A funny thing occurred to me as I was cleaning projectile vomit off of my step-son’s SpiderMan sheets, pajamas, and treasured stuffed animal at three o’clock in the morning – parenting is awesome! Okay, maybe not at three in the morning, but for the most part I love it.
For many people, the whole concept of loving being a step-parent is foreign and I’ve become the recipient of a variety of comments that have become quite irksome. Some have permeated my thoughts and occasionally made me question my very relationship with the Spider-Man loving, vomit-king. Here are my top five most disliked comments or questions:
5. Are you two planning on having children of your own? This is not only bothersome to me, but also insulting to my husband. It implies that just because he has joint custody of our child he doesn’t really have a child. Furthermore, it isn’t really a question that I am all that comfortable answering. I have certainly spoken about having children with my immediate family and close friends, but I don’t talk about my personal life with everyone on the street. Rather than “are you planning on having children of your own?” the question should be, “are you two planning on having more kids?” The answer is yes, and our son is so excited to be a big brother. He recognizes that we are a family and wants it to grow as much as we do.
4. Are you ready to be an instant mom? First off, there is nothing “instant” about parenthood. My step-son isn’t coffee or oatmeal. Fortunately for us both, I have been in his life since he was two and a half years old. It wasn’t like I began a relationship with his father and said “sure you’re great but, no, honey, I don’t want to be involved with your child until after we’re married.” Seriously? I recognize that every family is different, but as a step-parent I feel it is important to have a bond with your step-child. To nurture that relationship as much as possible and show the child that there is a true partnership between you and your spouse. This doesn’t take an instant; it takes time.
3. Are you a wicked stepmother? Oh, you. That’s clever! The stigma of the “wicked step-mother” seems to have permeated our culture. Look. Any parent will tell you that you cannot be a buddy one hundred percent of the time. Just being a step-parent doesn’t automatically make you evil. Life is not a Disney movie. And it is just as hard being a disciplinarian as a “real” parent as it is being a step-parent. My husband and I assert the rules of the house on the days we have our son and he is very good about doing what he is told. Sometimes, however, he screws up, and it is important for us as parents to correct his behavior. Other times, I’m on my own. If my husband is working or running an errand, it becomes my responsibility to discipline our child on my own. I truly hope a time-out from his Spider-Man action figures, even if to him at that moment I am the worst person in the world, doesn’t make me wicked.
2. You don’t have kids… well, not really. This usually comes during conversations with other “real” parents who are discussing everything from bed-time rituals and educational toys to discipline styles and food choices. I found myself actually shying away from contributing to conversations like these, mostly because whenever the discussion turned to parenting I found those “real” parents usually turned away to chat amongst themselves, leaving me looking as awkward as a middle-schooler at a dance while the DJ plays “Faithfully.” Slowly, however, I began to make an attempt at adding to parenting conversations, giving my opinion, identifying things that I do that I have had success with, and offering suggestions. But too often I’m met with the comment that I “don’t have children.” The thing is, I do. I may not have physically carried him and given birth to him, but he is mine. Are parents who adopt not allowed to call themselves mom or dad? I do the same things “real” parents do, which leads me to…
1. Just you wait. This usually goes hand-in-hand with those occasions when I put my two cents in regarding parenting but really? Wait until what? Wait until I have to change diapers? Wait until I have to feed or clothe a child? Wait until I’m woken up at 1:30 in the morning because someone wet the bed? Or puked all over Spider-Bear? Wait until I have to provide for someone else? I’m curious, what exactly do you think I do? Do you think that during our time together I set up my step-son with a season of Orange is the New Black and say “fend for yourself, kid, dad and I are going out”? No. Just, no.
What’s the worst thing about these comments? They often come from good friends, or even members of my family. But I’ve learned to take them in stride over the last three years. After all, the hugs and kisses that light up my day or the tears that wrench my heart are not imagined or someone else’s responsibility – they belong to me. For anyone else experiencing similar questions and comments, you aren’t alone! For anyone who may have uttered them, applying some deference and support is suggested and much appreciated. Step-parents everywhere thank you in advance.