In praise of Step Dads

Step dads, and indeed step parents have got a pretty bad wrap. Ever since Cinderella and her evil step mother, the step parent has been the enemy. The villain. The intruder. The harassing step-dad off Hod Rod

Conservative commentators argue that children living with a non-biological parent have an exponentially higher risk of childhood abuse (physical, mental and sexual) compared to children living with both biological parents.  A recent report by the Center for Independent Studies reports similar findings.

This post, however, isn’t about the evil step dad. It’s about the good one. The one that finds a gal who, for what ever reason, has kids from her previous relationship. The step dad that loves his new wife and her kids, as if they were his own.

Any parent will know that parenting can be taxing at the best of times. Discipline, showing love, setting boundaries and managing subsequent children between parent and step children can add substantial challenges for the step dad.

This is going to sound cold, but separated parents are my bread and butter. I spend 8 hours a day talking to separated parents, about money, their kids and their ex partners. Occasionally, I”ll chat to a dad who has re-partnered and who shares some of his struggles with bringing up someone elses children. He might talk about the financial burdens, if the biological dad does not pay Child Support. He might talk about the emotional strain, as he is hamstrung on setting boundaries for his step children who are only too happy to play the parents off each other. Sometimes he might just want to let off steam on this whole step parenting caper.

Some step dads have the challenge of filling the shoes of a dad who has passed away. Often, the biological dad who has passed away achieves ‘hero’ status in the eyes of the children he left behind. The dad that passed away can do no wrong – he does not have to struggle with evening homework. He does not have to enforce boundaries. Discipline. Set curfews.  He does not have to juggle work, family, bills, church or friends. He does not have to contend with anything – he simply (and I say this with absolute respect) was the perfect dad, who if he was around, would of ‘understood’ his kids, unlike the step-dad who seemingly has no clue.

Many step-dads are hamstrung when it comes to disciplining his step children. So often, the term ‘you can’t do/say that to me – you’re not my real dad’ comes out when he tries to establish even the most rudimentary boundaries for his step children.

I want to perhaps give some encouragement to the step dads out there. The ones who love and care for their step children. The ones who got an ‘instant family’ when they married.

Step dads, I want to acknowledge you’ve got a tough, tough job. A job, a task that has and is going to test you and make you wonder if these kids were worth the girl. Times when even the most simplest boundaries you set for your household are going to get tested. Step dads, hang in there.

If I have some advice for the step dad, it’s this.

You’ll never be able to fill the shoes of your step-kids dad, nor you ought too. You’ll probably never discipline right, say the right things or do the right things.

Here’s what you can be, however.

You can be a GREAT influence on your step kids. They won’t say it. As kids, they probably won’t think it, but I promise you this. They will watch you like a hawk. They will watch you to see if you’re going to stick it out. If you’re going to go the full ten rounds. If you’re going to go until the final bell with this marriage thing with their mum.

Your step kids are going to judge you for EVERYTHING you do, and everything you don’t do. Don’t be scared about this – be encouraged. What would you rather be judged for – doing what you believe was right, or talking a half-baked approach? Being deliberate in loving, caring for and respecting your step kids, or being ambivalent, only seeking to do the bare minimum? Your step kids will watch how you treat their mother. They will watch how you approach morality, faith, ethics and justice. They will find your consistencies and your inconsistencies and boy will they magnify them!

Don’t be scared to tell them that sometimes you don’t have a clue about this step parent business, but you’re working on it. Don’t be scared to be consistent, to strive to make the right choices and to tell your step kids that you’ll love them regardless. Take a consistent approach to parenting.

As a step dad, you’re going to take a heap of shots, Some cheap shots, some shots from behind, some shots you may of even deserved. Roll with them.

Here’s what I can almost guarantee. Love your step kids mother. Love your step kids, even when they are being absolute, well, absolute challenges!

Your step kids won’t always be kids. They eventually will grow up, They’ll leave the teenage years and their adults life will start.

They’ll want to choose a vocation, maybe university or technical college. They’ll want to find a partner of their own, buy a house or a car, holiday and be an adult.

Through that, they’ll want an ear to bounce ideas off. If you’ve been consistent, if you’ve stayed in the game and not given up on them, guess what? Chances are, they’ll come to you. They’ll want advice off the man who’s protected them, loved them , provided for them and even made hard decisions for then that they have absolutely hated. When they grow up, and they will grow up, they’ll realize the hard yards you put in.

They’ll have their own kids one day. If you’ve been that loving, consistent figure in their life, they won’t call you their step dad anymore. They’ll have a new name for you. That name? Grandad.

So step dads, keep up the good fight. It’s a hard one, a thankless one and many times, just plain terrible, but chin up. Some punches will floor you, but get up off that canvas. Keep fighting for your step kids, because in the future, they’ll fight for you.

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