My reason and purpose for being a stepparent is to cultivate a power family dynamic centered around trust that will withstand the test of time.
When I made the decision to become a stepparent 10 years ago, a common phrase I heard repeatedly was, “You are a better man than I am.” I took that statement literally and at face value. I just naturally assumed that they were all referring to the fact that because I was accepting responsibility for five kids that were not biologically mine, that they couldn’t or wouldn’t ever do it.
Fair enough. I mean, there are not a lot of men that I know, in their 30’s and single, who would drop everything they are doing right now and fully commit to parenthood. And that’s completely understandable.
However, as time passed, I began to realize that embedded deep inside that statement, were life lessons and values that I needed to learn if I ever hoped to succeed at being a stepparent.
Sometimes being a stepparent feels like a never-ending battle that you’re (sometimes) fighting alone.
Stepparents always have to try harder. We over stress about things we can’t control. We tend to walk on eggshells to avoid awkward situations and scenarios. We all hold things in when we shouldn’t. We don’t enjoy ruffling feathers or causing problems of any kind. We tend to “go with the flow” to avoid unnecessary arguments. We sometimes feel afraid to confront or suggest things in fear of actions or reactions.
We all feel like it takes longer to secure our place in the family due to outside interference and distractions (Ex: bio parent, other stepparents, step-grandparents, bonus aunts, uncles and cousins) as people often assume we are living with one foot out the door.
We all walk around, either consciously or unconsciously, with the feeling that people view us only by the social labels associated with being a stepparent or by the people we were in the past.
*Please feel free to add more.*
It has been 10 years since I committed to my family and I went through almost everything listed above. And honestly, sometimes it doesn’t feel any easier.
As a stepparent, I’ve walked on eggshells:
My mother-in-law and her mother (grandma) were treated horribly by several step-fathers in their lives. So, even though I’ve known both of them for almost my entire life, that did not change the way they looked at me when it came to being the “new” dad in the house.
For the first 5 years, I had to constantly hold back my ideas, thoughts, feelings, and actions when I was around them, in fear of their reactions. It did not matter what I did as a stepparent, their perspective would never change until my wife and I took control of the situation and showed them they had nothing to worry about.
As a stepparent, I’ve overexerted myself trying to be ‘perfect’:
My kids lost their bio dad to a heart attack when he was only 37. He was a hard worker, owned two successful companies, and was an all-around great Dad. Those are not easy shoes to fill, nor did I try to fill his shoes in any way.
I instinctively knew that if I wanted to succeed, I would have to do things my way, instead of trying to compete with his legacy. The amount of effort I put into the family, on a daily basis, can be measured by the amount of love and trust we have for one another.
As a stepparent, I’ve had to battle stereotypes and labels:
One of the biggest obstacles I faced as a new parent/stepparent was the perception people had of me as a MAN.
When I entered my family ten years ago, I was 31 years old, just starting out as an actor, and my only means of income was checks I received from the military. How was I going to stack up against a dentist that built two successful practices that translated into real financial stability?
The very first time I was introduced to his (bio dad’s) side of the family was a day I will never forget. Let me paint you a picture: Chris (bio dad) was a caucasian, blue-colored businessman, who was raised in the church. I was a retired Army Vet, who transitioned into the entertainment industry at an age where most men my age are building their careers. I was covered with tattoos and at the time I had my ears pierced, so naturally, I felt like I was being judged at every turn.
For several years I received nothing but anger and hate from his side of the family because they all felt like I was not there for the right reasons. It wasn’t until I started to find real success as an actor, that they changed their tone about me as a man and as a father.
What I learned years later was that the anger and hate was a mixture of pain and loss on their side and concern about the kind of father and husband I was going to turn out to be. They didn’t care about my tattoos, the car I drove, the career path I chose, or my Hispanic heritage. All of those reasons were self-inflicted judgments on my part.
All of this has taught me that when people say, “You’re a better man than me for being a stepparent,” they were really referring to all of the obstacles I would eventually face along my journey.
In many ways, being a stepparent is similar to that of a superhero. Think about it for a moment: We go where no man/woman dares to go. We fight evil and negativity almost every day of our lives in the hopes that one day there will be peace and happiness. We do little things for other people, sometimes with little or no appreciation.
But we go through all of it because as stepparents, we share a common goal and dream: to cultivate a power family dynamic, centered around trust, that will withstand the test of time.
If I had known then what I know now, I am not sure I would have jumped into the pool with both feet. Maybe I would have chosen the path of least resistance. Maybe I would have listened to my friends and family and walked away when they told me to.
But, as it turns out, my purpose on earth was to be a stepparent and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Featured Image Credit: Franco Zavala