Seven years ago I married my husband, and in this union I gained a daughter and he gained a son. Over the years, with both of us serving as stepparents to the other's child, we have faced challenges that come with the territory.
Unfortunately, we probably don’t vocalize these challenges enough — primarily out of fear of hurting feelings. But as our children — and our relationship — grows, I think it’s more important than ever that we talk about and share some of the challenges of being a stepparent.
1. We are always playing catch-up. Although I am “mom” to my stepdaughter, and my husband is “dad” to my son, we haven’t always held those titles. We didn’t acquire them until we were married, so we've missed out on some major parenting milestones. We didn’t get to spend nine months preparing for them, witness their birth or delight in many of their major developmental hallmarks. We were late to the game in a few respects, and we'll always be playing a game of catch-up.
2. It will challenge your self-esteem. Just recently in my house we heard the dreaded, “You’re not my real dad!” This statement crushed my husband to the core. It was particularly difficult for my husband to hear because he has, in fact, been the only dad my son has ever known. As a stepparent, there will always be that lingering and dreaded “You’re not my real parent” statement. Additionally — and equally difficult — is wondering to what degree they blame you for their biological parents’ relationship not working. Luckily we married when the kids we still relatively young and didn’t face much of this early on. But every now and again, soul-crushing statements rear their ugly heads.
3. The sibling rivalry will be real. Even in the best nuclear family structure, there is always a degree of sibling competition. However, in a blended family situation, the sibling rivalry is through the roof. Jealousy is at the heart of the majority of fights in our house. Whenever a child deems something inequitable, it is often accompanied by the statement: “You love them more!” They are easy words to throw around, but they pack a punch. And the more it’s said, the more you wonder about the truth they see behind it. In a blended family situation, it's practically impossible to be fair. We can’t control what the other biological parent or grandparent does for one child but not the other.
4. Your ex will affect the relationship. Years ago, I came to the realization that my daughter’s mother will always be present in my marriage. She will be present at dance recitals, school music programs, parent-teacher conferences, proms, graduation, her future wedding and occasions for future grandchildren. And it’s not just major milestones she will be present for, she'll be there for day-to-day parenting situations, too. Glasses, braces, back-to-school shopping...the list is endless. Larger parenting decisions cannot always solely be made by my husband and I.
5. They are never really yours. A huge fear of mine, particularly early in our marriage, is what if we divorce or something happens to my husband? Legally, I have no rights to this child (nor my husband with my son). If something were to happen to my spouse or our marriage, this child would be taken from me, and vice-versa. I’m sure, in my subconscious, that made me hesitant to form too close of a bond with my stepdaughter. Although it's not as prevalent years later, it’s still in the back of my mind as we’ve formed parent-child bonds.
I’m sure my husband, as with many other stepparents, have similar thoughts as they embark on relationships with partners who have children. Are you a stepparent? Can you identify with some of these challenges? Do you face other challenges? We’d love to hear from you.
Shea Saladee lives in Papillion with her husband, Brent, and their three children. She works as an instructor at the University of Nebraska Omaha.