One model being used to describe and understand the step-parenting role is that of “babysitter.” For example, some argue that step-parents should have the babysitter privilege enforcing the rules set up by the parenting team. Here are five reasons this model is flawed.
1. This implies that the step-parent isn’t part of the parenting team. Just as a mother and father in a relationship may have different roles based on gender expectations, upbringing or choice, the step-parent may have a role in parenting, even if it isn’t the same as the biological parent. Using the babysitter model for a standard of step-parenting is restrictive and limits the possible arrangements that step-parents may choose or find themselves in.
2. Using the babysitter model for a step-parenting model reinforces the lack of current rights that a step-parent has. Many times the step-parent assumes the same role that an adoptive parent would, but lacks the stability and ability to care for the child that are given via the rights of adoptive parents. Specifically, this might mean a step-parent not being able to bring their step-child to a doctor or contact the school for information without permission of one or both parents, even in an emergency. If given permission of the parent, many times institutions will not respect the role of the step-parent due to their impression that step-parenting is a babysitting function.
3. Another reason that the babysitter model is flawed when it comes to step-parenting is that babysitters get paid and step-parents do not. Step-parents, like adoptive parents, choose the family unit/child and never get reimbursed for that choice. Instead, like parents, their reward is often intangible-a feeling of love, being part of a successful family, or simply making their mate happy.
4. Another issue with the model is that most babysitters don’t feel the same way about a child that a step-parent does because they don’t spend the same amount of time with the child in the course of a day or over the years. Also, most babysitters are not involved in a romantic relationship with the parent of the child they are babysitting. The emotional connection is both stronger and more complicated for step-parents than for babysitters.
5. Further, step-parents are not akin to babysitters because some step-parents don’t want the babysitter role-it really depends on the family dynamics, the gender roles of the couple, and how long the step-parent has been in the child’s life. A new step-parent may want to gradually ease into caring for a child, or at first be with the child as a family unit and not as a babysitter. A step-parent who has been in the child’s life longer than the child can remember may assume a much larger role than babysitter, often co-parenting in many aspects. A blended family with children from previous relationships can make the step-parents role even more like parenting, with an emphasis on rules being the same for all children.