This is your family. It’s not what you pictured, but it will be wonderful once you get into the groove.
Finally! You can relax and settle into an enjoyable routine of waking up next to your beautiful new wife, who you feel so lucky to have met at precisely the right time for both of you, and enjoying the boring routine of the day-to-day.
You have gone through the twist cycle of the wash, which included the end of what you once dreamt was going to be your ever-after story. Then, telling the kids, leaving the family home, being alone with the kids, finding the new love of your life, telling the kids (again), finding a new home, moving in together and setting up a lovely place for you and her, her kids, who are now also yours in a way, your kids, and maybe some animals, too. It has not been an easy road.
But now, you say, now you have regrouped your life, set the GPS for straight ahead, and your dreams are looking attainable once more. What you may not have counted on was the new family dynamic being far more complicated than you had ever imagined it could be. I mean, you’re good with kids, and always have been! Why then is it that now everything you say or do with your new step-kids seems to go wrong, be misunderstood, miss the mark, and you’re feeling like you are fighting a losing battle that you didn’t want to enter in the first place?
Well, raising stepchildren is not the same thing as raising your kids, and it’s time you get with the new program, or you will be eating your dinner with the aforementioned animals after they get the first pick. So, as a well-seasoned stepparent who has lived to tell the tale, I’d like to offer you seven tips and tricks for being an awesome step-dad:
1. Lower your expectations: You are not the Brady Bunch, The Waltons, nor The Simpsons. Your life is real, and your difficulties are different to what you see on the tube. You cannot expect everybody to fall into line, be ready at the same time, or have the same needs. There will be arguments. There will be fighting. Your offspring and their roommates /stepsisters and stepbrothers will naturally have a hard time accepting and dealing with their new situation.
Don’t forget that, for them, everything has changed, too, and it wasn’t their idea. I know you didn’t forget, nobody will let you. Also, that natural charisma that always works for you, always, will not work here. Don’t expect it to, it isn’t that simple. Be ready for bumps and unexpected turns in that road.
2. Don’t play favorites: This is sometimes hard to recognize in your behavior. But don’t fret; your shiny new wife will happily point out your errant ways. You cannot show any preference anywhere to anybody. Don’t prefer your kids. Even worse, don’t favor your step-kids. You are now the UN. You are Switzerland. Yes, you are. You are the cleanest, most unbiased umpire known (or unknown) to man (or woman). This is important.
3. Spoil the children: Just a little, not too much to get caught by the authorities. And keeping the previous point in mind, spoil everybody equally. You could spoil the authorities a little extra, that never killed anybody. This tip will keep the good books open, and give you a chance to have your name actually written in them one day.
4. You are not their dad: Your role here is complicated and fragile. Something along the lines of an uncle that lives in the house and sleeps with the mom (ok, that’s gross, so not uncle). Do not discipline them; they already have a mom and dad who know how to do that, even if you don’t agree with what they’re doing. Stay out of it. Support your wife, she’ll need it and appreciate it. Be strong, and be quiet.
5. Have their backs: Be prepared to be their rock. Stand up for them when they need it. Listen a lot. Let them know they can count on you. How? Never hold a grudge or be overly sensitive to how they behave. You are the adult. You know that kids have their ups and downs, say stuff they don’t mean (don’t we all?) and act out impulsively. Be there to pick them up and wipe them off. This is true for how they see you behaving with their mom also. Be good to her. Show them with your actions that you are here to stay and that your home together is a safe place where they can occasionally let go and still be loved.
6. Be a partner to your partner: Keep in mind that your wife is under a lot of stress in this situation. She will be trying her best to make everybody happy, including you. As we now know, she will fail because it is an impossible mission, so her nerves may be more exposed than you’ve ever experienced prior. Talk to her, listen and support her. Be proactive in keeping the house running smoothly. Do the grocery shopping, and don’t forget which kid likes what. Pay attention.
7. Have fun: This is your family. It’s not what you pictured, but it will be wonderful once you get into the groove. Play games. Take picnics. Wash the cars together. Build stuff. Blast the music and barbecue. Unpredictable is your new routine. Enjoy.
Photo: Flickr/ Ed Yourdon