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How Do You Survive Step Parenthood?

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It seems the evil stepmother stereotype has been around for years. In John Gamble's "An Irish Wake" (1826), he uses the words, "she proved to be very step-mother" when describing a woman who was left to care for the children of a mother who had passed away. Likewise, fiction and fairy tales tend to depict stepmothers as evil and cruel. And stepfathers, although their portrayal as being evil, is less frequent; they too seem to get a bad wrap a lot of the time. In real life, however, things can be much different than make-believe. There is no doubt; there are stepparents in the world, who resemble the wicked characters from many stories; this is something very sad, and discouraging. Even so, for every terrible one, I believe there are dozens of good stepparents out there, doing their best with a tricky and delicate situation.

As it should be, there is a lot of documentation and concern for children who are forced to live with the decisions their parents make; divorce, and re-marriage being a big one. The confusion and hurt these kids go through is something I have not personally felt, but like many of us, have witnessed as an outsider looking in. Almost eleven years ago, my "outsider" view changed drastically when I became a stepmother myself.

There is no way anyone can understand the joys and challenges that come from being a stepparent, unless you experience it yourself. Before becoming a stepmother, it was easy for me to judge others in this situation, thinking I would do things much more differently if I were them. Eleven years later, I can honestly tell you, I was wrong. Being a stepparent is one of the biggest challenges, and also one of the greatest joys of my life. There are so many pieces to the puzzle, and trying to make everything fit is an emotional and mental roller coaster filled with highs and lows. In most cases, you have the biological mother or father to fit in; you can also have half, or step siblings to consider. There can be jealousy between you and your stepchild, and a toughie for me, discipline. You are not this child's biological parent, and sometimes there can be fear of repercussions if you do discipline.

So, the question: how do you survive step parenthood? My thoughts, for whatever it's worth, are these:

There will be days when your stepchild hurts you, either by words or their actions. You will have moments of heartache over their lack of appreciation for you, or hearing them praise their biological mother or father to their friends, with rarely publicly, or even privately acknowledging you, and your efforts. It might be hard for you to see them doing something that is against your own moral beliefs, but is not against the natural parent's lifestyle. It will sting deeply when they twist, and embellish events to make you look like the 'evil' stepparent, not realizing you are doing your best to blend them into your life as seamlessly and fairly as you can.

On any of these days when it's hardest, remember who you are, and never wavier from it. "Kill them with kindness," my Mother always said. It works, so use it. Think about how much you love your spouse, and how important it is to them that your relationship to their child/children be a happy one.

Find a good confidant, someone you can vent to in confidence. Sometimes just talking about it is the best remedy. Accept that you are not perfect, and neither are they.

Most of all, however, think of your stepchild, and the reasons behind their actions. Perhaps they are easily manipulated, and their behavior is simply to please the biological parent. Remember the hurt and confusion they went through when their parents split up, and take that as a challenge, or an honor, that you have been given the chance to lift this person, to show them love, safety and comfort. Never forget that if you stay true to the good person you are and remain consistent, as your stepchild grows, they will become more independent minded, and will draw their own positive conclusions about you. Your influence will be felt more than you can imagine, your goodness will win, and you will be a bright spot in their life.


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