human, being


Stepparenting

Once, my friend Wendy recounted a story from a friend of hers who had recently become a stepmother. She told her that being a stepparent was 100 times harder than being a parent to her own children. “You never know quite where you stand,” the woman said.

I can relate entirely. Steve and I both have children from our first marriages. Lauren is almost 8 and Ryan is 11. We both have different relationships with our own children. Lauren is with us half-time: one week on, one week off. I talk to her by phone every night she’s not with me, even if it’s for 10 seconds to say goodnight. I take her to dinner on Tuesdays when she’s with her dad, and he does the same thing when she’s with me. In the past 2.5 years we’ve lived together, Steve has spent about 450 days and nights with Lauren. He also grew up as a child of divorce, and he felt like he knew from experience how to handle his interactions with her. Ryan is with us about six days and six nights each month. Steve has no interaction with him during the week, unless there is a school activity. In the past 2.5 years we’ve lived together, I’ve spent about 180 nights and days with Ryan.

Steve is a much more laid back parent than I am. He’s also incredibly sensitive when it comes to Ryan, who has some special needs. I have to admit that I have never done very well when it comes to Ryan, and how Steve feels about the way I treat his son. I tried to parent him, first of all, and I tried to parent him in the same way as I do Lauren. I got too involved for his (and his ex-wife’s) taste in issues that in their opinions are outside my jurisdiction. Steve feels that I put him in the middle between me and his son and constantly ask him to choose. And I feel like he usually chooses his son’s side, opinion or time over mine. Over the past many months, I’ve actually realized I am jealous of his son–the attention he gets from Steve especially when I’m around. I feel like I have to walk on eggshells, or completely ignore Ryan, or leave the house in order to avoid conflict. Nothing I’ve done so far has been right (and boy oh boy do I hate to be wrong).

I know this sounds incredibly petty, and I’ve been ashamed of how I feel about all of this. However, I now understand that I am not alone, and neither is Steve, in how we feel about this topic. Blending families is usually tricky if not near impossible to do well. For the next three Tuesdays, we will be taking a workshop on stepparenting led by a local therapist who specializes in blended families and their many issues. It’s a group class, and when it’s done the therapist has group support sessions.

I’m very hopeful that three weeks from now Steve and I will have a better vision of what it will take to make our relationship work around these parenting issues.

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