There are lots of divorced and single dads around. And for just about every one of them, there’s a divorced or single mother. Many of these moms and dads get together and form stepfamilies. There is even a highly successful, nationwide organization (Parents Without Partners) that thrives on putting these people together.

This makes sense. Single dads are less likely to be afraid of children – even someone else’s. In fact, they may even long for a close relationship with stepchildren if their relationship with their own children is suffering. Likewise, single moms may feel more comfortable in a relationship with a man who has some parenting experience

Of course, it isn’t all that easy. Statistics show that, percentage wise, about twice as many second marriages end in divorce as first marriages. The primary reason given for these failed relationships is the children involved.

Not that it is the children’s fault. But clearly, stepfamilies have unique pressures on them because there are non-biological children involved. It may be the children themselves who don’t like the idea of another male parent. Or, perhaps, mom has different ideas about how to raise the children. Things as simple as when the children go to bed, how they eat their meals or what chores they are responsible for can lead to major problems.

Here are some suggestions for dads to help make a stepfamily work.

1. DO NOT talk bad about the children’s biological father, even if mom does. Badmouthing either parent leads to major problems with kids.

2. If you don’t like being ganged up on, keep your disagreements with the mother confidential. Don’t argue in front of the children. Their natural instinct will be to defend their biological parent.

3. Remember that the biological parents have the final say in child rearing decisions. Offer advice when needed or asked but don’t get too involved or everyone will resent you for it.

4. The stepmother and you should work hard at being fair to both your and her children. Be careful about more Christmas presents going to one set of kids than another. If, during your parenting time (“visitation”) you want to get away alone with your own children, be sure that either you or the mother set aside some time alone with her children as well.

5. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself taking care of your stepchildren a majority of the time, don’t be surprised if their mother considers you more of a babysitter than a father. If you accept this arrangement, be prepared to be upset and feeling that you are being taken advantage of. Before it gets out of hand, get a real babysitter.

6. No matter how much you love your stepchildren and how much they love you, you have no real legal rights to them. Should this marriage end, you will not have any right to continue your relationship with them without the mother’s permission. If the bio-dad is absent, you may consider adoption. However, make sure that all the proper notifications have been made. The Fathers Group Fund strongly opposes adoptions where the biological father has not been informed, or (usually) where the biological father objects. Remember that after adoption, if the marriage ends, you will probably be liable for child support and could face the same problems maintaining contact with the children as you do with your biological children.

7. Encourage your children and her, to get along. This may take a lot of practice, they may be jealous of one another, but it is well worth it.

PO Box 931, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701 MetroWest 508-879-4585