I’ve been a Stepdad to two small kids for two years now, mom and I living under same roof…overall the adjustment has gone better than expected…I’m still having trouble deciphering what should and should not be my responsibility.
I never wanted kids, even got “snipped” at an early age to avoid it…I have dated a lot of single moms but always left because of the kids behavior. However with this one I can’t imagine a life without her so I’ve been here for 2 years and have no plans on leaving.
My current dilemma… I want to help out as much as possible without being taken advantage of. I feel deeply that it is partially my responsibility now to make sure these two kids grow up with values, a sense of love, a sense of humor, a sense of belonging…all the things that parents should teach kids. I have zero patience though. It has increased over the past two years but it doesn’t take much to push me into the red. At first I handled the heavy discipline however after reading some things online we have switched to her being the primary with me being a backup as needed.
Currently I take care of them in the morning…the mom works an hour away and it’s up to me in the mornings to get them up, fed, dressed and to daycare/school. At first I didn’t mind but it’s gotten old. Mom was understanding and we switched roles where she does mornings two days a week ( I do the other three) and I do the evening pickups. Worked for a while but again, now it’s not enough. I have to tread lightly with momma bear.. I’m starting to resent having to manage the kids in the morning at all. I want to get up, go to work and focus on my business. If I can spend time with them at night, great but if not, I feel as though I shouldn’t have to.
FYI… kids’ dad is in picture (drunken loser) and gets kids every other weekend…lives 2 hours away.
I love the mom, I’m learning to love the kids. I play with them on the weekends, we do cool things together but I feel like during the week I shouldn’t have much if at all any responsibility. That being said when I’m taking care of them I do my best and am as patient as possible, no physical discipline, raising my voice is kept to a minimum, I try and guide and teach rather than react.
Am I a selfish bastard that shouldn’t have kids? Is the mom expecting too much for me to have to take care of them every morning Is weekend play time not enough involvement? I’m lost and confused. I want to be a good Stepdad and husband but I feel as though I should have minimal expected responsibilities/involvement with kids daily routine maintenance. Please help. As you can tell lots of conflicting thoughts and emotions up in the air and I need help letting them fall in to the right place. Thank you for any advice. – Josh
I can tell from your email you’re very conflicted. Your heart’s in the right place but you’re struggling with one of the most common challenges Stepdads deal with; defining your place as a new member of the family. This is making you re-think your decision to marry a single mom. How you deal with this will set the tone for how you handle future issues in your relationship. The majority of Stepdads will ask for a divorce. Those who do, usually leave in the first five years. Your wife almost certainly doesn’t understand how much you’re struggling right now. It’s important to let her know so you can work on it together. The solution is more simple than you realize, but the explanation will take some time. So roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. I can help.
Before we get started it’s important to acknowledge how challenging it really is to be a Stepdad. Most couples struggle. The April 2014 issue of Money Magazine reported that 41% or couple fight over money and 35% fought over household chores. Nearly a third argued over the details of raising the kids. We’ve all heard that about half of all relationships end in divorce. Stepdads leave at twice the rate biological dads do. The reason?.. Issues like money and raising the kids can be a much more stressful for Stepdads because we often don’t have control over this.
Money issues can be effected by child support (or lack of it), and issues related to raising the kids are often a challenge because the mom has already established rules the Stepdad may not agree with. In addition there are many other stress areas related to communication and role. Add to that that most Stepdads have to learn to be a parent instantly! Moms have had years to adapt to their new role and often forget that it takes time. Some wives become impatient, not understanding why their husband doesn’t know how to jump right in and be a dad. It’s natural that the added stress can make many men feel overwhelmed. With some effort these issues can be overcome and minimized. Helping her understand this can help you create a plan to help you adapt to your new role.
But let me answer a few questions before we get any deeper.
“…having trouble deciphering what should and should not be my responsibility.”
This is a common thing new Stepdads struggle with. The answer is simple: Ask!
Yes, I know that sounds obvious but it’s a vital step many new couples miss. Now, let’s make sure you truly understand what I mean. I’m not talking about simply asking her what role she wants you to play. A simple answer to that question won’t tell you what you need to know. Dig deep, ask follow up questions. If she says she wants you to be “like a dad to the kids” try asking what she feels a dad’s duties and responsibilities are. If she says “A dad’s job is to be there”… ask more pointed questions. What does she mean “be there.” Any reasonable person could define that as simple meaning you live under the same roof. Don’t let her off that easy. Write down the answers and develop a plan and agreement. Keep probing until you have a complete picture of what she needs. You can’t give her what she needs if you don’t know what she wants. You can read more about this process here.
“Am I a selfish bastard that shouldn’t have kids?”
No, there’s nothing wrong with considering how the situation is affecting you. Understanding what’s bothering you allows you to discuss and overcome the issue. But don’t wait. It’s important to start talking about problems early. When you delay resolving things, your thoughts and emotions can change your behavior. Don’t allow yourself to react from an emotional place. If you let it build up you may snap and say something you’ll regret, or your emotions will change your behavior, which will confuse her. It’s harder to resolve issues after we’ve allowed our feelings to build up. Remember, she probably doesn’t completely understand what’s bothering you. You’ve got to start the discussion.
When you married your wife you made a commitment to her but you made a silent and bigger one to her kids. It may not be obvious, but it’s hard on kids to have parents coming and going. It puts them off balance and destroys their sense of stability. Stability is vital for children. When kids don’t have stability at home they look for a way to replace it. Consider most of the people you’ve known who turned out badly. Usually there was something wrong with their home when they were growing up. Don’t every allow yourself to resent your kids! They didn’t ask to lose their dad. They didn’t ask for their family to go through turmoil and unexpected change. You’re struggling with the kids. That’s normal. But remember, it’s because the parenting roles aren’t defined and you and your wife aren’t working as a team – it’s not because of the kids. Your kids’ have become a reminder of that failure. It’s a symptom of the real problem. It’s time to fix it! Define your role, but also define the division or responsibilities. Maybe you’ll decide to share the job of dropping off the kids. Whatever you decide, it’s important to understand that being a parent is now your new reality.
You mentioned that you feel a sense of responsibility for how the kids grow up and their development of values. Good intuition! It is partially your responsibility to help assure they become good people. You also get Stepdad points for understanding you shouldn’t be the primary punisher. Nothing will damage your ability to bond as a family faster than becoming the designated punisher. There are strategies you can use to put a plan in motion. You can read more about that here.
Patience is vital as parent, but even more important as a Stepdad. Stepdads have our patience tested at a higher level -and not just by the kids. The wife and even the extended family can be challenging at times. Your position or your authority in the family may be questioned, even if people don’t do it out loud. It will be work but you need to continue every day to improve your patience. Like anything else, your ability to become more patient gets better with practice. Practicing patience is not a natural thing. We have to force ourselves to do it. It’s a little like lifting weights; The more you work that muscle, the stronger it gets.
You’ve said their father is an unreliable alcoholic. That puts a heavier burden on you. These kids need a strong, reliable male role model in their lives. That’s you now! You married for love. That love needs to extend to your kids and become absolute commitment. You can’t be fully committed with one foot out the door. There’s more at stake here than your happiness. Kids who’ve seen they can’t count on their father should never learn that lesson a second time with their Stepdad. It only shows them that dads aren’t permanent. Girls learn they can’t count on the men in their lives and boys learn that dads don’t have to stay. When they grow up they’re less likely to be reliable fathers. Don’t allow them to learn those lessons. It’s time to fix what’s broken.
There are no shortcuts in good parenting. It’s a full-time job to make sure your kids learn what they need to know. Sit down today and work on a plan with your wife. Let her know it’s a challenge, adapting to this much change at once, but you’re up for the challenge. You just need her help. Let her know you want to put together a plan you can both follow. She’s been doing all this on her own for a while, so she’s feeling some relief. It’s new to you, so you’re feeling overwhelmed. Work out a plan where she takes a little of the load and then you can ease into the role, adding a little more as you move forward. If you need a little extra help pick up The Stepdad’s Guide- Resolving Family Conflict. This outlines a plan to help avoid issues and resolve the one’s you’re dealing with now. Make a plan and keep working to improve it a little each day. Eventually you’ll find balance.
Keep Stepdadding – and keep smiling! You can do this.