Step parenting has felt complex. It’s a multi-faceted experience – not only being one – but being mom to ones who have one. Myriad feelings cascade through different circumstances during different times of life. I’m resolved that, though step parenting is certainly a societal norm, for each individual it’s uncharted territory navigated by trial and error.

Before assuming the role of stepparent 16 years ago, I spoke with my therapist. I came away with guidelines I instinctually knew, but felt grateful for reinforcement: I was not to step into the role of ‘mother’; I was not to take an authoritative position with them; I was not to be an outspoken part of decision-making for them; I was not to disparage their parent. I could be a loving, loved and respected mentor, but assure them, through my words, deeds and actions, that I was not assuming a parental role. I don’t do it perfectly, but hopefully good enough. (See https://www.parents.com/parenting/dynamics/step-parent-boundaries/)

Raising, teaching, working, playing, and speaking with children, I’ve come to realize how vital those tenets are – and how grateful I am for learning early on. 

It is possible for adults to practice, perhaps unintentionally and unawares, a subtle form of psyche savagery on a child, by stepping in as parent when they’re not their parent. It can be done in the guise of lovingness – especially when they love them – but in fact, stems from a self-serving and self-centered neediness. 

To hold first and foremost the sanctity of a child’s psyche, especially as regards their own parent-child relationship, is a tough row to hoe for one who loves – but well worth the effort.