I have toyed with how to put this for some time but really, there is no way to put it - being a step mom is hard. As a parent, there is an automatic, un-conditional love. This is not so when you are not the parent. When you first meet your partner's child, you are from that second onwards under scrutiny. You have to build that bond out of nowhere, and try to find your place in the hierarchy.
I have no experience with children. I don't have brothers and sisters myself, and have no children of my own. At first, I naively thought it would be fun, which it is at times. But I under-estimated the complexity of the situation.
Not only are you under scrutiny by your step-child, you are also judged and tested by the extended family - the ex-partner who must trust you without knowing you properly to be guardian to their child.
When relationships break down, its important that the children are made to feel valued by both parents, which in our case is beyond doubt. The issue for me is this- what role do I have in her life?
When it comes to discipline, there have been occasions - not many thankfully - when I have stepped in to say "no" or to say what needs to be said. Unfortunately, whilst this is accepted when it comes from the parent, it's so much different when it comes from me. In our case, the stance now is that when it comes to laying down the boundaries of behaviour, and enforcing those boundaries - such as putting toys away after playing is done - that is beyond my role. It is much easier, and much less likely to result in friction to leave it to the parent. Easier in regards to the volatility of the situation, but not easy emotionally. It's like an invisible wall is ever-present through which I can see, but not reach through.
Unless you find yourself in this situation, it is hard to comprehend just how hard it is. I consider myself to be her friend now, but it has taken several years to build. And it is a fragile link. It takes care and attention, and it waxes and wanes. I am determined to be an important person in her life, but it is so hard when as a parent that link is so robust, yet for me requires so much careful navigation.
I keep asking myself - does this ever get any easier?