Sometimes I have a wake-up moment that reminds me of the instinct a mom has for her young.  At the same time, I can’t help but compare this instinct to the ways I’ve parented my stepchildren. Neither approach is right or wrong – it’s just different.

After I dropped my daughter off at last Saturday’s sleepover party, I joined a bunch of moms who were chatting on the front stoop before taking off to enjoy their evenings.  One of them mentioned a phrase that caught my attention:  “…after I check on my kids at night to make sure they’re still breathing.”

“Oh my gosh!”  I exclaimed.  “I thought I was the only one who went in and checked if my kid was breathing!”  (I also joked about thinking I was a little bit of a freak to do so).  Slowly, around the circle, all the moms acknowledged that they did this nightly.

On the way home, I felt reassured and yet sad.  I can’t remember ever once checking to make sure my stepkids were breathing after I tucked them in at night.  Maybe it was because their father played that role.  But no matter the reason, it never even occurred to me to check their breathing.

Do I think this makes me a bad stepmom?  No. (And I did do some pretty nice tuck-ins.)  This lack of instinctive motivation simply underscores a difference between my parenting and my stepparenting.  As a stepparent getting to know the kids mid-development cycle, I learned to take care of them as opposed to acting from instinctual protective urges.

As stepparents, I think we do need to accept that some things are different and that’s okay.  Let’s also realize that our stepkids have these distinctions as well, often expressed in how they accept our love and parenting as compared to how they might accept the same from their mom, dad, or even aunt or grandmother.

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  To learn more about her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, visit

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1 Comment on Instinctual Realizations

  1. C4now says:

    “On the way home, I felt reassured and yet sad. I can’t remember ever once checking to make sure my stepkids were breathing after I tucked them in at night.”

    WOW, ok, I thought it was JUST ME. I don’t have any biological children of my own either so I guess that makes me a monster….LOL! I have never, done the “breath check”. Even worse, I have never “tucked them in”. From the age of 9 I have been in their lives and thought it was a bit old to be doing that sort of thing. They are now 14 and want their “space” but honestly, I don’t feel affectionate in a physical kind of way for them. I LOVE THEM but I sense a distance from them physically I can’t explain. I know in my heart that if they were my “bio” kids there would not be this longing in my heart to want to show affection for them. I can’t explain it. Ironically I went on a family vacation a while back and a young girl of 3 was my tag along most of the trip. Kids LOVE ME. She was so comfortable with me that she fell asleep in my arms in the middle of crowded room of folks. Her Mom whispered THANK YOU since she would not fall asleep for her! My step daughter looked MORTIFIED yet she nor her brother have NEVER shown such unabashed affections with me. My friends call me the “baby whisperer” because I do have a way with children and have been dubbed a “natural” at motherhood. Yet I don’t feel this connection with my step children. Personally, I believe it’s THEM and not me. I think showing affection may in some way betray their bio Mom. I KEEP WONDERING IF I WILL HAVE MY OWN SOME DAY. The verdict is still out on that one.

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