By: Kelly Graham, MSW, RSW
While being a new step-parent can have its challenges, it can also be very rewarding. In movies you see step-parents portrayed as evil, which is the last thing you want to be in real life.
I’ve read that being a step-parent can be difficult because the child doesn’t have to love you, but can also be great because they can choose to love you.
I have been with my fiancée for almost 3 years now. When we started dating, his daughter was just 2 months old. I don’t have children of my own and was nervous to date someone who had children. Would they like me? Would I be a good step-parent? How do I raise a child? What if it doesn’t work out?
Once our relationship became serious, I got to meet her. Luckily, she was still pretty young so entertaining her wasn’t hard. As our relationship progressed, we moved in together and began to have custody of his daughter on the weekends. I quickly learned how to change a diaper and all about Paw Patrol.
In the beginning, I was scared s*%$less, and still am sometimes. I had no idea how to be a parent or a step-parent. I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries but I also wanted to be a support for my fiancée. I tried to remember everything I know on “how to be a good parent” and implement it, but sometimes it was hard. I had to adjust to a new way of life. I had to get used to the fact that my house was not going to be clean and tidy when she was over, or at least not for more than 5 minutes. I also became more aware of my anxiety.
This is something I have always feared for when I had children; that I would pass my anxiety onto them. This is the last thing I want to do because I know how difficult living with anxiety can be. I quickly learned how she could trigger my anxiety, and that I had to try and control it. This was hard in the beginning. I felt like a failure. I didn’t want her to see me anxious or crying, but sometimes she did.
I also felt feelings I never thought I would. Mother’s Day took on a whole new meaning. I felt sad that I wasn’t her biological mother, as I see the great connection and unconditional love that they share. I wanted that bond so badly. I didn’t want to be a person trying to step in and take her mother’s place, but I was trying to find where I fit in her life. My fiancée’s family would be all over her during holidays and birthdays, and I would be in the background because I felt they had more of a “right” to be with her than me because they are related. These thought distortions and the worry that she wouldn’t like or love me would just fuel my anxiety.
Then I had to realize, I am only human. I can cope with my anxiety well, but sometimes it will show. I may feel sad that I don’t have a mother-daughter connection with her, but we have our own connection. That I am as much a part of her life as her family. The more I let myself relax and not force myself into what I thought a step-parent should or shouldn’t be, the easier it became.
My anxiety improved and I became less overly critical of myself. My bond with her grew to where she cuddles me, tries to wear the same things I do, and tells me that she loves me. I’m embracing the rewards of being in her life instead of focusing on the challenges. I get to watch her grow, I get to love her, I get to help shape who she is and will be. And in return, I get to know that she loves me too.
Being a step-parent will always have its challenges, just like being a parent. Not all days will be easy, but I know that I don’t have to make it harder on myself than it is. Right now I’m going to focus on spending time with her and watching as she grows (so fast). And I am honoured that I get to be a part of her life.
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