“I think it is best one thing, to take care of children that are not yours”

In most fairy tales or Disney movies, it’s crystal clear: the stepparent is always the one villaini.e. the bad guy. The stepmother is already a cunt from the start, who has elevated mental abuse to an art form.

What an example, indeed for children. There is an immediate misery attached to that role. As one neighborhood mom’s bonus/stepson said: stepmothers are witches.

Being a bonus parent: sometimes it’s just hard work…

Package offer

Actually, I’ve never really been into it, with stepparents or that whole word. My parents are happily married and have been together for 47 years, so I have never had to deal with a step parent myself. When I got divorced and Nils came into the picture, I slowly introduced him to my children and eventually he moved in with us. It went very well, he had a clear click with the boys. But when he first lived with us, he also became part of the family. It happens when you come to live in a house where children run around. Then you can think like a new partner: ‘Interesting, I don’t get involved in anything…‘ But it doesn’t work that way. If you choose one with children, you actually choose those children as well. If you don’t want it, then don’t start the relationship, because the children are part of it. I assume that the partner with children always makes that clear at the outset (if correct). If you choose me, you get a package deal. Children included.

Less patience

I think it’s quite a thing to take care of children that aren’t yours. Looking at myself, I notice that I have much more patience with my own children than with other people’s children. I don’t know if I could take care of a new partner’s children almost full time. In any case, I would consider it quite a task. That’s why I have sacred respect for people who choose to do it, and who also do it really well.

Not obvious

My ex and I have a visitation arrangement and he doesn’t live around the corner. The boys are with him two weekends a month. It’s perfectly fine, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but the center of gravity is therefore with Nils and me. With us, they have to go to school, they have to get up early, they have to train and play football matches. Here they have to go to bed on time, eat healthy, do homework (if they get it once in a while) and they have to deal with many more rules and agreements. It gives structure, but it also ensures that Nils – whether he likes it or not – gets a lot of educational tasks thrown into his lap, because he doesn’t leave it all to me. He helps me with everything and dares (always in consultation with me) to approach the boys if there is anything. He stands on the sidelines when football is played, and he regularly prepares the bread trays for school. If a bike needs fixing, he will do it, and he lovingly puts together a new bed for Miles. It only makes me love him more, because that selflessness is not so obvious.

Also read: ‘Having another child at a later age: with the first I was 28, now I’m 39’

Thankless work

The boys are a bit close to puberty, which means that occasionally strange words are thrown around the table or boundaries are pushed. Nils also has to deal with that, and it is not always easy. The comment hasn’t made it past here yet, but I’m sure it will at some point: “What are you meddling with, you’re not my father!’ Probably a very recognizable one for step parents and a very painful one at the same time, because sometimes you have been in children’s lives for a long time and you do your very best to be a good substitute parent. In that sense, being a step-parent can sometimes be a bit of a thankless task. You get a lot of crap on your plate with those kids, and with any luck they throw a comment like that at your head too.

Ode to bonus parents

Dear stepmom / stepdad / bonus mom / bonus dad (but whatever you like), here’s an ode to you. Because you take care of children who are not yours, yet do everything for them. Because you play a big role in their lives, because you love them and are there for them. When they are adults they will see it and hopefully the appreciation will follow, they are still too young for that. There is no misery attached to your role, you are an example, even if you don’t always get the credits. One day the children will see it and they will be infinitely grateful to you. Hopefully, until then, you’ll see them trying their own way. The question of help, of attention, if you want to be there for something. Looking for confirmation. A smile, a quick hug, maybe a peck on the cheek or simply asking: do you like me? In this way, a child shows that you matter, that they enjoy having you there, and that your opinion counts.

I hope I express the appreciation enough myself, for a great partner – who is also a great bonus parent (and in our case also a really good father) – is absolutely to be cherished.

Ellen is a counselor in secondary special education, author at De Fontein publishing house, mother of two boys (10 and 8) from a previous relationship, and she has just given birth to a daughter with her new boyfriend. Read her previous columns here.

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