There is a commercial that shows a woman surrounded by kids and chaos followed by a scene where she is surround by quiet – and no kids. She sinks into her chair with a sigh of relief and a big grin and says, “Hear that? That’s the sound of September”. Dollars to doughnuts, that woman being portrayed is a biological mom, not a stepmom. It is natural for a biological mom to feel relief when her kids go back to school. If a stepmom feels the same way, she is often perceived as not loving her stepchildren.
Or take a look at some of these “mom-isms” listed in this article on www.corsinet.com. Almost every one of these phrases, if uttered by a stepmother, especially the ones that start with “Don’t”, might get a response from the child “I don’t have to listen to you! You’re not my mom!”
While that phrase is like a dagger in a heart, children often say it when they are angry with their stepparent. But what about when adults are more critical of what stepparents say than of what biological parents say. If one bio-mom heard her friend, also a bio-mom, say to her child “Running away? I’ll help you pack!” or “Are you deaf or something?” they’d smile knowingly; if they heard the same words from a stepmom, they’d likely want to call Child Services!
What is this double standard about? It’s about the blood tie -- that incredibly strong, undeniable bond that is a biological parent’s invisible shield against all outbursts and threats they make. And it’s the exact thing that is missing that makes a stepparent’s relationship much more fragile. When a biological parent is exasperated with their children, they still love them and, in most cases, no one questions that. When a stepparent is equally exasperated, they may struggle to feel that love. After all, love in a step situation has to be earned; it’s not automatic. And it’s not unconditional. There is no doubt that there are stepparents who have raised their stepchildren since early childhood and truly feel that these are “their” kids and vice versa. These are extremely lucky people, but harder to come by. And even then, there might be occasional walking on eggshells that does not occur in a biological family.
Just for fun, let’s make a list of phrases that a bio-mom or –dad might say that would inspire gasps from the very adults who say those same things to their children. And let’s share stories of how we’ve been judged by other parents for some things we’ve said to our stepchildren. Please comment below or send a tweet to @StepSolutionsNY and keep your eye out for a follow-up to this article.
In the meantime, know that it IS ok to feel relieved that school is starting. Go ahead, sigh, smile and relax. Steps deserve a break, too.