The Role of a Step-Parent

By Olivia Mounet

 

How do you define yourself?

A Muslim? A student? A brother or sister? Daughter or son? Mother or father? Typically how we define ourselves is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we rarely take the time to think about who we are and what defines us. However, if you were to take a few moments to really think about what roles are important to you and where you fit in within these relationships, you’ll realize just how important they are to you. If we dig a little deeper within ourselves we’ll also realize that each of these relationships and definitions have key factors. For example, if you are an older sibling like myself, you might think of being an older sibling as being protective and caring of your younger brother or sister and your role in that relationship is clearly defined. The same goes for if you are a husband or a wife. Not every marriage is the same but we are aware of what we do within each of these relationships and what our responsibilities are.

 

The role of a mother

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In the Hadith of our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) we are taught: “Your Heaven lies under the feet of your mother” (Ahmad, Nasai). We are also taught that we should obey and respect our mothers and take care of them as they age: “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood'” (17:23-24).

If you are a mother, then you know how much you would give up just to see your child grow to be happy and healthy and to be a loyal servant of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). If you are not a mother, you can surely think of something your mother did to help you, regardless of how close you are to her or the type of relationship you have with her. This mother-child relationship is clearly defined both in our own minds and in the beauty of the Qur’an.

 

The role of a step-parent

However, what about step-parents? How can one define this role? After much thought and internal struggle the only way I can define my personal role as a step-parent is: CHALLENGING. Now this isn’t to say that being a biological parent is easy by any means, but the challenges are different. As a step-parent the hardest thing to accept is that, no matter how much you love your spouse’s child, they aren’t your own and therefore the rules are different for you whether you like it or not.

First let me take the most “ideal” situation for step-parents: you’ve married your spouse who has an infant child from a previous marriage and his or her ex-spouse is 100% out of the picture and your spouse views you as his or her child’s mother. The child grows up viewing you as his or her rightful mother with all powers and responsibilities bestowed upon you as a mother and everyone lives happily ever after. This situation almost never happens.

Here’s what really happens: you fall in love with your spouse for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and you convince yourself that it can’t be that hard to take care of his or her child since at some point in life you want children of your own, (and you’ve taken care of your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.) so how hard can it be? Oh and that ex-spouse? Well he or she will move on and we’ll all be friends and everything will be wonderful. Then, you and your spouse get married and you’ve spent lots of time with the child or children and inshaAllah they have accepted you into their family either because they are too young to understand what’s happening or you’ve spent painstaking hours explaining to them that you could never replace their mother/father, even though very deep down within yourself, that’s exactly what you want to do but you refuse to admit that to yourself.

Typically, at least within the western world, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation every other week or so. That means, that as a step-parent, one week it’s just you and your spouse living as a couple, and then the next week you’re a mother or father… kind of. And then the next week you’re not. And so on for the next 18 years of your life.

 

The different relationships that a step-parent is face with

Now while mothers have that 1 relationship with their child, a stepmother or stepfather has 3 relationships to worry about: their relationship with the child, their relationship with their spouse regarding the child, and their relationship with their spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife.

  1. Relationship with the child

I’ll start with the relationship with the child, which for me was the easiest. My husband’s child was only 1 year old when we got married (he’s almost 3 now alhamdulilah). This relationship was the easiest because I learned to love him quite quickly and he was too young to really understand why suddenly he has “2 mommies.” The key word here is I “LEARNED” to love him. As much as I wish I could say “and then I looked in his eyes and that unconditional love took over me,” I can’t. I did not create this baby with my husband, I did not carry him for 9 months, I did not give birth to him, and I had not been around to see his first year of life. Furthermore, as much as I hated myself for thinking it, I really did not like having him around at first because he was a constant reminder that my husband had wanted to have him with someone else. These feelings continued for quite some time until the child began calling for me. Suddenly I was the only one who could put him to bed, make his food, or give him a bath. He didn’t want his daddy to do it, he wanted me… his stepmother to do it. That’s when I fell in love. When he needed me like a mother, I felt like a mother and suddenly things weren’t as difficult. I knew my role with him and I could define it to myself and I stopped introducing him to people as “my husband’s son” and started introducing him as “my stepson.”

  1. Relationship with your spouse

The second relationship you have as a step-parent is the one you have with your spouse regarding the child. This is very different to the relationship you have with your spouse as a husband or a wife. The hardest aspect of this relationship is trying to figure out how your spouse wants you to act toward their child. Alhamdulillah my husband was more than willing to step aside and let me handle bed time, meal time, and bath time, and let me take the child out by myself, or stay alone in the house with him. In time he even let me discipline his son when he was having a tantrum, as most 2 year olds do. However, this is not the case for many stepmommies or stepdaddies. A type of power struggle typically evolves as a result of this complicated relationship. Some parents don’t want their spouse to discipline their child or take over certain roles because they feel they are being pushed out. A normal human response to losing control is to fight back and try to take control of everything. It is not unusual for spouses to fight over their roles in the child’s life and for the biological mother or father to tell the step-parent that it’s “not their job to do that” when it comes to a responsibility they feel is rightfully theirs as the biological parent. In this situation typically the step-parent will withdraw completely and want nothing to do with the child because they don’t want to upset their spouse. In addition, it’s mentally exhausting and emotionally draining to check yourself at every step and have to wonder “is this my responsibility or my husband’s/wife’s?” There is no outlined way in any psychology book or therapy manual to tell you how to resolve this issue. It normally takes an inordinate amount of patience from both sides and strong communication skills in order to overcome this challenge.

  1. Relationship with spouse’s ex

The third and final relationship you have as a step-parent is your relationship with your spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. This can either be the most frustrating, enraging, and downright painful relationship you’ll ever have, or it’ll be the easiest. If, on the rare occasion, the divorce was amicable and both parties accepted that the relationship between them did not work and have both moved on and accepted that each will most likely remarry and their child will have two mothers and two fathers, then this relationship for the step-parents is relatively simple. However, more likely than not, the divorce was not pleasant for either party and some hostile feelings remain. Since both parties are normally told by family and friends to ignore each other and just move on with their lives, those hostile feelings need to come down on someone. So why not the person that your ex-spouse marries and is trying to “move in on your child?” It’s easy to understand the logic behind it: they’re resentful of the fact that they will always be tied to the one person they don’t want to remember, they’re angry that their ex has moved on which makes them feel replaced, they don’t have the typical nuclear family and often get uncomfortable or even rude comments from others in the community, and their child is calling someone else mama or dada. I can’t say that I would feel or act any differently if the roles were reversed.

However, that justification gives little solace to step-parents. Typically in our lives if there is someone we don’t particularly care for, we can keep him or her at a distance and limit communication with them. This doesn’t work in this scenario. The person that is taking their frustrations out on you is the mother or father of your stepchild for whom you care very deeply. In turn, you have to accept that the child loves this individual and you cannot let your own personal feelings for their mom or dad show in front of them. Furthermore, this ex-spouse is a constant, never-ending reminder that the man or woman you married and love did not choose you first. You are second. You might be the “right one” but you will never be the “first one.” You’ll never be his or her first spouse or first mother or father of their child. Never. And their ex-spouse will always be there, either through that 6am angry text message or at pick-ups and drop-offs or when your spouse has to make that direct deposit into their ex’s bank account for child support. They will never go away and you just have to accept it.

 

Other challenges

Besides these 3 relationships you’ll have as a step-parent, there’s a whole host of other challenges. What do your parents say about you marrying someone who already has children? What does the community think? How do you comfort your spouse when they have to drop-off their child every other week to their ex-wife or ex-husband and they don’t realize that it hurts you just as much? What do you say when someone asks you if you have children? What do you do when you disagree with something that the child’s parents have decided to do? How do you reconcile having absolutely no legal authority over a child that you consider to be your own? How do you define being a step-parent?

The hardest part for me about being a step-parent is that no matter how much I love my stepson, no matter how supportive my husband is, and no matter how well I control my feelings towards his ex-wife, I will always have to put “step” before “parent” and that will never get any easier. I make dua for all the step-parents out there that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes it easier for you and that you achieve Jannah for everything you go through and everything you sacrifice as a step-parent. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) bless all the stepmoms and stepdads out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Take solace in pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and turn to Him when it get’s too hard.

If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust. (Quran, Surah Aal-e-Imran, 3:160)

 

Olivia Mounet spent her early childhood in Scotland and then London before moving to the United States. Upon graduating high school she moved to Germany where she completed her Bachelors degree in Integrated Social and Cognitive Psychology. She is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology for Children and Adolescence as well as her Certification in School Psychology. Upon graduating she is planning to work as a School Psychologist to assist students with learning disabilities. She currently works with The Building Blocks of NJ, a non-profit agency, to provide one-on-one counseling with sisters in the area.

 

 

17 / View Comments

17 responses to “The Role of a Step-Parent”

  1. Daagh says:

    Lovely mashaallah

    • AmaturRahman says:

      May Allah reward you for any good that you said, and forgive you for any wrong ameen.
      A few things: I am the ex-spouse. I do not desire my childrens father at all. We have both moved on.
      You said some nice things but other things you’ve said are the very reasons why I am on guard with the new wife.
      1) I as a mother cringe at the idea that you or any other woman would want to be the mother of a child that isnt yours. You can help the father out and you can love a child as you should love any little Muslim. But to say you deep down want to be the mother of a child that is not orphaned, will have a lot of women say “Take a few steps back from my babies, take a deep breath, and have your own children” Kids only have 1 MOTHER. And her right upon her children are 3x’s as great as the fathers. So how much less is yours? With that said.
      2) Discipline? What kind of discipline? And how frequently. Because forget about your husband. You would have to worry about Mommy, in that respect. If a woman is like me, then A. Dont you ever put your hands on my child and B. Make sure you exercise some patience with my kids. We all know that normally, the patience you can have with a child, is nowhere near the patience of the biological mother. A biological mother knows her child in ways you cant. And she knows how to deal with them to get the results you want. So,maybe you should consult with the real mommy when you feel you need to discipline sometimes.
      3) Call you mommy? Are you serious? Do you know in American courts that would cause problems for your husbands visitation? If I found out the step mom was having my kids call her mommy, we would have to have a serious talk. And if it isn’t resolved, it could result in action being taken.
      By the end of this post, we are probably saying the same thing “Glad you’re not the Woman that I have to deal with. Alhumdulilah!” Nevertheless ,May Allah continue to guide and bless us in this life and the hereafter, ameen.

  2. Ghazi says:

    A well written article delving into most aspects of being a step parent. It is challenging for sure. I’m not sure how different it is between genders for someone elses kids. As a step father myself, I do struggle but often wonder how is the struggle for a step mother in comparison. At the end of the day, I look at the Prophet (pbuh) as a role model since he was a step father to Zaid. Hard to mirror but its worth every blood, sweat and tear when you do it as close to as he did it. So as long as I’ve followed the sunnah, I’ve been ok but the moment my ego or feelings of they are someone elses kids get in the way, thats when it gets hairy.

  3. I found this article quite interesting, mashaAllah.
    Does anyone have any insight in situations where one biological parent is completely out of the picture and the other step-parent fully serves in that missing role? I’m curious as to others’ experiences, if they’ve been through this.

    • LearningArabic says:

      I’ve heard of situations where one parent passes away, then the other parent remarries after some time.

    • MuslimahUK says:

      Alhamdulillah i have been raising my daughter now for two years, with my husband. Her biological mother had another child with a different partner before my daughter, and she abandoned both her children when they were just 4 & 2 years old. She left them in a shop and decided not to come back. My husband tried to bring her back to her senses and went through court, however she did not want her children at all. Eventually the boy went to his biological father and we have our daughter. Despite her knowing that she had a real mum, she does not want to talk of her at all. She is now 5 years old, and she respects me as her own mum and loves me equally as much as i love her.
      I was previously married and ive had miscarriages. I feel that Allah has granted me a priceless gift and i need to preserve that gift of having her as my own.
      Your children are not yours, just because you gave birth to them doesnt mean you have the gift of raising them. Everything in this world is there for a test and for you to use, NOT to abuse!

  4. Amuslimah says:

    MashaAllah this is a great article. There should be more conversation in the muslim community about step parents in a positive light as the bother Ghazi stated it’s a good starting point to take example in the prophet Muhammad saws and his family and leave out any ego and personal feelings. I have so many questions as a step mother myself. May Allah make it easy for all of us. Ameen

  5. Laudi says:

    Very good article. I became step mom myself. The situation is complicated and different than yours. My step daughter is 15. I came to her life year ago. And we connected quicker than I thought. I was really happy that we share interests and can respect each other so easily. Problem is that she lives with my husband’s sister. Few houses down. And calls my sister in law – mother. It’s very upsetting for my husband and it affects our relations between my step child and me. My husband snd his ex wife divorced when the child was 9 months old and my husband got full custody over her , since her mother is a pathological liar and has psychological issues. After few years and many hours of counseling later, he allowed her mother occasional visits. And funny enough, she’s not a problem in this whole thing. She sees my daughter once every two months and I’m happy about it. Even tho she’s not the best person in the world I would never deny the fact that she’s her mother. Problem is my sister in law. My husband was a single father for 14 years. He spend this time to raise her in Islam and did everything he could to be the best father. But he had to work and had his own business that he just started. He bought a house close to his sister, because she offered every help. He trusted her with his child. He would drop her off in the morning at his sister’s and pick her up straight after work. Every weekend he would take her somewhere special and made sure she understood as she was growing up, that he’s doing all that work for her. He’s an excellent father. And I can’t wait till we have children together. Problems started when his sister would say : oh she’s sleeping , let her stay here for the night. It started to happen more often. She could not have children. She took over his child. Her husband and her started to call themselves mom and dad. And that’s why child referred to them. My husband obviously was really upset and more family got involved in this. They tried to explain that the couple can’t do that. But they just started doing it behind every ones backs. My husband got really depressed and tried to solve it. But they just lied and lied. Daughter was told all her life that : daddy doesn’t love you, daddy doesn’t have time for you. Well, daddy worked hard to secure her future. He set up the account for her, so in case something happens she had college fund, first rate for the house etc. she is convinced it’s from her aunt. Not him. He also never received child support from his ex wife. And never told her daughter that. She stays at her aunts house most of the week. Because otherwise her aunt is upset and psychologicly torments her. I mean even on days when child is with us and we have family time and k try to bond with her more, her aunt would call 57536 times because she needs her back for some reason. Because of all that we started to distance from each other. She started being disrespectful to me, she would not talk to me , she would ignore me. Especially in front of her aunt. My husband tried solving this but what say those he have anymore. I mean his child was stolen 14 years ago. She would not call her aunt -mom in front of him. But would do it with me around. She would show her aunt lots of affection if I’m in the room. We have been on family trip for past few days. And I have had it. She speaks Urdu 24/7 knowing that I don’t understand it. Well all of them do. But she’s my friend as much as she’s my step kid. I thought she would translate. Because we spoke about it before the trip. But since her aunt is present she just won’t speak English. They all know English well. It’s just to show me that I’m not welcomed. I never said ‘no’ to any of her aunts requests. Whenever she needs my help she will get it. Whole year I have been showing both of them most respect and do whatever I could for them. I would cover for my step kid, never repeat her secrets, try to explain to get that her dad loves her so much and we spend hours talking about her before marriage. She was his main concern and we did a lot of talking about her needs etc. just so I had a little heads up before we become family. He did the same with her. And me and her spoke on the phone and really liked each other. Things changed when she started going back to her aunts house. Because few moths after nikkah she spend most of the time with us. And it was great. Today she disrespected me so much that I decided to stay at a family member house instead of spending eid on traveling to next state where we were all invited and I could meet part of family that I don’t know yet. Her aunt seemed pretty happy about me not going. I cry every day of this trip. I feel so lonely. Because of her aunt and her behavior towards me. It’s so mean and disrespectful. I hold it all in. I don’t want to argue, make scenes or act up in front of whole family. But I have had it. Enough is enough. Honest to Allah swt, I did all I could to have great relations with her and her aunt. I sacrificed a lot. And was always there for both of them. I wish someone explained with sources how we are suppose to deal with things like that. There have to be rules about family involvement and limits towards kids. And rules about step parent – step child relations. I don’t want to just explode one day and bring up all that to nobody. But without clear vision of duties and rights in this situation I really don’t know how much longer I can keep it in me.

    • Noor says:

      I have the same problem… but with my step-mom. She hides my stuff, talks about me, and disrespects me. Honestly, I try to be respectful or ignore what she does. I’m 17 years old, so I try not to act up or do anything about it because I’ll be leaving the house soon do to University. But, I can’t take it. Everytime I make a mistake, even a tiny mistake she complains to my dad. She’s even rude to my dad, and asks money from him 24/7. I don’t know what I did to her to make her so mad about me. One time I accidently hit her biological son and she told my dad in front of me if I did it again, she’d knock my teeth out. Really? It’s an empty threat, and It didn’t phase me. It moreso just made me confused on whether I was accepted in her family or not. Almost everyday I make du’a for my family and I also include her. And I ask Allah to make things between us better. I also forgive her. I just continue to work hard and I mind my own business in the house. I avoid her and anything that’d make her complain again. I would imagine because she’s Muslim she’d treat me better, because if I had step-kids I’d treat them like my own just like the Prophet (SAW) did. But, alas, not all Muslims have good character. There’s bad in everyone. As a stepmom like yourself, how do I deal with mine? I’m confused. I hope you can guide me in sha Allah.

      • AmaturRahman says:

        And your example, my dear, Is the reason why Step Moms should know their place. And why Real Moms like me, are protective over their children. And why your father, should be in tune with you, his daughter, because he is your protector in that household and her Mahram. Please take some time away with your father. Father daughter time, and very maturely control your emotions and have a talk with him about the situation so that he can have the opportunity to rectify the household. May Allah help you ameen. But be a good girl and have patience and say Allahu Musta’aan alot

  6. aisha noor says:

    I am a step mother too and I face slot of challenges with the child of my husband but , it’s for the sake of Allah, and if I can make something out of the child, I will do it for the rewards alone.

  7. Ros says:

    Salam Sis.

    Wow some nasty comments here..from Real Moms. Insecurity much? Clearly shows, the issues imbedded within that results in divorce!

  8. my-iddah says:

    […]   (This piece was originally published at MuslimMatters)     How do you define yourself?   A Muslim? A student? A brother or sister? […]

  9. Faria says:

    The article is more than awesome and outstanding. I have also two kids spend their day with me (stepmom) sunday. But unfortunately we have met at their age of 5 and 7. So that they love confusionly. And sometimes its great challenge to deal with agressivness. But you advice to pray. Thats the only key. Thanks alot

  10. Ndeye Ndiaye says:

    Now i have seen some very positive energy about the stepmoms here which i really loved. I am a step daughter an i have gone through some rough things in my life with my stepmom which that affected all my life and still does…i just handle it better now and wish every step mom loved their stepchild as their own and stop faking to love them when daddy or other people are around because allah sees everything…it is really difficult i swear specilly i have siblings but my stepmom teachs them how to compete with me and to disrespect me but any way i always pray for them may allah make us get along ?

  11. Muhammad says:

    Mashallah Sister beautifully written.Im a step Dad and I understand how difficult it is with all the challenges that we face on daily basis. May Allah make it easy for you.

  12. Khadija says:

    Very nice article mashallah but my problem is a bit different and I would love to hear some views on it, I get along with my step kids and don’t have much interaction with their mothers, my issue is my mother in law and sister in law who despite knowing how much I love the kids don’t want us to function as a family, my step son is 18 so he doesn’t come very often but my step daughter who is 10 both women just keep her to themselves, they don’t want me to cook for her (I have seen a message from them to my husband asking him not to let me cook for her) what they have started doing is that to keep her away from me, they keep her away from her father and I feel so bad because she only comes for her father and they are taking that away from her as well. I have now started distancing myself from my step daughter but it makes me feel really bad that we could have been a family and they are taking it away from us and another thing I feel which might sound bad but due to some health problems I might not be able to have kids which is why I wanted to love his kids like mine but I really wish if I ever (inshallah) have kids I am not letting them near them, maybe it will make them understand how I feel.

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