With news that divorce rates have hit an all time high (if couples decide to do matrimony in the first place), I’m not surprised at the plethora of single parents entering or maintaining residency in the dating zone. Dating is hard, and it becomes exponentially tougher when either (or both) players bring baggage to the party. But bringing children from a previous relationship and being successful is not impossible. In fact, if I’ve learned anything about being a stepdad myself, it is this #1 rule: Treat the child(ren) like they are your own.
Let me be clear, my #1 rule is just that, the number one rule; As in before all other rules, which is significantly different than saying it’s the only rule. Since I don’t have the right anatomy to speak on behalf of women (nor would I even want to), I’m going to make my argument from here on out that this should be about being a successful stepdad. Not to say that the criteria for being a successful stepmom should be much different, rather, I’m just not an expert when it comes to those that hail from Venus.
While treating the child like your own should be considered rule #1, you’ll no doubt come across other, slightly less dramatic rules that should be mentioned as you go through family building like I did. Here are a few that stand out, we’ll call them rules 1a through c:
Your love has no bounds, but your authority does. As much as you may love your stepchild, it is vital that you recognize early on the limits of your authority. I can explain it best by using the example of a mall security guard. You might have the uniform, you might have the badge, but you’re still void of the authority of the police. I suggest you not focus on discipline as the stepparent. No matter how awesome you are, they will always think they aren’t yours. Team with their mother to establish a discipline code, don’t rely on you alone. The last thing you want to be is the feared adult in the house.
Don’t be their dad, be a dad. If there was ever a place where “I wish I knew then what I know now” was more applicable, I can’t think of a better instance. It will be up to you, as an adult and with that knowledge in your toolkit, to remember that the kids already have fathers who chances are they love very much. Children haven’t learned yet to be conniving and they think in their mind that they must have allegiance to one dad, and they can only have love for one. Do me a favor, don’t try and replace what has already been established over a much longer time period. Be an enhancement to that relationship, one that openly supports their love for their father. You are to be a father figure, not their father. Remember that.
Do everything that a dad does, as a role model. You’ve signed up to do everything that a birth father would do, but with none of the rights. Don’t let that be a barrier. Be there for them without fail and share in their happy and disappointing moments. You’ll need to build them up, help them with homework, and offer advice. Get out of the house and engage in one-on-one time as often as possible. This will help build a relationship with them that lets them know by proof that you want to be a part of their lives by taking a genuine interest in it. Remember, both of you are in this together and need to find out what relationship works best for both of you. Be encouraging and available, but under no circumstances, use your relationship against their father, or mother for that matter.
As a byproduct of rule #1, you’re going to have to learn forgiveness. It will play a gigantic role in the success of a stepparent and child relationship. When they are being difficult, forgive them. Forgive mom for not always lending you a hand when you’re lost or need her help with discipline. Forgive those in their lives for not yet understanding your new place in your kids home. Most of all, forgive yourself. You will make a ton of mistakes, and you know what, that is to be expected. Be patient, and if all else fails, remember to treat them like your own and you can’t go wrong. That’s why it’s rule #1.