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Something I worry about a lot – probably my biggest legitimate fear as a stepmom – is being a cold or distant presence to my stepson. Or, maybe more accurately, my fear is that he will perceive me as cold and will think it’s because of him.

I know that I am “colder” than average, perhaps due to being an INTP and the [nagging] fact that I consistently score ~30 on the AQ. This tends to be as warm as I get and people often misattribute it.

I also know that when I see troubling behavior around me, in anyone for any reason, my first thought is oh god I’ve ruined everything, even if there is no connection to me whatsoever. I blame myself. So I’m that cliche.

And though I seem to forget every single time, I realize over and over that my stepson is the opposite. He’s just not internalizing any of this. Believe me, skeptics, I am looking for it. He doesn’t turn inward and it surprises me every time. He will perceive things that are his fault (little things, you know) as not his fault. Equally maladaptive (and equally cliched), but he’s definitely living in the nicer place over there.

So I try to remind myself of those things.

I started looking around some of the stepparent forums – um holy crazytown by the way – and realized that a lot of stepparents are fighting a drive to disengage or disassociate from their stepkids. It seems to happen most as a response to stress or hurt, like feeling unappreciated and ignored by stepkids, being bullied by the mom/ex, or feeling a loss of power, etc. Sometimes it’s just because it’s hard to connect.

I wound my way back to Wednesday Martin’s blog (you can’t shake a stick or throw a cat or however it goes without coming up on Wednesday Martin if you’re a stepparent, which is kind of a relief because she’s a smarty in a sea of dumb-dumbs).

I found great comfort in some parts of her Telegraph piece (emphasis mine):

First of all, step-families are not precisely families. They bring together a cast of characters, often under one roof, who aren’t related and may have been raised in entirely different ways. Second, step-families often span two households, with kids making potentially stressful trips back and forth. Third, there’s an ex or deceased spouse in the picture. And fourth, step-kids, step-parents and parents in step-families face social bias and ignorance – the view that they are second best or abnormal.

Every time we use the term “blended family” we pretend these important differences between first and step-families, or between first and subsequent marriages, don’t exist. We perpetuate the idea that melding should be the goal – and that looking, feeling and acting like a first family is the only measure of success. This straight-jacket of expectations stresses all the player, preventing them from connecting in authentic ways. As one teen girl I interviewed told me of her dad’s wife, “I like her, but I don’t want her to be my mum!”

Step-families succeed, experts tell us, when the couple accepts that there’s nothing wrong with a kid preferring her own parent, or a parent feeling closer to his own child. Many step-families can have a dorm-like feel – where she and he both bring their own kids to the mix, step-family members might eat at different times, have two Christmas trees, even elect not to take all their vacations together. When kids are older and living apart, even less bonded-ness is common.

It seems this very flexibility – what might seem like “lack of closeness” or “failure to blend” – is critical to step-parents and step-children of any age developing positive relationships in their own way, in their own time. 

Oh god, thank you, thank you, thank you, Wednesday.

I can’t tell if this appeals to me because I am inclined to think in this way anyway (in the same way that certain parenting philosophies appeal to me more than others), or if there’s actually something to it, or both. It makes sense, checks out, feels right. But who knows, who knows.

Image credit: Brittany Schall

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