Stepping Stones to a Healthy Stepfamily: Stepfathers with Children

Stepping Stones to a Healthy Stepfamily: Stepfathers with Children



Excerpted with permission from Stepping Stones to a Healthy Stepfamily


The good news? Any stepdad with previous parenting experience is already better qualified to handle the stress of the job.

The bad news? Not even previous parenting experience can prepare you for how difficult it will be to take a back seat when it comes to disciplining your stepchildren.

Experts agree a stepfather bringing his own kids into remarriage with a woman who already has kids is one of the toughest rows to hoe. But if it works, it can also be one of the most rewarding. Trying to force the issue will not make it work. If anything, it will probably impede your progress. A child who feels forced to do something they don’t want to do will typically resist your efforts at bonding or will fake bonding to please the grownups.

So what can you expect?

Conflict — These can be conflicts between stepsiblings or conflicts between you and your spouse; many will likely center on the kids or disciplining the kids. Know going in these differences of opinion are natural, normal and par for the course. They don’t have to derail your relationship unless you let them. Keep reviewing the parenting issues with your spouse. Be flexible and avoid rigidity. Keep looking for what works and what doesn’t.

Sibling Jealousy — Despite your best efforts, someone is going to feel short-changed. The accusation of preferential treatment is sometimes justified. No matter how equally we try to treat our children, steps or otherwise, mistakes will be made. Your job is to try to diffuse explosive situations when they come up, to listen (without being defensive) if a child comes to you with this or any other grievance, and to keep a watchful eye for any trouble that might be brewing. Look for positives and strengths in your stepchild or stepchildren. It can be hard on the others if your child is the gifted and talented one in the family and they’re the ones struggling. Help each child find a way to shine.

Bonding Issues —
I’ve urged patience before and I will do it again. Proceed with honor, fairness and dignity, by all means. But at the end of the day, whether you bond with a child or not is mostly out of your control. Factors such as the age of the child must be taken into consideration. Also, the child’s previous experiences with father figures. Slowly goes. When it happens, it will probably happen when you’re busy doing other things. Like the proverbial watched pot, the water tends to boil when you’re off enjoying something else.

Behavioral Change — Trying to get your stepchildren to change a behavior will automatically make you the enemy. Most things you say or do may lead to resentment. They will also be quick to sniff out any hypocrisies (i.e., do you hold your own kids to the same standard?) So a good rule of thumb is to discipline your own kids and try to be the one who delivers glad tidings to your stepchildren. Keep in mind cultural differences in stepfamilies, whether emotional or physical, that can affect this rule of thumb. The same should go for your wife—let her address issues with her own kids but encourage her to be the “fun” parent with yours.

All too often I talk to stepdads who confess to having given up on having any relationship with their stepchild. Teens are typically more difficult to connect with. However, I have seen situations where a teen was so grateful to have a father figure in his or her life, there were few problems. Each stepfamily is different.

Qualities one might associate with our cultural expectations for masculinity (assertiveness, goal-orientation, the ability to “get to the bottom line”) have no place in the delicate filament wires of a stepfamily. Instead, a man can rely on his more “feminine” side— listening, waiting, receptivity. These are good attributes to develop under any circumstances, but they will serve you particularly well in stepfamily relationships.

It helps to see a child as a child without the qualifying possessive pronoun. Not your child, a child. At some point in the story of every successful stepfamily, parents stop thinking in terms of “my kids/her kids” and simply see them as “our kids.” This may be years down the road, but it’s a potent perspective and one I strongly encourage you to explore.

Janet Nicholas, LPC LCDC EAP, is a licensed professional counselor, chemical dependency counselor, and equine-assisted psychotherapist.  Her practice is in The Woodlands, Texas.  She has been counseling families and individuals since 1989.  Stepfamilies are one of her areas of specialty.  As a counselor, wife, mother, stepmother and grandmother, Janet has dedicated herself to the betterment of others and is lovingly characterized as someone who gives “straight talk from the heart.”  Her book, Stepping Stones to a Healthy Stepfamily is being released in March 2017. In her spare time, she paints and rides horses with her husband of thirty-three years on their beautiful ranchette.