In the past two years, I have moved from being a married dad of two daughters (ages 23 and 17), to a divorced dad with full custody of my youngest daughter (who was 15 at the time), to soon becoming a stepdad to four stepdaughters…or their “bonus dad” as they like to call me.
I’ve done a lot of reading in preparation for this next chapter of my fathering story. In that, I’ve found a few themes that will be helpful for you as you work with blended families and stepdads. These themes are especially important because over 50 percent of families include partners who have remarried or recoupled, and 1,300 stepfamilies are formed every day.
Here are three important things to share with stepdads:
1. Take care of your marriage. While blending your family and building your relationship with your stepchildren will take a lot of time and devotion, it’s critical that you make the relationship with your spouse the priority.
When your stepchildren see you taking good care of their mom, it will make it easier for them to trust you and want to open their lives up to you. A strong marriage will also help you and mom work through the challenges that will inevitably come up in a blended family (e.g. being fair to biological and stepchildren, establishing new familial norms, and dealing with ex-spouses).
Taking care of your marriage will involve working on effective communication skills, being intentional on spending quality time together, and investing in resources on healthy relationship (e.g. seminars, books, and counseling).
2. Develop trust with your stepchildren before imposing too much authority and discipline. One study out of Brigham Young University found that, from the children's perspective, frustrations occur when the new dad assumes too much parental authority or when he disrupts the family's normal way of doing things.
Instead, in stepfamilies, it’s the responsibility of the biological parent—with the stepparent providing input—to create, relate, and enforce family expectations.
3. Manage expectations. A great way to manage expectations is to focus on patience and open communication. The article “You Can Be A Great Stepfather” provides the following advice:
- Don’t expect “love at first sight” reactions from your new stepchildren. If it’s hard for you to discern your new place in a family, imagine what it’s like for the children!
- Loyalty conflicts arise within stepchildren and between their biological parents and you. So it’s important to be careful in the way you address their biological father. Steer away from sarcasm and even be supportive of them. Make it your goal to create a new bond with your stepchildren, but don’t expect to replace the original father-child bond that existed.
You can use these recommendations to help stepdads be successful in their role. Ultimately, stepdads need to know they are uniquely equipped to have a positive impact in their stepchildren’s lives and that change takes time.
My fiancée says that we are more like a crockpot family instead of a blended family. In the crockpot, we all slowly simmer, maintaining who we are, while collectively becoming something new and better than we were before.
You can visit the National Stepfamily Resource Center for programs, services, and educational resources that can help you support stepdads.
Have you served stepdads?
What are some ways you can help stepdads with their unique challenges?