I was on a flight a few weeks ago and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on behind me. Two men were talking and covering all the normal bases … Where are you headed? Where is home? Where do you work? What do you do? … and then the conversation ultimately turned to more personal topics. One guy asked the other, “Do you have kids?” I loved his response. He said, “I have two kids organically and three by merger.”
I love it! How “business appropriate.” They were speaking a language each could understand and relate to. I thought it was cute!
About a week later, I was speaking with a woman at a meeting who mentioned that her son calls her husband his “bonus-dad” as opposed to his “step-dad.” Also cute! What a great concept to refer to someone who technically isn’t his “real” dad as his “bonus” dad! It says so much about the bond they share and the important role he plays in his son’s life.
But, underneath these cute and unusual responses is a very real situation panning out in homes across the country every day. Stepparents play a huge and important role in the lives of the kids they are parenting. Stereotypically, we hear too much about the “evil step mom” or the “absent step dad” when really the women and men who step into these roles are so incredibly important.
Being a “bonus” parent isn’t a part-time job. It requires the ability to step into a routine that is typically already established, into norms that are already ritualized, into expectations that are already set, and blend into those norms without totally disrupting the natural rhythms of how things operate. It requires a sensitive blend of understanding how things work between the “real” parents, and being able to infuse some of his or her own personality into the mix of the parenting equation. Above all else, it requires being able to find comfort and satisfaction in being that “bonus” parent and carving out a unique role that builds a special bond between child, parent, “bonus” child, and spouse!
I have to say that I am so thankful for my husband and the “bonus” dad role he plays to my two teenagers. I will never forget when he told my kids that he had asked me to marry him. He asked their permission to be their step dad, and said, “You have a great dad, and I’m not trying to replace him, but I would certainly love to be your step dad. What do you think?” Five years later, I look at the bond he has created with my two kids, now teenagers, and I am so thankful for the way he has integrated into our lives, while still being respectful of honoring their “real” dad and their “bonus” mom. It takes a special man to be able to embrace all of these “additional” relationships. He thought he was getting a “wife.” Instead, he also got step kids, an ex, a step mom, new family, extended family, ex-family, a history, traditions, baggage, etc.
Being a bonus parent is hard work. I look at my husband, and at so many of my friends, both men and women, who have stepped into “bonus” parent roles. I look at people who have lovingly embraced all of their children, whether they occurred organically or via merger, and I am so grateful for their hearts that are capable of loving their “bonus” kids so fully.
Sometimes this requires an extra dose of “grace” as people unfamiliar with “bonus” parenting, and the extra pressure it frequently brings, ask silly, naïve, and frankly “stupid” questions about how it works. “Does he tuck the kids in at night when they are at your house?” “Does she make them do chores when they visit like she makes her own kids?” “How does it work when his kids come and visit? Do you let her call her ‘real’ mom?” Seriously people?
Bonus parents just make it work! They don’t get caught up in the “us and them,” but rather, they relish the “ours.”
As we take extra time this season to focus on what we are thankful for, I would like to say “thanks” to all the “bonus” parents out there who have stepped into the role and embraced it with all their heart, soul and might. I would like to thank my husband for recognizing that when he pursued me, he was actually pursuing an instant family! Talk about a “bonus!” He got three for the price of one! That beats any Cyber Monday deal out there!
Have you thought about stepparenting and do you think you would be up for the challenge?
Author Monique A. Honaman wrote “The High Road Has Less Traffic: honest advice on the path through love and divorce” (2010) in response to a need for a book that provided honest, real, and raw advice about how to survive and thrive through one of life’s toughest journeys, and “The High Road Has Less Traffic … and a better view” (2013) to provide perspectives on love, marriage, divorce and everything in between. The books are available on Amazon.com. Learn more at www.HighRoadLessTraffic.com.