  And the last thing we want is someone who hasn’t known our child his or her whole life telling us how we should or shouldn’t raise them.  So back off step parent, future step parent, or potential step parent.  Your services are not welcome here.

When you put two parents together who developed their parenting styles along independent tracts, there are bound to be conflicts.  It’s just different than when you become parents for the first time and learn how to be parents together.  I think in those first terrifying days when it occurs to you that you are responsible for another human life, you become supremely aware of how woefully unprepared you are for the job.  But at least in my case, those were the happier days of our marriage and Bob and I got through that stuff together acknowledging our inexperience and helping each other out rather than judging each other’s parental missteps.

As young parents, in some cases you developed bad habits which you will inevitably carry forward beyond your divorce as you become an independent parent.  Then suddenly when you join up with another partner to create that perfect blended Brady Bunch family, stark differences in style begin to emerge.  These differences may be so vast between you and a new mate that you wonder if you can even stay with the other person (or if they will stay with you).  No one can answer that but you.  However, attempting it might give you the opportunity to grow as a parent and improve on your own parenting style.

Now some may get lucky and have very mature new partners who recognize your superior parental guidance and gladly accept it.  But more likely, the first time you tell your significant other’s child to pick something up off the floor, you’re going to get the stink-eye.

Some of the preceding situations may or may not describe my own personal experience.  To protect the innocent, I’ll leave it at that. But enough about me.  Let me tell you about Ian’s step mom, Brandi.

Brandi

In November, 2002, Ian met Brandi, his then-future stepmom.  I also met her in relatively the same time period.  She seemed nice and normal, thank goodness!  It was also obvious she liked Bob a lot, which I was happy to see since after all, I still considered him my friend and wanted him to find someone that could give him the love I felt I could not.

As I got to know Brandi a little better I often thought that she was the kind of female that had I met her out by herself, I’d want to be friends with.  We have a lot in common besides our red hair too.  She is in a very similar line of work as me.  She was previously married.  She is very rational and strong.  Even her relationship with her mother shares some similarities to my relationship with my mom.  Of course, there are many differences too.  Brandi is crafty, has what seems to be a more nurturing personality than me, and unlike me, does not belong to the IBTC.  I used to joke with Bob congratulating him on that last point.  For those of you who don’t know what the IBTC is, you must not be a member.  Ha!  Finally, as they are still together after 10 years, I can only assume that Brandi has far more patience than I in dealing with Bob’s sarcastic approach to conversation.

As Bob and Brandi’s relationship blossomed, I never once felt like she was working against me or trying to take my place as mother to Ian.  This is really important because it’s very difficult to not feel threatened by the new woman in your young son’s life.  What if he ends up liking her more than me?  What if he chooses her over me?  What if I lose his heart to her?  This is what I believe is at the root of so many divorce conflicts.  Mom (or Dad) is threatened by the new mate and what that person’s role is in their child’s life.  A self-defense mechanism kicks in.  You want to crush your competition and win.  Of course, the fact is nobody wins in that type of competition but there will definitely be losers. And it is usually the child.

Fortunately for me, I was able to discern this rationale very quickly and refused to let my competitive nature rear its ugly head.  I instead chose to be happy that Bob had picked someone to share in my son’s life that is a good person with a caring heart and mothering qualities that I admire.

Through the years, Brandi has been there to support Ian in so many ways.  In addition to going to soccer games and band performances, she’s helped plan and host many birthday parties, graduation parties, and other celebrations for Ian.  She’s hand-sewn Halloween costumes, something I never bothered to learn from my amazingly talented seamstress mother.  She’s given him many other experiences to add to his album of childhood memories.

When I fell on difficult financial times, Brandi was there to support me by ensuring Ian always had medical insurance and contributing financially to other things he needed that came up during those rough times.

I will always be grateful to Brandi for being there for my son and for me.  We are both very fortunate that she came into all of our lives.  So Brandi, if I am your “favorite ex-wife”, I guess that makes you my favorite wife.  All the best my friend!

Have I left anything out?

Absolutely!  I have witnessed some really atrocious parenting and step-parenting behaviors.  To be honest, I think I could dedicate an entire book to this topic alone.  Everything from the unintended slights to the completely calculated lengths some parents go to in order to prevent the step parent and step child from developing productive and loving relationships.  And of course, there are tragic stories of the step-father or step-mother who treats the step-child horribly either emotionally, physically or both.  But I really believe these are the outliers rather than the norm and that most step-parents really just want to have a happy family and to be loved.