So, I’m a step-parent. I like to refer to myself as a ‘steppie’ from time to time, to make it sound a little more casual. The title ‘step-parent’, to me, has connotations of emotional distance, lack of care or compassion, and maybe even a sense of overbearing resentment. I guess we have fairy tales and Hollywood movies to thank for that.
Becoming a steppie was one of the (if not the) biggest decisions I’ve had to make in my 42 years. Step-parenting isn’t really something that’s thrust upon you. You don’t accidentally find out you’re a step-parent. Typically, you have plenty of fore-warning when you start a relationship with a single-parent. You have time. Time to reflect, plan, panic, relax, take some deep breaths, then, finally, think about it.
At first, the decision was all about me. How will I handle the mess? The noise? I’m a private person and I like my space, will I feel like my home, my sanctuary, has been invaded? What about the cost? Kids aren’t cheap. My freedom, oh God! My freedom.
I wrestled with the ‘what ifs’ for a long while, always with myself as the central person affected by the prospect of step-parenthood. I thought about all the things I’d heard my friends say about how having kids kills the passion and spontaneity of a relationship. How they take everything for granted, and how they are always…there.
Then, one day, it dawned on me. This is a two-way street. I’ll impact the lives of these kids as as much as they will impact mine. In fact, more. Now, I have a lot of training in human development, I teach it at a tertiary level, so I will admit that I was stunned by my own lack of vision here. These kids were (still are) working their way through childhood and verging on adolescence. What they might ‘do’ to me was nothing compared to what I could ‘do’ to them.
It might sound a little trite, but that was the moment I realised I had to opt in or opt out. There was no sitting on the fence any more. They were learning about relationships, trust, caring, and who was reliable and who wasn’t. I couldn’t, in good conscience, teach them that relationships and responsibility were things that you attended to when they suited you.
So, for better or for worse, I opted in.
Now here I am, with two boys aged 10 and 13, living in my house and bringing with them all that it means to be a kid. Mess. Sibling rivalry. Noise. Sass. Mess. This blog is for the steppies who feel that the bios don’t quite get it, try as they may. It’s for the steppies who refuse to let go of their non-parent selves and (try to) maintain a level of pre-kid coolness. It’s for laughing, venting, crying, cheering, and relating.
The Reluctant Step-parent.