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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tuesday 5: Frustrations of a Step

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking this is going to be your typical stepmother rant about their stepkids.  I want to assure you that is not the case.  Unlike what you may read every day in the confessionals on Scary Mommy, not every stepchild, stepparent relationship is full of enmity.

In fact, I would be willing to venture a guess that most people who end up as stepparents get along very well with their stepchildren.  For some reason though, we only ever hear the angry ones, perhaps because they are the loudest.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't have valid frustrations in regards to this relationship.  I do.  I have a lot of frustrations, but they don't have anything to do with the children.  It's more like what rends my heart with concern and heartache for my children.

Without further ado, my list of the top 5 frustrations stepparents face with their stepchildren.  (Okay, my perceived top 5.

Getting our geek on at the Houston Space Center, 2013
5.  I think most stepparents will willingly admit that the frustration they feel over the time they get with said stepkids is a frustration that occurs more often than not.  If we are the non-custodial parents, we have to plan months ahead of time for any vacations we may take with our children.  It never feels like enough.  I will never be able to spend enough time with my kids.  Whether we are playing games, going to the park or the library, or talking with them about their week(s), when it's time to take them back to their mothers', it hurts our hearts to see them go.  When my husband and I first started dating, his daughter was only 9 months old.  It has never gotten easier to give hugs and let go.  My stepson didn't become fully part of our lives until he was nearly 8.  (Long story short, his Mom lived in Cali for the first 7 1/2 years of his life and my husband couldn't move there, because he had his daughter here.)  We missed SO MUCH TIME with him.  When our interactions with our children are limited to Tuesday evenings and every other weekend, we miss out on a lot of fun stuff in between.  Which leads to another frustration...

Catching snowflakes at Grandma and Grandpa's
4.  Not all of us get to be the parents that greet our children every day after school.  I've never gotten to watch my children get on or off the school bus.  I've rarely gotten to help with their homework.  I've rarely gotten to go to their schools and help out.  The schools oftentimes don't even contact us when a major event is coming up and they need school snacks.  We are the 'other' parents.  We are the ones that they only have to contact when a bad behavior occurs.  Even then, we aren't the first ones to know.  It's very frustrating to be treated like an afterthought.  We love our children and would LOVE to be more involved, but it's difficult when I feel like I may be stepping on the mothers' toes.  I'm not trying to show off, I just want to show up!

3.  One of my biggest frustrations is the assumption that I'm not a 'real parent'.  I know many stepparents feel this way.  The first time I showed up with my husband to his son's parent-teacher conference, my stepson's mother was livid.  She proceeded to tell my husband later that I wasn't a 'real' parent, so what was I doing there?  Thankfully, my husband nipped that s*%$ in the bud and told her that I would be there, no matter what, whether she liked it or not.  When she still argued, he suggested setting up separate appointments.  Suddenly, she was totally willing to allow me there.  BUT, I better keep my mouth shut.  Even though I work in the state's social services, I was not allowed to voice an opinion on my stepson's welfare.  (If you know me, you know that didn't stop me!)  Stepparents are just as real as those who helped create those children.  And really, is it so BAD to want extra support for your children?  Why would you WANT your child's stepparent to have nothing to do with them?  Can you imagine the damage THAT would cause?

I bet several of my friends recognize this fountain!

2.  A frustrating thing for many parents and stepparents, is when the children express their desire to live with the other parent.  We went through this a few years ago with my stepdaughter.  She confided in me that she would love to live with her Dad and I, but she didn't want to leave her mother all alone.  Her mother was having a tough time, because my stepdaughter's grandmother was threatening to take her mother's eldest child away from her if she kept living with her then-boyfriend.  The grandmother had guardianship, because her mother had him when she was 16 and she gave her guardianship back then.  My stepdaughter was so afraid that her mother would be all alone.  Rick and I had several very deep conversations about this.  We desperately wanted her in our home.  Our home is not run down, she has her own room here, we have better schools near us, and well, we love her and would have loved to have her.  I told him though, that I thought it best if we allow her to guide us to a decision.  I knew how much it weighed on her heart to give voice to her fears.  I couldn't allow her to feel like she was abandoning her mother, so she stayed.  She still lives there, but our door is always open.  If you have loved a child, any child, you know how gut-wrenching of a decision that was.

1.  The number one frustration I have as a stepparent is wondering about the future for my children.  Unfortunately, the child support system in this country is severely broken.  They penalize the non-custodial parents to the point that they can't even save for their children.  My husband pays so much in child support that if it wasn't for my paycheck, he'd probably be living in his old dinky 900-square foot, 2-bedroom home.  The calculations they use are fairly ridiculous.  I worry often about whether the mothers are saving for their children's college.  We can't.  We can't even pay into my husband's retirement account.  I often think about how these children will afford college and beyond.  We have savings accounts for them, but the only thing that goes into it is a part of their allowances right now.  I also worry about the negative influences they may be around in the other homes.  Nothing inherently bad, but sometimes the bad habits are recognizable.  My stepchildren both have mothers that weren't very involved in their school at all.  Neither one of them graduated from a traditional 4-year college and neither of them really played sports or were in band, or any of that.  My stepdaughter has already quit softball, volleyball, and band.  All done surreptitiously, because she knew we would be upset.  Her mother was totally fine with it.  Just this past Sunday, I put her on blast for her choices.  I'm so worried that with no motivation or drive to do extracurricular activities, she will fail to get any decent scholarships.
South Carolina, 2014

Mainly, I worry about how our relationship will change as they grow, get into high school, graduate, and go on to their own families.  Have we done enough to show them we love them unconditionally?  Have we left enough of an impact that they will come back to visit us?  It's scary.  I used to joke that I was just waiting for them to say, "I hate you!  You're not my mother!"  Now that they are 13, that day seems to be inching ever closer.  I only hope that they know we've only had their best interests at heart.  I love those kids so much and am so proud of them.  I hope they realize that.

Until we know for sure, we'll just keep loving them and spoiling them with our time, because if I've learned one thing through all these frustrating moments of being a stepparent, it's that you can never spoil a child with love and time.

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