Childless step-parenting not an easy job

Step-parenting can make you crazy, especially if you have never had your own children. You want your partner’s offspring to fill that baby-yearning hole in your life, but they have their own mother and father and you are neither one.

To them you’re a stranger who showed up late and wants to claim a family connection. You’re a lot like the substitute teacher who knows nothing about what they were doing with their regular teacher and whom they don’t have to obey because she’s only here for a few days. Your partner may or may not help you make the connection. He has known them longer than he has known you. They are flesh of his flesh—and you’re not. You come from a different family with different traditions and different memories. You’re the puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit.

I’m not the only one who has called herself the Wicked Stepmother. Turns out that’s quite common. You just pray the kids laugh when you say it.

I have been looking through old files and just read through a fat one from my days when my youngest stepson lived with us, his older sister stayed with us intermittently, and his older brother lived in various places. It was tricky. I had the responsibilities of a mom, whether it was conferring with teachers, baking cookies for Boy Scouts, or taking my stepson to the doctor. We were tied down. If my husband and I wanted to go out, we couldn’t just leave him in the backyard with a bowl of water like a dog. We had to find a babysitter or stay home.

My friends insisted I claim motherhood on Mother’s Day. But to my stepson, I was just “Sue.” He resisted my attempts to hug him or to connect him with my own family.

Since my husband and his ex never officially changed the custody agreement, his real mom could reclaim him at any time. Besides, it was obvious I had no experience at being a mother and didn’t know what I was doing.

Reading my old journals makes me squirm. I sound resentful and selfish. “The kid won’t obey me.” “He wrecked my car.” “None of them remembered me on Mother’s Day.” “I’m trying to work, and I keep getting interrupted.” I’m human. I’m not Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music,” taking in all those kids with nothing but love and selflessness. But there were moments of love, too, times when I tearfully thanked Fred for giving me this family.

When you marry someone who has been married before, he or she will probably have children. He or she may not want anymore. They want you, but they don’t want to do babies again. Been there, done that. They are happy to offer you the children they already have, but it’s not the same, is it?

Today my stepchildren are all adults. The daughter is not only a mother but a grandmother. Since Fred died, we don’t talk; we Facebook. I’m proud of their accomplishments. I don’t know what our connection is now, if any, but I hope they know I tried. I really tried.

It’s not the same as having your own babies. That’s just not possible. But it’s something. As long as people keep getting married multiple times, stepchildren will be part of the picture.

Here’s an interesting report by the PEW Research Center on marriage and remarriage.

I have received a lot of comments lately about step-parenting. Previous posts on the subject include: “Stepchildren and Holidays Always a Tricky Mix,” “Must Childless Stepmothers and Their Stepchildren Hate Each Other?” “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” “Sometimes Stepchildren are All Right,” and “What Am I to My Stepchildren Now That My Husband has Died?”  There are even more. Use the search box at upper right to find more posts about stepchildren or whatever you want to read about.

Let the conversation continue. How has it been for you?





13 thoughts on “Childless step-parenting not an easy job

  1. Hi Sue, it’s kind of weird. This is how it feels right now. My stepson loves me and cares about me. His wife cares to the extent they are in my will. My stepdaughter sees me as Dad’s wife with no strings or expectations. She just divorced, but her husband used to call me “Mom” even though he’s only 10 years younger than I. He’s a big kidder, so I’m sure he wasn’t too serious, but it made me uncomfortable because we were not close at all. My role is so varied with each of them. I never know how to act especially since their bio mom is there. No matter what I say or do, I feel quite judged, especially by the bio mom and my stepdaughter. It’s all very weird. And we’ve been married almost 20 years so if anyone thinks it’s just a matter of time, think again.


  2. I recently saw my husband’s son. My husband is now in a nursing home and was having surgery to release blood from a brain hemorrhage due to a fall Easter Sunday. His son has not spoken to him in more than a year. My husband is no longer able to make calls, and his son never bothered to call, text, or e-mail him, even though he knew my husband has been in failing health for a few years now. In making sure I do the “right” thing, I notified his son that his father was having brain surgery with the possibility of not making it. So the son decided to rush down to be by his father’s side (he lives 1,000 miles away). There was a very small smidgen in my heart of looking forward to seeing him. He is 36 and I’ve been with his dad since he was 2. I, like everyone else in here had such great hopes that we could be a real family when he was younger. That blew up in my face when he turned out to be a drug using loser and have had to kick him out of the house three times due to drug use. I have to say, it felt so good when he got here and I felt nothing towards him. He was stranger that I was offering a bed to and as bad is this sounds, it just felt nice. I no longer had the hopes that I could be his mom, or that I would have a great relationship with him. That was all dead and I had moved on. When he left, I gave him a hug and never shed a tear or a sad thought. I rarely think of him now and I’m okay with this. His life is still out of control and not a part of my world at all…. and I actually laugh sometimes when I think about how he is his mother’s problem and not mine.


    • Candy, I’m sorry you and your husband are having such a hard time. It’s a shame your stepson is not able to be a better son, but it’s good you can let go of him. If only we could all have perfect families like on TV.


      • He is losing his life to a cruel disease that has taken away his ability to walk, stand or sit on his own as well as speak. He can get out a few words now and then, but can no longer have conversations. All of this while his mind is 100%.


  3. Thank you for writing about this. I became a “stepmother” at the age of 34 to a 21 year old. So, really, there was no mothering connection there at all. She is respectful of me as I am of her and she loves my parents. I wish she and I had more of a familial friendship/relationship, but we are in different states, across the country. She comes to visit once a year and it is generally a nice visit and when she leaves, I feel that we had a good connection. Sadly, it was just for that week, as we hardly communicate the rest of the year. Unless my husband calls her or she calls us and I just happen to be available, there is very little to no communication. I wanted children more than anything and I accept that I will not be having any of my own as well as the fact that I could not nor would not be a mother to my husband’s daughter. I do know, however, that I would be a good role model to her, just don’t know if she will ever acknowledge that.


    • Thank you. I can honestly say that the sadness my husband’s illness brings is far greater than not having children. But will also say that when he passes, I will truly be alone and that scares me.


  4. I don’t know. I’m childless and my boyfriend has two kids with two different women, ages 2 and 10. We’re working on becoming a blended family, but my partner makes sure I never feel left out. He would never allow his 10-year-old to treat me with any disrespect. We are trying to build a family unit, not being too pushy but just showing that we are a cohesive unit and we are on the same page.
    My situation may be different, as he was not as involved with his 10-year-old son until just recently, so I don’t believe I’m looked at as the wicked stepmother who took his father away from the mother. If anything, I came along long after that relationship fell apart. As for the 2-year-old, she was the result of a one night stand, so again, not some grand love story that was destroyed by me. I’ll be in her life from a very young age and she will never know much different. My primary concern right now is ensuring I am doing just enough to show my interest and commitment to them, but at the same time, not overstepping my bounds; especially with his 10-year-old son. His mom is remarried and he has seen enough of Dad’s girlfriends come and go. I want to make sure he knows I’m here to stay, but I don’t want to push anything on him. At the end of the day, my actions will speak for themselves and I just hope that he sees I truly care for him and want to be part of his life, in any way that he’ll have me. I’m not here to force myself on anyone, I just want to be accepted by my Boyfriend’s kids and want to ensure that they know I am here for them and will always provide a safe, comfortable environment for them. My heart is wide open. I guess it’s a waiting game!! But I know what those kids need and I feel it is something I can provide. Safety, security, warmth, love and kindness.


  5. I’m on reasonably friendly terms with my stepson and stepdaughter, but that’s it – we’re very close in age.

    There’s one grandchild, and I’ve never been allowed to be granny. DH made a bid for me to be an honorary aunt, but we were told that the wee one had plenty of honorary aunts already.

    I’ve always made sure that the granddaughter gets her birthday and Christmas presents and so on. I also organise Christmas and birthdays for the son, daughter and daughter-in-law.

    Now, here’s the thing – a couple of years ago, inexplicably, a Christmas card arrived, addressed to ‘Granddad and Aunty’. By then, the granddaughter was 15 and I felt it was too little, too late.

    By contrast, DH’s ex has had two partners since they divorced, and the first one was called ‘Granddad’, even though he didn’t live with the ex full time. The daughter’s husband is now deceased also, but he complained after the will was read that the first partner had left all of his money to the ex, and nothing to the granddaughter. He thought that this was disgraceful, since the granddaughter called him ‘Granddad.’ It did make me wonder about the very late bid to make me an Aunty…

    We’ve been married more than 22 years. In all that time, I’ve had one birthday card from DH’s family. He had reminded them, and they sent one card from all of them – his son, daughter-in-law, daughter and granddaughter. I felt like offering them the money for the postage.

    However, later on, DH discovered that he had a half-brother and half-sister. They send me lovely cards with ‘sister-in-law’ on it. It may seem silly, but it moves me to tears.

    The brother has two sons and two granddaughters. We were invited to the younger son’s wedding and he told the children ‘Here’s your Great Aunt.’ It meant so much.


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