Parent Survival Guide Parent Survival Guide Issue 02 (Spring) - Page 20

ome people become parents simply for getting

entangled with near-random strangers for a night. There are parents who raise children oblivious to the weight of responsibility they should be feeling. Who do harm and yet can do nothing wrong in the eyes of their children.

We are not those parents. Because we are step-parents.

Whether we like it or not, we are in a category of our own. And I am not talking about the evil archetypes of the Grim Brothers stories, but about the rest of us.

Firstly, I have yet to meet anybody who set out to become a step-parent. As aptly pointed out in The Step That Changed Everything (PSG Issue 01), most of us become parents by making only a single decision (to commit to a romantic partner). We become parents by default and go on to perpetually earn our seat at the parents’ table.

Secondly, more is asked of us. While children will put up with a lot in their parent, we aren’t allowed their eccentricities. We don’t even get to make mistakes without the risk of invoking Hollywood comedy plots, or being blamed for failing to appreciate the situation we had no business meddling in.

Thirdly, we are at the bottom of the Totem pole. Since we do as we should and honor our step-families, our parenting opinions are always secondary. If we wish to intervene, or to protect our own boundaries, we have to go through our partner.

And we don’t get as much in return.

While most of us would cringe at the very notion of personal gain where children are involved, it is hard to ignore that we are almost never the parent they really want to call with exciting news, to thank, to draw on for comfort or to feature in their weddings.

If this fell short of a compelling sales pitch, you’re in for a downer once parental alienation gets added to the mix. Now, as step-parents, we too often find ourselves living as martyrs while framed as villains. Missing the lives where we got to be our own people, viewed on our own merit. And sometimes, not that we are proud of it, wishing we hadn’t come to care for these kids so bloody much along the way.

But this is not all of it.

Too often, we wonder if their lives would be better without us in them. We already know they would be easier.

As step-parents to alienated kids, we live with the crushing weight of impossible decisions. Decisions that no parent should ever have to make. Impossible because they are weaponized by the other parent.

Every time we open our mouths, every embrace we extend, every time we leave our fingerprints on their lives, we make a choice that they may be punished for. Is this fair? No. How is a human being meant to live with this knowledge? How are we supposed to weigh up if what we bring to their lives is worth more than we cost them?

I don’t know. I just wade through it every day with my two teenage step-children.

Our last parenting time was devastating.

As usual, we accommodated sleepovers, washed sports uniforms, buffered teenage emotions, served wholesome meals and encouraged personal responsibility. But in this ultimate race against the clock, my partner’s ex found a way (via a combo of texts, email and calls on the phones we pay for) to infiltrate our 70 parenting hours. The result? Our children treated us the way she treats us: as sub-human, sub-standard baby-sitters. They were snappy, impatient and entitled. By the end of the weekend, we were washed up, drained and broken-hearted.

We self-examined during the customary 24-hour grieving cycle

20 spring 2017 PSG