It’s Mothers’ Day! There’s a group in our society who often get forgotten during this celebration of parental love and commitment so I’d like to acknowledge all the amazing step parents and foster parents. In New Zealand, around 20% of children live in step or blended families. And just like parenting, being a step parent or foster parent is a choice that requires a big heart and broad shoulders.
And it’s not one to be taken lightly. When I became a step parent 16 years ago, I had a Pollyanna notion of how life would unfold from that point. Some of those notions eventuated, others simply didn’t.
Step parents are in a unique and challenging position of having the same responsibilities as parents – providing guidance, emotional and financial care for their partner’s offspring – but often without an equal say in the decision making process. It’s easy to take the step parent’s role for granted. In reality becoming part of a blended family is a process that brings equal measures of tears and laughter.
It’s difficult when you meet someone with children from a previous marriage to really know what you’re getting yourself in for. In fact, you can’t. What you must never do though is doubt yourself. If you became part of the blended family with good intentions, stay true to those.
Make sure boundaries are set in place early about what happens at your place in terms of housework, curfews, pocket money – all the things “normal” families navigate. It’s your home so you and your partner make the rules, not a third party. And you don’t have to apologise for that. That’s just one of the concessions the third party makes remembering they also gain benefits from having you in their child’s life.
These boundaries become especially important when step children become teenagers/when you have children of your own. These two milestones coincided for me so it took trial and error to get things right. You simply can’t always be making things perfect for everyone else. If you’re a new Mum, it’s okay to make it clear that you’re not in a position (in the short term) to do extras.
There are times when you simply have to step back. You might not agree with how things are unfolding but let it go. Ultimately, your stepchildren have two biological parents who share the responsibility for their upbringing. If your views aren’t respected or supported, then be it on someone else’s head. All you can do is proffer your opinion (diplomatically). But getting between your partner and his/her children is a recipe for disaster. Tough as it may be put yourself in your partner’s shoes – choosing between you and his/her kids? It’s a lose:lose.
Of course there are other times when your partner must back you. They must send a clear message to their kids that you are important and worthy of respect. That moment came to a head for me when I was nudged off the end of a couch while 7 months pregnant by someone just a little to keen for some of Daddy’s affections. A wake up call for us all.
There are other times when clearly you must all work as a team to do what’s best for the children. When my eldest step daughter was 16, I discovered early one Sunday morning that a friend of hers had been killed in a car accident. She was staying at a friend’s so, before the mobile phones got switched on, my husband picked her up and took her back to her Mum’s. They broke the news together. It wasn’t Mum’s “weekend” to have the girls but when something significant happens, technicalities become irrelevant.
Becoming a step parent is, without a doubt,one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. It is only now, on reflection, that I can stop beating myself up for things I wish I’d done differently or times I wish I’d been less of a doormat. But ultimately, I’m proud my role in helping to raise two young independent women. I hope that one day, they are too.
So to all step parents out there, enjoy.
This is your day too.