#2. You Learn That There's Such a Thing as "Too Nice"
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Sometimes a movie or TV show will feature a stepparent as a character, and that person is usually presented as less than likeable. A good example of this is every movie ever made that has a stepparent. If it's not the stepparent being a douchebag, it's a rebellious little fuckhead kid who has to eventually be convinced that the adult is worthy of respect. That idea is so engrained in pop culture that it's easy to enter a relationship expecting the worst.
It's natural to be scared of that idea, especially if you don't have kids of your own. But in doing so, what often happens is that the stepparent goes the polar opposite direction and becomes overly nice. That seems like a weird phrase at first, until you realize that even the most well-behaved kid will learn to take advantage of it. "Dad is going to say no if I ask to borrow the machine gun. But Emily won't! I'll ask her instead."
"Yeah, but you know the rule: no shooting at ambulances. Don't give me that look, mister."
Even outside the realm of manipulation, you can easily get buried in selfless activities because it's hard to know when to say "I'm done" when the kids want to play nonstop. My daughter likes to talk constantly, and it can get pretty damn trying at times. If you don't eventually cut her off and tell her that it's time for her to give the adults a break, she will just keep going until she passes out from lack of oxygen. My wife had to learn the hard way that doing that is perfectly OK, that she's not damaging the kids by needing time away from them.
It's not easy to do. You feel guilty. You feel like you're making them hate you. Or worse, making them think that you loathe being around them. But kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Unless they have a genuine behavioral or emotional problem, simply explaining that you need some alone time is pretty much all it takes to make them understand. Or barring that, getting them in a figure-four leg lock and screaming, "You still feel like sticking around, bitch?! WOOOOOO!"
"Now hit my music! I'm outtie!"
#1. You Have All the Duties of a Parent, but You're Not Considered One
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My wife doesn't have kids of her own, but she shares every facet of parenthood with me. She takes care of them when they're sick, helps feed them, talks to them when they have problems, openly shows them love and respect ... but talk to someone outside of the family, and they will look at her as more of a babysitter than a parent.
There's still an attitude of "Well, it's different when they're your own kids." If they're talking about a biological, blood connection with them, they yes, they're right. The truth, though, is that she's every bit as much of a parent to my kids as I am. I may have the final say in how they're raised while under our roof, but that's only a technicality. I talk to her as much as I talk to the kids' mother about parenting decisions. It's a team effort. It has to be.
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"Here, I'll take over for a bit. You go shoot some black tar heroin and calm down."
But it's extremely frustrating for a stepparent to put in all of that hard work and dedication, only to be looked at as a "helper" for the "real" parents. I guess the real battle there is making sure the kids don't view her in that light. Luckily, ours don't, but firsthand experience with my own stepparents tells me that it's entirely possible. "You're not my REAL mom! I don't have to listen to you! I'm 25 years old!"
If you're going into this situation yourself, don't let this article scare you off. If all of the family members are normal, adjusted people, the transition just takes a little time, patience, and the balls to fail a few times. You'll be surprised how quickly it becomes second nature. And as far as not being credited, thanked, or recognized as a genuine staple of their lives ... don't worry, parents go through that, too. It means you're on the right track. People only really call attention to your parental work when you fuck up the kids.
John is an editor and columnist right here at Cracked, with a new article every Thursday. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook. Special thanks to my wife, Emily, for helping me with this article!