© copyright 2007 Betsy L. Angert
More than a month ago, I began writing this treatise. The significance of stepparents and adopted parents was on my mind. Gerald R. Ford had passed and there was ample discussion of his heritage. Gerald Rudolff Ford Senior did not father his son in a biological sense. Still, the elder Ford was Daddy. Jerry Ford spoke of his father often and how significant he was in the his life. The elder Ford raised his son as any parent would, even though he was actually a stepparent. Ford, the President was not adopted until he in his twenties. At that age, an adoption was perhaps a gesture; after all Jerry Ford was legally an adult. Gerald R. Ford Junior wanted to honor his father or the man that, young Jerry truly felt was Daddy.
I too was fathered by a man not my biological match. For years, this gentle human choose to relate to me as if I was his own offspring. Legally, we had no connection. Let us call him “Adam,” was my stepparent. Yet, this soft-spoken man was my Dad. Long before I could, with permission from the government, call him Daddy he nurtured my heart, mind, and spirit. I too am adopted; my adoption was long in coming. For years my biological father, perchance, we can title him Michael, refused to give his permission. In some states, possibly all, this is necessary. As I listened to President Ford’s history, I thought of how it mirrored my own.
My natural father, Michael was extremely wealthy and aloof, as was President Ford’s. My birth father could be abrasive, though fortunately not abusive as our President’s father was. Perhaps that is why my biological parents were together for more years than the President’s were. Still, there are parallels that I think important.
Leslie Lynch King, the biological father of our former President, beat his wife, Dorothy Ayer Gardner, two weeks after the baby’s birth. The baby, the man we now know as Jerry, was named Leslie Lynch King Junior. However, life changed after the assault. Dorothy moved in with family and ultimately, years after her divorce from Mister King met a mild manner paint salesman, Gerald Rudolff Ford. The two married. Mister Ford and Dorothy Ford changed the name of their two-year-old toddler. Young Leslie became Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior. The lad was not officially adopted; still, he was Mister Ford’s son in every way that mattered.
The Ford family lived a solid and stable life.
Ford grew up in a middle class family. He was a healthy, industrious youth who helped out with the chores.
When he was 12 or 13, Ford’s parents told him he was adopted. He first met his biological father when he was 17 and would see him only one other time. Young Ford was bitter about his wealthy father’s indifference toward him. He called their first meeting the most traumatic experience of his youth.
“Indifference” was not a term the President used to define Gerald R. Ford Senior; nor is it the word I would choose to define my Dad Adam. However when speaking of Michael, my natural fathers, the utterance, “indifference” seems most apt!
President Gerald R. Ford, often proudly mused, he was a Ford, not a Lincoln. Just as a Ford automobile is considered a car for common people, Gerald Ford thought himself average. The former President was as his Dad, average, a workingman. He was everyman. Leslie Lynch King Senior, Ford’s birth father was as a Lincoln vehicle, luxury defined him. Lavishness did not describe young Jerry. He was his “[step]father’s” son!
Gerald Rudolff Ford Junior felt as I do, the man I call Daddy may not have been part of the birthing process. Nevertheless, he was there for me, he was with me always. My Dad lives large in my heart and in my mind. Most of my habits are his. I am Daddy’s little girl!
Many adopted or stepchildren feel as strong bond with a parent that is not a blood relative. People that do share Deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] are often disconnected. Yet, the courts do not necessarily honor such truths, a stepparent can be a real father or mother. The bias towards gay couples may have helped to cloud the issue.
Are Stepparents Real Parents?
By Po Bronson
Wednesday, May. 17, 2006
This week the Supreme Court let stand a ruling that ultimately could affect as many as one-third of all Americans – anyone in a stepfamily. But you’ll probably never realize it from any news reports on the ruling.
The case comes out of Washington State. Sue Carvin and Page Britain were lesbians living together since 1989. Their baby, L., was born in 1995, using an at-home artificial insemination kit and some sperm donated from their gay friend. Page Britain carried L. and gave birth, but Sue Carvin became the stay-at-home mom while Page worked to support the family. Their child called Sue “Mama” and Page “Mommy.”
For several years, they were a model of lesbian co-parenting.
The two split; bad feelings ruled what was no longer a family roost. You may relate as I do. My biological parents appeared to be picture perfect. We had a gorgeous, very large home, in an upper Middle Class suburb. For my eldest sister’s twelfth birthday, an extension was built onto the house so that she might have a private entrance. Life looked good; many thought our family was great. Oh, the stories I might tell.
I recall the day that my Mom walked out. My natural parents had been together for twenty years and ten days. One might think that after two decades plus, after sharing a bed, babies, and billions of memories together, a couple would know for certain that they are right for each other. Considering the two dated extensively prior to matrimony, one might believe that they thought their togetherness was a treasure, one to keep eternally.
Yet, my experience said that this was not true. The day was April 14. It was a Sunday. On most every day of rest we, as a family went out to dine at a local eatery, Litton’s, in Philadelphia. The restaurant is no longer there. Eventually the business folded, just as the marriage did. Perchance, my parents were modeling dissolution.
Might that be the destiny for many? After watching a relationship sever, we have a frame of reference. We know how do end an association. I apologize for the digression. I was merely thinking aloud.
I return to the telling. That particular evening was an odd one. The air was ominous. Every moment was unusual. I did not know why. My father actually spoke to me. That alone was somewhat strange or strained. He said we were going to “Lin Ton’s” as though dinner would be a Chinese dining experience. I always ordered fried shrimp, on this occasion, I asked for what I usually loathe, “Chicken in the basket.” My elder sisters ate that meal regularly and I thought I might try it.
A conversation ensued after we requested our food. It revolved around cleaning bedrooms, maids, money, and obliquely values. My Mom concluded we, her husband, and by extension, her children had none. We were spoiled, stained by materialism, and motivated by money. My Mom got up from the table and walked out. She returned days later, and initiated divorce proceeding.
I was eight years of age at the time and thankfully not connected to Michael, my natural father. I was perhaps less influenced by Michael’s love of money, for my biological father never wanted my birth. He had hired someone else to raise me. Fortunately, a very “real” woman did look after me for many years.
When I was still quite young, the man that would eventually become my Dad entered my life. I was five. At the time. My Mom returned to college, realizing that she wanted and needed to create a life for herself. She has a brilliant mind and thought it best she use it! “Daddy” was a classmate of hers. They were in a study group together. The academics often met in our home.
There was no romance between them before my natural parent’s split. It was not even a thought, that all came much later. Nevertheless, the man in my life, the man I bonded with was an outsider, not a member of my family.
My story may not be similar to your own; however, I trust that many, according to statistics, at least a third of you are intimately familiar with stepfamilies.
Consider that for every 1,000 couples with children in the United States, only two of those couples are same-sex-oriented. Meanwhile, thanks to the huge number of second marriages, a third of all Americans are part of a stepfamily. The question “Are they real parents?” applies not just to gays and lesbians – it applies to every stepfamily. That’s what the kids are testing when they angrily scream, “You’re not my real mommy!” And when the biological mother hears that her son has been spanked by his stepmother, she wonders, “She can’t do that, can she?”
While we closely monitor how gay rights are granted and taken away, we pay almost no attention to the fact that stepparents are in the same legal limbo. Despite being ubiquitous, step-relationships are rarely recognized by the law. In most states, stepparents are considered “legal strangers” even if they have cared for and supported a stepchild for years. They have almost no official responsibility and barely any rights.
What kind of rights are they deprived of? Some are remarkably banal. For instance, a stepparent can’t sign a child’s school report card or field-trip permission form. Others are significant. A stepfather can’t include his stepdaughter on his family health insurance plan, for example. And she can’t inherit from him when he dies.
In the last few years, state family courts have tried to accommodate the stepparents and stepchildren who appear before them, without granting so much that it subtracts rights from a biological parent. In Colorado, a stepparent can now sign the form that allows a minor to apply for a driver’s license. And in Oregon, a stepparent can petition the courts for visitation of former stepchildren, if that marriage has ended. In Arkansas, it’s even theoretically possible now for a stepparent to win custody over a biological parent. But in each state, it’s a different story, and many states are still in denial.
So, a stepmother can take a month off work to care for her sick stepson, thanks to the federal law on Family Leave. But if she has to take her stepson to the emergency room, state law might prevent her from authorizing medical treatment. And if her son ends up dying due to hospital negligence, she can’t sue.
Step-parenting may have been difficult for my “Dad;” it was more so for me. Times were tough or just different, perchance, confusing. The man that felt like Daddy, was Daddy, legally could not be called my father.
My Mom refused child support and alimony though she was granted each. She believed Michael’s money was tainted. She wanted none of it. We were extremely poor. Welfare came to us, stating we qualified and needed to apply. My parents refused. We grew our own vegetables. My Mom baked our bread. The details are endless; however, they may distract. Thus, I will leave those for another anecdote.
The truer challenge for me was carrying a surname that I felt no connection to. I wanted to legally be as I was in life, Daddy’s little girl. I called my Mom’s second husband Daddy. He was the only actual father I ever felt I had. He taught me everything, how to build a house, clean my room, ride a bike, reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, telephone manners, and best of all how to engage with people. Prior to Daddy entering into my life, I was the exemplary loner. I was totally self-sufficient and felt little need for personal exchanges. I never trusted whether closeness would end. The woman that raised me for five and a half years was fired. I was listening on another telephone line when my father delivered the news to my caretaker.
In Kentucky, a stepchild could use the stepfather’s surname in school. I did. However, this inexplicably hurt my natural father. A man that never cared for me, felt carrying on his name was meaningful. I visited him on my tenth birthday. He ranted and rage. He yelled at me. Prior to this event, I had not witnessed screaming directly, certainly, no one had ever hollered at me. I was frightened. The man that was supposed to be a loving father, on one of the rare occasions I ever saw him was shrieking. His shouts were meant for me.
I, thought this meeting was quite traumatic! A man that never acted as my father, wanted me to bear his name. Why? The man that was my Daddy had no rights in reference to me. Again, Why, or more accurately, why not?
The legal field is sitting on a huge time bomb. One-third of Americans are just one unfortunate circumstance away from ending up in court demanding their rights – where they will be told that those relationships aren’t real, and don’t count.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never been pressed to rule whether a stepparent is a real parent, and if so, under what conditions. But when it declined to review Britain v. Carvin, Washington State’s test for “de facto,” parents instantly became a model for other states to replicate. Through a case everyone thought was about gay rights, stepfamilies just opened the door to the recognition they truly deserve.
Typically, stepparents are thought to be cruel and wicked. As children, we learn this lesson well. Perchance we come to expect this; stepparents must be sinister. They are often under suspicion. You may recall Cinderella was treated with disdain by her stepmother. Her stepsisters ridiculed her and required the fair maiden to be at their beck and call. Newspaper articles support this postulate. While admittedly the research did not assess the quality of relationships or the feelings found within stepfamilies, this report concludes that a biological parent will take better care of a child than a stepparent might.
Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers
By Tamar Lewin
New York Times
August 17, 2000
Children raised in families with stepmothers are likely to have less health care, less education and less money spent on their food than children raised by their biological mothers, three studies by a Princeton economist have found.
The studies examined the care and resources that parents said they gave to children and did not assess the quality of the relationships or the parents’ feelings and motives.
But experts said that while the findings did not establish the image of the wicked stepmother as true, they supported the conclusion that, for complex reasons, stepmothers do invest less in children than biological mothers do, with fathers, to a large extent, leaving to women the responsibility for the family’s welfare.
”Being raised by the biological mother gives children a lot of protection,” said the chief researcher on the studies, Anne Case, a professor of economics at Princeton. ”It’s a very big thing to ask someone to care for children instead of the birth mother, who, as the socio-biologists tell us, invests so heavily in carrying the child, nursing the child.”
I agree, a paid caregiver may not have the same bond, or at least the biological parents may not allow it. Even if they do, I suspect my story solidifies what often happens. The employee does not feel they have the right, legally, or emotionally, to stay connected and in touch with the young child they raised.
The studies took their data from two of the broadest, most respected surveys of Americans’ households, income, spending, and health habits. While those surveys were not created to analyze stepfamilies, their information is detailed enough to allow comparisons between different kinds of families.
Among children over a year old, living with both biological parents, the health study found that 61 percent have had a medical checkup within the last year. But among those living with a stepmother and birth father, that number dropped to 46 percent — and of those whose biological mother was dead, only 35 percent had seen a doctor.
Did the survey consider the legal restrictions on a stepparent authorizing health care for a minor child? Might they have looked at the finances? Even when a parent re-marries, it often takes time before the new union is as financially sound as the previous blending was.
My natural parents were exceptionally wealthy. When my Mom married my “Daddy,” Adam, he was a student. He belatedly received his Bachelorette degree and was going on to pursue post-graduate studies. It was years before we were stable. My biological father had great wealth, in part, because professionally his standards were such he had no qualms; stepping on or over others was his way. He was attentive when assessing his assets; however, children were to be seen and not heard. At least that is the experience of his last child, me, you know the unwanted one.
Of the children living with their biological parents, 74 percent wear seat belts almost all the time, compared with 63 percent of those living with a stepfather and biological mother and 52 percent of those living with a biological father and stepmother.
Daddy, the man that truly raised me and adopted me, refused to start the engine unless and until we were all buckled into our car seats. He maintained the car with infinite care. His passengers were his prizes. He had always wanted the loving family he helped to create.
Families with a stepmother reported overall household food spending that was about 5 percent lower for each stepchild than in families in which both biological parents were present, the food study found.
You may recall, my newer family did not have the money to spend on food. Although we spent less, the quality of our fare was far superior. My Mom is a gourmet cook. When with the biological paternal person, going out, entertaining, was what passed for normal. Rarely were we children part of these hedonistic pleasures. Potpies were my friend. Television dinners as they were once called were frequent. Now processed food is considered healthy.
With Daddy [Adam] in our lives, we ate together. We shared all our meals. My mom grew the vegetables and baked the breads and desserts. Later, Daddy took up fishing. We watched our pennies, for we had few. Still, each evening we dined from a different country. Mommy put up a monthly calendar. She filled in each date. My mom never wrote the specifics for the meal, she only penned the country of origin for the entrée. We ate well. I learned to try what I would have rejected in my earlier life.
In families in which women care for both their stepchildren and biological children, the biological child, on average, went to college for a year, while the average stepchild did not go to college.
Children reared by a stepfather also have lower educational achievement than those reared by both biological parents, although, as in most other measures, the negative effect is only about half as much as with stepmothers.
Oh my gosh; the paternal pretense of a parent in my life thought that girls, only need to attend college to receive an M.R. S. degree. Daddy is a scholar. Daily, he and I would read the paper and review what was read. He would ask me questions, ensuring my comprehension. We would discuss how the news was relevant to our lives. He, my Mom, and I looked up any issue relating to the article. Gaining wisdom was our entertainment. It was not costly, although it was infinitely valuable!
Prof. Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist of the family at the University of Pennsylvania, said that he did not question the findings and believed that the studies raised important questions, but he noted that stepfamilies vary widely.
Perhaps, the learned Professor might benefit from what I learned. Mommy and Daddy encouraged me to “Question everything!” In truth, it is still a family theme.
For example, women who take on a 2-year-old child step into a role very different from that of women who care for a 12-year-old stepchild, and for all stepmothers the relationships evolve as the family becomes better established.
”I don’t think most stepmothers are evil,” Professor Furstenberg said. ”If they’re less involved, if they take a step back, it may be for the most noble motives, to give the parent more room, to decrease the tension. They may be relying on the child’s father when perhaps their trust is unwarranted.”
This may be very true. My sisters were much older than I and had a very different experience of our blood father. They were not ready to open their arms to Daddy and rejected much of what was to come.
I often see among friends, the stepparent may want to be a part; yet, the natural parent presumes the children will not understand. The stepfamilies do not often blend, as much as they live together, if that.
With more than half the nation’s children living apart from at least one biological parent by the time they reach 18, the functioning of stepfamilies has become increasingly important. Most stepfamilies involve stepfathers, rather than stepmothers, and compared with families in which a single mother is rearing a child alone, the presence of the stepfather and his income help raise the family’s standard of living.
Still, previous research has shown that children who did not live with both of their parents had bleaker futures: among other things, they were more likely to drop out of school, become delinquents or engage in early sexual activity and drug abuse than children raised by both parents.
My own experience suggest two parents are the preferred; however, if one or both are not truly loving, caring, sharing, involved and connected, then what comes is chaos. Children, no matter what the age need to know that someone, preferably a parent figure is there for them in thick and thin. Humans are social animals. We need each other. We are expressive or not; whatever we are, we do not perform well or feel well if we do not feel safe, secure, and sane.
Parents guide us. They facilitate our growth. They protect our hearts and nurture our minds. We need them; actually, they need us too. Love is a necessary. It breeds happiness, joy, and it is the avenue for inspiration, imagination, and innovation. If we are struggling to survive, we do not have time or the means to thrive. Fortunately, even social scientists are beginning to realize this.
But while those outcomes are well known, there has been almost no research on the care, attention and resources such children receive — and therefore, no way to know whether the damaging effects reflect poor parenting, family instability, lack of money or other factors.
Yet, as the article goes on, excuses are made, energies are diverted, and enigmas are voiced.
Many stepmothers are quick to acknowledge that being a stepparent is complicated, particularly when they take on older children and that it is unrealistic to imagine that the new bonds will be the same as those between a biological parent and child.
Unrealistic, I think not. We create what we believe. If we expect to be rejected, we will be. If we believe that the children are his, or hers, we will never treat them as ours. Sadly, I contend so much of the chaos we experience we create. When we do not legally give stepparents the right to authentically attend to a child’s needs, why would they believe they are able.
I think we must truly evaluate our legal system and family structures. If people wed only to have companionship, if they do not work as a unit to create comfort for their shared children, then stepparents will always be separate from the equation. The sum of the parts, Mom plus Dad plus Children, step or otherwise, is best when it is greater than the whole.
Step through the looking glass and find your world turned inside out. Step Parenting references . . .
- Gerald R. Ford The White House.
- Gerald R. Ford. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
- ‘Good man, faithful servant’ honored, By Jonathan Peterson and Richard B. Schmitt. Los Angeles Times. December 31, 2006
- pdf ‘Good man, faithful servant’ honored, By Jonathan Peterson and Richard B. Schmitt. Los Angeles Times. December 31, 2006
- pdf Gerald R. Ford, 93, Dies; Led in Watergate’s Wake, By J.Y. Smith and Lou Cannon. Special to The Washington Post. Wednesday, December 27, 2006
- Gerald R. Ford, 93, Dies; Led in Watergate’s Wake, By J.Y. Smith and Lou Cannon. Special to The Washington Post. Wednesday, December 27, 2006
- Ancestry of Gerald R. Ford The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
- Gerald R. Ford, Character Above All. James Cannon. Public Broadcasting Services.
- Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers, By Tamar Lewin. New York Times. August 17, 2000
- pdf Differences Found in Care With Stepmothers, By Tamar Lewin. New York Times. August 17, 2000
- The Child-Stepparent Relationship: Its Fragility and its Importance. 9th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference