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Added Bonus

Added Bonus

“This is unacceptable.  Can I talk to your supervisor?” The woman was irritated and barking demands.  I waited patiently in line to check my daughter in to Children’s Hospital for a shoulder injury.  I was called up to the next available receptionist and beside the irate woman. 

“I do not understand how this happened,” she complained further.  “She is NOT her mother. I am.”  Ah. I began to understand.  The receptionist explained that they had tried to call both parents and could not reach them.  Stepmom had brought the child in for medical care and they were obligated to provide it. Mom could not have cared less.  She was more interested in vilifying the stepmom’s actions.

I see it every day. Every.Day.

“That is not acceptable.  Your husband cannot pick up our child from school.  Olivia is not comfortable with that.” 

“Brea told me that your wife called her gross and that she is mean to her.”

“Why didn’t you let Madison and Grant come say hi to us at Clara’s   game?”   “Because Tom was with you.”

Of all things divorce, the introduction of stepparents is one of the top stressors for parents.  I remember with some shame my initial jealousy when my daughters talked about their pretty new stepmom.  I remember the first time I saw Sophia show her stepmom affection.  I wanted to cry, yell, and undo everything about our divorced status just to not have to see her treating another woman like her mom.

This year, around Father’s Day, I saw pictures and posts in my social media feed that made me pause.  I saw a reference to a “bonus parent” being acknowledged.  I saw the weekend after Father’s Day a stepdad get special recognition. His name is Billy and his family nickname was goat.  The weekend after Father’s Day the family celebrated “Goat Day” to acknowledge all that he meant to them and to the children as their stepdad.

What if instead of stepparents being treated as wicked, they were treated as a bonus?  My mind was blown.  In 20 years of working with divorced parents, this concept had never surfaced.  What if the fear was eliminated and instead the benefit appreciated?

What are we really afraid of? That a stepparent is going to wreck up our kids any worse than we might?   That more interest in our children’s well-being is a bad thing? 

No – the real fear is that our children will love their stepparent more than us.  That we will become irrelevant.  But isn’t it true that if we are doing our jobs well as parents, this could never be the case?  My suspicion is that if we focused on ourselves and our own parenting and stopped projecting our worries and fears onto a stepparent, this would be an added bonus.

Angela Dunne