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How difficult is it, being a stepparent?
Being a stepparent is one of the most undervalued, unappreciated, and difficult endeavors anyone can undertake.
It is like going to a foreign country where you have no language and no customs and no culture in common with the locals. The food is even strange.
Step-parenting is so difficult that it often takes decades to master, and some never do. The family seems monolithic and unassailable. Kindnesses are rare and unpredictable. I have seen a stepparent — an adult! — sob with relief describing a time her stepdaughter ‘allowed’ herself to be put to sleep for the first time by her stepmother.
In the book The 5 Love Languages, author Gary Chapmam states: “Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as different as Chinese from English.”
Families have their very own ‘languages,’ cultures, and customs, too. It takes a good guide or two, local friends, a basic command of the language, repeatedly doing activities of daily life, and time to get to know a place and a stepfamily. A stepparent has to be an adept anthropologist, studying the locals, and adapting.
Of course, nobody congratulates the stepparent who manages to melt into an existing family. They call it ‘blended families’ when a stepparent and her or his children move in with another single parent family, and the two adults are in love. Making blended families work harmoniously so everyone feels seen and heard is an art and a miracle. I have seen it done well — and terribly.
Being a stepparent can be a much different experience and can be much less difficult when children are very young and their single parent survived the other parent. In families when a parent dies and kids are young, having another adult to take care of things can be a relief for everyone, and the experience of being a stepparent will be much different when a parent has died — compared with the experience of being a stepparent following a divorce — and will likely include the gratitude and even the love of the entire family.
Nan Waldman is an accomplished writer whose work has been published by Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Business Insider. You can read more of her Quora posts here: