How To Be A Successful Stepdad
By the time most children are of school age, their parents have grown quite accustomed to having them around. This sounds silly I know, but not all parents do. Take for example the stepdad who waltzed into the life of a perfectly content 5 year old boy. This man was clearly not accustomed to having that child around. Natural parents have the distinct opportunity to grow (as a parent) with their child, a luxury stepdads do not enjoy. Because of this, stepdads are thrown into the life of a parent, without truly understanding what they are getting into; and all the good intentions in the world won’t help you with that.
I can tell you from personal experience, being a stepdad is a lot harder than being a natural parent. I am both, and although I love both of my children very much, it was a lot harder to achieve that love with my stepson. When my daughter was born, I took one look into her eyes and fell deeply in love. When I met my stepson for the very first time, it was more like an awkward blind date. The point is, love for a stepchild does not occur instantaneously like it does with a natural child. It takes lots of time and even more hard work.
I love my stepson, and in my opinion we have a great relationship, but it hasn’t been easy. I tried reading all the books, searching the internet far and wide, and I found nothing that helped me build a relationship with my stepson. Many people have searched and found plenty of advice, and that’s great. I had to learn by trial and error.
Here is what I learned.
Let them call you whatever they want
This is probably the most important thing you could learn. Trying to get a stepchild to call you Dad is about the worst thing you could do. The last thing you want is for your new stepchild to think that you are trying to replace the natural parent. All you will be doing is building resentment instead of a healthy relationship. Now, if they choose to call you Dad, than by all means, let them. But under no circumstances force them.
Stand your ground
Whether you are a particularly strict parent or more laid back, you have to be strong. Children will try to test their bounds with you, this is a fact. It is up to you to let them know what your boundaries are, and stick to them. This does not mean that you are necessarily the disciplinarian. It simply means, don’t be a push over. Too many stepdads refuse to say no to their stepchildren for fear that will come off as mean. They worry far too much about befriending them, and less about what the child needs. Trust me when I say, stick to your guns and don’t be a push over. Nobody respects a push over, so why would your stepchild.
Spend alone time together.
As important as this is with any child, it is probably more important with a stepchild. Take some time every day to do something they want to do. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, and can be as simple as playing a quick board game. They will appreciate it. I try to do at least one small thing together a day, and then on the weekends, have a larger activity or even more than one. If you are a busy person who finds that they don’t really have the time to sit down and play a board game on a weeknight, try letting them help you with your household duties. Have them help you take the trash out or cook dinner. Simple things like this build the relationship between stepdad and stepchild.
Never disrespect their natural father
Regardless of whether or not they are in the child’s life, never talk poorly of your stepchild’s natural father, it will only end in tears. Even if the man is not involved, your stepchild may still idolize him. You may not really like the man, but keep it to yourself. This is just another way to build resentment and widen the gap between you and your stepchild. Bear in mind that this does not mean that you have to speak highly of the man, just don’t speak negatively. If your stepchild notices that you don’t very much like their father, it may cause the child to subconsciously choose sides, and you will lose.
In the event that the natural father is truly deserving of your disrespect for any of a thousand reasons, all bad, keep quiet about it. Not only is it not your place to tell them, but they will learn about it eventually anyway, and it will be hard enough for them. You will have a hard enough time trying to be supportive for them without them being mad at you for being the bearer of bad news. If the child needs to know, let the natural mother take care of telling them.
Treat them the same as you would your natural children.
You may be thinking that this should go without saying, and maybe it should. But your stepchild will be hypersensitive to inequalities between them and your natural children. They may even pick up on some that you weren’t aware of. Keep calm, it happens. The world is not going to end. Just try your hardest to make them feel equal. If you look back and discover a small inequality, make up for it. This may mean that you have to play tit for tat. “Well she got….” Keep things fair and you won’t have a problem. Be aware though, all kids may cry foul to get a little extra. So like I said earlier, don’t be a pushover.
These are just some of the things that you can do to build a relationship with your new stepchild. Try different things, but be respectful. The role of a stepdad is a unique one. If you play your cards right, you will end up somewhere between parent and friend. Be patient, be respectful, and everything will turn out ok.