The Non-Parent


When I sat down to think about what I wanted to say in this piece, I felt a rush of insecurities. How do I talk about the challenges of parenting when I’m not a parent? I bathe, feed, cuddle, and play with a small person, but I’m not her parent. I buckle them into a car seat, bring them to the library, withhold treats until the vegetables have been eaten, and

listen to their feelings, but I’m not their parent. She has an Ima and a Mama. When she introduces me to people, she’ll say “This is my Ethan!”, sometimes followed up with “He’s my mom’s boyfriend.” How do we name our families when there are no words?

There are many moments of caregiving, whether challenging or joyous, when I emotionally retreat a bit. It’s clear that the situation calls for a primary parent action. I readily acknowledge that I’m not (nor want to be) this person’s father, and the intensity of parenting that is needed is not within my ability. This is not a question of length of time as a caregiver; I’m simply never going to be this person’s father. The disconnect between parental-seeming duties while not being a parent is something that needs more reflection. I want words that say “This is who you are to me” without taking the place of “parent”*.

Not having a specific name in this kid’s life isn’t an issue in a day to day way. I am a constant presence. We have our disagreements and our cuddle times. She asks when I’m coming back; I tell her when I’ll see her next and that I’ll miss her until we see each other again. I get annoyed with her behavior and love her creativity at the same time. She is excited to share things she’s learned at school, and I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. We know who we are to each other, even if there is no particular name for it.


*I’ve looked for books, communities, or support groups that are discussing ways that blended queer families are creating new identities. I have not found a lot of resources, so if you know of any, comment here!

2 thoughts on “The Non-Parent

  1. I feel very similarly, being Mom’s boyfriend. I find myself utilizing the term “step father” with people although I do not identify as that at all, and the girls do not use that terms for me. I feel a lot of pressure to conform to the model that their father and step mother have set up for them — the house in suburbia with the dog (2 fat pugs, actually) and the white picket fence. It’s damaging. And like you noted, Ethan, there is little discussion on how we are creating new identities for ourselves as non-parent caregiver types. Sometimes I feel like it’s a pretty lonely place.

  2. thank you both for your responses. i’m almost crying as I read this as I have felt this way for the past 3 years with the kiddo in my life, but don’t have a lot of people to share the experience with. My partner tries, as well as others around her. I too have tried “step-parent” and “special friend” and I’m just “S..” sometimes. The magic of it all is that the two of us know exactly who we are to each other, regardless of the rest of the world.

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