The Thankless Job of Being a Step-Parent

BY: - 17 Jan '13 | Parenting

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Step-parents! I salute you….I know first-hand that it’s not easy being a parent. So, imagine how difficult it must feel being a step parent in a lot of blended families. I’m not one, but I’m understanding more and more that most of these step-parenting roles take courage, understanding, and definitely love. I can never question my husband’s love for me, because the way I see it, it takes a VERY SPECIAL person to help raise someone else’s child. I hear of beautiful, ideal, and seamless circumstances where the step-parents just jump right in and never miss a beat. While that is a beautiful thing and is every blended family’s dream, the truth of the matter is, that the struggle is real for some families and the road to blending a family can get quite bumpy. Here are a few reasons why I think being a step-parent is so special and I’m singing the praises of all the step-parents out there:

You have never been without children. From day one, its been you, your spouse, and YOUR KIDS. True enough, your spouse knew what they were getting into, but if you think about it, your relationship with your spouse in these types of situations needs even more TLC that a traditional marriage, because throughout your entire relationship, your focus can never be 100% on each other because you’ve always had your kids to consider.

You often live in a state of uncertainty and ambiguity. Even if you try to spell things out, step-parents can easily be confused about where they fit in, or better yet, HOW they fit into their step-children’s lives. If the kids are young, they may be resentful. They may act out or be difficult to deal with. Sometimes, if the biological parents are still active in the child’s life this too can potentially cause even more chaos and turmoil if all parents involved are not on the same page. It helps when all parents communicate often and support each other’s households and not speak negatively of the other spouse.

Because you’re “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  Step-parents get a bad rep sometimes for being mean or crass, even when they’ve done  nothing differently than the biological parents would have done. Whether they admit it or not, biological and sometimes custodial parents are keeping an eye on the step-parent. It’s like they live under a microscope. If you take a laid back approach, then you’re blamed for “not caring or loving enough.” If you’re being a disciplinarian, then, “you’re mean.” It’s kind of hard to win, don’t you think?

Sometimes, you are the forgotten parent. I once read a quote that said, “Being a step-parent is like working as a late night convenience clerk. You have all the responsibility and none of the authority.” I have heard similar gripes form several step-parents that I know. Even if your spouse gives it (authority) to you, there is still an unspoken spirit or sense of a lack of true authority over that child. No one likes to hear those dreaded words: “You’re NOT my real mother/father.” Yes, that may be a true statement, but the usual context of this is rarely ever nice.

I mean it. I really and truly tip my hat to all the step-parents out there. The tough job of parenting can sometimes pale in comparison to this other thankless job of helping to run an automatic family. We, as biological parents, know the perils that we sometimes face raising our own kids, and can certainly appreciate how hard it has to be to raise someone else’s. Step-parents, you don’t always get the praises that you deserve, but please know that you, your love, and your efforts are not in vain, nor do they go unnoticed.

BMWK, do you agree, is being a step-parent oftentimes a “thankless job”?

About the author

Sheree Adams

http://www.smartnsassymom.com/

Sheree is a wife and WAHM of three who passionately blogs about marriage, family, health tips and more as Smart & Sassy Mom. Sheree is committed to helping blended families and keeping marriages strong, healthy, fun and SPICY!

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30 WordPress comments on “The Thankless Job of Being a Step-Parent

  1. Kim Redwine

    As a custodial step-parent, I’ve always felt like a glorified babysitter. You’re exactly right in saying that stepparents have no authority but must function on the same level as a bio- parent. One thing that wasn’t addressed in this article is feelings that go along with being a step-parent. As another reader said, I wish I knew all this before I got married. I have often felt why am I so concerned about these kids when all their concern is focused on their biomom who can do no wrong. As a bio parent, my husband often feels resentment, but as a stepparent, I’ve often felt like I don’t have to accept that because I’m here to help and when it’s not appreciated one feels like whily bother trying!

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Kim thank you for posting this. My husband and I have been married for four years and you explained exactly how I have felt at times. You genuinely love your step-children as your own and at times you’re deduced to being the baby-sitter when hubby and the bio mom have to work. I recently expressed my feelings to my hubby and he was very understanding. I felt as though I only played a part in my step-daughters lives only when they needed to be watched or when their mom failed to do something and I picked up her slack just to spare my step-daughters’ feelings (their mom refuses to bake cupcakes to send in to school for their birthdays). Whenever I ask the girls a question my hubby feels the need to answer for them or he sometimes comes up with excuses for them. Yes I signed up for this but I expect to have my feelings respected as well.

      Reply
  2. Janet Dubac

    Thanks for sharing this Sheree. I have some friends who are also step-parents and they always tell me how difficult it is to be one. I have so much respect for them because of all the things they do for their kids. You can really tell that they love their kids very much and will do everything for them.

    Reply
  3. Charmaine

    Being a step-parent has nothing on being a child of divorced/separated parents. Especially when infidelity with the step-parent played a part in the breakup of the family unit. All sides need to be considered in this unappreciated step-parent article. Ultimately the children feel the loss/disruption of their world the most.

    Reply
    1. Msz_O

      Very true, Charmaine, but this is speaking from the step-parent’s point of view. In the case of infidelity, that step-parent needs to accept the role that they played and all of the negative feelings that comes along with it. However, as a newly minted step-mom of two, this article (along with Kim Redwine’s comment) begins to validate some of the feelings and moods that I struggle with from moment to moment.

      Reply
    2. Charmaine

      As a former stepchild and a mother who watches her children go through what they perceive as being outsiders, I would say a lot of premarital counseling and breathing is needed. The stepchildren may come around if you are genuine and give them time( lots of time) to come to learn what type of person you are. Are you undermining them by limiting time spent with your spouse or do you encourage it? At the end of the day…children will judge you on how you act, not what their mother says.

      Reply
      1. Msz_O

        Maybe I wasn’t clear. I have an amazing relationship with my kids…my husband & I started dating when they were 7 and 5 and now they’re preteens. The very first day that I met the kids, a mutual friend stated, “I didn’t know you had children.” I corrected the person and told them they were his; they were pretty amazed by how close we were. As was I.

        The thing is going from 0-60 in a marriage and having to be a mom and deal with all our life stuff, etc. and not getting the validation and recognition from my husband was what I was speaking of. Not that I’m looking for a trophy or anything; I did sign up for this but people, including spouses, don’t realize what a unique position that step-parents are in & all that it entails.

        Reply
    3. tamica

      Why would you say especially when the step parent played a part in the break up due to infidelity? All break-ups are not due to that, and in the day and times in which we live half the parents are barely dating let alone married. Beyond that this article is simply to THANK the step parents out there doing a great job of it. No one is trying to down grade the child’s perspective.

      Reply
  4. Keith

    I agree with every word of this article. My wife is probably reading my response right now and saying “WIBD”. You’ll get that on the way home, lol. But my comment is often reflected in the Step-Dad “community”. My step-son makes it a point to try and be sneaky and disrepectful, but when I point it out to my wife, she discounts it and says that it’s all in my head. I feel as though she too takes me for granted and that I have no authority, thus the behavior of the child continues and gets even more disrespectful. “WHAT TO DO WHAT TO DO”?

    Reply
  5. Nina

    This was a good article and I agree with the whole article. Especially the part about all parents including the step parent being on the same page. When the children go to one house and are allowed to act a fool the whole time and they return to a house with rules and chores it’s like retraining a pet.

    Reply
  6. Tony

    I like this article because it addresses something that not many people take into consideration when getting into a relationship with someone with children. I too am a step parent of a child whose father decided not to be involved in his son’s life. I sympathize with Keith on raising someone else’s child. The respect has to be given in order to be earned. You definitely have to establish yourself as either friend or disciplinarian, depending on the situation. You do the best you can with what you got, and let God handle the rest. Cause the more you force the issue, the more resentment will come your way. Good luck and God bless the Step Parent!

    Reply
  7. Shelly

    Months before my husband and I were married, I had to accept that all of that I wanted for his daughter, in regards to academics, development and being a lady, from me would not happen as I wanted it because there were so many other strong women in her life who have already made a staple. From her bio mom, grandmothers, aunt and great grandmother, they’ve all instilled their values and behavioural patterns in her and I can’t be ‘Ms. Fix It’ even if I have the best intentions for her. It was painful for me to accept because I have so much love and hopes for her, but unfortunately I have to take a backseat as my opinions won’t be respected by these said women as I’m not a bio mom yet and I’m a newbie compared to them when it comes to being involved in her life. It is a frustrating and tiring job.

    Reply
  8. Karolin

    “I’ve been a step-Mom. A very important part of making blended families work is that the biological parent has to be supportive of the role that the step-parent makes. In my situation, we didn’t refer to me or my husband as a “step” but as the other mother or father. We didn’t force our children to call the non-bio parent “Mom or Dad ” but allowed them to get comfortable and do this on their own. If their Dad and I had a disagreement about them, it was never in front of them. We presented a united front. Oh, we had our battles where disrespect became a problem, but it was quickly made clear, it would not be tolerated.It didn’t happen over-night and there was a lot of animosity and resentment at one time between my “non-bio” children and I. However, unfortuanately we realized all if it mean nothing and paled compared to the pain we all felt when their Dad suddenly passed away. We are now closer than we have ever been.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    I agree with everything said thus far. If we look at it from just the step parents point of view though, then we will neglect to understand how our children must be dealing with it all. I for one, can see how having someone new as a disciplinary is not setting in yet for my daughter because she understands who should be correcting her defiant behavior, mommy and daddy, right? No wrong, of course step parents should be taken seriously but because her little mind is still adjusting to this, I am giving it sometime. In the meanwhile, I will be the disciplinarian. My hope is that they both come together in harmony.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      And sometimes, kids are just doing what they can get away with….bc someone keeps saying….well, she’s adjusting!

      Reply
  10. TJ

    I am a step parent. My suggestion to anyone considering marrying someone with children is a few weeks of blended family counseling be included with your pre-marital counseling (all children involved should be part of some of those sessions). It would provide for a much more solid foundation and will help with setting appropriate boundaries. We didn’t do that and have had to feel (and most definitely-pray) our way through a lot of situations.

    Reply
  11. Towmeah

    I am a proud Stepparent and Stepgrandparent at 34…. it was bumpy but I love that the children respect the love I have for them and their father… This was all new to me but I manage and I have wonerful children.

    Reply
  12. CB

    I am a step father to two grown CHILDREN!!!! They are spoiled beyond belief! My main problem is there is no respect or appreciation. They are also acting just like their mother. I don’t think it will last much longer…. 2 years is enough.

    Reply
  13. Gloria Lintermans

    As a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all to often, of the high rate of divorce among these families.

    One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

    A little clarification: In a stepfamily the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended family, there are children from both co-parents; and, virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

    The Landmines

    Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.”

    Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family.

    Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity.

    Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other. In reality, this is often just not the case.

    The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

    Stepmother Anxiety

    Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations. Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtimestories we are all familiar with).

    Stepfather Anxiety

    Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings which range from admiration to fright to contempt.

    The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda.

    A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father.

    The key is for everyone to work together.

    The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

    One Day at a Time

    Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better — a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

    The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now. And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well.

    In flexible marriages partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later.

    Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

    Living Well

    Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well:

    You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

    Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

    You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people.

    Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

    Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.

    Reply
  14. Janice R. Love

    Sheree,
    Thank you for acknowledging the challenges of families who are living in step. My husband and I are a stepfamily of 8 children and know the complexities all too well. We are now the co-founders of Step With Love Ministries designed specifically to bless and minister to stepfamilies. We offer counseling, coaching and seminars, etc to individuals, couples and churches nationwide. http://www.stepwithlove.org.
    I have a book written specifically for stepmoms to be released on Tuesday, January 29 entitled “One Plus One Equals Ten: A First Lady’s Survival Guide for Stepmoms.” Published by Divine Garden Press.
    There are resources available to Stepfamilies! Don’t suffer on your own. Our mission is to live, love and learn one step at a time.

    Reply
  15. Courtney c

    This article confirmed a lot of the thoughts my spouse has expressed to me as feelings that he has encountered. I agree that as the biological parent, I do constantly watch his interaction to protect my daughter. But also to protect him. I think what families should understand is that a blended family is hard for the child, bio & stepparent. Coaching/conversation may be needed. However, with the right amount of positive praise/encouragement, you can make it through.

    Reply
  16. anonymous

    I am a step-parent to three children, with two different mothers. I don’t have any children of my own and probably won’t. It is such a hard and draining job to try to show love to people who wish you weren’t there, and their mom was. It’s so hard to kmow where you stand and your boundaries because you are “damned if you….” I have constantly been criticized by my husband because I either say/do too much. When I back off, I’m all of a sudden lazy and not caring towards the kids. I DON’T GET IT! It’s so heartbreaking to know that no matter how much love, time, and energy I invest into the kids, I will never get the love and appreciation that their bio parents receive.

    Reply
  17. Joyce

    As a soon to be step-mother; I am learning a lot about the relationships between both sides of the blended family. In my case I have 2 mothers/grandmothers to work with due to the age gaps in the children. It makes me feel good to read this article and to know that I am doing my part properly. What I have learned is I can’t walk with my feelings on my shoulders ALL the time. I understand that essentially my role is to support the parents and to offer my opinion and input as needed. I follow the same rules and I normally leave the discipline to the biological parents; however, I am no push over so the children have learned not to try me. It’s going to be a long road, and sometimes I do feel a sense of neglect because it’s “not about me”; but I have always wanted a big family and if this is the way God chose to give it to me – well then I’ll take it with a SMILE. ?

    Reply
  18. dare i?

    I admire those who can step into a stepparent roll full force. I pray the lord sends me a hubbub with grown children who aren’t needy. If they are out of state, that’s a bonus. Also if mother is inactive or deceased. I just don’t want the drama that could possibly come. I’m sorry for sounding mean but this is how I feel. I don’t have any, and that man will be getting a good thing. Why can’t i?

    Reply
  19. Sammiekable

    I truly appreciate this article. It’s good to know you’re not alone in a world where only those who are in or have been in your situation understand. I also appreciate the comments of those who also needed to hear this. I guess some folk didn’t understand, when commenting, that this particular article wasn’t about the kids feelings, adjustment issues etc etc–it was for the moms & dads who have stepped in! Any given day you can find infinite articles, books, emails, websites etc that’ll give justification, reason, excuses, validation for children & their “inappropriate” behavior in blended families… Nothing ever adequately gives any attention to the stress that the stepparent, who doesn’t ‘have to’ be doing the job bc they get no credit & receive no authority. No offense, but we really weren’t talking about the kids at this moment. It’s ok for the stepparent to get a breather. Some of these parents need to stop being enablers.

    Reply
  20. Too blessed

    Many people are afraid to speak on the subject for fear of hurting their spouses feelings. I know many people who are struggling with the blended family situation. Thanks for posting the article I will be sharing it with friends and family.

    Reply
  21. tlaws

    I was so happy that I saw this article. I had to show it to my husband so he wouldnt feel so alone. As a bio mom I see him struggling with the issues that apparently many step parents deal with. Feeling like his feelings don’t matter and that he has no authority… I didn’t realize how hard it would be and how controlling I am. I’ve been a single mother and have lived alone with my daughters for years and got used to running the household. I appreciate, value, and admire him and any one who steps up to parent another person’s child. My teenager’s bio dad has never been in her life and I rarely gave past boyfriends any authority over her, so she’s having a hard time and giving him and I a run our $. I often feel stuck in the middle bc I dont want my child to feel double teamed but then it leaves my husband feelings unsupported. This is a make or break period for everyone involved but the step parent definitely takes more neglect than anyone. They have to enter a home where there are preset relationships and routines whether good or bad. Troubled childen, other bio parent drama, not being able to discipline as a bioparent would, feeling like an outsider, and lack of authority. I see these are very common issues, and I know that the only way to succeed is through God. Communication, patience, and understanding is key too. I see him try so hard to form a bond and my teen constantly rejects him. She is scared to give in bc shes never had a father and really despises him when he talks about what she should and shouldn’t do. And when I back him up she says that I love him more and let him boss me. Lol. Kids, gotta love em! I can

    Reply

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