Should I Just Give Up on Step-Parenting Books?

I have not tried this one yet.

I have been trying to read step-parenting books for about six months, and I think I’ve concluded that reading step-parenting books is significantly harder and less rewarding that step-parenting.

For a while now, Jesse and I have been talking about our plans to start our own family once his divorce goes through. But even before we get to that stage, I’m working on being the best future-stepmother I can be to Jesse’s daughter Ronia. And because I’m a nerd, part of my preparation process has been checking step-parenting books out of the library.

But the books I’ve looked at so far have been laughably unhelpful. One seemed to have been written by a woman who married a guy with only a loose understanding of what the words “I have kids” mean. The other was so vague and full of platitudes that its chapter summaries read like fortune cookies: “Strive to understand difficult issues and reframe them in a positive way,” and, “Family vacations can be bonding and great fun, but also very stressful without planning.”

Thanks, that’s very helpful.

Part of the problem is that the books are trying to address an incredibly wide range of issues, most of which are not at all relevant to me. Families with both parents bringing kids into the new marriage, or when there are multiple young or teenage stepkids, are addressed at great length. But there isn’t much written on adding just one young, cute, and precocious stepkid to your life. (And if you’re marrying a widow or widower, forget it, you have to write your own book because there’s nothing out there.)

I have pretty good instincts with kids, and I’ve had a good relationship with Ronia from the start, so I don’t feel totally in the dark as a step-parent, but it’s strange not to have any frame of reference with this stuff. This is probably the first thing I’ve gone through in my life where I didn’t know anyone else who has done it. Lots of my friends are parents, but the only step-mom I could find in my entire social network is a woman who married a widower, and when I got around to asking her about her experience, she was pregnant. “Mazal tov!” I told her, while silently mourning the fact that soon she’d be too busy with a new baby to chat with me about disciplining when you’re not the real mom.

I know that I don’t really need a step-parenting guide to be a step-mom. Ready or not, it will just happen, and just like other kinds of parenting, we’ll all do our best and make it up as we go along. It’s scary to jump into this whole family world without even a fear-mongering “What to Expect” guide, but I keep reminding myself that it was scary to fall in love with Jesse, knowing that he came with Ronia and all the complications of being a separated dad. And falling for Jesse has turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, so maybe this whole step-parenting thing will be just fine.

For more step-parenting insight, read about what happens after the divorce, a third-time mom and first-time dad, and a ritual for a step-mom.

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Tamar Fox

Tamar Fox is a writer and editor living in Philadelphia with her partner, step-daughter, and foster daughter. Her writing has been published in the Washington Post, the Jerusalem Post, Tablet, Lilith, and many others. Her children's book, No Baths at Camp, was published in 2013 by Kar-Ben and is a PJ Library selection.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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