Last week I went on a short business trip, so I had to be away from D (my husband’s son) for two nights. This isn’t normally a problem because we have custody every other week so we are regularly away from him for seven nights at a time, but it’s different when it’s our week with him.
When I realized that I would have to be away from home and that my husband would have to do all the school drop-offs, pick-ups, and meals on his own, I felt guilty. The trip wasn’t something that I could have helped, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t being there for my little family.
Traveling with me was a co-worker who is a step-father himself. Like me, he has been part of his stepson’s life since the boy was about a year old and his stepson doesn’t remember a time without this man in his life. He has a dad that he sees only every other weekend, so my co-worker has provided the constant father figure in his life.
Over the three days that we were away from our respective homes, we traded stories about becoming step-parents and how we handle not being the “real parents.” The conversations were extremely insightful for me because I’m still relatively new in this role, while my co-worker has many more years under his belt.
He acknowledged my concerns, my fears, my insecurities, and reassured me that all of the things I feel are completely legitimate, but reminded me that at the end of the day, the example that I set for D is what really counts. My ability to be there for him, to provide a stable and consistent presence and to love him unconditionally are the things that will make an impression on D, even if he doesn’t recognize them outright.
While I know several people who are step-parents, it’s rare to have a conversation with someone whose past so closely mirrors your own present. It was nice to have a sounding board and to hear that my family’s individual normal is also normal for others. Our situation is not unique and when we feel insecure or feel like we don’t know our specific roles (which happens sometimes, parenting a child that is not your own), those emotions are eased by having others to talk to.
So many times we trudge through life alone, living in a bubble and keeping our feelings bottled up because we fear that others couldn’t possibly understand and empathize. But I have found that opening up about my situation with other step-parents actually helps me feel more content and confident in my own situation. I don’t know all the rules, I don’t know what is okay to feel or not fee, and I certainly don’t know what I’m doing half the time… but it’s much better knowing there are others in the same boat!
Do you have acquaintances who have been in your step-parenting shoes? Do you ever go to them for advice or even just to use as a sounding board?