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Parenting: Being A Step Parent
If you came here looking for advice on being a parent, forget it. I cannot tell you anything about that because I have never been one. But I have been a Step Parent and I freely offer my experiences, some of which may help you and some of which will definitely not help you. This is because being a step-father is completely different to being a father. We never had the "Look what your daughter has done, she's your daughter too" fight. There were an awful lot of other fights we did not have because she was not my daughter. For example, her mother wanted to send her to private school. My opinion was that I did not go to private school and it did not stop me from getting a degree - as indeed my wife went to the same school as me and she got a degree so she did not suffer by not having a private education. Also I cannot see the point of paying to receive exactly what you would have received free. If you want to give her a better start, send her to a state school and use the money that you would have spent sending her to a private school on extra books or extra tuition or even educational holidays. That way you are getting more for your money. That makes sense. Her mother's argument was that she would meet a better class of person at private school because children at the other schools did drugs. I pointed out to her that the children at private schools also did drugs - the only difference was that they can afford more drugs and better drugs. But Kathryn was not my daughter, so in the end, the decision was not mine to make. But I am unbearably smug that I have been proven right so many times.
I NEVER TRIED TO BE HER FATHER
I have insisted from the word go that she did not call me "Dad" but all me "Phil". I have never let her forget who her real father is and never excluded him from her life. For example, I would not be surprised or offended if she wanted her real father to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. That definitely helped. She would try the "You're not my father" argument. And I would reply "Damn right, you're not. You'd be better behaved if you were." That quickly ended that argument. It also helped Kathryn in that we were able to speak more openly about sex and drugs because I would treat her like I would treat any young person asking those questions. After one such question and answer session, she said to me,
"How come I can' t have conversations like this with Mummy". I replied,
"Because Mummy still thinks of you as her Two Year old baby who needs her nose wiping and will do so until the day she dies. But to me, you are just another human being trying to find their way through the mind fields of modern life."
There was one disadvantage to this. I was telling one of my friends about how I insisted on being called "Phil" instead of "Dad". She told me that she was adapted and as far as she was concerned, fatherhood was not a biological right but had to be earned - who ever acted like a father deserved to be a father. She is right.
YOU WILL BE A ROLE MODEL
The most annoying thing about me is that whenever I have told Kathryn not to do something, she has never been able to turn around and say, "Well YOU do!". As far as I am concerned, there is one rule for everyone including me. So if plates need to be tidied away, everyone (including me) does it. It is that simple. The funny apart about all of that is that you will be a role model for the children in your life - whether you want to be or not. I have had to bite my lip on so many occasions when talking with other parents.
"I don't understand why my son/daughter is doing drugs. I told them not to". Yeah, but you drink to excess or abuse your medication drugs and your son/daughter is simply copying you.
"Why did my daughter get pregnant, I told her not to have casual sex" or "Why did my son get an STD, I told him not to have casual sex" - because you have a string of casual sex encounters and your son/daughter is simply copying you.
Whatever your son/daughter is doing is a reflection of you. If you do not like, maybe you should take a long hard look at yourself. I get the occasional secret thrill about this. For example, one evening, we were out for a meal and a waitress offered Kathryn something to which she replied,
"No Thank You but Thank You for Offering". I smiled because I have never taught her that but I do say it myself. In fact, many people have pointed out how well mannered she is - which they also say about me.
This is why I have never worrying about Kathryn abusing sex and drugs. I live by the rule that you become an adult when you start taking responsibility for your actions and the more responsibility you take for yourself, the more of an adult you are - and that includes your sex life. I also live by the rule that a busy person who is excited about their life and what they want to achieve with it has no time for drugs. Guess which attitudes Kathryn has absorbed?
Being A Strict Disciplinarian
I shocked a friend of mine when I claimed to be a strict disciplinarian to Kathryn. She could not believe, having always found me easy going. So I listed my rules:
- That she must have clean teeth because they have to last a lifetime
- That the kitchen is not a playroom especially when cooking is going on
- That a knife is never a toy
- That an animal is never an object or a plaything without feelings
She laughed. It is true that there are not the usual kind of things you immediately think of as disciplines. Nonetheless, she did agree on the sense of them and I should not imagine that I need to explain those in too much detail. But I did add three more that require a little expansion:
- One part Cheek mixed with Two Parts Good Manners will open doors that nothing else will
- That you should know the value of £1
- That you should know the value of your life and your happiness
These three were taught to me by my grandfather.
The first is simple enough: you do not get, if you do not ask. So you must have the cheek to ask in the first place, but the good manners to ask correctly in order to get anything. But you do need both. Cheek without good manners will not work. Neither will good manners without cheek.
The second is also quite simple. There is an old cliché: money does not grow on trees. That is true because money is the direct result of someone's work. Take fruit - which does grow on trees - it does not become money until someone plucks it and sells it. It becomes worth even more money if someone plucks, ferments it and turns it into alcohol. We first introduced the concept to Kathryn when she wanted a combined TV and Video system which was quite expensive. Her mother wanted to buy it and I wanted her to "earn" it by doing small and simple tasks and buy it herself with her own money. We reached a happy compromise by deciding on matched effort: for every pound she earned, we would match it. So she started earning by washing her mother's car which she had helped with on many previous occasions. Having done a good job, other members of the family got their cars cleaned, including me. When I handed over the money, I told her,
"You do realise that you have been paid twice for this work." She looked at me quizzically. "Well first, you have received this money. But you have also received a bigger and better payment: the sense of achievement at a job well done. I call this Pride of Earnership and it is much better than Pride of Ownership." I told her, "Savour that feeling, Kathryn. Glory in it because that feeling will give you whatever success you want out of anything and everything you want to do in your life." Apart from earning money, we also taught her to save and watch the money grow as you get closer to your target. The time came when she had achieved the target, we bought the set and installed it in her bedroom. As we were leaving, I paused in the doorway and looked back. She was standing there looking at her TV/video in awe because it was the very first thing in her life that was truly hers by the work of her own hands. A couple of days later, I turned to her and said,
"What's next Kathryn?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well what do you want now?" She was stunned. So I continued. "Kathryn now that you are prepared to work it and save for it, you no longer need to ask permission from anyone else ever again. All you need to do is decide what you want and go for it". Now she was really stunned. The whole world had suddenly opened up to her. A couple of days later, she came back to me.
"I want a surfboard." And this was not just any surfboard, it was a really good surfboard. It cost somewhere in the region of £600. She told everyone that she did not want presents for christmas or her birthday - that she would be happy with money towards her surfboard and then she set off on that journey. 18 months later, she got her surfboard. And then she got her laptop and a digital camera and a whole bunch of other things that she has been prepared to work and save for since that time. The end of this story is that almost three years ago, we sent her off to university. All she had was a small grant, some money that her mother could give her and the money she earned during the holidays. She was so successful at managing her money that she has never needed a loan and at the end of most months, her and her boyfriend have money spare to spend on little luxuries like roast duck or a visit to a restaurant. Her friends cannot understand how she does it. I told her not to be too harsh on her friends, they have never been taught the value of £1.
The last rule needs a little explanation. I have told Kathryn that success is impossible without risk - but there is always acceptable risk and unacceptable risk. An unacceptable risk is one that is either completely unnecessary or one that is so huge in comparison to the prize of success. An example of unacceptable and unnecessary risk are the many motorists who cut me up on the road in order to get in front of me. They are risking their lives in order to get a couple of seconds advantage. This is plainly stupid. Ironically enough, if I am not travelling at the speed limit, it is usually because someone is in my way slowing me. So a motorist will risk their lives to get in front of me only to find that I was not the problem - so they risked their lives (and mine) for absolutely nothing. Once you have eliminated all unnecessary risk, you are left with the unavoidable risk you need to take in order to get the reward. Then you can ask yourself if the reward is worth the risk. If it is, go for it. If you can live with the risk, you have nothing to fear
Did it Work?
You never really know if you have been a success until a lot later in life - in my case, when Kahryn was 20. We were having dinner together and she turned to me and said,
"I hate you".
"Oh good. Why this time?"
"Because I've been using the mind tricks that you used on me on my two young step-brothers (from her father's second marriage) and they still work"
So there you have it: my mind tricks still work and Kathryn is now using them on the youngsters in her life. Actually, I know they still work because I use them on my 8 year old Goddaughter and her sister - much to the amazement of their grandmother who wonders why they are so keen to have their teeth inspected after brushing