Being a stepparent is a close second. If anyone tries to tell you being a stepparent isn't challenging, they're lying.
I am lucky to be a stepmother to two wonderful girls. They are sweet, caring and compassionate. They are also full of attitude and are constantly trying to assert themselves. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but they haven't quite figured out how to reign it in to an appropriate level.
Our situation isn't ideal because they live three hours away. We see them every other weekend, six weeks over the summer, every other Thanksgiving and spring break and a week every other Christmas. There is a lot of back-and-forth between their two homes. They have also been bounced around to various different schools and homes with their mother and it all just changed for them again.
Kids are extremely resilient, but it is still a lot for them to handle. They have one set of rules at their mother's house and a different set here. Unfortunately there is no communication with their mother in regards to being on the same page when it comes to rules and consequences.
Suddenly, my stepkids go from being the (mostly) better behaved of the four to being regular kids. They bicker just as much, give just as much attitude and generally behave just like the two that are with us full time.
Then their dad comes home from work and suddenly they're back to the "every other weekend" kids as far as their behavior goes. They are incredibly smart and know how to turn it on and off.
It is fascinating for me to watch. Neither of them can help but get involved in everyone else's arguments, just like my daughter does. One has figured out just the right time to step away to make it look like she wasn't involved, the others aren't quite there yet.
I actually take it as a compliment that they behave like "normal kids" when they are with me. To me it says they are comfortable with me, and are able to let down their guards. Some would say they don't fear me like they do their dad, and that I should be tougher on them. Maybe that is the case, but if it is, that is fine with me. I don't want any of my children to fear me.
I don't mean that in a bad way. They love their dad more than anything. He is stern, but they know what to expect. They fear consequence with him, hence the change in behavior when he is around. But they also feel safe with him.
One of the girls is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. She freaks out to the point of shaking, crying and all but hiding under the bed. She doesn't do that when she is with us. Maybe it is because we don't feed into it. We acknowledge that the fear is real, but we don't make a big deal out of it. She was visiting some family recently and called us freaking out. When she was asked why she doesn't do that with us she said "because my daddy is there and I am comfortable with him".
I adore my stepdaughters more than anything. I don't refer to them as my stepdaughters (aside from when I am writing). They are my kids. Just like my birth kids. Everyone says they look more like me than my own children. I know they love me, but sometimes I think they feel like they shouldn't, especially one of them. They are twins but they have totally different personalities. One is just like their dad, the other is just like their mom. One is laid back, go with the flow and sarcastic. The other is drama-filled, neurotic and easily upset.
It isn't about how much I love them, or that I love one more than the other. It is just different. And that is natural and okay. I don't expect my husband to love my children the same way he loves his, but I do expect him to treat them the same. It isn't the children's fault that they are stepchildren. They deserve to be told they are loved just as much as the biological children. They also deserve to be disciplined the same as the biological children, and vice versa.
Recently I wrote a post to the woman who ends up marrying my ex husband. It was a set of guidelines on how I hope she will treat my children. I try to live by the same set of rules when it comes to my stepkids. I spend time with them, tell them I love them and don't force my personal beliefs on them. Unfortunately, my husband's ex is a woman who wants me to have no say and nothing to do with any of the decisions regarding my stepdaughters. She doesn't want me involved, that is, until she needs someone to watch them on spring break on her year, or for an extra day after our weekend because she is out of town.
I have given up trying to communicate with her. I leave that up to hubs. I am still involved with decisions, just not directly. Hubs still asks my opinion and discusses everything with me first. She doesn't like that I have a good relationship with her daughters. I have it on good authority that when they were younger and used to go home after a weekend with us they would tell her how much they loved me and how much fun they had, and she hated it. That is so sad to me. I dream of the day my ex settles down with someone who loves my children as much as I love my stepdaughters.
I never anticipated how challenging it would be raising stepchildren. I not only have to worry about what I say or do having some long lasting, negative affect on them, but I have to worry about how they, and everyone else, perceives me. I have to hope they take me seriously, not only when we're having fun, but also when I am having to discipline them. When they question me, the old "because I'm your mother" isn't applicable.
All I can do is love them with all my heart, discipline them the way hubs and I have agreed is appropriate and hope that they know just how much they mean to me.