A letter to step parents

All the things the world needs to know about step-parents

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Dear step parents,

I wanted to write to you to tell you all the things we ex-single parents think and never say.

The first thing is, should we even call you a step parent? Is that cool with you? It's clear that if we were to get married then you would be a step parents, but there are lots of us who won't be marrying again but we'd really like a way to acknowledge the part you play in our lives and the lives of our children. Step-mum or step-dad has all those Disney connotations of evil and jealousy but 'my mum's boyfriend' just sounds lame and doesn't articulate who you are to the kids. The fact that there is no word for ‘unmarried co-parents of children who are not their own’ kind of shows us that society and it's vocabulary has not caught up with the reality of many people's lives.

I want to apologise to you as well.I want to apologise that you will always come second to the kids, that you will never quite feel like you think a ‘real dad or mum’ should.I apologise that in law, even though you may pay for more and do more than the birth parent does, you have no legal standing in relation to the kids unless we go through the legal process to get you parental responsibility.But you have to get the other parent’s consent to do that, my ex’s, so I can’t see that happening any time soon.

I’m also sorry that we never got to date, just the two of us.You had to date me as part of a package and you didn’t just have to fall in love with me, you had to decide to be with me and my children.I feel sad we didn’t have those early days of romance where we could spend nights and days in bed; there were school runs to do and washing to hang up.

I also want to say sorry for all my unreal expectations of you.Too early I wanted you to get on with the kids, to take on some of the parenting role, to be part of our family, whilst knowing that if things didn’t work out with me, you’d lose us all.I expected you to look after the kids but didn’t like you telling them off, I liked it when you read to them or played with them and moaned when you didn’t.When you could sit down and put your legs up, I felt jealous because I couldn’t and ‘I thought we were sharing this parenting business’.

I want to thank you for your bravery.Any relationship is a risk, and you risked getting involved with us all.You could have broken more than one heart and your own by stepping up to join is in our family.

I thank you for your stoicism, which you mainly show when the kids say ‘you’re not my dad /mum, you can’t tell me’.

Thank you for your generosity of time, help and resources.They’re not your kids and yet you share what you have; your pots, your pans, your skills, your experience.You give the kids your time, helping with homework and listening to reading and later on acting as the ubiquitous taxi service.When you help pay the bills, or buy coffee the kids don’t even notice and I so admire and appreciate your patience and silence when they come home raving from their ‘real’ parent’s about this piece of clothing or that toy.They notice the fun extras but they don’t notice the behind the scenes, bread and butter, pay the bills way that you support them. But I do.

Step-parents, when we started on this road we both had expectation of how a family should be and many of them came slamming to the ground.Thank you for talking, negotiating, arguing, storming off and coming back, for laughing and for feeling frustrated as we worked out how to do this family blending thing, how we could parent together, how we could each find a way to have the relationship we wanted with the kids and each other.

Thank you for being proud of me as a parent and them as kids.

Thank you for slowly, incrementally, (but still never completely?) beginning to see them as your own.

Dear step parents, you are the unsung heroes and heroines of so many of the young people I teach, of the adults I meet who love both birth parents and are also beyond grateful for having had you, their step-parent, in their lives.You often bring stability and harmony to the family which was missing before.Without you society would be more fragmented, children would never have had an opportunity to see how a family can work and does work and single parents would feel even more lonely and stressed.

This isn’t a love letter from me to you because what you mean to me is between you and I, but the world really needs to celebrate step-parents more, to give you the recognition, appreciation and celebration you deserve.I know you don’t like a fuss, but it just needed saying.

Thank you for making our lives richer and warmer,

From all the single parents who are pleased to feel part of a family again.

Julie Leoni

Regenerative living coach, author, podcaster, facilitator, educator, Dr

Business as usual is no longer possible.  We need to dramatically shift how we think and live in order that the planet and all those people we share it with as well as our children's children, flourish.  This is the time of the Great Turning (Joanna Macy) and each of us can play our part in tipping life towards health and well-being for all.

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