Through experiences in counseling teens and parents, I’ve learned that teens need and often really want parental leadership.
While there is a need for direction for the children, it is difficult for a man to step in and take over the role of a Stepfather and leader. A blended family is better served if relationships and trust can be started and built with the stepchildren before the marriage. A connection before marriage will help eliminate the feelings of “how dare you come in and try to take charge”, “or you’re not my Dad”! It is important the husband and wife discuss and decided before the wedding what roles each of them will have with the children. Parents must work as a team and avoid contradicting one another.
As children become teenagers, the Step-Dad role can potentially get tougher, especially if no rules have been established in advance, and the connection has not been recreated with the step-dad!. As you know, a teenager’s attitude often disagrees with any Father’s rules. So a step-Dad must continue to stick to the family rules but do so in love and understanding. Dads need not to be overbearing or angered in enforcing rules. A step-Dad must show the same discipline with all the children in the family. Regardless of the attitude shown back at you Dad, love them unconditionally as they are your responsibility. As the Step-Dad you too need to attend the school functions and show support for all activities. The key is that you are and love them as if they are now your biological children. A family cannot be well blended if everyone is not accepted and treated the same, lovingly and equitably.
I remind Dads to practice what I call the “E’s” of being a Dad. I’ve used this in many situations, and I am certain it is not original. However, when applied the results are amazing.
- EXAMPLE – Teens will do what they see and not necessarily what you tell them.
- EXPOSE – Your teen to responsibilities and lessons of life. There are plenty of those if you are looking for them. (use of money, choosing friends, integrity, keeping your word).
- EXPERIENCE – When they learn a life lesson the hard way, don’t just come down hard and say things like I told you so. Help them understand why such an issue occurred.
- ENCOURAGE – Look for opportunities to encourage them, as they need it often.
Ask yourself. Am I being a good Step-Dad? Often you must remind yourself … I will be a good Dad just for today. Many Step-Dads suffer from false guilt over whether or not they are doing the parenting thing correctly. However, the truth is there is not just one correct way to raise children or stepchildren, and there is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child. If you find there are issues or problems that are overwhelming as a Step-Dad, reach out and find good counsel and support. We can always learn from other Dads experience. Remember, Iron sharpens Iron.
Here are a few suggestions to help you create that blended family and grow with your step children.
- Love unconditionally. Show your love until they get it… even if you do not feel the love being returned.
- Listen when they talk. Listening tells them you think they are important. Ask for their opinion. Parenting today isn’t easy but listening and watching for changes are important. Every parent knows a time will come when our teens start growing up and will spend more time with friends rather than family. Listen to those needs and wants. However, if spending time away from home is all they want to do, that should send up a red flag of warning to listen to what they are not saying.
- Be consistent. Teens get frustrated when parents say one thing and do another. They do follow our lead.
- Keep your commitments. They would rather have no promise than a broken one.
- Praise them. When they do something correctly, tell them how well they did and how proud you are. It’s important to talk more about what is right .. rather than always finding something wrong.
- Spend time with them. It is important you have alone time specifically for each child. Equally important is family group time together.
- Teach them character. It is important to remember character is often caught rather than taught. They are always watching how you act or react.
- Keep them connected to a church. This may not be part of your life, but the connection makes a difference. Teens need to attend activities and teachings for their age group. This is key to their future success and spiritual growth.
I often remind parents to revisit how you felt during the terrible two toddler stage. The rebellion and pushing the envelope tendencies stem from the same type when teens are learning to separate from you. It is their developmental need. So, you give them guidance, structure, and rules, consistently enforced.. then you do a lot of praying. This is the time we let out a little rope… a little at a time.. before we give the whole rope to them. God is a source of help and strength. With His help and your persistent love you can create the Step-Dad link, and develop a connection for life. Remember, love makes a difference!