I have the privilege of step-parenting two boys. I’m unable to have children and I was lucky enough to marry a man with two. I love these kids. They are one of my greatest sources of joy and they are one of my greatest sources of pain. I imagine, in that way, step-parenting is very similar to organic parenting. For the sake of this blog post I’m defining organic parenting as a child living with a custodial mother and father who are either biological or adoptive. Organic parenting involves a child being in your home full-time and decisions (good and bad) are made by both mom and dad. Organic parenting is natural. It’s never perfect and it’s not always successful; but it is the best parenting model. It’s been tested; it’s the old tried and true. Organic parenting is the only parenting model which unites children with both their mother and father.
Step-parenting is none of these things. It’s not organic. My step children are not in our home full-time; they split their time between two homes. Decisions (good and bad) are not made by both mom and dad. My step children do not get to experience a parenting model which unites them with both their mother and father. My step children have to live with a parenting model in which mom and dad are split. It’s not natural; nothing organic about it.
What makes step-parenting difficult is that there is nothing a step-parent can do to rectify this situation for their step-children. Many adults are unable to acknowledge that this problem even exists. Just the mere mention that step-children do not get to experience an organic parenting model angers many adults. We have created soft phrases to describe split parenting such as “co-parenting” or “modern family.”
Just the other day I was discussing this phenomenon with a good friend. She asked me how my step-children were doing as they had just experienced a chaotic week. My husband Eric and I received a call from their mother informing us that we would have the kids for the next ten days. She needed their bedrooms because her younger child’s father was visiting and bringing his children from a previous relationship; therefore, my step-sons were being displaced from their beds. Eric and I rearranged and obliged because it is important for my step-sons to have a safe place to sleep. Even last-minute we are lucky to be able to get additional time with them and they are always welcome to sleep in their bedrooms located in our home. This type of chaos is normal for my step-children. I tried explaining to my friend that step-parenting is not hard because of this chaos; it is hard because my step-children do not see it as chaos. This is their normal. They have never experienced organic parenting; this is the single most source of heartbreak for my husband and me. The sadness compounds to witness that for my step-children’s peers this is normal too. Outside my husband and I, there is no-one else in my step-children’s lives who feels this chaos is anything but normal.
Even my good friend (who is an educated and compassionate) was annoyed that I would suggest lack of organic parenting was the new “normal.” She accused me of overreaction and claimed no crisis exists; not in her family or circle of friends. I could see her annoyance, and I was surprised by it. I could tell her feelings were sincere; though I could not make sense of her position. My friend, just like me, comes from a divorced home, with a mother who has been married multiple times. Like me, she has step-siblings. Her husband, raised by a single mother, was recently reunited with his father and half siblings. I could not wrap my head around why my friend, with the aforementioned family history similar to mine, did not feel that a lack of organic parenting has become a norm within our society. If she is anything like me, then I can assume this denial comes from a place of self-preservation. It is hard for people who grew up or currently participate in parenting models which are not organic, such a split parenting, part-time parenting or single parenting, to admit that these models are disordered. To admit that requires us to acknowledge something hurtful and/or broken about ourselves and our own lives. Additionally, I think we fear hurting the feelings of others in these situations. This fear has become so great in our society that we no longer can recognize disorder. As I Catholic, I know we cannot judge another’s soul, but we can and should recognize situations and actions as disordered while still acting with love towards the people living in or causing the disorder.
Though step-parenting is not organic; there are still some things about step-parenting which are. It’s natural to love a child. It’s natural for my maternal instincts to come alive when I’m with or thinking about my step-children. My love for my step-children is organic. All of these feelings I have and actions I take with regards to my step-children are natural, but it still does not make their situation organic. My step children do not get to experience a parenting model which unites them with both their mother and father. My step children have to live with a parenting model in which mom and dad are split. I can’t fix it and most of the time I can’t even talk to another adult about it; that is why step-parenting is REALLY hard. It’s not natural; nothing organic about it.