It’s been almost 5 years since I became a stepdad. I was already a Dad to my two bio sons but welcomed my two stepdaughters with a sense of trepidation. When my marriage broke down I decided I didn’t want any more kids. Then I met Nicky and all bets were off.
I’m so glad I did. I love my stepdaughters. My life is richer for having them in it and they have made me a better father.
It hasn’t been without its trials, tribulations and tears (and that’s just me).
If someone asked me what my advice would be for any stepdad out there this is what I’d say.
I kid (maybe). Let’s dive in.
Patience is key. Those bonds you think will take months to form? I’ll tell you right now it’s going to take years. That’s normal and it’s ok. Just be prepared for it. Don’t force it. Let your relationship grow and develop naturally over time.
Don’t rush things thinking if they call you “Dad” sooner or give you a hug within a month that your blended family will succeed. It’s quite the opposite. It can take 1-2 years for a blended family to adjust.
Don’t just exercise patience on the big things either. Apply it to your daily life. Think 5/5/5.
Is this going to matter in 5 days?
Will it matter in 5 months?
What about 5 years?
The kids will grow up. Child Maintenance will stop. You will be able to enjoy child-free holidays. They will start eating a wider variety of food…… you get the idea. Let go of these small annoyances.
Play the long game. Put down strong foundations for your relationships and let go of the small stuff.
Be OK with being everyone’s second priority
It will feel like you are coming second to everyone else.
If you have biological children it’s likely (in my experience) that they spend more time with their bio Mum. That is their “home”. Your home might be a weekend/school holiday retreat. A holiday home if you like.
Your stepchildren have their Mum and in lots of cases, their bio dad is in the picture too.
Your partner/wife/husband will have their own bio kids as their priority some of the time too. School prep, clubs and extra activities are a huge time sink.
There will be times when you feel like no-one is looking out for you. You take care of you (more on that later) but be ready for when your family needs you.
Be the best damn backup you can be. Be ready and willing to show everyone that you love them and that they are all your priority, even if you don’t feel you are anyone else’s priority. Don’t be hurt by this, this is your opportunity to be a superhero.
Get Involved and Take Notice
This one applies to being a bio Dad too.
Don’t fall into the trap of letting the mum’s do all the life admin. Make a point of letting all your kids know you are thinking of them. Let them know they are important. Make the time.
Go to assemblies and parents evenings at school. Ask how school is going. Make a point of remembering tests or big events and ask them about it, making sure to wish them luck beforehand. Help them with spelling tests and homework. Ask about their friends. Cook them their favourite meals. Take them to the doctors if they need it.
Find out what they like and ask them about it, show an interest. Be an active part of their daily lives.
Now I really struggle to remember all this stuff so I am always adding reminders to my phone. “Hey Google, remind me to text big son on this date because of X”. My phone is full of them.
When my sons aren’t with me I text and call them so they know I am thinking of them. I’m still a part of their life even when they aren’t with me. And when you attend the parents evening for your bio kids, let them know.
“Hey, I spoke with your teacher the other day. She said you are crushing Maths but not so much in English. What can we do to change that? What can I do to help you with that?”
My stepdaughters have recently stopped seeing their bio Dad. Mostly because he knew nothing about them. He never went to their school, didn’t know who their teachers were and never sat and did homework with them. He didn’t know what films they liked or which clothes to buy them.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking just one parent needs to do this stuff. Get stuck in. Your kids won’t ever thank you for it but they will notice.
Have Buckets of Empathy
It’s so easy to get caught up in how you are feeling about any given situation. You might be feeling some of these:
- Worrying if your own kids are feeling left out because they aren’t with you as much as your stepkids.
- Feeling stuck in the middle trying to keep your partner happy, your ex content (as much as they can be!) and kids happy.
- Major and I mean major Dad guilt.
- If its soon after a break up then you have to come to terms with spending less time with your own kids.
The list goes on.
But guess what. Everyone has their own shit going on.
Your stepkids might:
- be struggling with loyalty issues to their bio dad
- grieving for the loss of the old family/life, the one they didn’t choose to break up
you bio kids may be struggling with:
- loyalty issues to their bio mum (who may or may not really fucking despise you)
- wondering if you are going to leave them behind for your new family
Your ex might be finding it hard:
- that there is a new mother figure in her kid’s life
- to let go of the life she thought she had
Your new partner might:
- be feeling like you are favouring your own kids
- be pissed that their life is dictated by a court order/your ex
It’s not a good idea to start assuming the motives behind actions. The point is that everyone has got things going on. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective might bring some clarity to your own thoughts and feelings.
Accept some truths
Being a stepdad comes with some hard truths. You can save lots of time and negative emotions if you accept these truths.
- Your life might well be dictated by court orders, ex-partners or maybe even your ex-partner’s new partners ex-partner (I kid you not)
- Ex partners will continue to act as they currently do for reasons you don’t know or understand
- Ex partners will have opinions about you that do not have much basis in reality. Their family will share the same opinions, as may anyone who will listen. You will have to deal with seeing these people. Hold your head up high.
- You will likely spend more time with your stepkids that with your bio kids (more on this later)
- Your partner’s ex will still be able to push their buttons and you will have to deal with the fallout
The only things you can truly control are your own thoughts, emotions and actions. Focus your energy on the things you can control. How you respond in these situations will make or break you.
Always be the bigger person. Be kind, treat others how you wish to be treated. Hold your own actions and behaviour to the highest standard. Be beyond reproach.
Prepare to spend more time and money on your stepkids
If you have bio children too it’s likely that your stepkids will be with you more than your bio ones.
I spend way more time with my stepkids. That’s just my situation. My stepkids live with us 100% of the time. This also means I spend more money on them. More food, school stuff etc. Being OK with this is key to your relationship with them. It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with. I eventually discovered I was sabotaging myself, my own thought process was getting in the way. In the end, it was simple to change how I felt about this.
I changed my perception.
Once you see your stepkids in the same way as you do your bio kids any problems with this go away. Treat your stepkids like you would treat your own. I have just as much of an impact on my stepkids as I do my own. That means just as much responsibility to step (no pun intended) up and be the best I can be for them.
I also came to the realisation that my bio kids aren’t having a miserable time when they aren’t with me. They are off living their own life. They have treats and ice cream and go to the cinema and do homework and everything else that life entails.
That means I can do that here with my stepdaughters without feeling guilty. I still make sure I carve out some time to spend with my sons when they come and I treat them to things too. If I am doing it with all of them there is no jealousy or resentment.
Don’t let your life stop when your biological children aren’t with you. Don’t check out and wait for the weekend – wake up and be present!
Me and Nicky do save some things for when we are all together, certain films or meals. This is important to bring the whole family together but don’t make the mistake of holding everything back. It will make your stepchildren feel as though they aren’t as important as your bio children.
Side note: For the big occasions like birthdays and Christmas my bio kids and step kids all get the same amount of money spent on them. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it any other way. Its the same for inheritance too. Me and Nicky agreed to split everything 4 ways.
Care for the caretaker
Remember earlier when I asked you to be the best damn backup you can be?
You can’t be there for everyone, to support them and love them like they need you too unless you are looking after yourself.
Make sure you are taking some time for yourself, your passions or your hobbies. It’s not selfish to look after yourself. Eat well, exercise and meditate. Look after your mental well being as well as the physical. You arent going to be able to support anyone if you are a mess yourself.
Finally, don’t isolate yourself. Go out with your friends and if possible reach out to other stepdads. It’s a great way to share the nuanced trials and tribulations of step dad life. It can be a valuable source of advice and vitally, a way to realise you aren’t the only one who feels like you do.
It is a stereotype to say that guys don’t talk about their feelings. Most stereotypes start with some element of truth. Don’t struggle through things on your own.
Be brave and reach out.
Finally, a quick recap for those that like a list.
7 Habits That Will Make You A Good Stepdad.
- Be OK with being everyone’s second priority
- Get Involved and Take Notice
- Have Buckets of Empathy for everyone around you (even your ex)
- Accept some truths about your situation
- Prepare to spend more time and money on your stepkids
- Care for the caretaker