I know this site is for Stepdads, so I hope it’s ok if I ask a question. I’m a single mom of 2 girls, ages 7 1/2 and 6. To make a long story short I have reconnected with my high school sweetheart from 20 years ago. We have plans to move in together and get married. He does not have any kids. He has spent time with my kids and they seem to get along pretty well, but it’s not on a daily or even weekly basis. Are there any good reading materials/books that he could read to give him some insight on what he’s getting into? I’ve suggested that we look into couples counseling or family counseling to help adjust to all the changes that will be happening. He says that he’s ready for everything. I’m not 100% sure that he is, lol. I’m VERY thankful that he’s come back into my life! The fact that he eagerly wants to be a part of our lives is amazing. Not many men would want to take on the challenge of being a Stepdad. Thank you for your help! -Anne
Congratulations on your engagement and thank you for your great question. One of the big factors in success or failure in a Stepdad’s marriage is developing common ground with his new wife (as it relates to the kids). Most men only consider how important it is to have agreements in place after they are married and challenges appear and begin to build up. These challenges snowball because there’s no plan or agreements about exactly what his job is in the family. It might sound strange but many couples will start their relationship; each assuming they understand what the Stepdad’s role will be, but never actually talk about it. Many times the husband and wife’s vision is not the same. Because of this they set themselves up for a collision of wills and hurt feelings. Taking the time to talk about each other’s expectations will go a long way to increasing your cohesiveness as parents. It’s impressive that you’re already thinking about how to help him prepare for being a Stepdad. That simple concern will probably increase your odds of success as a couple.
It’s a positive sign that he gets along with the girls, but also not uncommon at this stage. It’s also common for families that start well to erode after a period of time. This can be a few months or even a year. The more preparation you put in before you say “I do”, the better you will be able to roll with any challenges that come your way. With enough effort you can diminish many of the normal challenges families face. It will take consistency, diligence and a strong commitment to succeed. Also, the more planning you put in the easier it will be to bond as a family. Bonding is vital. You can read more about the subject here. While you’re there have your guy watch the Recipe’s for Family Bonding video. We will be adding to this video series as time goes on. The series gives Stepdads ideas for fun, family-based activities. Don’t worry, there’s no cooking involved in this recipe.
We are huge advocates of counseling at Stepdadding.com (and I like your proactive way of thinking) but counseling may not be needed. With the right groundwork and commitment you should be fine. As your relationship progresses you may hit some rough spots and decide that a tune-up makes sense and a counselor may be a great asset for you at that time. You can expect some settling in as your family of three gets used to the reality of having another person there. Child and family psychologists have stated that bonding and adjustment in a step parent situation can reasonably take two-plus years, or -in many cases- doesn’t happen at all. If your fiancé is as committed as you to making this work, then you’re already ahead of the game.
There are plenty or roadblocks to success and many couples unknowingly dig the potholes that will slow them down on their journey. One thing that commonly occurs when a single mom marries a man with no children is that they decide to have another child. If this is a possibility make sure you do your homework and have plenty of conversations with your daughters. A new baby is often a sore spot for kids and can cause hurt feelings, jealousy and a feeling of being second-best. Some very good information can be found in the stepdadding.com article Walking the wire of Stepdadding. In this you will find some great information and facts, which will help you all transition better.
There are no books currently on the market that deal exclusively deal with how to prepare to be a Stepdad. There are many that tell you what to do after things start to get sideways and also a few good primers. One we can recommend is Keys to Successful Stepfathering by Carl E. Pickhardt Ph.D. This will give your kid’s future Stepdad a good introduction to some of the challenges he can expect. It has some good chapters on a very important topic: Being realistic about your expectations. Also watch for a soon to be released book from me, S. James Wheeler, The Stepdad’s Guide: What to Know BEFORE You Say “I Do”. The book addresses the major challenges of the Stepdad role and gives practical advice and tools to prepare for the challenging role of Stepdadding. This book is based on three years of research and my paper The Stepdad Disadvantage. Watch for the book later this year. Since it hasn’t been released yet, we’d like you to have a copy of The Stepdad Disadvantage to help you and your fiancé better understand the forces at work within the stepdad dynamic. Watch your email for a copy of that.
Ultimately the most important thing for you to know is that you, as the biological mom have the greatest influence over the success of your family as you add another member to it. Understanding what he’s going through and helping him be the best ‘Dad he can be is an important job. Communication between you and your new husband will be vitally important to maintaining stability and happiness in your family. A solid commitment by him towards your children is equally vital. I’m a big believer in making a verbal commitment to your new kids. We included my commitment to my kids as part of our marriage ceremony. Ten years later I can still tell you the words I said that day. Commitments carry a lot of weight when you make them in front of your closest friends and family. Also important: Have him visit our site regularly for information and inspiration. We’ll re-charge his Stepdad batteries!