I write my blog with a few basic assumptions. First, people are generally good at heart. Second, people generally mean well. Third, when people are insensitive it's because they aren't educated on the topic they are insensitive about. I make these assumptions when I hear the two most hurtful phrases ever said to stepparents and have a goal to help educate others on why these words should NEVER be said to a stepparent
1. You're JUST the stepmom/stepdad
In 2011, I called my stepson's school to inquire about having a copy of his report card emailed to his father. The school secretary informed me that she couldn't speak to me because I was "just the stepmother." Her words still sting when I think of them. It wasn't that she was wrong. In fact, she was right. I am my child's stepmother, not his biological mother. My husband has shared custody, I do not, so she was doing what she felt best in protecting our child. I completely get it. However, I think she would have selected different and more sensitive words if she'd only been educated on the topic.
Becoming a stepparent isn't easy for anyone. Yes, some of us have horrible reputations and some of us have earned those reputations just as some biological parents have. Not all stepparents are evil horrible people. In fact most of us would give anything for our families just as biological parents would.
Stepparents often get the short end of the stick. We're often blamed for the original breakup of the two parents, if there was a relationship at all, even though most of us didn't even know the biological parents when the breakup occurred. We're seen as catalyst for negative change, as the reason bio mom and dad will never get back together, and we're often blamed for all of the hurt and pain in families. It's understandable but still unacceptable to take this blame out on someone you love.
Stepparents make mistakes. We walk the line between more than friend, less than parent. We're going to say the wrong things, not get the family inside joke right away, and can't instantly know what family topics to stay away from. We're going to get lots of things wrong. We're also going to get many things right.
2. You don't understand. You don't have kids.
You're exactly right. Many of us don't have kids. Whether by choice or by consequence, we don't have biological or adopted children. However, that does not make us less as people or less as stepparents. We don't lack understanding of children and we certainly don't lack the ability to love children, even if they're not our own. In fact, in some ways loving children when you don't have them takes a deeper, stronger commitment than having a natural biological connection.
It's different when you have your own biological or adopted children, we get that. We also understand that giving birth has very little to do with being a great parent but giving your all to raise children with love and devotion does. You don't have to have a working uterus or super sperm to be a loving and devoted parent figure but you do need an open heart and a willingness to provide, teach, and lead a young person in the way they should go. Even the Bible speaks to it in Proverbs 22:6 "Teach a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it." Note, it doesn't say anything about having a child to be able to teach a child.
So the next time you find yourself about to say or think either of these things, please stop and remember that the only way someone learns to be a good parent is by having a good teacher. Please be willing to assist and encourage the stepparents you know. Lend a hand, an ear or a shoulder to lean on. We're not any different than the parents you know and we, too, could use a little help.