I read a lot about stepmother struggles — about how they wish they were treated, want to be treated, think they should be treated — by their stepkids. And I get it. I’ve had one, practically am one and know a lot. Most stepmothers deserve respect, kindness, acknowledgement and even some appreciation. It’s not easy being a stepmom. But, it’s not easy being a step kid, either.
People forget that kids don’t have half the maturity, life experience or emotional toolkit their stepmothers have to deal with huge life changes. It can be really, really hard to be a step kid.
Some say stepmoms are in a no-win situation. Here’s why. At first, step kids often see a stepparent not as a friend, parental figure, or trusted adult, but as the following:
The step kid wonders and worries — hey, who’s in my house? Snacks show up on different pantry shelves (if they’re even the right snacks at all). Bedtime routines can be uprooted. Breakfast time chatter changes to mumbled words and a tension-filled kitchen so stressful you could cut it with a knife. Speaking of knives, even the sweetest-natured stepkid may think about taking that steak knife on the counter and chasing the stepmom around and away.
The step kid didn’t sign up for this. Sure, you can’t choose your family, but it can be one thing to accept blood relatives and yet another to welcome someone who’s there almost by chance. Who is this person? Can she be trusted? What does dad see in her? So many unanswered questions swirl around in the step kid’s head, yet aren’t always voiced. So the thoughts and worries simmer, and the stepmom’s struggle to get to know the step kid grows.
The step kid perceives the stepmom is taking things away — traditions, affection, attention and more. A kid isn’t programmed to have to share his or her dad with another adult. Kids can be selfish, self-involved and see things from a narrow point of view. That’s being a kid. It’s hard to speed up that perspective and flash forward it years just because dad fell i love with someone and decided to marry her.
There’s someone else telling your dad what to do, how to do it and when to do it. From schedules to suppers, TV shows to sports. To a kid who was just fine with things the way they were, change sucks.
The Reason the “Real Parent” Isn’t There
As adults, we know this isn’t always true. Divorce, luck, death, fate, affairs and love all lead to this — a new kind of force-fed family the parent may be thrilled with, but one a stepkid didn’t ask for. Sometimes, reason and reality are blinding.
So where do stepkids go from here? At best, they have an unexpected, maybe surprisingly supportive, extended family member or adult friend. At worst, the step kid says “enough” — shuts down, fights the visitation arrangement or stops going altogether — like I did. And there are dozens of scenarios, happy endings and sad stories in between.
Every step kid has a story. Listen.
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