I recently had a very dear friend message me, because she needed a sounding board due to a bump in the life of a stepmom. I assured her this gig is hard and complicated. I have been in my step-daughter’s life since she was four and she is now a teenager. For as much as I have learned throughout the last ten years, the one thing I know is that this role will always ebb and flow. Conflicts and issues are never going to be summarized in one Brady Bunch episode where everything is resolved in 30 minutes.
No matter how uncomfortable it may make us to discuss the difficult moments as a step-parent, it is also incredibly important. My Instagram feed may be a highlight reel of mostly fluff, but my role as a parent and step-parent is full of mistakes and tears and happy moments and sad moments and anger and frustration and everything in between. And we owe it to ourselves to be real and honest and share some of the more difficult moments as well as the easy ones.
Here’s the truth of it: as a step-parent or a parent co-parenting with a step-parent (and I think it’s very important to remember the latter, because it’s just as complicated for them to co-parent with you), you need a whole lot of “extra”.
Extra hard work.
And, especially: an extra tough skin.
Just when you think you’ve got a good handle on co-parenting, something will come up out of nowhere to knock you off your stool of temporary zen. And you’ll get angry and frustrated and feel under-appreciated or misunderstood. And you will be pissed off.
Sometimes super pissed off.
There are no cliff notes to the book of step-parenting. There are events and circumstances that will come up and bring on a whole new chapter of challenges – and this is a book series that never ends. You will think you have it all under control and then a wrench will land squarely in your lap.
There are so many wrenches in my lap at this point, I could open a hardware store with full inventory.
Issues come up that you never ever thought about – or would ever need to think about if you were just in charge your own child. And sometimes, I think of how much more complicated it is being a step-parent while also raising a child of ‘my own.’ (And, yes, I do hate that wording, but I can’t think of a better way to explain it here.)
And this is where I get brutally honest:
Trying to raise both of these kids equally is impossible.
There. I said it.
It is impossible.
Oh my gosh. I feel such relief typing that out loud.
And I don’t mean that in the sense of loving them. They are both loved fully. I mean that it is impossible to raise them equally in experiences and opportunities and our philosophies of family and parenting, in general.
You know how not-yet-parents love to say or think: “My child will never do that,” or “I’ll never [fill in self-righteous verbiage here] with my child.” Well, I remember, before having my daughter, witnessing other stepmom’s choices and thinking, “I’ll never do that. Everything will be equal between my step-child and our child.”
Ah, to be young, naive and have a brain erupting with butterflies and rainbows again…
I have tried. Oh my Lord, I have tried. I have gone over-the-top, obsessively insane trying to make things equal.
And I’m done.
I have to be. For all of our sanity.
Make no mistake, I still try to make everything as even as possible: individual attention, experiences, material items, etc.. But, logistically, it is impossible to make everything equal, and I am no longer driving myself (and those around me) insane trying to do it. I only have so much input as a step-parent in raising my step-daughter, but I have full control – with my husband – over how our daughter together is raised. And I am no longer willing to sacrifice opportunities and strong convictions I have in parenting in order to perfectly even out the playing field.
Example: My step-daughter attends public school, which is completely great and wonderful. At the start of my step-daughter’s schooling, my husband had wanted to put her in a private school, however, it wasn’t feasible financially at the time for him. She has done wonderfully and she attends a great school. Now, our daughter, Ivy, is going to begin pre-school next year, and I want to put her in the local Montessori school (just for pre-school), because I have always loved the philosophy, and I think she would excel in a more independent atmosphere. This decision has nearly given me an ulcer, because it is not “equal” to what my step-daughter experienced.
They won’t have equal preschool experiences.
Yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds.
Never mind that I wasn’t married to my husband at the time my step-daughter attended preschool – nor was I financially responsible for her. But it nags at me that people may think, “Oh, look at what they are doing for Ivy.” And I know it nags at my husband as well.
Here is what we need to remind ourself as stepmoms: My family with my husband is not what was his family with my step-daughter’s mom.
You can still do it your way. That doesn’t make you selfish or unfair. That makes you a good parent, because you are honoring your parental compass and not sacrificing you or your child’s experiences so that everyone gets an equally gold-plated participation trophy.
In my particular experience, I realize that I am fortunate to co-parent in a mostly copacetic way with my step-daughter’s mom. However, though we do have many shared outlooks on parenting, we are still not in total agreement all of the time. And that is fine and normal and ok. So, we do us in our household – and they do them in theirs. And that may mean my step-daughter and daughter won’t always be equally parented or have identical experiences or opportunities as children, be it spiritually, financially or pre-schooly…
…but they were both brought up equally loved and I hope so badly they grow up knowing that.
Because we are trying, so hard.