Transition Days for Childless Stepparents

by childless stepparent

Every other Monday, my husband picks up his daughter after school and brings her home to begin her week with us. He wakes up excited on those days and can’t wait to see his daughter.

My experience is different. I’m often ambivalent on what we call “transition days.” I used to avoid admitting this to myself. I felt like a bad person for not being filled with the same joy my husband feels. But how could I feel that same joy? She is not my child. Some weeks I look forward to seeing her, other weeks I dread the intrusion. And that’s okay.

No matter what I’m experiencing, I greet my husband’s daughter with a smile and a hug. I do what I can to make our home warm for her arrival. Sometimes I tidy up her room; sometimes I stock the fridge with her favorite food; other times I just have music playing for when they walk in the door.

As childless stepparents, we don’t have nine months of pregnancy to get used to the idea of having a child in our lives. We usually don’t have years with our spouse’s children when they’re very young, watching them grow up, sharing milestones and memories. We are thrown in mid-stream with a child who is as much of a stranger to us as a child who lives down the street. And we are expected to love this child “as our own.” It’s a lot of pressure.

For me, it’s not so much about loving or not loving my husband’s daughter. I care about her very much. The challenge is how our home changes when she’s here. Many of these changes are inevitable, of course – they come with the task of caring for a child. I get that.

Some of these changes are within myself. When my husband’s daughter is here, I feel that I have to be “on” in a way that I’m not when I’m with my husband or by myself. Despite the fact that my husband’s daughter is a warm-spirited, easy-going child, I am not completely at ease around her. This is understandable; getting comfortable with each other will take time. (Studies say that most stepfamilies take seven years to bond.)

Some of this pressure comes because I know that whatever I do (or don’t do) is often reported back to her mom. If I make any “misstep” (taking her daughter to a restaurant that’s “too nice”), my husband gets an aggressive message from his former wife. For two years, I’ve felt like I’m walking a tightrope of what am I allowed to do, expected to do, and forbidden from doing.

Before I married my husband, I had my own apartment, my own space; my time was my own. On weeks when my husband’s daughter is with her mom, my husband and I create time and space for ourselves. On weeks when my husband’s daughter is here, it often feels like every waking moment is devoted to her.

We are working on that. I am working on that.

It’s important that I create space for myself on weeks when she’s with us. Not only is it good for me, it’s good for my marriage, and it’s important to model independence for my husband’s daughter.

Manifesto #6 | I will be kind to my stepchild. I will support my husband in his role as her dad. I will contribute – on my own terms.