Parents talk about parenting a lot, and often the goal of the conversation is to convince you that their parenting style and techniques are superior and better and guaranteed to work but I’ve always wondered…work to what end? It never seems clear.
I’ve never had cause to cohort with parents, I mean obviously I met people who had kids all the time but there’s a difference between that and being associated with parents because you have the same thing that they do: A child. Just to be clear, I don’t, I don’t have a child. I have a step-child. Prior to having him here living with us my experience with children was nonexistent, and so when the situation (a situation that was entirely unforseen) came up, I was extremely freaked out. I reached out for advice to all the parents I knew and I asked for advice.
Almost unanimously, the advice was this:
“Don’t try to be his mother, be his friend.“
Solid advice, yeah?
Patch that up with the rest of the advice to take care of his needs, his nutrition, his health, his mental state, his socialization and his education, and it seemed like I had a bundle of good advice. It sounded good: Don’t be his parent, be his friend, take care of him.
I didn’t know anything about parenting so I was willing to listen to anything and agree with anything too. I couldn’t exactly disagree. What experience would I disagree on the basis of? So I just asked, gathered information, and then one day a child arrived. An 8-year old child. He was small and frail for his age. He had big ears; bigger than they needed to be. My sister and I had put his room together for him. We bought some toys and balloons and many glittery things. It helped to have her there she was a very well developed relationship with children. She really enjoys spending time with them which I have always found impossible to understand. Well, she’s a kindergarten teacher, sorry..she’s an early childhood special educator, this is important to her. I should respect that.
It helped to have her around a lot then. She is able to be excited about child things and still understand that pit of extreme coldness and dispassion inside me and relate to it. She’s able to calm me down and
part of that is that I could never lose my calm in front of her. Never. If I had known better about parenting I would have considered that a far more reliable parenting tip than the one I most oft heard.
Because that night was a big moment, the night he got here, but i sublimated that into pasta and blankets. For then.
In the many months that followed — living with him on a daily basis and during that time going through big things like his father and I getting married and managing this weird thing called custodial agreements and smaller things like determining what foods he needs — I noticed something.
I noticed that on an ongoing basis I think about him and factor him into my daily and general routine. I buy things at the grocery store with his meals in mind. I’m available when I need to be and where I need to be, even when it’s a school show or a fiesta (which I enjoyed more than anyone else who attended). I listen to him when he is sad and when he asks the same question for the 600th time. I don’t break my head on a wall when I am teaching him the same subtraction principle for the 35th time in the 20th way, I’m still there to do it the 36th time without losing my cool. I help him change his clothes if he needs it. I he’ll him deal with bullies and answer his questions about what to tell people about who I am. I even discipline him and scold him and explain to him why something he did is wrong. I answer his questions about god while somehow making sure to explain that I may know more things but I don’t necessarily know better. It’s hard to explain that in 8-year old vocabulary.
These things, this is not what friends do.
And after I thought that for the first time, all those continuing bits of advice about being his friend started to feel annoying. I’m annoyed by this blasé depiction of stepparent-ing, as annoyed as I am by the vilification of step parents. I get it, I’m not his mother, I never made a play to be that. Nor do I feel the desire or really understand the sentiment behind this child is mine. I don’t want to claim possession over a person, I have no interest in that.
But I have even less interest in the method of treatment meted out to step-parents. I understand that I may not have anything worthwhile to add to the narrative of parenting because I have barely any experience and all the experience I do I have I don’t necessarily know I did it right, but I deserve not to be dismissed when expressing a view on parenting because the child is not really mine. There is no difference between the responsibilities taken by me and my neighbour who has two children of her own. So I should be as much of a right as her to talk about his?
I don’t like being dismissed as a friend while being expected to have the responsibilities of a parent. It’s annoying.