Parenting is Parenting, Biological or Not

I decided to write this piece after seeing an article about the things people say to step-parents that was written and posted by HuffPost. I wasn’t the least bit shocked about some of the comments posted as I think step-parents get a bad wrap sometimes and by no fault of their own except maybe step-parents don’t stand-up for themselves under the scrutiny of others and I should know…I am a step-parent. Full disclosure: I co-parent four children; three are mine though marriage and one is biologically mine. 

I totally believe that a blended family can work. I knew from the outset that my partner had kids; it was the first thing he told me. I recognized how important his children were to him because they were first and foremost on his mind. I actually found it enduring and I didn’t mind that they were first on his list of priorities—I accepted this, but my partner never made me feel anything less than his number one.

I wouldn’t want to be with a man who wasn’t close to his children. Early on, I also knew that if we were going to be together that the children were going to be a big part of our lives and I accepted them whole heartedly—for me there was no other way—all or none. Otherwise this would be a huge disservice to the children. They deserved a co-parent that is fully committed because they had no choice in their father’s union with me. Furthermore, they deserved all the love and nurturing I could offer.

I think of my role as a co-parent because I find the term “step” anything to be diminutive. I don’t like referring to my kids as step-kids because it seems as though they are seen as being less important in my life and certainly I did not birth them, but I do not love them any less than my biological child.

I even co-parent my biological child as she has a perfectly good father to nurture her and provide her with the guidance that I cannot. We are a team whether we are biological or not. We are a family by choice.  I started out as a parent of a teenager and two tweens and then a baby. In the first year of my youngest daughter’s life, I was navigating being a new mom to four children as all the kids moved in with us. If it sounds chaotic, it’s because it was. I would fondly say that I was the mother of quadruplets.

I, too, have had some interesting things said to me about my role as a co-parent. People have said,

“well at least you don’t have to pay for them.”

Hmmm, I think I do.  They live with me and I pay for their food and bills just like any other parent. “

So you must have to put up with them hating you.”

Uhh, no way…I’d never let myself be treated like that and their dad would never let them disrespect me and oh ya, they are great kids with good manners and have been raised well by their parents...all their parents. And the classic: 

“You’re not a real parent anyway.”

This one is especially hurtful. Have I not been there for all my children emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially? When the ghosts came out at night, I got up and checked out the room and stayed with them until they fell asleep. I even got the classic question:

“How do you know when you’re pregnant?”

while we were in a line-up at the store and everyone within earshot stood in anticipation waiting for me to explain to a nine-year-old in terms she could understand.

When they were being bullied, I got the call for help. When my son was mugged, I picked him up from the train station and helped him deal with the emotional impact.  I was there after school picking kids up and listening to their daily adventures. When lifetime milestones were reached, I was there. In fact, I’ve been an advocate for them and I’ve cheered them on like any parent would. Yes, I did this by choice and I've never expected a medal, just respect. 

I’ve also been mediator between them and their dad when they’ve made unsound decisions and have suffered the consequences. And sometimes, I’ve even been the only one they’ve called when the chips are down and I’m sworn to secrecy not to tell their dad.  Sometimes I’ve kept that promise, but only if the issue is not putting them at risk and then I have to tell their dad. But most times,  they weren’t in major trouble that we couldn't sort out ourselves.

To parent means to nurture and guide and to provide support for another. I’ve been there for my children—all of them—and I’ve never wanted it any other way. I’ve been blessed with amazing children, but it could have much worse and I know that. I dodged a bullet.  For sure there were some tense moments from time to time, but my husband and I have the same expectations for all our children.

All of my children are diverse in their needs and wants and as a family we’ve made it work. They are all amazing individuals and I appreciate the lessons that they've taught me and my youngest will benefit from all the lessons I have learned.  I’ve always been “The Other Mother” to my first three children and I never expected that they call me “Mom” either. They have a mother and she deserves that title. “The Other Mother” title works fine for me because I am a mother to them in my ability to guide and nurture them and most of all listen. At the very least, to be recognized as a bonafide parent is important to me and all co-parents.

The nurturing continues for the next generation as we have been blessed with the birth of our first grandchild. If there was any doubt, I am a real and extremely proud Kokum (grandmother in Cree).

~Jennifer Ward

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