Stepdad Q&A

Questions and Answers for Stepdads

1. Is marrying a single mom any different than marring a woman without kids?

There are very significant differences between marrying a single mom and marrying a woman with no children. Some of the most notable are: Becoming a member of a family already in progress, dealing with an ex-spouse (or biological father to the child(ren), bonding with children who may not be happy with their mother’s choice to re-marry, lack of legal standing with regards to the child(ren). These (and other) factors lead to a divorce rate 20-26% higher than first marriages where no children are present (in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia).

2. Is being a Stepdad really any different than being an adopted dad?

The key difference between being a Stepdad and being an adopting dad is your legal standing. As a Stepdad you have none. Adopting dads are also much less likely to have the kid(s) biological father actively involved. This does away with one of the key complaints Stepdads have; that bio dads can sometimes be difficult to deal with.  Because kids are usually given a voice in the matter, most adopting dads will also have an easier time bonding with their child(ren) than Stepdads. [more about adoptive dads]

3. If I have kids and I marry a woman who has kids, what do I need to expect?

To say there’s never a dull moment when blending two families, is an understatement. Common issues include: kid/step parent conflicts, sibling jealousy, bonding issues, problems with the ex(es), insecurity in the kids, competition for parental affection, favoritism (or the appearance of). These issues only scratch the surface. Many Child & Family Psychologists believe that this is the most challenging type of blended family scenario.

4. My stepchild doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me. What can I do?

The most important thing is to be patient when you are developing your relationship with your step child. Like any relationship, this can’t be forced. Bonding will take time and the amount of time will vary based on factors like; the age of the child, the child’s previous experiences with men in their lives, any psychological issues and how safe they feel with you. Kids below the age of ten will find it easier to bond than kids in their teens and tweens. A nice way to slowly build a relationship with a child is to do things as a family. Eventually it will slowly start to work –and it will probably happen without you noticing. Don’t push, don’t be in a hurry. Just enjoy your time with child and your child will learn to enjoy your company. 

5. My wife lets her kid run the house. How do I change that?

Many men who don’t consider the dynamic of the household before they marry the single mom they love find themselves faced with this question. The dynamic exists because the woman you love has let it evolve into what it is. The kids do what they know she will allow them to do. The household dynamic will only change with her approval and willingness to change it. A new Stepdad is not in a great position in this situation. If you try to force the kids to change their behavior they will resist or decide you are the enemy. Mom has to play the bad guy here and you have to play a supporting role. You also have to make the changes gradually. Kids don’t like change. They especially don’t like sudden and major change.
Step One: Get your wife to agree that things have to change.  Step Two: Agree to specifically what will change and how.  Step Three: Slowly work towards the goal.

6. I have a teen step child and we just don’t bond. Should I stop trying to be dad?

As mentioned above in question four, bonding takes time. Trying to force it will not make it move faster. In fact, it will probably make it go slower. A child who feels forced to do something they don’t want to do will typically either: resist it or fake it to please the grown-ups. Either way you haven’t achieved your objective of bonding.  If being regarded as “Dad” is important to you then you may end up disappointed. Many well-meaning Stepdads make the mistake of assuming this is how they will be seen by their new kids, only to find out that their kids are resistant to it. You can’t force a child to think of you as Dad. Many experts even recommend that you not request step children to call you Dad. If they feel it, they will eventually say it –sometimes without even thinking about it. When she does, let her know it’s ok and that if she wants to call you “Dad” you’d like it very much. 

7. I want my step kids to call me dad after my wife and I are married. What’s the best way to make that happen?

As mentioned above, if being regarded as “Dad” is important to you then you may end up disappointed. You can’t force a child to think of you as Dad. Kids who are ten or less are much more likely to bond than teens. This is especially true if the biological father is not in their lives. If the bio-dad is around, some kid’s actually experience guilt about calling another man Dad. It can be an emotional dilemma for them. If they like you enough to think of you as “Dad”, are they wrong for feeling that way?…  Don’t push. No one likes to be forced to do something they don’t want to do. Remember to be yourself. Enjoy the company of your news kid(s). If you are an honorable man they will probably respect you. If a child respects you, it will be easier for them to learn to love you. They may eventually see you as Dad but if they don’t, you’ve still bonded as a family and learned love each other. 

8. My wife’s ex is hard to deal with. What can we do?

The biological father of your step kids (or soon to be step kids) has the potential to be your hardest challenge or your greatest ally. How it all pans out will probably depend on how much effort you are willing to put into it.  There is a lot at play with bio dads. They can have great emotion about another man in their kid’s life and they may feel minimalized in their role as dad. There are some steps you can take to help the situation. [continue reading]

9. I’m engaged to a woman with a pre-teen kid. Am I making a mistake marrying into that situation?

When marrying a single mom the age of the child(ren) can make a difference in whether they will bond with you. Generally, the younger the child, the less trouble they will have bonding. As a child becomes older they may still be happy to accept you but it can become tricky. The age of her child(ren) alone is not a reason to rule out a marriage to a single mom. The personality of the child and the dynamic you have together will tell you a lot about his or her willingness to accept you. If you have no rapport with the kid(s) and you already feel like an outsider then you can expect a challenging road ahead. [related question]

10. My step kid’s biological father never visits  it makes her sad. What can I tell her?

This is always a sad situation. When a child has bonded with their father they naturally want to see him. When the father stops coming to visit (for whatever reason) it can be a very painful thing for kids. Many will believe it is somehow their fault. Because this involves emotional and psychological elements, there is not a simple answer. Some children will suffer a great deal in this situation. If you see an ongoing pattern of emotional behavior from the child, seek a licensed Child and Family Psychologist who specializes in divorce. Be as involved as possible. This is an opportunity to demonstrate to your child that you care about her. This is a child who needs to see what a good man is like. Be that good man. 

11. I only like to date single moms. Is that normal?

Many men find themselves attracted to single moms. There are a lot or reasons for this –some good and some bad. There’s certainly nothing wrong with finding single moms appealing if it’s for the right reasons. Some men who are interested in family and stability find nurturing women attractive. Mothers often exhibit this irresistible trait more than women without kids so single moms are often appealing to these men. If a man is looking to have a family, it’s natural that he’s drawn to a woman with that attribute.  [continue reading]

12. I’m a Stepdad and I’m not sure what my role is supposed to be. How am I supposed to act in this situation?

There is not a standard expectation for what a guy’s role should be when he steps into the role of Stepdad. That has to be decided by each man and his wife.  Many men make the mistake of assuming that they know what their role will be and are surprised to find out that it’s not the same thing their wives had 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…  [continue reading]