STEP TALK with Alexandra Mortensen

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There are probably a variety of reasons why you want to be the best stepparent that you can. If nothing else, you want to succeed in your role out of respect and love for your spouse. Their children mean everything to them, and they mean everything to you. How can you not love an extension of who you love so much that you made a life with them?

But, as we know, parenting isn’t easy and stepparenting is no exception. So, how do you stepparent to the best of your ability? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best stepparents are also parents themselves. Why? I know for myself that one of the biggest challenges I face is how much my heart is invested in my relationship with my stepsons, but unlike a “regular” parent, I don’t feel that I have that same unbreakable bond—leaving my heart vulnerable.

My theory is that when a stepparent has a child or children of their own, that lessens the emotional weight. Your chips aren’t all tied up in one uncertain gamble, so to speak. The worst case scenario is that their stepchild doesn’t bond with them in the way they’d hoped, but they still get to experience the incredible journey of being a parent with their own child.

What do you do if you’re like myself and you’ve chosen to not have a child of your own? There’s been much debate about this in recent years, but I stand firmly in saying, if you have the means, become a dog or cat mom. For me, this has made all the difference. Some may call it silly, but having my “fur child” provides a sense of comfort for me. Unlike my stepsons, I am my dog’s only mom. I am who takes care of her medical needs, feeds her, walks her, and teaches her. And by the way she cuddles up to me and knows who to go to when her food bowl is empty, I think I serve a very special role for her, too.

Do I have some delusion that I can connect with my dog the same way parents do with their children? No, of course not. My dog is not going to scare me to death as she drives away by herself in her first car, make me proud as she walks across her high school graduation stage, or introduce me to my grandchildren. What she does do is help fill a void in my heart. It’s not that my stepsons don’t by any means, but during those times when I’m feeling unsure of how I’m supposed to fit into our family, I know right where I fit with my dog.

It works for me—and I believe it makes me a better stepmom.

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