Although ‘dad’ and ‘step dad’ sound pretty similar, they can be two vastly different experiences. Perhaps you have been a successful dad for several years already and you thought you would seamlessly slip into the role of step dad. But now you are discovering that being a step dad is in fact a whole different dynamic than being a dad. This article will look at some of those dynamics and discuss seven suggestions which could help you to become a super step dad.
1. Set aside your fantasies and expectations
It’s normal to go into a new marriage with great expectations and hopes of having a close and loving relationship with your new step kids. You may be willing to give it everything you’ve got and that is great. But the fact is that from the stepkids’ perspective, building a relationship with you may be way more complicated than you imagined. For them it may feel as if they are being disloyal to their biological dad if they become close to you. So you may find yourself in the painful position of being rejected, and although you can tell yourself it isn’t personal it still hurts. So rather think about how you can meet your step child where they are at, without expectations or unrealistic fantasies, and slowly develop a friendship which is different from a father/child relationship.
2. Be available and approachable
It’s a huge adjustment for all concerned when two families blend, so if you as the step dad are defensive and easily offended it is going to be that much more difficult for you and the kids. If you are available and approachable, even after they have reacted badly you will begin to gain their trust. They will see that your love and care is dependable, even in the face of their other losses. See their negative reactions as a test of your character and once you have passed the test you will most likely have gained a strong and worthwhile relationship with your step kids.
3. Be careful and aware of the discipline minefield
You may have thought that you could implement all your ideas about discipline and that part of your role as step dad would be as the disciplinarian of the family. Discipline is probably one of the trickiest areas of your relationship with your stepkids and there will no doubt be some hidden landmines for you to navigate. It is necessary to build a level of loving care and trust with the children before you can be actively involved in their discipline. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming the bad guy or the policeman, even if your wife wants you to. This will only lead to resentment. Rather team up with your wife and support her in the rules and consequences which you agree on together.
4. Openly express your role and commitment
Most step children have a fantasy that their parents will get back together one day, so your presence as the step dad may be seen as an obstacle. Nevertheless, with patience and perseverance on your part you can tell and show them that your commitment to their mother is a lifelong one. It is also good to make it clear to your step kids that you do not want or intend to try and take the place of their biological dad. If you have the opportunity to tell him likewise, this can go a long way towards decreasing the fears and resistance of the children as well as their dad, towards you and your role.
5. Manage your own stress
Remember that your stepkids are trying to determine whether loving and trusting you is worth the risk. They will inevitably push your buttons to see what happens. So when conflict arises and you become stressed it is imperative that you manage your emotions without overreacting towards the children or their mother. Step kids find it much more difficult to forgive a step parent than their biological parents, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. Over time you will find that your stepkids soften towards you when they realize that it is safe for them to be vulnerable with you.
6. Don’t take things personally
It is very rare to find a child who is mature enough to take in their stride all the complex feelings that arise as a result of being in a stepfamily. Your marriage to their mother may seem like the death knell for their hopes of their parents ever getting back together again. Then there is the loyalty bind where kids can feel that they are being disloyal to their biological father if they get along well with their step dad. There can also be a whole host of fears as to what the future will hold for them and for the family, as they may feel unsure as to whether you are goings to treat them well or not. With all this going on it is understandable that step kids can and often do act out with behaviour that is negative or rebellious. So don’t take things personally and try to reach the place where you can have a non-threatening talk with your stepkids and let them tell you how they really feel.
7. Lead by example
The best way to be a leader worthy of being followed by your stepkids is to set a good example with your life. As you consistently behave with integrity and reach out to them in thoughtful and loving ways, they will learn what kind of character you have. You can work with their mother to set a good tone in your home where the children feel secure, with firm boundaries, expectations and values. Show your step children that you are a person who is worthy of respect and eventually they will give you the respect you deserve.