It is no secret that the nuclear family is evolving. There are same sex parents raising children. There are single parents doing it completely alone. There are split families; sometimes with 4 parents, sometimes 3 and sometimes just 2. Sometimes you just have a biological parent and a step parent raising a child with no input at all from the other biological parent. The number of grandparents that some children have is astonishing.
Some of these living situations are put into place by a court order. Some are made out of desire. Some are just the only way that all involved can live.
Statistics are pretty flooring when you read that according to Stepfamily.org “50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 are currently living with one biological parent and that parent’s current partner”.
Half the kids in the country under high school age have a step-parent. Yet there are almost no rights given to these parental figures that are helping to raise and love other people’s children.
In 2009 Jacquelyn Fletcher wrote a blog post about how her step-kids were denied getting library cards because she wasn’t their legal guardian. The post was making its rounds on the internet again a few weeks ago and caught my attention.
I am a step-parent. I am a biological parent. I am just a parent. These are my kids. All of them.
I am the primary caregiver to an amazing little girl who I couldn’t love more if I had birthed her. I have been the only mother figure she has had for more than half of her six and a half year old life. Her mother has made the decision to not be a consistent part of her life and I am in every way her mother. Her mother is also recently married to a man who has never met her daughter.
He has the same rights that I do. He has never even met her. I kiss her scrapes, help with her homework, dry her tears and soothe her when she is sick.
In most states the fact that there is nothing legally binding a step parent to their step children is just how it is. I am, in essence, breaking the law every time I take her to the doctor. Every time I sign one of her school papers. Every time I attend a parent/teacher conference.
The list goes on and on.
I understand that not all situations are like mine. I understand the need to keep a majority of the “parental” decisions between the two biological parents. I understand that there are just as many crappy step-parents as there are crappy biological parents. I understand a parent’s internal desire to keep all the rights to their children all to themselves.
However this can find step-parents and the children they raise in a pretty scary situation sometimes. Sometimes you can plan around a situation, sometimes you can’t.
My family lives on the border of three states. You can literally cross state lines just to have lunch. I could get arrested for kidnapping if someone really wanted to, just for taking my daughter 15 minutes west to go to Olive Garden. I keep a notarized paper that my husband signed saying I have permission to remove her from the state in my glove box, but who knows what that would really do if it came down to it.
Now we get to the nitty gritty of authorizing medical care. This is the one that really scares the beejeebus out of me. Almost a year ago I was in a pretty nasty car accident and all three of my children were in the car with me. Thankfully we are escaped the accident with bumps and bruises, which is amazing considering there was 13,000$ worth of damage done to my Nissan Pathfinder. The EMTs were the first on the scene and they quickly triaged the kids and I. Then they asked me I was the mother of all the children in the car. There was no hesitation or thought about it, I answered a simple question.
What if the accident had been worse? What is my girl had needed critical medical care? My husband works an hour from the accident scene and we have no way to contact her biological mother. Would the medical team have had to wait for my husband in order to treat her? Would I have just lied?
I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out.
This is a serious problem. There has to be a better way. There has to be a way to legally validate the families that are emerging at light speed. This problem is only going to get worse, it has to be fixed.