While this article is going to focus on being a step-Dad, it is aimed not only at men but also at women with children who intend to re-marry. Being a step-Dad in many ways is really no different from being a Dad, but comes with it’s own challenges and extra responsibilities.
First there is the mindset needed in order to be an ideal step-Dad. And this mindset has to do with how the children are viewed. Sadly it is too often the case that a man will meet a woman, they develop into a relationship that moves into marriage and the children are seen as an “unavoidable part of the deal”. This should not be the case. These children are not ‘baggage’ or conciliations.. they are one of the most important parts of that woman’s life. As such they need to become the most important part of the future step-Dad’s life.
There is a ‘natural’ love ‘most’ men have for their own, hereditary children. This is the sort of love the step-Dad has to have as his goal with the new children in his life. It may happen slowly or fall into place right away. But loving these children as individuals rather than taking the mindset of just ‘tolerating’ them has to be priority. Without this so many problems arise leading to division in the family, jealousy and insubordination of authority. A new step-Dad may have the willingness and be putting forth the effort to grow into this relationship with the kids, but the kids may have trouble adapting to this and need their own time to adjust to it. Tied in to this mindset of adopting the new children into one’s heart is the assumption of authority, leadership and responsibility for these kids.
Regarding authority, the step-Dad is every bit as responsible and in authority for the discipline of the children as the Mother. They are to be parents together for the sake of their children’s welfare. This is where far too many couples do not discuss this area, to their own demise, before making wedding vows. Too many men are willing to default all discipline and authority over the kids to their natural Mother. This undermines the step-Dad’s place of authority in the home. It encourages the atmosphere over time for a child to come to the conclusion, “He may be my step-Dad, but only Mom calls the shots in my life.” Just as in a first-marriage, husband and wife need to be on the same page in regards to how discipline and authority will be applied in the household. They must be in agreement so that any decision one makes, the other will reinforce it so as to prevent division and chaos in the family. They parent as a team, not as opposing parties.
Leadership is likewise an issue too often ignored before the work of marriage begins. Either the husband and wife can agree on the leadership role of the husband or they will have to come up with some method of parenting that can deal with their differences when they are in disagreement. This gets into an area many people have difficulty with; seeing the difference between being equal as people, yet possessing unequal voices in regards to final decisions. It would take an entire article to explore this avenue itself, which we will not do here at this time. However, if the model a couple chooses to employ is something other than the leadership of a husband over the home, then they will need some sort of system other than the “whoever insists the most, gets their way” model. Being a step-Dad does not erase the step-Dad’s responsibility to make final decisions in the family. With that authority also comes the burden of bearing the weight for bad decisions as well as being the one who must lead the family to a resolution for those decisions.
As for responsibility, this too is a consideration men must make regarding their new step-children. The proper and healthy mindset a man should take towards them is to realize that, regardless of the participation of their natural Father, as step-Dad you are taking on the ‘primary’ responsibility for these children’s needs. You are not only vowing your strength and finances to support your wife.. but also the family that will be created as the two of you marry. It is you, as step-Father, who is essentially saying; “I will see to their needs for food, shelter, clothing, medical care, love, attention and nurturing.” This is just one more reason why I do not, and never have been, in favor of separate finances in a marriage. When lines begin to get drawn over what are ‘his’ expenses versus ‘her’ expenses, the needs of the children fail to become ‘their’ expenses. The financial responsibility in this sort of arrangement too many times places the kids needs by default in the Mother’s ledger and that is wrong. Husband and wife are meant to meet the needs of their family together, not in the form of a roommate situation.
Part of providing for these children and being a protector of their rights involves the husband’s resolve to see to it that their natural-Father also contributes to the needs of the kids. These children have an inherent right to part of the gains and income of their natural Father. Their Father has a moral and legal responsibility to provide for his children, regardless of whether they have a step-Dad taking the primary role or not. As a step-Dad it is your responsibility to help your new wife in all ways possible to secure the fair amount of financial support from the kid’s natural Father as a supplement to their care. This is not to say that a step-Dad should be seeking support which is beyond reasonable so as to absolve himself from the need to hold down a job of his own. Remember, as the newly appointed step-Dad you assume the primary care for these children. Protecting and enforcing the children’s rights to their natural Father’s income is simply one part of meeting their needs from a secondary source. You being the new, full-time step-Dad does not alleviate the part-time, natural Father from his responsibilities.
As I stated in the beginning, being a step-Dad is in many ways so very much the same as being a Dad. The only, thin difference is that of genetic heredity. Just as you are seeking a woman to be a wife for yourself, these children are in need of a man who can become a Dad in their lives. Too many men get hung up on the notion, “They aren’t related to me, so it makes it hard to love them as my own.” Well, unless you are marrying your sister, you learned to love your wife despite the fact that she is not related to you either. Love goes beyond emotion or blood.
Love is the action you take towards others. You learned to love this woman as a wife and treat her lovingly. You can do the same for her children, learning to love them as the children in your life who will one day go out into the world equipped with the security and tools you helped place in their hands during the time they were in your care. Affection may only come with time, but the deeds of love can be begun immediately.
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