Vail Family Matters: Stepparenting isn’t easy
I used to think that being a stepparent was kind of like the Buddhist concept of pain without suffering. You could be a parent but without the worry, responsibilities and general agony biological parents often endure.Enter the real deal. Not only does the attractive, seductive woman or man who talked you into getting married with a package deal now mostly pack lunches, pay bills and fold laundry, the charming children may have evolved a bit, too. The “best behavior stage” might have worn off, and a stepparent can sometimes become the last in line for the “I’m sorry” or the “thank you.”To add insult, those long, candlelit “date” conversations you once enjoyed together are now interrupted by little ones’ voices or, in my case, persistent text messages. This is a Catch-22 because I always want my kids to call or text wherever they are and with whom they are, but I think it must be overwhelming for the stepparent to sit among the flurry of activity and general demandingness of kids without becoming demanding, too. It would be like having a perpetual romantic dinner that is constantly interrupted by business calls, wild animals or ex-girlfriends in distress, except less threatening.I’m not a stepparent, but my children have one, and I can confirm that stepparenting is not for sissies. My kids adore, respect and appreciate their stepparent.Five things that are hard about being a stepparent:I think limiting this list to five is tricky to begin with. Having children expect everything from you that a biological parent should give, but often not receiving (or thinking it’s your place to give) your constructive criticism, guidance or authority, I imagine, would be incredibly difficult.Also, there’s the first-in-line thing: I was here first, my needs are more important; I’m a kid, my needs are more important; I’m a teenager, my needs are most important.The territorial thing: You know how some animals are so territorial they eat their young? Need I say more? Children can be protective of their space, their things, their parent.Not to mention the blood thing: The “You’re not my mom/dad – you can’t tell me what to do” thing: My kids fortunately do not subscribe to this degrading notion, but I have girlfriends who’ve cried on my shoulder.Children inequitably expect parents to do it all right – this is especially and infinitely true of stepparents. For every hundred things a stepparent does correctly, kids will notice the one wrong deed, habit, word or piece of burnt toast. Points should be given for not turning to alcohol at this point.One thing that’s easier (or the light at the end of the tunnel):At the end of the day, raising children is ultimately the biological parents’ responsibility. If a stepparent somewhere along the way decides he doesn’t want to deal with the ill-mannered ingrates he’s inherited, he can gladly leave them behind, running fast in the other direction to discover a blissfully quiet residence with no drama, no screaming or yelling, never having to fork out $20 for the movies again. Surprisingly, most step-parents I know are too admirable to take this attractive deal.Don’t get ahead of yourself here. This get-out-of-jail-free card is only available to stepparents. All of you biological parents of teenagers who’d like to throw in the towel, just step away from the Travelocity page. Your all-expense-paid trip for one to Tahiti has to be put on hold for a few more years.But this is not just about instilling mortal fear into anyone who might wish to undertake this noble endeavor; more it’s just to confirm that stepparenting really is that – a noble endeavor. To be great at it requires a patience, understanding and wisdom to rival the Dalai Lama’s. But those who are good at it become invaluable lifetime friends and mentors and occasionally are rewarded by enjoying relationships with their stepkids that rival those of the best of biological parents – sometimes even better.Jill Marchione Papangelis is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.