June 5, 2014

Umm 'Abdullah on Step-Parenting


Umm 'Abdullah is a step-mother of one child, currently living in the USA. 

In the Sunnah we are taught that Jannah is at the feet of our mothers:

In an authentic hadith, a man came to the Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, and said: “O Messenger of Allah! I intend to go on a (military) expedition, but I have come to ask your advice." He said, "Is your mother alive?" He said, "Yes." He said, "Then stay with her, for the Garden is under her feet." (Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’i)

We are also taught that we should obey and respect our mothers and take care of them as they age. In the Noble Qur’an, Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, says:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to your parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say, “My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy even as they cherished me in my childhood.” (17:23-24)

If you are a mother, then you know how much you would give up just to see your child grow to be happy and healthy and to be a loyal servant of Allah subhana wa ta’ala. If you are not a mother, you can surely think of something your mother did to help you, regardless of how close you are to her or the type of relationship you have with her. This mother-child relationship is clearly defined both in our own minds and in the beauty of the Qur’an.

However, what about step parents? How can one define this role? After much thought and internal struggle the only way I can define my personal role as a step parent is: CHALLENGING. Now this isn’t to say that being a biological parent is easy by any means, but the challenges are different. As a step parent the hardest thing to accept is that, no matter how much you love your spouse’s child, they aren’t your own and therefore the rules are different for you whether you like it or not. First let me take the most “ideal” situation for step parents: you’ve married your spouse who has an infant child from a previous marriage and his or her ex-spouse is 100% out of the picture and your spouse views you as his or her child’s mother. The child grows up viewing you as his or her rightful mother with all powers and responsibilities bestowed upon you as a mother and everyone lives happily ever after.

This situation almost never happens. Here’s what really happens: you fall in love with your spouse for the sake of Allah subhanna wa ta’ala, you convince yourself that it can’t be that hard to take care of his or her child since at some point in life you want children of your own (and you’ve taken care of your brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins etc.) so how hard can it be? Oh and that ex-spouse? Well he or she will move on and we’ll all be friends and everything will be wonderful. Then, you and your spouse get married and you’ve spent lots of time with the child or children and insha’Allah they have accepted you into their family either because they are too young to understand what’s happening or you’ve spent painstaking hours explaining to them that you could never replace their mother/father, even though very deep down within yourself, that’s exactly what you want to do but you refuse to admit that to yourself. Typically, at least within the western world, the child lives primarily with one parent while the other has visitation every other week or so. That means, that as a step parent, one week it’s just you and your spouse living as a couple, and then the next week you’re a mother or father….kind of. And then the next week you’re not. And so on for the next 18 years of your life.

Now while mothers have that 1 relationship with their child, a step mother or step father has 3 relationships to worry about: their relationship with the child, their relationship with their spouse regarding the child, and their relationship with their spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. I’ll start with the relationship with the child, which for me was the easiest. My husband’s child was only 1 year old when we got married (he’s almost 3 now alhamdulilah). This relationship was the easiest because I learned to love him quite quickly and he was too young to really understand why suddenly he has “2 mommies.” The key word here is I “LEARNED” to love him. As much as I wish I could say “and then I looked in his eyes and that unconditional love took over me,” I can’t. I did not create this baby with my husband, I did not carry him for 9 months, I did not give birth to him, and I had not been around to see his first year of life. Furthermore, as much as I hated myself for thinking it, I really did not like having him around at first because he was a constant reminder that my husband had wanted to have him with someone else. These feelings continued for quite some time until the child began calling for me. Suddenly I was the only one who could put him to bed, make his food, or give him a bath. He didn’t want his daddy to do it, he wanted me….his step-mother to do it. That’s when I fell in love. When he needed me like a mother, I felt like a mother and suddenly things weren’t as difficult. I knew my role with him and I could define it to myself and I stopped introducing him to people as “my husbands son” and started introducing him as “my step-son.”

The second relationship you have as a step-parent is the one you have with your spouse regarding the child. This is very different that the relationship you have with your spouse as a husband or a wife. The hardest aspect of this relationship is trying to figure out how your spouse wants you to act toward their child. Alhamdulilah my husband was more than willing to step aside and let me handle bed time, meal time, and bath time and let me take the child out by myself or stay alone in the house with him. In time he even let me discipline his son when he was having a tantrum, as most 2 year olds do. However, this is not the case for many step-mommies or step-daddies. A type of power struggle typically evolves as a result of this complicated relationship. Some parents don’t want their spouse to discipline their child or take over certain roles because they feel they are being pushed out. A normal human response to losing control is to fight back and try to take control of everything. It is not unusual for spouses to fight over their roles in the child’s life and for the biological mother or father to tell the step-parent that it’s “not their job to do that” when it comes to a responsibility they feel is rightfully theirs as the biological parent. In this situation typically the step-parent will withdraw completely and want nothing to do with the child because they don’t want to upset their spouse. In addition, its mentally exhausting and emotionally draining to check yourself at every step and have to wonder “is this my responsibility or my husband’s/wife’s?” There is no outlined way in any psychology book or therapy manual to tell you how to resolve this issue. It normally takes an inordinate amount of patience from both sides and strong communication skills in order to overcome this challenge.

The third and final relationship you have as a step-parent is your relationship with your spouse’s ex-husband or ex-wife. This can either be the most frustrating, enraging, and down-right painful relationship you’ll ever have, or it’ll be the easiest. If, on the rare occasion, the divorce was amicable and both parties accepted that the relationship between them did not work and have both moved on and accepted that each will most likely remarry and their child will have two mothers and two fathers, then this relationship for the step-parents is relatively simple. However, more likely than not, the divorce was not pleasant for either party and some hostile feelings remain. Since both parties are normally told by family and friends to ignore each other and just move on with their lives, those hostile feelings need to come down on someone. So why not the person that your ex-spouse marries and is trying to “move in on your child?” It’s easy to understand the logic behind it: they’re resentful of the fact that they will always be tied to the one person they don’t want to remember, they’re angry that their ex has moved on which makes them feel replaced, they don’t have the typical nuclear family and often get uncomfortable or even rude comments from others in the community, and their child is calling someone else mama or dada. I can’t say that I would feel or act any differently if the roles were reversed.

However, that justification gives little solace to step-parents. Typically in our lives if there is someone we don’t particularly care for, we can keep them at a distance and limit communication with them. This doesn’t work in this scenario. The person that is taking their frustrations out on you is the mother or father of your step-child for whom you care very deeply. In turn, you have to accept that the child loves this individual and you cannot let your own personal feelings for their mom or dad show in front of them.  Furthermore, this ex-spouse is a constant, never-ending reminder that the man or woman you married and love did not choose you first. You are second. You might be the “right one” but you will never be the “first one.” You’ll never be his or her first spouse or first mother or father of their child. Never. And their ex-spouse will always be there, either through that 6am angry text message or at pick-ups and drop-offs or when your spouse has to make that direct deposit into their ex’s bank account for child support. They will never go away and you just have to accept it.

Besides these 3 relationships you’ll have as a step-parent, there’s a whole host of other challenges. What do your parents say about you marrying someone who already has children? What does the community think? How do you comfort your spouse when they have to drop-off their child every other week to their ex-wife or ex-husband and they don’t realize that it hurts you just as much? What do you say when someone asks you if you have children? What do you do when you disagree with something that the child’s parents have decided to do? How do you reconcile having absolutely no legal authority over a child that you consider to be your own? How do you define being a step-parent?

I personally grew closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala during my journey so far as a step-parent. When things got difficult I often felt like no one really understood what I was going through. My husband had his own view of things and his own challenges with the situation. My parents were hesitant from the beginning as to whether I would be able to handle it and so I didn’t feel like I could turn to them for support. My friends alhamdulilah were very caring and always willing to provide a shoulder to cry on but I still felt very alone through all of this. That’s when I decided I really needed to turn all of my attention towards Allah subhana wa ta’ala knowing that He would hear me.

On several occasions I broke down in tears during salah and it was difficult to even know what I was praying for. Do I pray that my step-son considers me a mother? Then what about his biological mother? He already had a mom. Do I pray that my husband loves the children he will have with me as much as his son from another woman? I felt a lot of guilt about praying for things I thought weren’t “fair” or “justified.” Sometimes I would even miss salah because I felt like everything I was praying for was selfish and I somehow didn’t deserve to reach out to Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

Over time though, I began just praying that something changed; I was praying to feel better about the situation. I became closer to Allah subhana wa ta’ala and I felt myself becoming stronger in my deen because on the hardest of days, prayer was all I had. Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made things a little easier for me each day and I thank Him for the small blessings as well as the big ones. With Allah’s swt help I have learned to be patient and thankful that I can just spend time with my step-son and I am in this position in my life because Allah subhana wa ta’ala has made it so, and therefore there is a reason for it. This has brought solace and comfort to me and has ultimately strengthened my attachment to Allah and all I do now is pray that He continue to guide me through whatever happens.

The hardest part for me about being a step-parent is that no matter how much I love my step-son, no matter how supportive my husband is, and no matter how well I control my feelings towards his ex-wife, I will always have to put “step” before “parent” and that will never get any easier. I make dua for all the step-parents out there that Allah subhana wa ta’ala (spelling?) makes it easier for you and that you achieve Jannah for everything you go through and everything you sacrifice as a step-parent. May Allah subhana wa ta’ala bless all the step-moms and step-dads out there who work twice as hard for half the credit. Take solace in pleasing Allah subhana wa ta’ala and turn to Him when it get’s too hard.


“If Allah helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in Allah (Alone) let believers put their trust.” (Quran, 3:160)

1 comment:

  1. Salam, my name is Qasim, from last 26+ years Allah and Muhammad s.a.w keep coming into my dreams, over 460+ times Allah comes in my dreams and 250+ times Mohammad s.a.w comes in my dreams, Muhammad S.A.W is the last Messenger of Allah and i am the Ummati of Prophet Muhammad S.A.W, many dreams related to Muslim Ummah, World and the Judgment Day, I have shared few dreams on my fb Allah and Muhammad s.a.w in Dream - Allah and Muhammad pbuh in Dream

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