Nobody wants to talk about this. It’s a difficult situation, one that tends to be swept under the rug rather than dealt with. But, here it is: sometimes it’s difficult to be a step-parent.
As a biological mother or father, you automatically love your child the moment that plus sign pops up on that plastic stick. It’s programmed in you. You begin to prepare for them, announce their upcoming arrival, and lose sleep over picking the perfect name. This just isn’t the case in a situation where your partner has a child from a previous relationship.
Blended families aren’t an uncommon thing anymore. We can blame that on society, money or a number of other excuses. But, the fact of the matter is, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a relationship with someone who has a kid, or going into one with a kid of your own. 40% of married couple in America entered the relationship with children; there are approximately 12 million single parents.
When I first started seeing my husband, his son was only 3 months old. He was the cutest little thing I’d ever seen. With his big brown eyes and chubby little cheeks, he stole my heart. I loved the child from the start. I played with him, bathed him, fed him and rocked him just like he was mine. I thought I could never love another kid like I love this one. I was wrong. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my daughter, that I realized that while I love them both equally, I don’t love them the same.
Now, before you burn me at the stake, let me clarify. I love my son. (And, yes, I refer to him as my son) I love him just as much as I did the day I met him. I care about him and for him the same way I do my biological daughter. I’d jump in front of a moving train for either one of them. But there’s just a little something different there when that child is YOURS. I don’t necessarily think this has anything to do with biology, carrying the child within your body, or creating them with your own DNA. I have seen adoptive parents that carry the same kind of love for their adopted children that I carry for my biological one. I think that it simply boils down to the fact that my son already has a mother.
This is where a lot of step-parents run into problems. While you love this child with all your heart and soul, they already have a parent that you can’t, and shouldn’t, replace. When it comes to my daughter, all she has is myself and my husband. I am her mother. He is her father. We’re all she’s got. My step-son, on the other hand, already has a mom and dad. I’m just an extra person to love and snuggle him. This doesn’t lessen my importance; it simply means that I’m not required to fulfill a certain role.
After having my daughter, and coming to this realization, I felt absolutely horrible, even ashamed, for a long time. Until one night I finally broke down in sobs to my husband and told him everything. After listening to me for what seemed like forever, he looked at me quizzically and said, “It’s okay.”
I could’ve smacked him. How in the world was it okay that I felt differently about this new baby than I did his son? I expected him to be angry, hurt. But, instead, he pointed out to me that it was, in fact, okay. I didn’t treat his son any differently. I still played and talked with him like I always had. If it hadn’t eaten me up to the point of breaking down, no one would’ve ever noticed. What I felt for my daughter, and didn’t for him, his biological mother did. We’ve had our issues, but she’s a good mother. That maternal instinct and bond belongs to her. And that’s okay!
That “love” feeling for a step-child doesn’t always come easy to everyone. My son was a tiny, cute little baby when he came into my life. He was so easy to love. But, sometimes that may not always be the case. Maybe the kid doesn’t like you; perhaps they’re struggling with the change in their life. Maybe you’re struggling to find that “parental instinct” you thought you were supposed to have. Or maybe you’re just like me and don’t understand that difference in emotions between your step and biological children.
Either way, it’s okay. You don’t have to be the perfect mom or dad to the kid that already has one. Focus on being their friend. Be the person they can come to when they don’t feel like they can go to their parents. Be the person who CHOSE to be in their life, to care for them and love them, who you by no means had to.