Being a Dad looks good from the outside, but when you get down to it, it is a 24/7 job that consumes you for the rest of your life. And the weight of that when you think about it, is a bit unnerving, but its ok.
Really it is.
What we as Dad’s have to realize is there’s no manual for children, whether born to you, adapted or step-child. All are different and all need to be reared based on their individual needs and character.
Side Bar…No child is the same nor do they grow and mature at the same levels. It is very important with each child that you not try to rear children the same. Trust me it doesn’t work.
Is that difficult yes? Can it be done? Absolutely!
When I married, I did so to what we used to call an “instant family”. My new bride had a 5 year old from a previous marriage. So the feedings, changing diapers and all that was not something I had to deal with. So I didn’t have the initial panic…until Joseph came into our lives two days after he was born. So what I missed in the first five years of my daughter’s life I experienced with my son. But I also went into panic mode when I found myself having to discipline another man’s child. We’ll discuss that later.
So don’t panic.
You will make mistakes
Mistakes that will hurt you and your child, but over the child’s life, if you parent to the best of your ability, love, care, protect, and instruct them for their betterment the mistakes will be outweighed by what you have given.
Don’t’ take it personal
Again, my view comes from a step dad’s perspective and as a father, or father figure to another man’s child. There may come an instance that you may deem personal. Trust me it really isn’t you…It’s just circumstance.
I will never forget when I first heard my daughter call me by my first name. I was livid! The nerve of this girl disrespecting me like that. It took my wife a while to calm me down but she explained that Briana’s natural father didn’t like her calling me dad in his presence. After I thought about that, I came to the conclusion I probably would have done the exact same thing. I couldn’t blame Briana, nor her dad. It was just a case of circumstance that we were all a part of.
I have seen this happen but I can’t say this was part of my reality, but sometimes children will pit parents against each other as well as two sets of parents. That’s just a part of childhood I’ve seen. Again not personal.
Also realize that if you marry with children it’s the wife that chooses you…not the ex-husband/ex-boyfriend/baby daddy. They don’t have to like you or agree with you, but if both of you have the common interest of the child that will be the string that keeps the calm and helps the growth of the child.
Don’t try to hard
Trying too hard to make your step or adoptive child love you can backfire in the worse way. Ultimately you can lose respect from them or be manipulated by that child. Wearing kid gloves in the relationship will not help it grow. If you are appeasing or favoring the child your future relationship can be built on fragile ground. Believe me the time will come when you have to be parent and not friend. If you’re the parent from the beginning, the relationship will be as it should. The first…and only time…I didn’t spare the rod to spoil the child, I felt like the world was ending. I knew it had to be done, but I thought the relationship I wanted to have with my daughter would never be. Now did I raise my voice to her after that time or punish her… sure, but it took a while and in the interim my wife was the deliverer of punishment. I have to say my wife was right when she would always tell me to let her be the “bad guy” when it comes to punishment. When Theresa and I married Briana was five years old. I was around her since she was a newborn, but not daily until her mother and I married. It’s difficult to jump in and be “Daddy Punisher”. It’s something that I had to learn to ease into. Now Joseph is a different story. Theresa and I have been involved in his life since he was two days old. So his experience has been his mother and Theresa and I.
I didn’t have to ease into anything there, the process was a natural one. I never wanted to hear the words “you’re not my daddy” from my daughter…thankfully I’ve never heard that verbally. Of course I knew I wasn’t but I still didn’t want to hear that. I found over time that parenting under that fear isn’t parenting at all. I just needed to be fair and honest while overcoming that fear.
I can’t say those thoughts or fear will go away. I guess it depends on how each dad deals with that issue. I found out recently I still harbored those thoughts. My daughter and I did have a fall out of sorts…our biggest. Again I believed it was necessary but yet in the back of my mind those feelings were still there after all those years. But then after a nap and cleaning we were good. That showed me the depth of our relationship and what we could overcome.
I had to learn not to try too hard and it took a while to get “normal” per say but it was all time well spent.
Remember there are others involved
My daughter’s father is involved in her life, and though she grew up in our household he was always kept in the loop of her successes and pitfalls. Thankfully her natural dad had the same mindset in regards to her rearing, but I would have had to respect his wishes if we disagreed on how to proceed on some things. Even with that there has to be open communication on what is going on in the child’s life. What’s going on in your home and what can be told from the child’s perspective can tell two entirely different stories. Remember what I said from point #2. Your wife chose you, not the ex nor does the ex have to like you. And if there is some type of friction it can be curbed with proper communication.
Time as well has to be shared. Some birthdays or holidays you will have to be without the child or children. The best-case scenario is having a large family get together but even when the family can get along, my suggestion can’t usually be the case. So the best thing is to be as creative with special occasions with your child before they visit other family. And don’t forget, you get them the majority of the time.
Let the relationship grow at it’s own pace
I love my daughter, but I’ve had difficulties in how I raised her because of unresolved issues with my dad and me. Briana was a self-sufficient young lady and still is to this day. I only remembered the harder side of my dads rearing of me and thought that was how I should raise her…Not a good idea.
Since I couldn’t see the love my dad was giving, I didn’t know how to give love to my daughter properly. Over time I got better but for quite sometime you wouldn’t see a #1 Dad cup anywhere in the house. I knew I loved her…she’s my heart. But I didn’t know how to express that to her for comfort and safety. As time went on and I realized my errors I became overly loving…Not a good idea, remember #3.
I was trying to force a relationship like it was there all along. I had to and you will have to learn how to build trust. Take turns being good cop bad cop. But always express your love for your child constantly.
Mistakes will happen, it’s how you respond
We often times want our children to apologize to us for their wrong doing. But we often times don’t think we need to apologize to them. We all know that no parent is perfect, even if we think so in our minds. If we’re honest our mistakes can cover the length of a football field. And that’s no different for any category of parent, but many times mistakes by step-parents are magnified and how we respond should be the same. It was long overdue, but I apologized to my daughter for the years of my misunderstanding in parenting. I’ve talked to individuals from the penthouse to the projects, from small groups to huge auditoriums but asking her to forgive me was more unnerving than any of that.
That taught me to do things a little differently with Joseph. I attempt to quickly make good on my mistakes. I don’t leave a lot of time in-between my mistake and possible correction so whatever negative emotion I could have left with him is smothered before it begins to grow.
We all know it can take years before our children understand what we attempt to do for their well being. But I believe how we respond to our mistakes will help them realize that much sooner, and with step-children the trust will grow faster.
Yes, you’re an adult, but listen
This is most important as a stepparent more so than parent, and also if the child comes into your life older. Many times, especially when we’re upset with the child, we tend to talk and explain but not listen. We may pull out the “because I’m the adult or I’m the parent” line and to a step-child it’s easy for them shut you out. The only way our children can trust us is if we communicate properly.
We have seen TV cop shows where you witness the “good cop, bad cop” routine in the interrogation room while they are trying to get information or a confession. To a degree it’s no different for the natural and stepparent. Since my daughter was five when we married, I should have taken the good cop role more than I did. But over time it did pan out. It’s very important to be on the same page as parents. Again that is with any type of parental role, but what seems small to natural parents can be exaggerated when a stepparent is involved.
Respect the responsibility
With great power comes great responsibility is the motto from my favorite comic book hero, Spider-Man. And as superhero parents we need to respect the responsibility given to us by nature or by the natural parent. There is nothing worse than a parent who, because they have the authority “to do” something, they do things without thinking of the consequences when it deals with the relationship with the child. As you the parent live your life in front of the child it molds that child’s opinions with a somewhat frosted view of life. I’ve lived the good and bad of this point, as we all will but hopefully we have more good moments than not. Just always remember, when we as stepparents make choices and decisions the end result affects our relationship with our children, not just for the short term but for years to come.
Enjoy the moments
Life as we know it, is short. Too short to miss the great moments any relationship can foster and with children, it is even more important. Help make the moments building up a great relationship with building boundaries, trust and sticking to your roles. Each moment enjoyed is priceless, but it also opens the door for deeper trust and new developing roles in the child’s life.
Are you a stepdad? What have you leaned from your experience?