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Step kids vs. bio kids: Do you see a difference?

Categories: Parenting, The Juggle

5 comments

I was watching my kids interact today, 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 and spilled out onto the table. Sometimes, they’re all glommed together, five wildly different kids at five wildly different ages, 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 a teenager, a pre-teen, 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 idea 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, Kristin’s great post about five best tidbits of single-parenting advice 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?

As I’ve said before, 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 like 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 how our big kids like having half-siblings, the kids say “they’re too little to understand fractions, we’re just brothers and sisters.”

I remember picking up our now 10-year-old boy at camp one summer day. He was about 5 at the time. The councilor watched as he raced up to me and threw his arms around me in a huge bear hug. “Tell Mommy what you did today!” she enthused. Our boy looked around, puzzled. Mommy is here, too? I pointed out that I was actually his step mom, and there was this very long, very awkward pause as my excited little guy wrapped himself around my leg. I put my arm around his skinny shoulders, automatically (and, in hindsight, maybe unconsciously trying to shield him from the inevitable change in attitude). “Well,” she finally said, flatly, “he certainly seems to like you.”

So, on the one hand, I see where the person who gave Kristin that tidbit of 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. On the other hand, I think it might be 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.

And I do think that my relationship with my step kids has changed. It’s 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 nine years ago.

But do I love them differently than I do my youngest two? 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.



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5 comments so far...

  • I think that’s an individual thing. Just like the fact that some women seem to like / understand kids / motherhood more than others. I personally believe I’d emotionally “adopt” any kids I lived with for a long time, but I don’t think the same is true for every adult.

    I also think it’s wrong to assume the quailty of the bio parent’s love / attachment. Not all biological parents unconditionally love their kids, and vice versa. The politics between the bio parents, and any new kids in the non-custodial parent’s home, can have a big impact on this as well.

    I think the advice Kristin received nevertheless reminds us to be careful of what we expect from a step-parent. We can’t take for granted that a prospective partner will view our kids as precious, even though it might happen in some cases.

    SKL  |  October 20th, 2008 at 1:30 am

  • Well, having raised one “step” son and 3 “bios” I can speak from personal experience. I witnessed my brother’s 2nd wife shun, ostrasize her step-son and used him as a pawn whenever mad at my brother. She didn’t want him in their house full time and put up with him every other weekend like so many non-custodial dads. Sadly, the “bio” mother was a junky, prostitute and lacked the ability to care for herself much less her small son. My parents did what they could as did I (only 15 yrs old at the time.) Brothers new wife DID not want the child there permanently and there were many fights….my brother did not stand up for his son, I am sorry to say. My nephew spent a few years dabbling in the drug world, got 4 yrs for carrying a concealed weapon during the commision of a felony and now is serviing 30 yrs for vehicular homicide (road rage.) Could a secure homelife with loving, compassionate parenting prevented this? I think so. Now, my own story—I married a man with a young son, we’ll call him “Frank.” Frank came into my life at the age of 11 months old and my husband received custody of the boy at age 3 (several hard fought custody battles funded by ME!) That child was every bit mine, emotionally, physically, mentally from the very first. He just got married this past Saturday and he’s a well rounded, happy, loving, playful, industrious soul who knows how to love, has an open mind and willing hands to those so blessed to be in his life. His “bio” mother we’ll call Beverly, stepped out of his life at the age of 3. I don’t know what was going on in her world but “Frank” was loved by his step-mother and I appreciate her sacrifice. Children are innocent of how they arrived in this world. They MUST have our unconditional acceptance, must be nurtured, loved, taught, embraced, and encouraged. As parents and as step parents our job is to lay the foundation for a healthly happy life. Too many parents push their emotional baggage in front of the kids…not good. I believe that if everyone put the kids first, things would work out. Anyway, that’s what I think.

    Denise Grier  |  October 20th, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  • This goes for the adopted kid as well as the step kid. The love a person feels for another person (and children particularly) has nothing to do with their biology, IMO, and everything to do with the relationships.

    The step-parent relationship can be so tricky because the bio parent is often “in the picture”. The step/bio parent may feel as though they are in competition, either for the married partner or for the children in question. Seems to me as though your perspective and “share the love” is the mature, wonderful way to go! :-)

    spacegeek  |  October 20th, 2008 at 6:43 pm

  • I have a 15 year old stepdaughter who lives with her mum in England and a 13 year old stepdaughter who lives with her mom in the next town over. The “step-wife” in England is lovely, she tells me how much she appreciates all that I do for her daughter, and she does all she can to support her relationship with her dad, with me and with her little sisters here in America. The local “step-wife” however, has always done everything she can to poison her daughter’s relationship with her dad and the rest of us. I have tried everything, including telling her how much I love her daughter and reassuring her that I treat her like one of my own, which only ups her antics. I don’t understand how one mother can be so insanely jealous of my love for her daughter and the other can think it’s great. I just don’t get it. I guess one is secure in her own relationship with her daughter and the other is not. I think that must be what it boils down to.

    The thing to remember is: I’m not trying to replace my stepdaughters’ mothers in any way shape or form. I’m just another adult in their lives, here to love them and help raise them into the lovely young women they’re becoming. I love all my girls - equally - whether I gave birth to them or not. I’m sorry if that bothers a certain someone.

    Caitlin  |  October 20th, 2008 at 10:58 pm

  • My husband has been a great dad to my daughter. Her father was never bothered about being her dad. Paul married me when Nik was 3. He has been her daddy from the get go…..She made him nuts from time to time in the teen years.

    kbegnaud  |  October 21st, 2008 at 5:05 pm

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