I came a across a post about a law pending in Missouri that was being decried as anti-conservative because it allegedly disregards the importance of family. Lisa Payne-Naeger wrote on examiner.com, “Representative Thomas Long of, District 134 near Springfield, is sponsoring a bill to allow any person having a parent/child relationship with a minor child who is not the biological or legal parent to petition the court for custody and visitation rights. What does this say for supporting a strong family structure?” With respect to MS Payne-Naeger’s position and any concern she might have about the wording of the law: I think she might feel differently if she were a step parent of a child she loved and then was not allowed to see it after she and the biological parent split up. This is the exact situation many Stepdads currently find themselves in when their marriage has ended.
The unfortunate reality of being a Stepdad is that we all live in a dangerous – catch-22- situation: We need to bond with our new kids and form emotional attachments in order to be effective parent figures, but if the relationship ends we have almost no legal rights to visitation. Custody? Forget about it! The last exhaustive search I did on Stepdads and custody came up empty. In the US, there wasn’t even a successful Stepdad visitation case until 1998 -and he had raised the child as his own since the day of birth and put his name on the birth certificate as well. The case was heard by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of NY and was known as Maby H. v. Joseph H. This was a hard-fought battle that lasted nearly three years and garnered the victor the right to see his child, but did not grant him (even partial) custody. There was no abuse alleged an no substantial reason for him not to see his daughter-except that he wasn’t blood related. Prior to that ruling, those factors were enough.
Going back to MS Payne-Naeger’s comments – I honestly can’t imagine how a man wanting to continue parenting a child after divorce is a non-conservative attitude; whether biologically related or not. Caring about a child as though it were yours is far nobler than caring for a child because it IS your own. Stepdads chose to take on the challenges that come with raising a non-biological child -in many cases where the biological father decided to either: not participate in the child’s upbringing -or not contribute financially. Not all stepfathers are great guys -and many are just evil, but those who take on the noble job (and do it right) deserve the respect of society. The courts should also respect these men who have chosen to take on the job of being a father figure to a child, when they didn’t have to. Statistic from the US, the UK and Canada continue to show that single mothers are more likely to:
· Live below the poverty line
· Have less time to devote to raising their kids
· Have children who suffer from depression, and bad grades
· Raise children who are more likely to be incarcerated
There are plenty of single mother in the world who do a fine job with what they have and who’s kids turn out just fine. I was raised by a single mother who raised four boys without any help or child support –so I have immense respect for single moms. I also have contempt for men who expect their kids to call them “dad” and don’t contribute to their upbringing or support. Stepdads bridge the gap left by these sorts of men. Those Stepdads who help improve the situations created by a single parent home should be treated with respect by the courts. Through their efforts they will help improve the lives of the kids they help raise and improve the communities the kids live in, by assuring they have a complete family –instead of a broken home. This gives these kids a better chance at success in life.
In the case that a good Stepdad’s marriage fails (and the majority do), he should not feel the punishing sting of being kept from the kids he cares about. It’s an injustice and an insult to good Stepdads to deny them the ability to see their kids. It’s also cruel to children to keep them away from someone they have bonded with. Men who seek to see their kids, do so because they feel a connection or closeness to them. The reaction from many Stepdads upon having their right to visit challenged by the bio-mom –is to walk away. These are guys who care more about their kids serenity than their own wants. Many walk away so their kids don’t have to witness a drawn-out fight over them. By the time a couple has split up most kids have already seen at least a few already. Instead of making the kids suffer through it, these ‘Dads put their hearts in a steel box and quietly move on.
I don’t know that the Missouri law will increase the number of men who decide to fight for the option to see the kids they’ve helped to raise, but it might be nice if their honorable position was at least acknowledged. If Missouri HB1758 passes it will give Stepdads (and Stepmoms) just a slightly better position than they currently have in that state -but still hardly anything close to the rights that biological fathers enjoy. Stepdads are a chivalrous breed of man; doing more than they are required -because it’s the right thing to do. They deserve at least as much respect from the courts as a guy who doesn’t even visit his kids –yet still retains legal rights because he was there at the moment of conception.
Parting notes: The name Stepdad –as it’s used here refers only to those men who are doing the job right. Men who are abusive or mean and don’t have their step children’s best interest at heart are not Stepdads… just bad men.