A reader recently asked for my take on step-parenting. I have been on three sides of the “step-parent” equation: I have been one (kind of), had two of them, and am in a relationship with one (based on her relationship with me). But as step-parenting is a complex topic that would require a book to do it justice, I will focus this blog on what it felt like for me to be a (pseudo)step-father. It was special and rewarding, but it was also complicated.
About 21 years ago, I was involved in a romantic relationship with “Ester,” who had a 2-year-old daughter, “Yolanda.” Yolanda was a delightful child. Her dad was not in her life at the time, and we established a close relationship over the two years that I was with her mom. It was not uncommon for me to take Yolanda to and from school. And during the summers, she often spent her days with me – sometimes with my two sisters, who were about her age, in tow.
Though I never married her mother, I felt like Yolanda’s step-father. She called me “Dad,” and I called her “Daughter.” And if you had discussed the matter with me back then, I would have said, “I love her like she was my own.” And I thought that I did. But when Ester and I stopped seeing each other, my relationship with Yolanda also ended. I loved Yolanda, but it seemed easiest to sever the tumultuous relationship I had with her mother by walking away from both of them. So, I did. And I have not talked to Yolanda since.
Fast-forward approximately 10 years to the birth of my biological daughter … and then nine more years to my split with her mom. There was no way I would have walked away from my daughter without a serious fight and a court order to do so. And I didn’t. I treasure and maintain my relationship with her every day.
So, if there is a take-home message, it is this: Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t love your partner’s children as if they were your own. Even though I thought I loved Yolanda in this way (granted, I did not yet have my “own”), and even though we had merged lives, I found it easier to walk away, because she was not biologically mine. You may, too. And that’s OK. There may not be the same connection that many parents feel when biologically responsible for a child. It takes time to develop that type of connection and relationship – for the step-parents as well as the children. It is all a process. Allow time for the relationships to do their thing.
Your relationship with your step-children may never evolve to the point where you would behave exactly the same way or make exactly the same decisions that you would with your own children. And it might. Neither is “right” or “wrong.” Just be honest with yourself about it and do the best job that you can do in the role you have chosen to perform. There is honor and grace in taking on the responsibilities of helping to raise children with whom you have no biological connection. And it takes love. Maybe not always the same kind of love, but a special type nonetheless
And who knows, if my relationship with Yolanda had lasted longer, I might not have felt as comfortable walking away. I am not sure. But at the very least, I am going to give her a call to see how she is doing.
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