Being a step-parent takes perseverance. The stepdad experience can be challenging, and at the same time, rewarding for some men. For those going through the challenging times, I hope that this article will provide you some tools that you can use to get you through this time.
Some adult children of divorce that I have spoken to have said that the fact that their stepdads did “not” have to stay in their lives or to necessarily “be” a father to them, but they did anyway, spoke volumes to them and to their self-esteem once they were able to get past the “juvenile” issues that most children of divorce experience. If their biological father was still alive and didn’t make much of an effort to “father” them and their stepfather did, they felt like as children, they idolized the person who was absent because it was easy to fault the parents who were making them obey the rules, do their homework and clean their rooms; basically the person who helped to provide them structure. However, it wasn’t until their late teens, early twenties that they realized what the title, “father” really meant and for several of them, that meant their “stepfather.”
One of the pitfalls that some stepdads face is the mere fact that their wives only want them to parent when there are good times. When bad or challenging times hit, some of the complaints I hear from stepdads is that they are not allowed to be a parent. However, as Kela and I have often discussed in prior posts, being a reinforcement for the biological parents at all times, including when the bio parents aren’t available is key. Children need and want structure and discipline. Structure and discipline equals love.
Recently, I read a great article written by Ron Deal (Founder and President of Successful Stepfamilies) called The Effective Stepfather: A Checklist to Live By. In his article, Mr. Deal states that “Stepfathering can be challenging. Perhaps that’s why many stepfathers disconnect from their stepchildren emotionally and withdraw from daily responsibilities. The unmapped territory seems to have many land mines and it’s easier to just retreat than to engage the “enemy.”
Some of the struggles stepdads face are all too common. For example, a great number of stepchildren will have a hard time accepting their stepfather and will often defy his decisions and cause all kinds of chaos and frustration within the blended family. Another example of struggles stepdads face is the expectation process with their stepchildren. Often times, men come into the stepfather relationship expecting that their stepchildren will automatically respect them and hold them in high regard. For the children involved, they have to immediately take heed that you are in their life whether they like it or not; however, what we as parents fail to realize is that we chose to get a divorce and to remarry, our children did not. The drastic changes they are going through need to be met with realistic expectations and understanding.
Here are a few tips from Mr. Deal’s checklist to focus on in your journey:
- Initially Provide Indirect Leadership. There are two kinds of influence (or power) in relationships: 1) positional power and 2) relational power. Initially, you have positional power (because of being the male head of household) but later comes the relational power (the ability to form a relationship). Take your time.
- Express Your Commitment. Articulate your commitment to your wife but keep in mind, however, that early on this won’t necessarily be considered a positive by your stepchildren. In fact, they may be threatened by it. Children who hold a strong fantasy that their parents will reconcile can find your commitment a barrier to life as they would have it.
- Communicate Your Role. It’s important to verbalize your understanding of your role in the beginning. Children need to hear that you know that you’re not their dad and won’t try to take his place. Tell your stepchildren you are looking forward to your growing relationship and that you know how awkward that can be for them.
- Be Approachable. Part of being approachable and accessible to stepchildren is knowing that not everything is about you. In fact, most of kid’s negative reactions to stepparents are really about the child’s losses (stepparents just happen to be the easy target for the child’s heartache).
- Manage Stress and Your Anger. Children are quick to forgive biological parents when they make mistakes (and we all do). But they aren’t as forgiving of stepparents. When stress and conflict arise (and they will) make sure you manage yourself well.
As Mr. Deal so eloquently states, and I agree, “Keep in mind that one task for children is to determine whether loving their stepfather is worth the risk. Give them every reason to believe it is.”
To me, the above statement holds true for both stepfathers and stepmothers.
Peace and Blessings,