Stepparenting: The Ultimate Part-Time Job

Stepmom talking to stepson

When I take something on, I’m all in. It took me the first third of my life to figure out what I’m not good at (basketball, math, volleyball, science, any sport involving a ball, anything involving numbers), and I’ve spent the remainder avoiding such tasks and activities. Instead, I dive headfirst into other opportunities. I’m an English teacher, a swim coach, and, since 2015, a stepmom. They pay me for the first two, so I can confidently say that I do a decent job in those roles. But stepparenting is a whole other gig.

I had no idea if I’d be a good stepmom and I still constantly worry whether I am, but I was ready as I’d ever be for the position. It didn’t necessarily require good ball handling (although I did purchase my first baseball glove in preparation) and I was “only” taking on one stepson (I can count to 1), so I jumped right in. Three and a half years later, however, I’m still finding my footing.

What makes stepparenting so darn tricky–beyond the instant parenthood, the ever-changing and ever-challenging bioparent dynamics, and the step-part of stepparenting–is that it’s often a part-time position. In my case, it’s a 50% position. So every few days or, now, every week, I find myself shifting into one reality or another. “It’s like one week you’re a newlywed and the next you’re a mom,” a fellow stepmom once told me. “Yes! EXACTLY!” I wanted to and maybe did scream in reply.

It makes it difficult to find your groove, especially since you’re new to both roles. And I want to do more than just find my groove; I want to master it. I want to be a great wife and a great stepmother. The quest continues.

Depending on the source, mastering requires various amounts of time and practice. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I was intrigued by his 10,000 hours rule, basically stating that mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice. Given 50/50 custody, logging 10,000 hours of “deliberate [stepparenting] practice” would mean I should have mastered things a little over a year ago. I did not. Even if you account for an average of 8 hours of sleep per night, during which I would not be actively “practicing,” I should just about be a master in the next few months…and I will not. It might be because I haven’t been “deliberately” practicing. It might also be because I have no clue what “deliberate practice” of stepparenting even looks like.

Thankfully, more recent studies have called Gladwell’s theory into question. In his book The Click Moment, Frans Johansson claims that such a theory is only applicable in areas that are highly structured. Read: NOT STEP/PARENTING. So then, how do I master stepparenting? Or, as you’re probably asking, who thinks they can actually master stepparenting? Fair enough.

It’s difficult enough just to get into the habit of stepparenting. Again, theories vary, but it’s been said that it takes 21 days or 28 days to make a habit. It’s also been said that it takes, on average, 66 days to change a habit. Either way, up until a few years ago, I was in the habit of being a single woman. There haven’t been 66 or even 21 consecutive days since then that I’ve been an active stepmom. So each time I pick up my stepson, it’s like trying to regain my sea legs. My step legs, maybe? Whatever you call it, it ain’t easy. I often feel that I’m stumbling my way through (I am. I am stumbling my way through).

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s going to have to be. I’m doing my absolute best. It ain’t easy and any and every stepparent will tell you that. So I’m not going to pretend that it is. And I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers or that I don’t make mistakes.

I’m just doing my best. I’m learning on the job.


Amy Menzel is a high school English teacher who lives and works in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She’s also a writer, a coach, a wife, and a stepmother, and strives to be better in each role every day. She’s an avid reader and an avid runner and aspires to be a more avid blogger. She blogs at Recalculating: a life.