What makes someone a “stepparent”?

This week I received the following question, and I thought you might like to know the answer, too…

The question was, “What makes someone a “stepparent”? Is it only through marriage, or can it be someone who “volunteered” for that position?”

My answer was:

A stepparent is someone in a committed relationship – legally married or not – with a parent. Stepparents – legally married or not – have no legal standing for their partner’s children. In other words, if you are a stepparent (as I have been for 24 years) you cannot, without your partner’s written permission, pick up your stepchild from school, sign for medical care for them, get their grades, or most other legal actions.

As a stepparent, you are legally just a stranger helping with someone else’s child. That’s the legal stance. It’s also a good starting point for the personal relationship with your Sweetheart’s children. I teach couples to focus on their “marriage” relationship. Let the biological parent take responsibility for their kids. That’s how the law looks at it and if the stepparent looks at it that way, too, all will be easier.

Yes, a stepparent should help out their partner whenever they can – with errands, shopping, housekeeping, etc. But only when asked, in relation to the children. If a stepparent goes into a relationship thinking they can “fix” the parent-child situation, they will find themselves receiving resentment from both the parent and the child, AND the child’s other parent, AND the child’s grandparents, on BOTH sides. Stepparents have the opportunity to be a blessing to their partner and his/her kids, but you have no rights to make decisions for these children of another couple.

My favorite motto is

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

When/if the kids start driving you crazy, react as you would with kids in the mall – either let their parent know they’re causing trouble, or step away from the children! And if you let their parent know how they’re acting out, do it gently with love.

Remember, your most important job in the relationship is to support and comfort your Darling. Most likely, you married for love, not to Fix their family. You are not their teacher or their trainer. If they ask your advice, give it softly and with care. These are not your children. Someday, if you play your cards right, you may hear your stepchildren refer to you as “Dad” or “Mom.”
And that, my friend, is a joy you can’t imagine!

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