I want to start out by saying I don’t actually know if I am a parent. I didn’t birth any children or raise them from infancy. I don’t have the daily responsibility of shuttling kids from school to soccer practice to the choir concert. I haven’t ever had a teenager slam the door in my face- though I have had one hang up on me. So am I even a parent?
My girlfriend has three kids. From the start, I have been pretty involved with her family. The kids have liked me since the day I met them and we have had many family outings and vacations spent together. I think the kids look at me as a parent figure- though I can’t ever feel too sure of that. I don’t want to inject myself into a role that other people don’t feel comfortable with me being, so I am constantly navigating the questions of who am I and how do I fit in these relationships and in this family.
I don’t know when a significant other becomes a step parent, officially. I am involved but always from a distance. The kids live in a different state so I can’t go to every orchestra concert and be there to help with homework the way their mom does. I don’t ever have to be the one who stops kids from bickering or who has to diffuse an angry child. I never have to tell anyone I need space to calm down or worry that a kid will be banging on my door when I am trying to take a few minutes to myself.
I talk to the kids’ mom regularly and I often know more about what happening with them before my girlfriend does. I have sat in on IEP meetings and helped with homework. I provide input on consequences and help guide big decisions. As far as my girlfriend and her co parent are concerned, I’m a parent, 100%. If that is true, why don’t I feel like I am? And am I a fraud for calling myself one or referring to her kids as my/our kids?
I can count the ways in which I do parent like things. I can also count the times when I sit back and let their “real” parents deal with whatever issue arises. I don’t know that I will ever feel like a parent from such a far distance. I am honestly not sure I want to. Parenting is a lot of work and it is terrifying. I have the luxury of being in a bubble where parenting cant impact my daily life. Does that make me a bad parent, enjoying the fact that I don’t have to parent every day? Does that negate any parent I may have in me already?
If I am not a parent, then I don’t know who I am in these kids’ lives. If I am actually a parent, holy shit.