Why Stepparents Have the Toughest Job of All

Moms and dads everywhere have my respect. I know how hard and scary it is to learn to be a good parent. But, you know who just straight up blows my mind? Stepparents. Especially those who had never had much “exposure” to children before. They are tested in so many ways we biological parents escape, and if they’ve gotten to the point where they earned the title of stepmom or stepdad, they passed some tests that probably felt an awful lot like intense hazing or medieval torture methods.

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About one month after meeting and just minutes after this pic was snapped, this adorable, curly-haired 2 1/2-year-old perfectly timed a #2 accident to coincide with a fun ride down a LOOOOONG slide. Not only did this man with zero parenting experience have to help clean the length of the slide with baby wipes, the park turned out to be a you-bring-it-in-you-take-it-out facility, meaning there were no trashcans.

New relationships are exciting and fun, filled with spontaneity and probably too many late nights. You get lost in each other, devoting countless hours to learning about each others’ history and hopes for the future. But when you’re in a new relationship and there’s a little one in the picture, simply spending time together is a challenge. Time alone is rare and activities with kiddos don’t exactly lend themselves to getting to know the soul of another person. When a new person is introduced into a pre-existing family unit, he or she is rarely, if ever, going to feel like a priority. It takes a very special person to understand that and not just accept it, but to support it.

After passing that test, that very special person has not even begun to understand what he or she has gotten into. The hoops that need to be jumped through — now on fire. The hurdles that need to be cleared — now twice as tall. The deep end they’ve just been thrown into — now as deep as the Mariana Trench.

They don’t get handed parenting challenges one by one. Instead, they are handed a co-sleeping, two-and-a-half-year-old toddler who is in the middle of potty training, who insists on climbing anything that isn’t on fire, who has recently discovered the almighty power of the tantrum, and who, oh yes, colors VERY outside the lines. (I do have to admit to a sick enjoyment watching someone inexperienced with kids do “crafts” with a toddler for the first time.)

If you ask me, the title of stepmother or stepfather isn’t even appropriate. If anything, it’s the biological parent who should be called a stepparent because they have the luxury of learning a step at a time. The so-called stepparent? No steps…it’s fight or flight…all or nothing…sink or swim…do or die.

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A year and a half later and he’s a stay-at-home dad three days a week.

Any two adults trying to co-parent requires a high level of teamwork and the checking of egos. When one of those people has only recently earned their parenting wings and the other person’s claim to parenthood might appear a bit more official, the balance of power is off and it demands even deeper levels of trust and compromise. The person who jumps through the fiery hoops to woo us; climbs the daunting wall built by a single parent’s lack of time and energy and, maybe, trust; swims the moat filled with ex-spouses and toddler vomit; and crosses the floor covered in Legos in the dark has earned the right to be called Mom or Dad, without qualification.

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