Parenting and step parenting: Is there a difference?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  January 26, 2009 08:10 AM

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I was watching my kids interact recently, and it occurred to me that they're like a bunch of magnets, shaken up in one of those cups you use in Vegas to roll the dice before spilling them out onto the table. Sometimes, they're all glommed together, five wildly different kids at five wildly different stages, somehow forming a cohesive unit. Other times, it's as if they're all negatively charged, scattering throughout the house, caroming against and away from one another.

Call me idealistic, but I'm pretty sure the latter happens because of their ages and developmental stages -- we've got two teenagers, a tween, a preschooler, and a toddler right now -- and not because only two of them were born to me.

As a step parent, the "step kids vs. bio kids" issue is something that's always simmering away on the back burner. It comes up in day-to-day life, to some degree, all the time. A few weeks ago, a single mom friend of mine blogged post about her top five tidbits of single-parenting advice, and her post got me thinking about the subject some more. I was nodding along, agreeing with everything she wrote, until I read this:

4. Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child.

My first thought: Well, their bio mom and I are two pretty different people, of course we love them in different ways.

My second thought: Hmmm... I'm both a bio mom and a step mom; are those two different types of love?

My third thought: Has my relationship with my step kids changed now that my youngest two are here?

I was a step mom for years before I gave birth to my youngest children. I'm of mixed ethnicity, and so are my step kids, so we look related, all caramel-colored skin and dark, curly hair. None of us particularly likes the label or the baggage that comes with being a "step," but it requires the least amount of explanation (and, oddly, the people who question us are always adults. Children don't seem to have a problem dealing with how I'm related to all of my kids). When someone -- an adult, of course -- asks our big kids about their "half-siblings," the kids say something along the lines of "They're too little to understand fractions."

On the one hand, I see where that particular tidbit of single-mom advice is coming from: Society, for the most part, tends to assume that no one who comes along later could possibly love a child the way the biological parent must, that a genetic link is required in order to be a "real" parent. (Adoptive parents have a whole other set of issues to contend with, but since the biological parent often is not in the picture, that makes parenting different -- "easier" or "more real" -- for some, or so I've been told/warned).

On the other hand, I think it's a case of semantics. Just because the love isn't the same doesn't mean the feelings and the level of commitment isn't as deep.

I adore my oldest kids. Do think that my relationship with them changed after my preschooler and toddler came along? Yes, I do -- for the better. It's not all wine and roses, but it has grown deeper and more complex, richer and more intense, and not because I've experienced childbirth or had "children of my own." It's changed because we've all grown -- together. I'm more mature and experienced, and they're older and more independent now than we were when I first started parenting them nearly a decade ago.

But do I love them differently than I do my youngest two? No, I don't think so.

Do I love them differently than their biological mom does? Probably. But I don't think that's a bad thing. Kids are kids... they can't have too many loving parents looking out for them.

Are you a step parent or an adult step child? Do you think being a step parent is different from being a biological or adoptive parent?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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30 comments so far...
  1. My husband adopted my son from my first marriage. Prior to him adopting my son, he always told my son he didn't love him any different just because he didn't give birth to him or have his last name. My son now legally belongs to my husband and they both couldn't be any happier. My husband never had any of his biological own and my son's biological Dad, turned his back and walked away from him years previous. The only thing that may be different is the thoughts the "step" parents themselves have. To a child it won't matter and only ignorant adults would ever ask if they are yours or your step children.

    Posted by Kathy January 26, 09 12:20 PM
  1. My husband came into my son's life when he was 3 1/2. His biological father walked away and never looked back, no birthday cards, phone calls, or visits, only court ordered garnished child support because he opted not to make timely payments. My husband loves this boy like his own. For 6 years, picking up from day care, being his Cub Scout co leader, and watching cartoons together. He taught him to ride his bike and tie his shoes. He has never missed a parent night at school or orchestra concert. He watches proudly when our son succeeds and worries when he encounters troubles. He gets up in the middle of the night and sometimes lets me sleep through an occasional midnight crisis of some sort or another. Is it not possible that this step parent loves him the same or more than his biological father does or ever will? I think yes.....

    Posted by Meg January 26, 09 12:48 PM
  1. Being an adult step child myself, i can say from experience that not all step parents act/feel the same about their step children. I honestly do believe the treatment is dependent on the person in the situation. In all the years of my father and his wife have been together my biological siblings and I were always treated as second class citizens in their home. There was always segregation between us and her biological children. My 2 younger siblings and i were never welcome in the home she shares with my father and her 3 children and on the rare occasion we would be allowed to congregate there it would be very uncomfortable. They dated for 5 or 6 years before marriage and have been married for 8 or 9 since, and this behavior still exists today. If you are going to marry someone their children are part of the package whether they live with them or not. I commend the author of this article and envy her step children who are lucky to have someone in their lives that is so accepting and able to love unconditionally.

    Posted by Coley January 26, 09 01:46 PM
  1. Wow, Coley. That is horrible. I guess I am lucky that my husband really believes the boy (his step son) is his child. He theorizes that he is raising him, loving him, and there for him so we have no need to have a "biological child" together because he already has a son. And my son's biological father is remarried and has no interest in the boy. That too is sad, isn't it?

    Posted by Meg January 26, 09 02:19 PM
  1. Being an adult stepchild, I too felt the sting of "second class" citizenship. We were always referred to as "Mac's kids." My brother and I never really felt like we were part of the family, ever. It has taken a long time to get over the insecurity. The funny thing is that I adore my baby brothers and sisters (just not their mother). As for the wicked stepmother, my dad eventually divorced her and because of an accident at home, she now resides in a nursing home permanently. Karma!

    Posted by BethBoo January 26, 09 02:36 PM
  1. Man, a lot could be learned here and then used to inform others on this site: http://www.mindbites.com/person/3566-DadLabs

    Posted by misssparky January 26, 09 02:42 PM
  1. I think it's pretty silly advice, actually, and must have been written by a single mom who is fortunate that her kids' father is loving and involved. Obviously, no two people will love someone exactly the same way. But the implication that the love of a bio parent is better or stronger or deeper couldn't be less on. My relationship with my stepdad isn't all that, but at least he's around and is kind and decent, which is more than I can say for my dad who I haven't talked to in decades.

    Maybe it just needs something like "and sometimes that's a good thing" tacked on at the end there.

    Posted by susan January 26, 09 02:51 PM
  1. "4. Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child."

    That assumes that the child's biological father loves them. What if he doesn't? A loving, involved stepparent is better than an absentee biological parent.

    Posted by Liz January 26, 09 03:20 PM
  1. I am both a bio mom and a step mom, and my husband is a bio dad and step dad. My son's father from my single days walked away before birth and has never met my son or paid support, so my husband is the only father he knows and he has known him since age three, as long as he can remember. Although subtle, his love for my son (who he has not adopted) is different for what he feels for his daugher (my step-daughter) and our sons. It's certainly better than what his no-good birth father has failed to provide but not the same as the biological connection. Likewise I do not feel the same way about my step-daugther as my biological childen, nor does she feel about me the same way she feels about her mother. She has a mother, I am the step-mother and that's different but OK.

    I think we need to get over the idealized pictures of what parental relationships, either biological, adoptive, step, non-custodial or even absentee "should" look like and accept things for how they are, who everyone is, and whether or not the children are being adequately accepted, loved and nurtured by the adults in their lives. In our case, my husband and son, and step-daughter and I, have some personality traits that rub one another the wrong way. That's OK, we just learn to accept those things and focus on what we do have in common and truly like and enjoy in each other. It's easier to find what you love and love what irritates you in your own kids because chances are, those traits come from you or your spouse so you've already learned to live with them. The annoying traits of step children can be a glaring reminder of your spouses ex and their negative qualities so in that case, you have to see your feelings for what they are and not transfer your negative feelings about the other parent on to the child.

    Posted by Jen January 26, 09 04:21 PM
  1. A mother is going to love her own bio child more than anyone else and no one can tell me different....
    I have heard many horror stories over the years regarding step parents and have also seen it first hand, how step parents refer to and treat step children.
    These comments and actions toward step children horrified me ..the true depiction of a wicked step mother, indeed. I have dated a couple guys with children and being a teacher, I adored all children and said if the situation arose, I would love them just as if they were born to me.....well, now that I have had my own beautiful baby girl I realized that idea would not be possible. Of course I would love them (the steps) and treat them kindly but nothing can match a bio mother's love...nothing in this world is stronger

    Posted by Michelle January 26, 09 04:44 PM
  1. As a bio parent and as a step parent, I can speak from experience when I say that each role has its challenges. But, I think step parenting is a particularly slippery slope. Much of the groundwork for ensuring the step parent and the step child will have a fulfilling relationship lies in the hands of the step parent's partner (the bio parent). If the child's bio parent encourages the step parent to assume full participation in the child's life - including times requiring discipline, as well as times for celebration - a more normal balance can be reached. At the same time, the bio parent needs to help the child understand the nature of the relationship with the step parent and set proper expectations. But, if the bio parent doesn't allow his or her partner to behave with his or her child as a parent would, there will always be a wedge between the two. Often times, the bio parent believes the responsibility to lie between his/her child and his/her partner. This is a common mistake.

    Posted by Marianne January 26, 09 05:02 PM
  1. "Step" or "half" is a legal matter of fact, not of emotion. If one wants to add to the plain vanilla "sibling rivalry", then one can use the step or half relationship to add to the "proof" that "Mom always liked you best" when whining...or the other way /round, "you never liked me as much as my bio-mom/dad". Twaddle. My family is a mishmash of steps and halves and the relationships ultimately depend on the emotions (and emotional needs) of the humans involved, not on a careful reading of the birth certificates.

    Posted by practical January 26, 09 05:37 PM
  1. As others have said, every situation is different. Sadly, too many biological parents do not love their children. And happily, many step parents do. But I will say this: Biological parents who do love their kids are not interchangeable parts. One cannot just eliminate a loving biological father and replace him with a step-father, and assume the bond will be the same. Maybe close, but not the same, no matter how hard the step-father tries.

    Posted by AF January 26, 09 06:34 PM
  1. As both a "step" and "bio" parent, I agree that each role has its challenges. I think that Practical said it best, however, that "step" and "half", like other terms ("bio" and "adoptive" come to mind), are legal matters, not family matters. My "step" kids, who I adopted, mean no less and no more to me than the children I bore. Holding a child with croup, crying at high school graduation, smiling as they march in a parade with their band, teaching them to drive, freaking out when they stay out past their curfew, choosing a prom dress, setting and enforcing limits, yelling, loving, helping, holding up and letting go -- these are the things that make a parent. It's not biology, people. To the respondent who said having her own beautiful baby girl showed her that nothing can be stronger than a bio mother's love, I, as a bio mother, say you're right: nothing can be stronger. But a step-mom's love can be just as strong. Having held my step/adoptive kids, then my bio kids and now my grandkids (doesn't matter who delivered 'em -- they're all still my grandbabies), I can tell you love grows in the heart, not the womb.

    Posted by justthinking... January 26, 09 09:13 PM
  1. Amen to Marianne.

    10 years into relationship. Stepchild 3 1/2 when we started. Step child is now 13.
    We've been in counselling for >5 years as to why I am a horrible step parent.

    I firmly believe that I am living what Marianne stated.

    Posted by Jeff January 27, 09 07:12 AM
  1. Lylah, thanks for introducing this topic. It’s an emotional issue I contemplate daily. It’s refreshing to find truthful accounts of what people really feel on this topic. I am a step-mom of two children (9 yr.old & a 13 yr.old). I am due any day now with mine and my husband's biological child. The 13 yr. old moved in with us almost two years ago; after his bio-mother packed up his belongings and handed him over to my husband, in the presence of his bio-sister and the mom's new boyfriend. This was an extremely traumatic event in this child's life. We have all participated in therapy to help him heal from this bio-parental rejection event and help us function as positive family-unit. This is a perfect example of not all “bio-parents” love their children. The lack of bio-motherly love has placed significant responsibility on me to provide step-motherly love. My interpretation of this is more of a mentor role with caring, support, respect and discipline. We are not affectionate like bio-relationships are; yet my husband hugs him everyday. Our biggest challenge is the same as a "normal/non-step family's" one; CONSISTANTCY between parents; which has no segregation between step and bio children. Additionally, #11’s comment hit home; it’s the bio-parents responsibility to lay the groundwork for the relationship. This means the step-parent should have the responsibility to participate in all parts of the child’s life. This includes; events, activities, positive reinforcement and discipline. I am realistic and know our family will evolve with the new baby only days away from joining us. This is no different from our family and its challenges evolving daily dealing with school, adolescence and my step children’s bio-mom. The bottom line is that I love my husband and our family. It is the most important thing in my life and I will always make it work; because this was the promise I made when I married my husband and my "step-children."

    Posted by Step-mom with new baby on the way January 27, 09 10:40 AM
  1. i disagree with Michelle and agree whole heartedly with justthinking. Adoptive mothers love their babies JUST AS MUCH as a birthmom who keeps her child would.

    I am a step mom, and at this point I care more for my step than her mom does - it shows in my actions and the way I relate to her. The problem is bio mom is a psycho and is not being a good parent right now. But the reason step daughter and I have such a good relationship is because my husband has allowed me to participate with stepdaughter as Marianne stated. Well put Marianne.

    All in all however this can be a VERY tough topic.


    Posted by lovingstep January 27, 09 10:48 AM
  1. I think every situation is different. I grew up with my mom and stepfather but have always called him my father. We both get a real kick when people tell us how much we look alike. We both think 'if they only knew'...and we never correct anyone because we both feel like real father and daughter. I am now re-married and my husband is a stepfather to my daughter and we now have a son together. He says he feels like being able to be a stepdad to her first has made him a better father. Even though her dad is involved in her life, she calls my husband Dad and she feels like she has two dads. The situation is what you make of it and I feel for those people who were made to feel like second class citizens in their blended families. The statement 'Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child.' is a sweeping generalization and probably mostly inaccurate.

    Posted by J-Bee January 27, 09 10:56 AM
  1. I hate that people use the half / step prefix for siblings. I always introduce my siblings as my sisters and brothers. They do the same with me. My stepmother introduces me as my siblings’ sister, when they give her a strange look she will add Phil’s oldest. My stepmother is at least 10 years younger than my Dad. She was in her mid 20’s when they got married and I was 11. My father has 6 children and my mother has 2. I did not grow up with my “half’s”, and the age difference is relatively large with the younger siblings. I’m the oldest with my “full” brother 2 ½ years younger, and the “half’s” are 11, 13, 19, 23 years younger than I am. It took a long time for my stepmother and I to get along. Some of this was my fault, (I can admit that after 30 years), some was hers, and some were my mother and fathers. She and I get along very well now. As a matter of fact after my mother passed away this summer she makes a point to call at least once a week to check on my brother and myself. I am very proud of both of my families and have 2 photo’s on my desk one taken at my fathers 65th birthday party (it has all 6 of Dad’s kids, Dad, and my Stepmother), and one of my Mother, “full” brother and I, both have been on my desk since I started my current job 2 ½ years ago.

    Posted by ne January 27, 09 11:33 AM
  1. I have been a step mom to my seventeen year old daughter since she was seven. I do not have bio children nor can I. My husband has custody, "Bio" mom has been in and out of the picture. Sometimes more out but always comes back with an excuse. I am the one who is there when she is sick, was there when she fell, I help her with her homework, I go to parent teacher conferences, I help her get ready for her dances, I am essentially mom but she calls her bio mom, mom. I get called by my first name. I love her, I am proud of her, I will always be there for her. It hurt on that rare occassion when she would tell me she wanted her mother but I never showed her it hurt.
    Until approx two years ago I would have said that there is no difference. But someone said it earlier, there are traits they have that are not yours that you pick up on and they start to look like the other parent. As much as you don't want it to or think you are a horrible person because of it you can't help how that affects you. I'm not saying it changes how much you love them but it does remind you that they are not your bio child. It almost hurts that you have taken this child in but you will never really be mom. At least this is how it is in my home, where the bio mom jumps in and out of her life without a single thought to how it effects my daughter emotionally.
    Whoever said that how the bio parent living in the home treats the relationship was completely right. They need to be fair to both the child and the step parent and try to see both sides. It is difficult.

    Posted by stepforlife January 27, 09 11:48 AM
  1. Being a stepmom and my kids having a stepdad, all things are not equal. When my stepdaughter was younger she was a little princess that was a drama queen and got away with hitting my girls who are six years younger. I could never say boo to her without her crying to her father and he of course felt guilty because he and her mother were divorced and let her get away with everything. We even broke up twice because she was "confused". Meaning she didn't want to share him with me or my girls. Understandable somewhat at her age then 9/10 but her behavior worsened over the years. Her mother never did anything for her, we did everything and paid for everything on top of the child support. After 8 years she came to live with us and she still ignored the girls, they adored her. We tried as hard as we could for her to have a "normal" family environment, her mom is a heavy drinker. We sent her to dance and to college and paid for everything. She's 21 now, she quit school, we're stuck still paying for it. She never comes around to see her father and never sees the girls. Totally self absorbed. Just like her mother. I would never, ever go through, or put my own kids through that again. I tried so hard to be a mother figure to her and all she has done is hurt me over again, I'm all done. It did a lot of damage to my marriage, and I have a lot of resentment.

    Posted by Connie January 27, 09 02:09 PM
  1. I read all the comments today and by the end I was crying. I have been a stepmother for 5 1/2 years now with a 15 year old girl and 19 year old young man. I have loved them as if I had given birth to them = so very much. They accept me and have overall been very good to me and accepted the love I offer them (hugs, being there, keeping my word to them, making lunches, driving them to activities, throwing parties for them, etc.) but do not yet say it back when I tell them I love them. It has been hard at times. The bio mom and dad are much more alike in their parenting styles. I often feel like the odd-person out in the situation even though the times they have listened to me, the outcome for the child has been very positive. These days I have been struggling with that part of my stepson's behavior that closely resembles his bio-mom = out of control spending without thought of others. It has been very hard to not push him away.

    Posted by cynthia January 30, 09 02:48 PM
  1. One topic that I don't believe has been addressed is the significant role of the (other) bio parent in the success or failure of a step situation. In my work as a psychologist with families in transition, sadly, all too often, I have encountered mothers who not only characterize a step parent as a bad person but ,worse, the bio parent as a bad parent. The harm they do to their kids is remarkable. These kids end up "hating" their dad because they don't want to lose mom's affection, and also make any step situation untenable. It's even worse when they make their second husbands out to be "better parents than their father ever was." The kids typically do not learn how to navigate differences and intimate relationships.

    Posted by ddh January 31, 09 06:34 PM
  1. I got remarried to my Sweet heart from High School four years ago. I had 2 children now 16 and 13 and he has now 26 y.o from a previous marriage and now 11 yr. old. I cannot agree with #23 comment who hit it spot on. I am a professional working with children and families as well. WE have custody of the 11 year old with biweekly weekend visits to the mom. He absolutely is resentful toward his dad and me. Without getting into details the amount of time, energy to seek custody which was in the best interest of my step son to give him a chance at having a life that was stable, loving and secure, and structured with consistency. The challenges are overwhelming since whatever I do to provide this the bio mom will always continue to sabotage. I knew in my heart is was the right thing to do in supporting my husband to seek custody as his mom married his half sisters dad who served 10 years for kidnapping a minor so with that being said. It is one day at a time. I do the best that I can do in a challenging situation. I reassure his that his mom will always be his mom, but I am one more person in his life to love him! I will never tolerate being disresected, and hopefully with time he will understand that that with good choices there are positive consequences. It is much better to have the bio parent implement the majority of the disciplne.Both parents living in the home have to be on the same page or it will divide a family... It is also true when the bio dad talks badly about the step dad. If everyone could just keep the child's best interest, but adults use kids to get back at their exes; which is awful Every child is different but all go through each stage of development and those first 3 years are so crucial in instilling security in a child! I came in his life when he was going on 4 so lots of work to do...good days and many hard ones to.

    Posted by CBER February 2, 09 03:54 PM
  1. Nice to read all these comments - thanks very much. I am an adult stepchild, have a total of 4 step siblings as well as bio parents and a bio sibling and now have twin stepsons. I think that counts as closing the circle! I am lucky enough that my partner supports me in the step-parenting role, we have the same views on parenting which is great (and sheer luck!) and all the more important as the children are both on the autistic spectrum so consistency is all. We are only allowed to have them every other weekend and apart from that we are shut out of their lives almost completely. Do I love them? Yes. Would I love my own child more? Maybe. I agree that it's so hard to see characteristics in them that I don't like, which seem to come from their mother and it's hard sometimes to remember that they're just little kids trying to make sense of it all. What has hit me hardest is that we found out that their mother is saying bad things to them about their dad and then telling them they must keep it secret. We found out because, bless them, they didn't keep it secret. I am so angry at this abuse of these little people that I can hardly contain myself so my partner, their biodad, and I are going to have some counselling to find away to live with this. These feelings of protective fury for 'my boys' - my partner and my stepsons feels more like 'mother love' than anything else I can imagine. Step-parenting is a tough job, and I'm lucky that although my stepdad died, I have my own mum (who was also a stepparent) and my stepmum to turn to for support. Only they and other stepparents can 'get' me on this level!

    Posted by BTB February 5, 09 07:13 AM
  1. I am a soon to be step parent to two boys who are 8 and 10 years old. I agree with some of the previous comments which stated that love is not in the womb. I love the boys like they were my own and I always tell them that I am not here to replace their mother but to be there as a support system and be their best friend. Their dad and I have an excellent relationship and the boys adore me and the things I do for them. The only thorn on our side is their bio mom who has proven over and over again that she is not capable of upholding her end of the responsibilities when it comes to parenting. I provide updates on how the children are doing, what they did while they were with us, upcoming school events, health concerns, etc so she knows what is going on in our house to help maintain stability. She called my soon to be husband and asked that I stop filling her in on info because she is too busy to hear what I have to share. She feels that she is the mother and he is the father and there should be no need to deal with me, becuase there is no legal obligation. I agree, but I saw it as I was helping her out by letting her know about her childrens lives and thought she would appreciate the information I was sharing with her. She has consistently used me when she needs me and told me to screw myself when she doesn't. I understand the need for communicationg with ehr ex husbnad but in our hosue I handle all the chidlrens things and have maintained an organzied structure and felth that whether it was me or my fiance filling her in , she would be happy to know what is going on with her kids. I also felt strongly about including her in her childrens accomplishments and wrong doings especially becuase when the chidlren are with her no homework gets done, no projects get completed, they never get adequate rest, they come to our house sick, they don't eat complete meals, and they are constantly running between their mom's boyfriends house and their mom's house. She is also the first one to place blame on other people if something wasn't completed and the children were at her house. If I don't email her calendars and schedules the phone calls from her increase significantly and drive me , the kids , and my fiance crazy. How would you handle this? I never thought I had to question loving the kids and providing a stable environment for them and felt that as the bio mom she would appreciate that. Am I wrong?

    Posted by SwissMocha February 11, 09 09:25 AM
  1. oh, swissmocha... i'm a stepmom, and the one who keeps things organized/scheduled at our house, which means that i do the majority of the communication on kid stuff. hate to say this, but i often feel it's a lose-lose situation - i get yelled at by BM if i do tell her things (because i didn't get them right = do it her way) and yelled at if i don't. and that, even tho all four parents (two bio, two step) have a pretty decent working relationship! it seems that us steps are often perceived (unfairly) as a threat to the 'mom' status - which is just crazy, since there's not really any way to change who gave birth.

    Posted by liz March 1, 09 10:14 PM
  1. Does anyone know any step parent support groups in Boston? I have been looking online for days. Thanks!

    Posted by AG June 3, 09 12:49 PM
  1. Hi AG - I found a step parent support group forming in the Boston area:

    http://www.divorcestep.com/events.shtml

    Posted by Colleen in MA February 3, 10 08:12 PM
  1. I am 23 yrs old and engaged 2 someone with a child.....at the beginning of our relationship I was called by my first name......when we found out I was pregnant my fiancé begin 2 force certain things.....like he told the step son 2 call me mom.....I had no problem with him calling me mom I just wanted it 2 be a choice 4 him......I was also forced 2 discipline him which at the time I felt like it was 2 soon......he wanted me 2 build a bond with my step son b4 it was time......the more things he forced me 2 do thinking it would make us closer only pushed him further away from me......now that my biological daughter is here there is a huge division.....I love my step son very much.....his biological mom has not been in his life but she popped up when she found out I was mothering her child but she still does not see him......me and my step child's bond is very different from the bond I have with my daughter but it is all a role......u can still b loving, nurturing, and kind even if the bonds are not the same

    Posted by Sally May 17, 12 06:19 AM
 
30 comments so far...
  1. My husband adopted my son from my first marriage. Prior to him adopting my son, he always told my son he didn't love him any different just because he didn't give birth to him or have his last name. My son now legally belongs to my husband and they both couldn't be any happier. My husband never had any of his biological own and my son's biological Dad, turned his back and walked away from him years previous. The only thing that may be different is the thoughts the "step" parents themselves have. To a child it won't matter and only ignorant adults would ever ask if they are yours or your step children.

    Posted by Kathy January 26, 09 12:20 PM
  1. My husband came into my son's life when he was 3 1/2. His biological father walked away and never looked back, no birthday cards, phone calls, or visits, only court ordered garnished child support because he opted not to make timely payments. My husband loves this boy like his own. For 6 years, picking up from day care, being his Cub Scout co leader, and watching cartoons together. He taught him to ride his bike and tie his shoes. He has never missed a parent night at school or orchestra concert. He watches proudly when our son succeeds and worries when he encounters troubles. He gets up in the middle of the night and sometimes lets me sleep through an occasional midnight crisis of some sort or another. Is it not possible that this step parent loves him the same or more than his biological father does or ever will? I think yes.....

    Posted by Meg January 26, 09 12:48 PM
  1. Being an adult step child myself, i can say from experience that not all step parents act/feel the same about their step children. I honestly do believe the treatment is dependent on the person in the situation. In all the years of my father and his wife have been together my biological siblings and I were always treated as second class citizens in their home. There was always segregation between us and her biological children. My 2 younger siblings and i were never welcome in the home she shares with my father and her 3 children and on the rare occasion we would be allowed to congregate there it would be very uncomfortable. They dated for 5 or 6 years before marriage and have been married for 8 or 9 since, and this behavior still exists today. If you are going to marry someone their children are part of the package whether they live with them or not. I commend the author of this article and envy her step children who are lucky to have someone in their lives that is so accepting and able to love unconditionally.

    Posted by Coley January 26, 09 01:46 PM
  1. Wow, Coley. That is horrible. I guess I am lucky that my husband really believes the boy (his step son) is his child. He theorizes that he is raising him, loving him, and there for him so we have no need to have a "biological child" together because he already has a son. And my son's biological father is remarried and has no interest in the boy. That too is sad, isn't it?

    Posted by Meg January 26, 09 02:19 PM
  1. Being an adult stepchild, I too felt the sting of "second class" citizenship. We were always referred to as "Mac's kids." My brother and I never really felt like we were part of the family, ever. It has taken a long time to get over the insecurity. The funny thing is that I adore my baby brothers and sisters (just not their mother). As for the wicked stepmother, my dad eventually divorced her and because of an accident at home, she now resides in a nursing home permanently. Karma!

    Posted by BethBoo January 26, 09 02:36 PM
  1. Man, a lot could be learned here and then used to inform others on this site: http://www.mindbites.com/person/3566-DadLabs

    Posted by misssparky January 26, 09 02:42 PM
  1. I think it's pretty silly advice, actually, and must have been written by a single mom who is fortunate that her kids' father is loving and involved. Obviously, no two people will love someone exactly the same way. But the implication that the love of a bio parent is better or stronger or deeper couldn't be less on. My relationship with my stepdad isn't all that, but at least he's around and is kind and decent, which is more than I can say for my dad who I haven't talked to in decades.

    Maybe it just needs something like "and sometimes that's a good thing" tacked on at the end there.

    Posted by susan January 26, 09 02:51 PM
  1. "4. Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child."

    That assumes that the child's biological father loves them. What if he doesn't? A loving, involved stepparent is better than an absentee biological parent.

    Posted by Liz January 26, 09 03:20 PM
  1. I am both a bio mom and a step mom, and my husband is a bio dad and step dad. My son's father from my single days walked away before birth and has never met my son or paid support, so my husband is the only father he knows and he has known him since age three, as long as he can remember. Although subtle, his love for my son (who he has not adopted) is different for what he feels for his daugher (my step-daughter) and our sons. It's certainly better than what his no-good birth father has failed to provide but not the same as the biological connection. Likewise I do not feel the same way about my step-daugther as my biological childen, nor does she feel about me the same way she feels about her mother. She has a mother, I am the step-mother and that's different but OK.

    I think we need to get over the idealized pictures of what parental relationships, either biological, adoptive, step, non-custodial or even absentee "should" look like and accept things for how they are, who everyone is, and whether or not the children are being adequately accepted, loved and nurtured by the adults in their lives. In our case, my husband and son, and step-daughter and I, have some personality traits that rub one another the wrong way. That's OK, we just learn to accept those things and focus on what we do have in common and truly like and enjoy in each other. It's easier to find what you love and love what irritates you in your own kids because chances are, those traits come from you or your spouse so you've already learned to live with them. The annoying traits of step children can be a glaring reminder of your spouses ex and their negative qualities so in that case, you have to see your feelings for what they are and not transfer your negative feelings about the other parent on to the child.

    Posted by Jen January 26, 09 04:21 PM
  1. A mother is going to love her own bio child more than anyone else and no one can tell me different....
    I have heard many horror stories over the years regarding step parents and have also seen it first hand, how step parents refer to and treat step children.
    These comments and actions toward step children horrified me ..the true depiction of a wicked step mother, indeed. I have dated a couple guys with children and being a teacher, I adored all children and said if the situation arose, I would love them just as if they were born to me.....well, now that I have had my own beautiful baby girl I realized that idea would not be possible. Of course I would love them (the steps) and treat them kindly but nothing can match a bio mother's love...nothing in this world is stronger

    Posted by Michelle January 26, 09 04:44 PM
  1. As a bio parent and as a step parent, I can speak from experience when I say that each role has its challenges. But, I think step parenting is a particularly slippery slope. Much of the groundwork for ensuring the step parent and the step child will have a fulfilling relationship lies in the hands of the step parent's partner (the bio parent). If the child's bio parent encourages the step parent to assume full participation in the child's life - including times requiring discipline, as well as times for celebration - a more normal balance can be reached. At the same time, the bio parent needs to help the child understand the nature of the relationship with the step parent and set proper expectations. But, if the bio parent doesn't allow his or her partner to behave with his or her child as a parent would, there will always be a wedge between the two. Often times, the bio parent believes the responsibility to lie between his/her child and his/her partner. This is a common mistake.

    Posted by Marianne January 26, 09 05:02 PM
  1. "Step" or "half" is a legal matter of fact, not of emotion. If one wants to add to the plain vanilla "sibling rivalry", then one can use the step or half relationship to add to the "proof" that "Mom always liked you best" when whining...or the other way /round, "you never liked me as much as my bio-mom/dad". Twaddle. My family is a mishmash of steps and halves and the relationships ultimately depend on the emotions (and emotional needs) of the humans involved, not on a careful reading of the birth certificates.

    Posted by practical January 26, 09 05:37 PM
  1. As others have said, every situation is different. Sadly, too many biological parents do not love their children. And happily, many step parents do. But I will say this: Biological parents who do love their kids are not interchangeable parts. One cannot just eliminate a loving biological father and replace him with a step-father, and assume the bond will be the same. Maybe close, but not the same, no matter how hard the step-father tries.

    Posted by AF January 26, 09 06:34 PM
  1. As both a "step" and "bio" parent, I agree that each role has its challenges. I think that Practical said it best, however, that "step" and "half", like other terms ("bio" and "adoptive" come to mind), are legal matters, not family matters. My "step" kids, who I adopted, mean no less and no more to me than the children I bore. Holding a child with croup, crying at high school graduation, smiling as they march in a parade with their band, teaching them to drive, freaking out when they stay out past their curfew, choosing a prom dress, setting and enforcing limits, yelling, loving, helping, holding up and letting go -- these are the things that make a parent. It's not biology, people. To the respondent who said having her own beautiful baby girl showed her that nothing can be stronger than a bio mother's love, I, as a bio mother, say you're right: nothing can be stronger. But a step-mom's love can be just as strong. Having held my step/adoptive kids, then my bio kids and now my grandkids (doesn't matter who delivered 'em -- they're all still my grandbabies), I can tell you love grows in the heart, not the womb.

    Posted by justthinking... January 26, 09 09:13 PM
  1. Amen to Marianne.

    10 years into relationship. Stepchild 3 1/2 when we started. Step child is now 13.
    We've been in counselling for >5 years as to why I am a horrible step parent.

    I firmly believe that I am living what Marianne stated.

    Posted by Jeff January 27, 09 07:12 AM
  1. Lylah, thanks for introducing this topic. It’s an emotional issue I contemplate daily. It’s refreshing to find truthful accounts of what people really feel on this topic. I am a step-mom of two children (9 yr.old & a 13 yr.old). I am due any day now with mine and my husband's biological child. The 13 yr. old moved in with us almost two years ago; after his bio-mother packed up his belongings and handed him over to my husband, in the presence of his bio-sister and the mom's new boyfriend. This was an extremely traumatic event in this child's life. We have all participated in therapy to help him heal from this bio-parental rejection event and help us function as positive family-unit. This is a perfect example of not all “bio-parents” love their children. The lack of bio-motherly love has placed significant responsibility on me to provide step-motherly love. My interpretation of this is more of a mentor role with caring, support, respect and discipline. We are not affectionate like bio-relationships are; yet my husband hugs him everyday. Our biggest challenge is the same as a "normal/non-step family's" one; CONSISTANTCY between parents; which has no segregation between step and bio children. Additionally, #11’s comment hit home; it’s the bio-parents responsibility to lay the groundwork for the relationship. This means the step-parent should have the responsibility to participate in all parts of the child’s life. This includes; events, activities, positive reinforcement and discipline. I am realistic and know our family will evolve with the new baby only days away from joining us. This is no different from our family and its challenges evolving daily dealing with school, adolescence and my step children’s bio-mom. The bottom line is that I love my husband and our family. It is the most important thing in my life and I will always make it work; because this was the promise I made when I married my husband and my "step-children."

    Posted by Step-mom with new baby on the way January 27, 09 10:40 AM
  1. i disagree with Michelle and agree whole heartedly with justthinking. Adoptive mothers love their babies JUST AS MUCH as a birthmom who keeps her child would.

    I am a step mom, and at this point I care more for my step than her mom does - it shows in my actions and the way I relate to her. The problem is bio mom is a psycho and is not being a good parent right now. But the reason step daughter and I have such a good relationship is because my husband has allowed me to participate with stepdaughter as Marianne stated. Well put Marianne.

    All in all however this can be a VERY tough topic.


    Posted by lovingstep January 27, 09 10:48 AM
  1. I think every situation is different. I grew up with my mom and stepfather but have always called him my father. We both get a real kick when people tell us how much we look alike. We both think 'if they only knew'...and we never correct anyone because we both feel like real father and daughter. I am now re-married and my husband is a stepfather to my daughter and we now have a son together. He says he feels like being able to be a stepdad to her first has made him a better father. Even though her dad is involved in her life, she calls my husband Dad and she feels like she has two dads. The situation is what you make of it and I feel for those people who were made to feel like second class citizens in their blended families. The statement 'Realize that no partner you’ll ever meet will ever love your child like the father of your child.' is a sweeping generalization and probably mostly inaccurate.

    Posted by J-Bee January 27, 09 10:56 AM
  1. I hate that people use the half / step prefix for siblings. I always introduce my siblings as my sisters and brothers. They do the same with me. My stepmother introduces me as my siblings’ sister, when they give her a strange look she will add Phil’s oldest. My stepmother is at least 10 years younger than my Dad. She was in her mid 20’s when they got married and I was 11. My father has 6 children and my mother has 2. I did not grow up with my “half’s”, and the age difference is relatively large with the younger siblings. I’m the oldest with my “full” brother 2 ½ years younger, and the “half’s” are 11, 13, 19, 23 years younger than I am. It took a long time for my stepmother and I to get along. Some of this was my fault, (I can admit that after 30 years), some was hers, and some were my mother and fathers. She and I get along very well now. As a matter of fact after my mother passed away this summer she makes a point to call at least once a week to check on my brother and myself. I am very proud of both of my families and have 2 photo’s on my desk one taken at my fathers 65th birthday party (it has all 6 of Dad’s kids, Dad, and my Stepmother), and one of my Mother, “full” brother and I, both have been on my desk since I started my current job 2 ½ years ago.

    Posted by ne January 27, 09 11:33 AM
  1. I have been a step mom to my seventeen year old daughter since she was seven. I do not have bio children nor can I. My husband has custody, "Bio" mom has been in and out of the picture. Sometimes more out but always comes back with an excuse. I am the one who is there when she is sick, was there when she fell, I help her with her homework, I go to parent teacher conferences, I help her get ready for her dances, I am essentially mom but she calls her bio mom, mom. I get called by my first name. I love her, I am proud of her, I will always be there for her. It hurt on that rare occassion when she would tell me she wanted her mother but I never showed her it hurt.
    Until approx two years ago I would have said that there is no difference. But someone said it earlier, there are traits they have that are not yours that you pick up on and they start to look like the other parent. As much as you don't want it to or think you are a horrible person because of it you can't help how that affects you. I'm not saying it changes how much you love them but it does remind you that they are not your bio child. It almost hurts that you have taken this child in but you will never really be mom. At least this is how it is in my home, where the bio mom jumps in and out of her life without a single thought to how it effects my daughter emotionally.
    Whoever said that how the bio parent living in the home treats the relationship was completely right. They need to be fair to both the child and the step parent and try to see both sides. It is difficult.

    Posted by stepforlife January 27, 09 11:48 AM
  1. Being a stepmom and my kids having a stepdad, all things are not equal. When my stepdaughter was younger she was a little princess that was a drama queen and got away with hitting my girls who are six years younger. I could never say boo to her without her crying to her father and he of course felt guilty because he and her mother were divorced and let her get away with everything. We even broke up twice because she was "confused". Meaning she didn't want to share him with me or my girls. Understandable somewhat at her age then 9/10 but her behavior worsened over the years. Her mother never did anything for her, we did everything and paid for everything on top of the child support. After 8 years she came to live with us and she still ignored the girls, they adored her. We tried as hard as we could for her to have a "normal" family environment, her mom is a heavy drinker. We sent her to dance and to college and paid for everything. She's 21 now, she quit school, we're stuck still paying for it. She never comes around to see her father and never sees the girls. Totally self absorbed. Just like her mother. I would never, ever go through, or put my own kids through that again. I tried so hard to be a mother figure to her and all she has done is hurt me over again, I'm all done. It did a lot of damage to my marriage, and I have a lot of resentment.

    Posted by Connie January 27, 09 02:09 PM
  1. I read all the comments today and by the end I was crying. I have been a stepmother for 5 1/2 years now with a 15 year old girl and 19 year old young man. I have loved them as if I had given birth to them = so very much. They accept me and have overall been very good to me and accepted the love I offer them (hugs, being there, keeping my word to them, making lunches, driving them to activities, throwing parties for them, etc.) but do not yet say it back when I tell them I love them. It has been hard at times. The bio mom and dad are much more alike in their parenting styles. I often feel like the odd-person out in the situation even though the times they have listened to me, the outcome for the child has been very positive. These days I have been struggling with that part of my stepson's behavior that closely resembles his bio-mom = out of control spending without thought of others. It has been very hard to not push him away.

    Posted by cynthia January 30, 09 02:48 PM
  1. One topic that I don't believe has been addressed is the significant role of the (other) bio parent in the success or failure of a step situation. In my work as a psychologist with families in transition, sadly, all too often, I have encountered mothers who not only characterize a step parent as a bad person but ,worse, the bio parent as a bad parent. The harm they do to their kids is remarkable. These kids end up "hating" their dad because they don't want to lose mom's affection, and also make any step situation untenable. It's even worse when they make their second husbands out to be "better parents than their father ever was." The kids typically do not learn how to navigate differences and intimate relationships.

    Posted by ddh January 31, 09 06:34 PM
  1. I got remarried to my Sweet heart from High School four years ago. I had 2 children now 16 and 13 and he has now 26 y.o from a previous marriage and now 11 yr. old. I cannot agree with #23 comment who hit it spot on. I am a professional working with children and families as well. WE have custody of the 11 year old with biweekly weekend visits to the mom. He absolutely is resentful toward his dad and me. Without getting into details the amount of time, energy to seek custody which was in the best interest of my step son to give him a chance at having a life that was stable, loving and secure, and structured with consistency. The challenges are overwhelming since whatever I do to provide this the bio mom will always continue to sabotage. I knew in my heart is was the right thing to do in supporting my husband to seek custody as his mom married his half sisters dad who served 10 years for kidnapping a minor so with that being said. It is one day at a time. I do the best that I can do in a challenging situation. I reassure his that his mom will always be his mom, but I am one more person in his life to love him! I will never tolerate being disresected, and hopefully with time he will understand that that with good choices there are positive consequences. It is much better to have the bio parent implement the majority of the disciplne.Both parents living in the home have to be on the same page or it will divide a family... It is also true when the bio dad talks badly about the step dad. If everyone could just keep the child's best interest, but adults use kids to get back at their exes; which is awful Every child is different but all go through each stage of development and those first 3 years are so crucial in instilling security in a child! I came in his life when he was going on 4 so lots of work to do...good days and many hard ones to.

    Posted by CBER February 2, 09 03:54 PM
  1. Nice to read all these comments - thanks very much. I am an adult stepchild, have a total of 4 step siblings as well as bio parents and a bio sibling and now have twin stepsons. I think that counts as closing the circle! I am lucky enough that my partner supports me in the step-parenting role, we have the same views on parenting which is great (and sheer luck!) and all the more important as the children are both on the autistic spectrum so consistency is all. We are only allowed to have them every other weekend and apart from that we are shut out of their lives almost completely. Do I love them? Yes. Would I love my own child more? Maybe. I agree that it's so hard to see characteristics in them that I don't like, which seem to come from their mother and it's hard sometimes to remember that they're just little kids trying to make sense of it all. What has hit me hardest is that we found out that their mother is saying bad things to them about their dad and then telling them they must keep it secret. We found out because, bless them, they didn't keep it secret. I am so angry at this abuse of these little people that I can hardly contain myself so my partner, their biodad, and I are going to have some counselling to find away to live with this. These feelings of protective fury for 'my boys' - my partner and my stepsons feels more like 'mother love' than anything else I can imagine. Step-parenting is a tough job, and I'm lucky that although my stepdad died, I have my own mum (who was also a stepparent) and my stepmum to turn to for support. Only they and other stepparents can 'get' me on this level!

    Posted by BTB February 5, 09 07:13 AM
  1. I am a soon to be step parent to two boys who are 8 and 10 years old. I agree with some of the previous comments which stated that love is not in the womb. I love the boys like they were my own and I always tell them that I am not here to replace their mother but to be there as a support system and be their best friend. Their dad and I have an excellent relationship and the boys adore me and the things I do for them. The only thorn on our side is their bio mom who has proven over and over again that she is not capable of upholding her end of the responsibilities when it comes to parenting. I provide updates on how the children are doing, what they did while they were with us, upcoming school events, health concerns, etc so she knows what is going on in our house to help maintain stability. She called my soon to be husband and asked that I stop filling her in on info because she is too busy to hear what I have to share. She feels that she is the mother and he is the father and there should be no need to deal with me, becuase there is no legal obligation. I agree, but I saw it as I was helping her out by letting her know about her childrens lives and thought she would appreciate the information I was sharing with her. She has consistently used me when she needs me and told me to screw myself when she doesn't. I understand the need for communicationg with ehr ex husbnad but in our hosue I handle all the chidlrens things and have maintained an organzied structure and felth that whether it was me or my fiance filling her in , she would be happy to know what is going on with her kids. I also felt strongly about including her in her childrens accomplishments and wrong doings especially becuase when the chidlren are with her no homework gets done, no projects get completed, they never get adequate rest, they come to our house sick, they don't eat complete meals, and they are constantly running between their mom's boyfriends house and their mom's house. She is also the first one to place blame on other people if something wasn't completed and the children were at her house. If I don't email her calendars and schedules the phone calls from her increase significantly and drive me , the kids , and my fiance crazy. How would you handle this? I never thought I had to question loving the kids and providing a stable environment for them and felt that as the bio mom she would appreciate that. Am I wrong?

    Posted by SwissMocha February 11, 09 09:25 AM
  1. oh, swissmocha... i'm a stepmom, and the one who keeps things organized/scheduled at our house, which means that i do the majority of the communication on kid stuff. hate to say this, but i often feel it's a lose-lose situation - i get yelled at by BM if i do tell her things (because i didn't get them right = do it her way) and yelled at if i don't. and that, even tho all four parents (two bio, two step) have a pretty decent working relationship! it seems that us steps are often perceived (unfairly) as a threat to the 'mom' status - which is just crazy, since there's not really any way to change who gave birth.

    Posted by liz March 1, 09 10:14 PM
  1. Does anyone know any step parent support groups in Boston? I have been looking online for days. Thanks!

    Posted by AG June 3, 09 12:49 PM
  1. Hi AG - I found a step parent support group forming in the Boston area:

    http://www.divorcestep.com/events.shtml

    Posted by Colleen in MA February 3, 10 08:12 PM
  1. I am 23 yrs old and engaged 2 someone with a child.....at the beginning of our relationship I was called by my first name......when we found out I was pregnant my fiancé begin 2 force certain things.....like he told the step son 2 call me mom.....I had no problem with him calling me mom I just wanted it 2 be a choice 4 him......I was also forced 2 discipline him which at the time I felt like it was 2 soon......he wanted me 2 build a bond with my step son b4 it was time......the more things he forced me 2 do thinking it would make us closer only pushed him further away from me......now that my biological daughter is here there is a huge division.....I love my step son very much.....his biological mom has not been in his life but she popped up when she found out I was mothering her child but she still does not see him......me and my step child's bond is very different from the bond I have with my daughter but it is all a role......u can still b loving, nurturing, and kind even if the bonds are not the same

    Posted by Sally May 17, 12 06:19 AM
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