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12 Tips For Succeeding as a Stepdad


Aug. 5, 2021 Fatherly

Around four million men in the United States are living in relationships where the children aren’t their biological offspring, according to the last Men’s Fertility report. Of those the majority — 59.9 percent — are identified as a stepdad to one or more children in the household. The blended family is growing dynamic and one that presents its own set of challenges and rewards. 

“While conventional families resemble a cake with its orderly layers and icing on top, a step-family is often more like an Eton Mess cake,” insists stepdad Neil Reilly. “It’s often all over the place and you never get the same one twice.” 

Step parenting is tricky territory to navigate. Simply knowing that you’re going into a very different family set-up, with a whole new set of existing rules (or possibly no rules at all) and traditions means it pays to tread carefully. 

“I married into a family of two, and then had another two children. And then divorced and then remarried, with a family of two children,” explains Dirk Flower, psychologist, teacher, adolescent therapist, and family mediator. “I’ve become a step-father twice with very different experiences both times. Obviously, each family is unique, but in my experience there are common themes that occur in blended families that it helps to be prepared for.” 

Stepping up to become a stepfather can also be a life-defining experience as you grow and nurture your blended family, build new relationships, and master new parenting skills. But what advice is important to keep in mind? This advice from parenting experts and stepfathers who’ve been there is worth keeping top of mind. 

Don’t: Rush In

“Common errors new stepfathers make include rushing into issues like a bull in a China shop, or else avoiding issues completely for fear of being too imposing,” says David Spellman, systemic and family psychotherapist. It’s a tough balance to strike. A solution, according to Flower, is to bide one’s time. “Allow the original parent to be the parent,” he says. “Until you’ve established a really good relationship with the children — and your new partner — stay out of the parenting world. See your role initially as being supportive of the mother and to provide extra resources as and when required.” 

Do: See Yourself as a Step-Dad

“Visualize how you would want to relate to your stepchildren, and how you see yourself forming a new blended family,” suggests Rachel Andrew, family mediator, and psychologist. “Too often step-parents are so wrapped up in the new relationship with their partner that it’s only later — as they can come to feel like they’re thrust into a situation with that involves children — that they realize they haven’t talked about how they’re going to come together as a family and how the role of step-dad will work.”

Do: Expect Fireworks

By the nature of separation and divorce you may find yourself going into a relationship with a new family still hurting from what’s gone on before, explains Andrew. “The children in that family may still be coming to terms with their parents’ separation and trying to make sense of what’s going on,” she notes. “Often the new step parent will bear the brunt of their anger, confusion, and feelings of fear and worry.”

Don’t: Talk Bad About Their Dad

It’s crucial, per Spellman, to avoid disrespecting the biological  father when you’re around the children. “No matter what your personal view of the children’s biological father is,” he says, “discuss that away from the children.” If you feel the need to vent — and you likely will — use your own support networks to talk about the frustrations you may have with his behavior towards you, your new partner, or the children.

Do: Trust the Process

“If you become aware of issues regarding the biological father’s parenting — if he was neglectful or abusive in some way — you may have to trust that the children will come to a point where they will see all of that,” says Andrew. They will get it and see him for what he is. You don’t need to be the person to point it out. “But,” he adds, “you do need to be there in the background still giving support, and giving them what they need.”

Do: Expect Fireworks

By the nature of separation and divorce you may find yourself going into a relationship with a new family still hurting from what’s gone on before, explains Andrew. “The children in that family may still be coming to terms with their parents’ separation and trying to make sense of what’s going on,” she notes. “Often the new step parent will bear the brunt of their anger, confusion, and feelings of fear and worry.”

Don’t: Talk Bad About Their Dad

It’s crucial, per Spellman, to avoid disrespecting the biological  father when you’re around the children. “No matter what your personal view of the children’s biological father is,” he says, “discuss that away from the children.” If you feel the need to vent — and you likely will — use your own support networks to talk about the frustrations you may have with his behavior towards you, your new partner, or the children.

Do: Trust the Process

“If you become aware of issues regarding the biological father’s parenting — if he was neglectful or abusive in some way — you may have to trust that the children will come to a point where they will see all of that,” says Andrew. They will get it and see him for what he is. You don’t need to be the person to point it out. “But,” he adds, “you do need to be there in the background still giving support, and giving them what they need.”

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