I am a proud step-child. My parents were never right for each other, and despite all the bad advice going around where people say “you should stay together for the child” – they chose to do what was actually right, and to split up. Of course, I was still very young when they split up (they already knew they were wrong for each other before I was even born), but out of that mess I had something extra special: I ended up with four parents, where many of my friends only had two (some, only one).
For a long time, my step-parents actually did quite a bit more of my raising than my parents did. It’s not that my parents didn’t care, but it was often easier for my step-parents to handle things. My stepmother, for example, often worked nights, where my dad worked through the day. My stepdad was injured for a while, which meant he was home with me while my mom was at work. And, in some ways, I think that worked out to my benefit.
My step-parents also knew I was gay before my biological parents knew – or, at least before they acknowledged it. I remember growing up, my stepmom always made a point to tell me, “It’s okay to be gay.” By the same token, my dad tried to get me to stay in the closet for a little longer. My stepdad and I would go park by the lake and check out girls together, a few years before my mom started trying to set me up with every lesbian she knew.
(Thankfully, she only knew a few – I’m not really comfortable with my mom picking my girlfriend for me!)
Even when things got rocky, my step-parents were there for me – giving me the affection that my parents weren’t always able to, and basically picking up the slack whenever it was necessary. My stepmom has actually been divorced from my dad for almost ten years now, but I still talk to her more than I talk to him – and, in fact, I’m going to see her next weekend. The relationship a kid has with their step-parent is completely different than the relationship they have with anyone else in their lives, but (at least in my case) the step-parent helps shape the way they love in the future.
1. Step-children are all good with “ready-made families”.
Since our childhood revolved around someone who didn’t have to be there, but chose to be, we like the idea of being that person for someone else, too. I actually decided when I was very young that I’d rather adopt than have biological children. Whether I change my mind in the future is still up for discussion, but I’ve dated a number of women who had children, and the kids have never been a question to me.
2. Step-children know the difference between “want to” and “have to”.
Children who didn’t grow up with step-parents might feel the need to stay with someone because you love them. But step-children know that sometimes breaking up is the better option, because you have the chance to find someone who’s so much better than the person you’re unhappy with. If we stay with someone, it’s because they make us happy in ways that no one else has.
3. Step-children know that sometimes it’s good to have extras.
I remember one time when I was a kid, one of the chain stores had a sale on these really ugly sweaters. Apparently my mom and my stepmom hit the same sale, because I ended up with two identical ugly sweaters – but at the time I thought they were the coolest sweaters ever, and I had two of them. Step-children appreciate having spares and back-ups of their favorite things, and they know if you accidentally buy them something they already own, it means you know their taste pretty well.
4. Step-children know how to dream – and which dreams are realistic.
Even though adult-me knows that my parents splitting up was a good thing (and, to some effect, kid-me did, too), that doesn’t mean I didn’t have dreams about my parents miraculously fixing their problems and getting back together. In these dreams, my step-parents always seemed to end up with one another, too. Over time, kid-me learned to pick apart the pieces of the dream that were absolutely not going to happen, and I learned how to dream better.
5. Step-children know how important kind words can be.
My biological parents have always had a strong resentment for one another, and unfortunately I’ve gotten caught in the middle of that more times than I can count. But my step-parents were always the ones who came in and shut down the bad-parent-talk – reminding my biological parents that I was too young to hear the negative things about my other parent, because at six years old, an attack on your parent feels like an attack on half of yourself.
6. Step-children are grateful for the people who stick around.
There have been a lot of people who have come and gone from my life – some of them were step-parent-figures who just didn’t make the cut. But like I said above, I still talk to my stepmom on a regular basis, even though legally she’s lost her title. She’s still the woman who helped raise me, and just like she stood by me when she didn’t have to, I’m going to stick by her when I don’t have to.
7. Step-children will do whatever it takes to make it work – and they know you don’t have to stay in a bad relationship just because there’s a kid involved.
I hear so many people say that I “wouldn’t understand” their situation, because they have a child with their no-good cheating partner, so they can’t leave. But I do understand – I understand so well. While it’s important that a child has access to their parents if possible, that doesn’t mean that a bad relationship can magically be made better just because there’s a kid. Step-children know that a break-up doesn’t mean that they can’t still talk to their child – and they would never keep their child from the other parent(s).