What’s My Role: “Dad” or “Stepdad”?

What's My Role:

I married my wife four years ago when her son was only six. He is an awesome kid and we get along quite well. He is an excellent student, very courteous and well behaved. The problem lies in my role with him. My wife feels that I should be his primary father figure since his bio dad only sees him on the weekends. He (the child) as well as his bio dad would definitely disagree and I can’t say that I blame them. My wife can no longer have children do to a medical condition so my dreams of having a bio child are gone and my stepson is all I have left. I do not want to disappoint my wife but I must say that due to their tight relationship (stepson and bio-dad) I do feel more like an uncle then a father. Is this the role I am supposed to have? –BDS

BDS,

You’ve stumbled upon an issue all Stepdads eventually have to struggle with. The good news is you seem aware that making the wrong decision about this could cause problems further down the road. Surprisingly, many men don’t stop to consider the issue beyond their personal feelings about being “dad”. They move forward based on what they want instead of looking at the bigger picture. I applaud you for having your boy’s best interest in mind and carefully considering this.

It’s obvious that you feel a very important bond with your boy. The struggle that you face is the issue of what your role is—and role is a vital thing to be consistent with as a parent. When thinking about roles, the mistake many men make is in thinking they have to be one thing or another; “dad” or “Stepdad.” But that’s not really the way it is. If your wife supports you in your role of parent then there’s no need to define yourself further than that. Be a parent to him, even if he doesn’t call you dad. The most important factor is assuring that you have the full support of your wife in your parent role. She needs to make you a complete partner in parenting. This means the two of you make decisions about your boy together. Neither of you are allowed to override the other’s authority or make arbitrary decisions about important matters relating to your boy. This is important for two reasons:

1)     You don’t ever want your boy to see you as someone with less footing in your home. It’s human nature to want what we want and do whatever it takes to get it. Kids will quickly identify who the decision maker is and manipulate that weakness in the system. It doesn’t make them bad—only human.

2)     You should never have to feel like a second-class citizen in your home. Any Stepdad who’s had the biology card played by their wife can tell you how bad it stings to be treated that way. It undermines you and leaves you questioning your position in the home. That feeling is often the beginning of the end of many blended family marriages. Agree early to respect each other’s opinions and talk about important matters. This will put you far ahead of the pack and help you beat the odds.

Important matters related to your boy might include:

  • Bed time
  • Chores
  • Grades
  • Use of computer, cell phone (as he gets older)
  • Punishments
  • Behavior

Being “a parent” is less complicated than trying to bridge the gap between the dad and Stepdad roles. I have three step kids who are all college students now and have no biological children. The youngest was older than your boy when I got together with their mom. Their dad was still in the picture. I decided early to always treat the kids as if I’d made them myself. Most of us have seen Stepdads who over-compensated. They try far too hard to win over the child and end in a position where the kid expects them to always be on their side. Eventually a Stepdad has to decide whose happiness is more important: The kid’s or their wife’s. They ultimately decide to make the wife happy and the kid turns on them. So I decided to always be a parent and make decisions based on their best interest, just like you are now. I’ve always referred to them as “my kids,” but I don’t refer to myself as their “dad”. That’s for them to decide. It’s worked out very well.

Your situation also has a bio dad present and he and your boy have a strong bond. He sounds like a great role model. That’s a wonderful thing! Boys need good men to pattern themselves after. The more positive male role models a boy has in his life, the more great traits he’ll pick up from each of them. It’s also important to give credit where it’s due. Many fathers walk away from their responsibility. This guy cares about his boy and is showing him how a real man is supposed to be. So are you. You’re both there for him. He will have the benefit of two men in his life who care about him.

Your wife’s position is not uncommon. Just like you have a vision of what a family should be, your wife also has an ideal in mind. Like most people, she feels that a family unit should be solid. Her vision is of a mom a dad and a child- all one happy unit, but the nature of your blended family makes her ideal unrealistic. You’ve started to accept that your dream of having a biological child is also not to be –and that’s admirable. Your wife needs to let go of her dream too. She should accept that you’re a stand-up guy who doesn’t want to impose on the relationship her son has with his dad. You demonstrate an impressive level of self-sacrifice. You’re willing to give up trying to forge something closer with your boy because you can see the big picture. Talk with her about it and let her know that her son is your primary focus and you don’t feel forcing yourself into a dad role is in his best interest. You care about him. She should understand that and be willing to step back from her ideal image of the family.

No one gets everything they want. Life is about compromises. This may feel like another one of those compromises, but you may be surprised in the long run. Be a parent to your boy and as he grows you’ll start to see a bit of yourself in him. Maybe he’ll learn to work on a car from you or pick up phrases you say or stand the way you do. Maybe he’ll develop a love of things you are interested in. Like all parents, Stepdads receive our rewards late in very small, powerful doses. I taught my son to cook and today he’s studying to be a chef. My oldest daughter told me she feels more comfortable talking to me than her bio dad. My youngest daughter and I went through some rough patches when she was a teen, but now she comes to me for advice. These things happen when you’re a parent.

There’s a quote that sums up the role of being a Stepdad and the patience required:

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it, you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”                                                                                                                                                                  – Garrison Keillor

Enjoy what you have -and don’t be afraid to be a parent. You won’t regret it!

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