Being A Step Dad Ain’t Easy

When I had my first child, I was almost 19 years old going on 20.  I had no idea what to do or how to do it.  Over time I realized there was an instinct, something natural that came with being a father.  Over the course of the next several years I had 2 more kids.  As they grew up, ground rules were set from the very beginning on what was expected, allowed, and not allowed.  Now as children they argued, fought, and questioned me when they didn’t want to do something they were told to do.  Over time though those things slowly stopped as they realized I was willing to do what I expected from them and because of that they had respect for me as their father and an adult.  Now 20, 18, and almost 15 these things are pretty much nonexistent.  When told to do something, there is no argument or questions why it is just done.  Now I know a part of that is also because me and their mother are divorced and they don’t get to see me that often living in Florida and me in Virginia but also I was with them from second 1.  From conception to now.  Even if I’m not with them everyday I call them I stay in their lives, they know I love them and care about them and their futures and only want what is best.  Now what does this have to do with be a step dad you ask?  Well let me tell you.

I have been remarried 3 years now and with that came 2 children not of my own.  I love them like my own.  One thing my own children know is when I say to do something I expect it done, I don’t want an argument, just do it.   With step children comes a whole different concept because I have not been in their lives from day one.  Does that mean I expect less from them than I do my own children?  Hell no.  I want the best for them just like my own.  Now the dynamic here is a difficult one indeed because I have two children I’m desperately trying to show I want the best for.  Two children who call me dad because their own father is not in their lives anymore because he lies, is a thief, drug abuser, and wants nothing to do with them.  I am more of a father to them than their real father ever was.  Now they are 15 and almost 10.  I came into their lives 5 years ago and became their step dad 3 years ago.  With that said, it doesn’t change the fact I’m not their real father.  I haven’t been there from day 1.  On top of that the oldest has ADHD, ODD, and OCD traits, and no executive skills.

So with his ODD everything with him is an argument.  He has even said he argues with me just to make me mad.  Why?  This makes no sense to me.  And for someone who does not tolerate arguing and expects you to just do what your told, this makes for a difficult relationship.  I do deal with it at times and just walk away or tag team with his mother and let her take over if I feel my anger is going to get to be too much but a lot of times, I end up arguing back.  Why?  To make my presence know.  To say “Listen!  I am the adult, this is my house, you were told to do something, you do it.  It’s simple.  You don’t freaking argue!”  Now does it work?  Nope but it makes me feel better none the less.

I can’t walk away from what I know is right and has worked for 3 other children and is actually starting to work for the youngest step child to throw it all away and stop doing it.  Now I’m not talking specifically about the no arguing thing but just expectations in general, like doing homework, doing chores, going outside to play, not sitting in the apartment in the bedroom all day and night doing nothing but reading, only coming out to eat and bath.  These things have proven to work.

They both have their days when they do what they are told, actually act like they appreciate my advise and love me but MY GOD the days they fight me I just want to pull what little hair I have left out.  Why is being a step dad so hard?  Just like when my first child was born, I am new to being a full-time step dad.  I don’t have all the right answers but I am doing my best to do right by them.  I am learning as I go.  The difference between them and my kids are I came in the middle of their childhoods, not the beginning.  I only hope that when they are out of the house on their own, trying to make a living, they realize everything I tried to tell them, do for them, show them, and teach them was all to help them have an easier life as an adult not to have a harder life as a child.

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2 thoughts on “Being A Step Dad Ain’t Easy

  1. Shannygirl

    It has absolutely nothing to do with their love for you.. it has to do with his behavioral issue’s. He is not a normal child. Nothing “normal” works with him. I’ve tried it all. YOU need to accept the fact that he is not normal and nothing you do is going to work. Your trying to conform him into your mold and that is not going to happen. He is a good kid. He doesn’t get into fights with other kids, he’s not smoking or doing drugs, he doesn’t sneak out or stay out all night. He doesn’t steal or beat up his sister. Your going to have to accept him for who he is or your never going to have the relationship you want with him. He and I can joke and laugh and carry on because I’ve accepted that which I cannot change. You should try it. Stop expecting him to be like your perfect children, because he’s only perfectly Jonathan.. and that’s it.

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  2. Gloria Lintermans

    Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions. Your motivations may be far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. As a new husband, you might react to your “instant” family with feelings that range from admiration to fright to contempt. You might even see yourself as less effective than a biological father. A new stepfather typically enters a household headed by a mother. When a mother and her children make up a single-parent family, she tends to learn autonomy and self-confidence, and her children do more work around the house and take more responsibility in family decisions than do children in two-parent households. These are good things, but to enter such a family, you must work your way into a closed group. For one thing, mom and kids share a common history, one that does not yet include you.

    Moving into your wife’s house can make you feel like the “odd man out.” It might be months before you feel comfortable and at home. In truth, initially, stepfathers do have less power relative to stepchildren, particular adolescents, when they move into the mother-child home.

    You might feel out of place because of a different background or because you have a different perspective on what family life is all about. After years of living as a single-parent family, for instance, both mom and kids are likely to have evolved a chore allocation system. As a newcomer, especially if you assume the traditional male role in a two-earner remarriage, you may draw complaints that you are not contributing enough. Or, while you think it helpful not to interfere, your behavior might be seen as an unwillingness to contribute.

    The “hidden agenda” is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother, her children, or both, may have expectations about what you will do, but may not give you a clear picture of what those expectations are. You may have a hidden agenda of your own. You may see your new stepchildren as spoiled and unruly and decide they need discipline. Or, you may find that after years of privacy, a bustling house full of children disrupts your routine.

    A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let you play the father. Children can be adamant in their distaste for, or jealousy of, their stepfather, or they may be ready and anxious to accept you as a “new daddy.”

    Stepfathers tend to be more distant and detached than stepmothers, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some detachment might be just what’s needed in order to have a workable relationship with your stepchildren, especially during the early years of your marriage. Teenagers may be mature enough to think of you primarily as their mother’s husband rather than as a stepfather. Teens, and younger children, may be unwilling to go back to being “children”—that is, dependent on and subject to adult direction. To you, they may seem spoiled and undisciplined rather than mature. Try to keep in mind that as part of a single-parent family, their responsibilities and participation in decisions were probably encouraged. The hidden agendas of mom, children, and you may be over simple matters of everyday living, things like food preferences, personal space, and the division of labor.

    Discipline is likely to be particularly tricky for everyone. Two parents rather than one now establish house rules and influence the children’s behavior, but you and your spouse may not agree. A second problem can be the influence of the biological father. To you, there may sometimes seem to be three parents instead of two—especially if the non-custodial father sees the children regularly—with the biological father wielding more influence than you, the stepfather. The key is for everyone to work together.

    You might react to all of this in one of four ways. First, you might be driven away. Second, you might take control, establishing yourself as undisputed head of the household, and force the former single-parent family to accommodate your preferences. Third, you might assimilate into a family headed by a mother and have relatively little influence on the way things are done. And fourth, you, your new wife, your stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological father can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

    Okay. Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better? How can you give yourself breathing space—time to catch your breath while your new family begins to come together emotionally and learns how to work together, a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? What do you need from your spouse in order to feel supported physically and emotionally? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

    The best marriages are flexible marriages. But how can you be flexible if you do not know where you, your spouse, and the children stand and what everyone needs right now? Needs will change over time. There must be room for change. People change and promises will not prevent change. People who vow never to change often try to hide their personal growth from each other, and the result, of course, is lost intimacy. People who are not flexible, who cannot change, may be left with a permanent, but stale, relationship.

    In flexible marriages, partners are freer to reveal their changing selves and the parts of themselves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You and your partner must continue to be in touch at a deep emotional level even when the outer framework of your lives changes. The more you know, the more you grow. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later. Flexibility in your relationships will enable growth rather than tearing them apart.

    Get in touch with your expectations and encourage every family member to do the same so you can compare and negotiate the differences. Your goal, and your partner’s, are to actively begin to define and built a healthy, supportive relationship. Talk over specific problems. Just because you were unable to predict some of the problems, don’t let that stand in the way of dealing with them now.

    It is not uncommon for people who marry again to feel reluctant to fully commit themselves emotionally, even though they want the marriage to work. The struggles of your first marriage and divorce can leave scars. When not openly acknowledged and healed, past failure, rejection, loss, and guilt can undermine a new intimate relationship without either of you understanding what is happening. One way to release these feelings is to share them, and to make it safe for your partner to do the same. Each of you needs to feel secure, respected, positive about yourself, and as comfortable as possible in your new family unit.

    You may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in your first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

    Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect

    Reply

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