“And they ALL lived happily ever after”, as the fairy tale goes. Note the italics, because when you’re a step parent, even in the very best of cases – which are few and far between – it’s an impossible job. If you think being a natural parent is tough, then try step parenting out for size.
Ok, so we all have baggage. But when you take on a partner, it’s a case of “love me, love my dog”, and some dogs are just plain nasty, and bite viciously, no matter how many bones you offer them. We live in a time when “blended families” are the norm, and the traditional mores have all but broken down. Some of that baggage is weightier than others. You and your partner bring into the current relationship, along with your own personal wounding, that of your progeny.
No matter how bad the birth parent was or is, as a stepparent you have no voice, nor any rights – legal and otherwise. There’s no exterior body of support, as there is for single parents. And with the best will in the world – your partner may invite your opinions, but will probably discard them, feeling caught between a rock and a hard place. The word, “injustice” takes on a whole new meaning when you become a step.
As someone who has had almost 15 years experience of being a stepparent, in extremely difficult circumstances, I can tell you that there’s no easy answer. The best thing you can do to preserve your relationship – and your sanity, is to distance yourself and keep your mouth shut. You can try until you’re blue in the face, but in the vast majority of cases, your input won’t be appreciated and may well be thrown back in your face.
There comes a point where you have to decide what’s important – the health of your relationship with your nearest and dearest or the time-limited surge of power which comes from being “right” about The Baggage. Isn’t better to be happy (sort of) than right? If not, you risk stirring up a tsunami of raw emotion and end up driving yourself and your partner into that crazy-making, hideously familiar emotional cul de sac. Then you beat your head against the wall – and repeat this all over again, illustrating Einstein’s theory perfectly – that madness is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
Given the lack of external support, I firmly believe in the therapeutic powers of The Sisterhood. Regular rendezvous where you can safely vent your spleen, dissipating The Daily Frustration of “guess what they did THIS time?” The bottom line is – if you’re brutally honest – your steps don’t want you, now or ever, and frankly you don’t need the hassle and upset of having to cope with them. They were in search of their own happy ever after – two birth parents under the same roof. Harsh – but alas, true.
I dedicate an entire chapter in my book, “From Dinner Date To Soulmate – Finding Love At Any Age”, on how to live with baggage. It’s an ongoing struggle and process for most of us. But don’t give in! That’s probably want they wanted in the first place – and you just need to learn to be smarter and more resilient than them. A great relationship is worth working at and fighting for. Don’t give up on a good thing.
May The Force be with you!