Photo: Stacy, Bubs, and Lala, in a reading cubby at the Lawrence Public Library.
Parenting is not easy. And no matter what anyone tries to tell you, parenting is not natural. Sure, most of us have the instinct to take care of our babies when they cry. We care about them and don’t want them to be in distress, and we, also, don’t want to be distressed by their distress. That seems like a lot of distress, but I think it’s accurate.
Although step-parenting is a subset of parenting, in many ways, step-parenting is its own animal. Arrive to the parenting party more than fashionably late, and you’ve got to get past the bouncers: the kids. You’d better have multiple forms of ID if you hope to be admitted. Maybe something to eat while you wait in the entry line, too — it could be a while.
Lala was about two-and-a-half when I first met her. Ponytail atop her head, à la Cindy Lou Who, like many toddlers, she was already quite self-possessed. Independent and active, Lala reveled in all that she could command her body to do, whether running, or scaling anything remotely climbable. Bubs was only six months old when I met him. With a full head of black hair, large eyes, dark and inquisitive, lashed with that enviable fringe all baby boys seem to have, and chubby, dimpled cheeks, he was the epitome of a Gerber baby. Bubs was more laid-back than his big sissy, and content to simply hang out with whoever wanted to hold him at the time.
Lala and Bubs were adopted from foster care. My partner, Stacy, and his former wife, raised both children (who are full siblings) from infancy. There was never any question that these were their children. Transitioning from Friend of the Family to Part of the Family hasn’t been without its challenges. If you’ve been through a break-up with a parenting partner, or if your own parents split up when you were younger, you have some perspective on this. If you’ve had to accept your ex’s new partner or spouse into your co-parenting arrangement, you have some perspective on this.
Relating with adults is one thing. I can have a rational conversation with my partner, or with his ex, or her wife. Relating with children is a completely different thing. Young children are not rational. They just want their needs met. Sometimes, they don’t care who meets their needs. Sometimes, they care very specifically, and very vocally, who meets their needs. If you’ve ever responded to a request for the parent who is not you, and been met with the reply, “No, I said dad,” you know what I’m talking about.
So how do you get in good with your step-children? Let me let you in on a secret: there is no secret. You just get in there and parent. You do the work, and, slowly, but surely, the kids start to treat you the way they treat their other parents. For better or for worse. I’ve been told I’m hated, been told they wished I didn’t live in the house, and been told they don’t want me to be a part of their family. I’ve had a child in a tantrum dig out a fresh booger and smear it on my face. I’ve also had requests to snuggle on the couch and read stories (a personal favorite of mine), to make a favorite meal that only I make, or to cuddle at bedtime.
The balancing act of parenthood may sometimes feel like being on a teeter-totter, quickly shifting balance, jolting the riders as they each hit bottom. But eventually, with effort over time from riders on both sides, the ride becomes smoother and more enjoyable.
Are you a step-parent? What tips or insights have you found helpful in relating to your step-children?
Are you a parent of any kind? How do you balance the ups and downs of parenting?