Question: Hey there, this is Bob from Washington, DC. I’ve found Parents Club to be very helpful, especially the summary of the book “Raising Cain” about how emotion in boys. I’m recently married and my wife has 2 boys from a previous marriage. So, my question is: How do you handle parenting as a stepdad? Thank you for your help.
Answer: Hey man, thanks for being a parents club member and for this great question. As we’ve seen, the transition to being a stepparent can be both fulfilling and challenging. Being a good stepfather has all the elements of being a good father, as well as acknowledging that it takes time and willingness to establish your role as a stepfather in a new family arrangement. There are some ways to make the transition smoother.
First, if the children also have their biological father as a father figure, do not try to compete with him. Often, the children are still processing the circumstances involving their biological mother and father and the breakdown of the original family unit. Don’t ask them to call you Dad. It may well happen that the kids slip up and call you “Dad” and that’s a great feeling, but don’t be selfish and demand it. While insisting on being called “Dad” doesn’t excuse you from actually being a dad, though. Act responsibly, be there for the kids when they need you, share their joys and sorrows with them, build them up as much as you can, help them with their homework, offer advice, explain how things work, organize their day. Do all the things you’d do if you were their actual father. And do that knowing that you probably won’t get much attention or appreciation for it, but it’s the right thing to do. Don’t ever badmouth their dad, no matter your opinion of him. It is not your place to interfere in that relationship.
Likewise, don’t be too quick to dole out punishments. You don’t want them to fear you. Give advice, offer firm warnings, and when things get out of hand, sit down with mom and handle it together.
Ways to Bond
Some ways to bond with your step-children is to have one-on-one time. Take some time alone with your step-children to interact with them as individuals or friends instead of only in family settings. But don’t try to buy their love with gifts or try to win them over with trips. The best ways to bond are often the most simple. Share with them and be open about your life, career, interests, and dislikes. And make an effort to learn about theirs and listen to them. Take part in their activities and involve them in yours. Not only will you find some common ground to connect on, but you’ll be able to take part in their development as people, which is what this is all about.
Another helpful tip is to observe and take cues from mom. Keep in mind that mom and your step-kids have worked out a living arrangement over years that may not make much sense to you at first but which makes sense to them. Deal with major disagreements out of earshot of the kids; in everything else, follow mom’s lead.
Lastly, forgive. Forgive them for being difficult, forgive mom for not always lending you a hand when you’re lost, and most of all, forgive yourself. You are going to make a lot of mistakes, so accept them, learn from them, and move on. Then you can embrace the joys and rewards of becoming a great step-dad.
All of these tips can apply to step-mothers as well.