What’s my role as a Stepdad?

What's my role as a Stepdad?

Is there a general kind of standard that tells us what a stepdad’s role should be in raising the kids? I want to help her and support her as a mom but without annoying her in the process. What can I do if the kids behave badly quite a bit and she lets them walk on her?
We’ve been married for three months and being a stepdad is a lot harder than I thought it would be.  -LabPuppies

Half way through my senior year in high school I was offered me a job washing dishes at a local restaurant. “No problem” I said. I knew all about that. I’d been washing dishes my whole life at home. I showed up for work and immediately noticed that things weren’t exactly as I’d expected. They had high-tech equipment and some detailed processes. They also had a wide variety of chemicals and soaps I was supposed to use in a very specific order when I ran a load of dishes. Then there was the way they wanted the dishes delivered to various parts of the restaurant –some out front, some in the kitchen and some in the prep area. They also wanted me to clear the tables and refill coffee cups if anyone asked. It’s very human to assume you know all about something before you realize you’ve got much more to learn.

Many new Stepdads make the same mistake when they assume they know all about raising kids. They figure, “Heck, I was a kid once and I know how kids think. No problem. I’ve got this.” But many are surprised to find that it’s not as easy as they think.

Kids are challenging because each is an individual. Some kids will respond differently to the same approach that worked with another. One child will easily comply when told to clean his room and another might tell you she’s not going to do it or even ask you why she has to. Personalities, temperament and individual baggage all play into this –and not just the kids’. What a Stepdad bring to the table is just as important. We are all the product of our lifelong experiences. The way we apply the things we’ve learned or experienced will influence who we become. Kids are the same as adults but they have had less time to accumulate life’s scars. Sadly, when kids have had a tough life they aren’t as equipped as adults to sort out their emotions. Many step kids feel traumatized by their biological parent’s divorce. Some Stepdads have to deal with the fact that their wife’s kid(s) might not be interested in letting another dad into their hearts because it hurt too much when the last one left. Each Stepdad’s situation is unique.

I wish I could tell you that there is a general rule for being a Stepdad but there isn’t a standard expectation for what a guy’s role should be when he steps into those shoes. That has to be decided by you and your partner. Plenty of men assume that they know what their role is but it’s frequently not the same thing their wives have in mind. These assumptions leave a lot of men miserable when they marry a single mom. If you are thinking about marrying a single mom you should first set aside some time for a sit-down talk with her. In this talk you should outline how each of you envisions your role in the family. You might be surprised to find that each of you has a very different idea of what your role will be. If she sees you as playing the role of a kind uncle figure and you see yourself as being 100% dad then you’re going to have problems unless you come to an understanding. Imaging how shocked she will be if you take a hands-on approach including punishments, when she expects you to handle them with kid gloves and be more of a baby sitter. The simple step of having a conversation before you walk down the isle will go a long way to increasing your family bliss. It’s like putting wheels on the trailer before you try to haul a load. If you don’t have this conversation early you will be living in a reality that is more like dragging a load of grinding metal.

If the kids already seem out of control then you need to talk soon. There is a great balance among parents. You will usually find that one is sterner than the other. When there is only one parent in the picture for a while and she is the more-permissive type, then kids quickly develop bad habits. It’s not uncommon for single moms to try to compensate for their children’s lack of a dad by giving them everything she can. She may find that telling their kids “yes” more than “no” makes her kids happy. Unfortunately this leads to a blowout when she has to tell them “no.”

A Stepdad who comes into this kind of situation should be ready for a lot of heavy lifting. The dynamic has to change but you can’t be heavy handed in your approach. If you can come to an agreement with the mom, then you can take a steady approach to changing the dynamic in the house. If you move to quickly with the kids you will risk alienating them, which might affect the way they bond with you. Kids who think someone is ruining their fun will quickly decide that person is a bad guy and not to be trusted. If they think you are the big-hammer in the house they will soon find ways to work around you. It is vital that you and your wife are working from the same playbook and that the kids don’t know you are driving the changes. Make sure she doesn’t make the mistake of playing the good guy because it will undermine any authority you have with the kid. Getting a solid game plan together before you make changes –and sticking to the plan- is the key to success here. If you want to be happy in your home you will either have to get her to sign off on the plan or get used to the way things are.

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