Step and Single Parents: Heroes or Villains?

As parents, it often seems like we can’t get things right, but the judgments and expectations are far worse for single and stepparents. Have you ever noticed that single dads and stepdads are often seen as heroes, while single moms are seen as never doing enough and stepmoms are just plain evil?!

Single moms, while revered by their adult children for all of the hardships they endured (Cue TuPac), aren’t very often cut slack while the kids are minors. After all, women in general, need to lean in lest they be slackers. They need to be everywhere and do everything up to society’s standards, but meet a single father who has custody of his kids and watch the accolades roll in! The man is a martyr! He’s clearly altered the course of his life for his children. Gag.

A similar double standard applies to stepparents. The mere mention of a stepmother conjures images of the evil queen, a trophy-wife, upgrade with ulterior motives who must be jealous of the step-kids and therefore cannot be trusted. A stepdad, however, has clearly filled a void in a family. He’s a role model, a provider, and a saint for stepping in when another man stepped out. Finally, there’s someone to throw the ball around with Little Carter and take Little Olivia to that daddy-daughter dance!

I know I sound bitter, but I’ve got enough experience in this field to write a book, let alone a blog post. And for every naysayer, I know there are 20 people cheering anyway. Allow me to explain.

Some single fathers and stepfathers are heroes. Some single moms really have given up and aren’t doing all they should. (In fact, I adopted a child of a single mom who completely walked out and abandoned her offspring!) And yes, some stepmothers have serious issues to sort out and treat stepchildren unfairly. More often than not, however, single and stepparents simply aren’t perceived equally to their counterparts.

When I met my ex-husband, he was a young, single father with full custody of his little girl. He had no problems getting the ladies to pay him attention and it was clear to see why: there he was, this tattooed and hardworking guy, raising an adorable, pink-clad princess all on his own. The story was that her mother jumped ship and he was left to navigate uncharted waters alone. He worked multiple jobs to keep them afloat. Of course, there is much more to this tale, but the point is the common misperception. I can honestly say I fell for him for different reasons and didn’t buy into the poor, single dad narrative. You see, I was raised by a single mother, so I didn’t think that he was doing anything commendable. I thought he was doing what anyone who chooses to bring a child into this world ought to do.

Even though everyone thought it was an absolute crime that the girl didn’t have a mother, the moment I stepped into the role, the same people tried to burn me at the stake. How dare I come in and try to parent? Couldn’t I just be her friend? Imagine for a moment that I had taken the stepdad approach, coming home, living my own life, going out with my friends, and staying out of the discipline aspect of parenting all together. It would have been said that I wasn’t doing enough.

So I propose that we all take an honest look at the stereotypes of the savior step and single dads, and the evil and slacking step and single moms and think twice before applying them. Pop culture isn’t always representative of real life. Let’s view all parents equally, with compassion, knowing that parenting is always hard and that being either a step or single parent of either gender adds unique challenges to an already difficult job.

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Chel, a married mother of two, moved to Southfield from Southwest Florida in 2016 and has thoroughly enjoyed immersing herself in all things Detroit. She loves pizza, wine and all forms of art (the more eccentric, the better). She has a special place in her heart for Santa Fe, New Mexico; a passion for social justice and civic engagement; and often laughs at her own jokes. As a practicing optimist, Chel searches for the silver lining in whatever life throws her way. She hopes to inspire and support other women on their journeys through various life transitions. Read about her experiences and find coaching support over at her site, Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (@chelbellguild).


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