These days, blended families are the rule and not the exception; many children are growing up in homes that feature some conglomeration of step-parents, half-siblings, full siblings, step-siblings, and biological parents. Yet despite the widespread social acceptance of blended families, the fact remains that there is often tension between step-parents and step-children; no matter how politically correct we try to be, step-parents and biological parents are not interchangeable-and they shouldn’t be. The relationship between a step-parent and a step-child is a whole different parenting ball game. This fact doesn’t undermine the value of the step-parent, it just acknowledges the diversity of family relationships and helps us recognize the need to work with the challenges that come with blended families in order to achieve a greater sense of love and security and avoid major relational problems.
There are many blended family dynamics that we could address, but let’s focus on one specific role in the blended family: the step-dad. Step-dads often struggle to understand where their step-children are coming from emotionally, and are often unsure of how to proceed in a leadership role among children who aren’t biologically his-especially if it s during their teenage years. If you are a step-dad, here are a few tips to help you navigate the rocky emotional that comes with taking on a child-rearing role in a blended family:
Accept your step-children’s emotional wounds: Take the time to see where your step-children are coming from emotionally, and do not take it personally that they may harbour resentments towards you about the loss of their father. Children have a right to be hurt and grieve the fact that their biological family is no longer together, and you have to respect this right to grief as a step-parent.
Display calm, consistent behaviour: The best thing you can do to win your step-children’s trust is be calm and dependable. Treat them consistently with kindness, respect, and authentic concern. Don’t be too bushy and don’t disrespect their boundaries.
Don’t try to replace dad: A step-dad is not a replacement dad, especially if step-children still have a good relationship with their biological father. Your job as a step-dad is not to pretend that you are the new dad, but to offer your step-children love and warmth as a positive male role model.
Be firm: While it is important not to push your step-children too hard, it is also important that they know you are still an authority figure in the home and that you require respect. Be firm and consistent in enforcing the rules of the house-if you are too much of a push over your children will resent you just as much as if you were to be totalitarian.
Step-parenting is tricky, and taking on the role of step-dad can be emotionally challenging, but it is also rewarding: blended families give their members opportunities to explore new avenues of personal growth and help them develop their capacity to love others outside of the traditional biological unit.