Friday, December 11, 2009

Moms, dads ... and stepmoms

I have been doing a lot of reading on blended families, how to be a good stepmom, how to have a successful marriage in a blended family, etc. As with anything new in my life, I always turn to books and research for comfort and hope, as well as direction and tips.

I have been reading a few online message boards and blogs on the topic, as well. Something I read on a stepmom blog yesterday has really stuck in my craw...

(The blogger is also a nationally recognized author on the topic.)

She wrote something like, paraphrasing here, "the two women in a child's life (mom and stepmom) often become the two most nurturing forces." Adding, again paraphrasing, "women have a natural ability to nurture and often end up competing for top spot in a child's life."

Deep breath.

I have a few major problems with that assertion:

First, I am not competing for the mom-spot in my stepkids' lives. They have a mom whom they love and see on a regular basis. She is far from perfect, but she is -- and always will be -- mom. I really resent the idea that I would presume to fill her role, or that I would be "naturally" drawn to do so because I am the more nurturing sex.

Second, who says dads can't be nurturers? I think it is so insulting to dads to assume that they are the hands-off parents and leave the nurturing to the women in their lives. It shortchanges their ability (and desire) to be emotional and have deeply connected relationships in their lives.

(I have heard that PromiseKeepers actually tells men to be hands-off during children's younger years and that their job "kicks in" when the kids turn 13 and need help growing into adults. That idea is insulting both ways -- it implies that dads can't possibly nurture young children and moms can't possibly help teens become healthy adults. Grr.)

Back to dads as nurturers. C. is amazing with his kids. He handles bedtime and bath time. He does their laundry. He kisses their booboos and offers bear hugs during the scary parts in movies. He snuggles with them on the couch to watch TV. He colors with his daughter and plays cars with his son. He lets them wear their Halloween costumes when they want and encourages their healthy imaginations. He is constantly on the lookout for new books on parenting and taking care of a special needs child. This list could go on and on and on. He is an amazing dad. I would even argue that he is the most nurturing parent in their lives (but I am not a fly on the wall in mom's house - so don't know that for sure).

He didn't need me to swoop in and take care of the kids' emotional or physical needs. He knows how to do it and does it well.

(I would argue that he needs my emotional support and care as a wife much more than he needs my skills with children.)

As stepmom, and as the second adult in the house, I do support him and back him up. I do offer emotional support and physical care to the kids, but my role as a "parent-figure" comes after C. and the kids' mom. (Their stepdad is also a supporter and cheerleader in their lives.)

My role as stepmom is something unique. I don't see myself as a parent, but I do see myself as a responsible adult in their lives. I can offer extra support and care -- but that will never be a true substitute for what mom and dad can provide.

More on this later. Ruminating for now...


  1. Just before I read this, I saw something about web advice on my NPR feed -

    I think there's a lot of information on the web, and even in books, that limits the emotional capacity of men. I agree, it's not fair to anyone, men or women, to make that kind of distinction.

  2. Interesting link, Jessica. Thanks for sharing. :) That tidbit on "scientific information being more geared toward men" was irritating.

    I am in the "take everything with a grain of salt" camp - especially information found on the Internet.

    There is really a lot of terrible information out there, but I also find the Internet really useful for connecting with others in my similar situation. None of my family or friends are stepmoms, and it helps to be able to share experiences with other stepmoms so I know I am not alone in what I am feeling.