A Guest Blog By Christian Pedersen, founder of Power & Heart Coaching for men.
Anyone’s who’s ever been a Stepdad will be familiar with the unique challenges it presents. In this post, I’ll share about one of these unique challenges, namely, how do you keep your power as a man when you’re a Stepdad.
How do you keep your self-respect while having to cooperate, negotiate, and navigate new territory with kids, your partner, and ex’es all in the mix? Even in families with one dad, one mom, one house, and kids, it can be a huge challenge for men to find and keep their power and self-respect.
Most of the men I work with – myself included – are conscious, good hearted, kind men who don’t want to be like the angry, silent men of our fathers’ generation.
We don’t want to be the kind of man who bullies or scares his partner or (step)children into submission. Men like us are much more likely to accommodate, help, negotiate, and acquiesce than yell or threaten. That’s a good thing. But in leaning towards being “nice” – as the stereotypical Mr. Nice Guy points to – nice men often end up losing the respect of their families, and simply not getting their own needs met.
This is even more so for Stepdads. In contrast to bio-dads, we’re often not the primary male authority in the picture.
I’ll add that I’m a Stepdad myself. And just because my kids aren’t of my blood doesn’t mean I don’t want to parent them my way. I’ve taken them on as my own, and I’ve been the de-facto dad since they were 3 and 6, respectively. But the truth of my situation is that there are at least three parents involved in my kids’ lives: My wife, myself, and her ex (who sometimes has partners, which adds a fourth adult).
My wife and her ex have 50-50 custody. The kids have lived in our household half their lives. Which also means that half their lives, they have not lived in my house.
Legally, my wife and her ex have equal authority. But my wife’s ex is very different from me and my wife (and that’s putting it diplomatically!) The ex has different rules, different opinions, allows stuff I’d never allow (like unlimited Netflix access from age 11 or 12, just as an example).
So, it’s easy to feel powerless in parenting, because I don’t have the same “rights” as my wife and her ex, and half the time, I have no say-so over what happens in my kids’ lives, including what they do, what they eat, what they watch, or how much they work, or don’t work.
First, let me share some of the “symptoms” of losing your power. These are the signs that tell you that your self-esteem and power as a man are underdeveloped or – as is the case with many kind, conscious men – is entirely missing!
- You say yes a lot more than you actually want to. You say yes when you really mean no.
- You don’t keep your lines and boundaries with your kids (or your partner)
- You’re afraid of pissing the kids off
- You’re afraid of pissing your partner off, so you do everything you can to avoid blow-ups and confrontations
- You hate it when anyone gets mad at you
- You often keep quit instead of saying what you really think and feel
These are some of the most common signs, but by no means an exhaustive list. There are all kinds of signs that show up that may not have anything directly to do with being a Stepdad. A typical one is a suffering sex life for you and your partner.
So what’s a Stepdad/man to do? Here’s a few ideas and suggestions:
- Do whatever it takes to get on the same page as your partner, so at least the two of you are aligned in your efforts.
- Any authority you have over your children, and any respect they have for you, is earned by you over time! You do not have authority or respect just because you’re an adult man or because you are with their mom. Trying to assert power or discipline before you’ve earned their respect will make you look like a dick (to be blunt). They will consider you the “enemy” instead of a loving, powerful male role model.
- “Borrow” power from your partner. This is especially true if you’re a new Stepdad and still in process of building relationship and earning respect with the children. A smart move until you have their respect and attention is to borrow authority from their mom (and you’ll need to do #1 for this purpose).
- Build genuine relationships with the kids. Join them in their interests. Play their computer games. Go to their ball games. Find something you and they can share that’s outside of their other parents (maybe you all love to watch Fast & Furious, or you totally dig Mine Craft … doesn’t matter what it is).
- Last but definitely not least, get right with your own self-esteem and power as a man. This involves, among others:
- Be ok with intense emotions, whether your own, your kids’, or your partner’s.
- Say no when you mean no
- Share how you truly feel and think. They’ll only know you if you show them. Don’t just tell them with your words – show who you are with your actions and your emotions. Yes, that means showing fear, sadness, and weakness, as well as power, strength, and integrity.
- Keep your agreements. Show up when you say you’ll show up. Do what you say you’re going to do.
- Have strong friendships with other men. If you don’t already, join a sports team or a men’s group. A place where you’ll bond with, and get support from, other men.
And hey, my personal kudos to you for taking on the sometimes difficult and ungrateful job of being a Stepdad. You have a great opportunity to play a crucial role in your kids’ or youngsters’ lives -and to grow yourself to be the best man you can be in the process.
Please contact me for any support. I offer a no-cost Power & Heart Discovery Session to any man with a serious desire to grow himself. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Here’s to you being an awesome dad and a powerful, openhearted man!
Christian Pedersen is the founder of Power & Heart Coaching for men. He supports conscious men to find and enhance their masculine power while keeping an open heart.