Let me go on the record first by saying that I am not a professional at all. I hold no degrees in family sociology or psychology but having lived the life for 12 years now I feel I can speak with authority on the role of being a good step-father. The fact that I have had lots of fun doing so, been successful at it, and have a great relationship with my daughters is even more telling.
And I do refer to them as “my daughters”, I will never put the word ‘step” in front when referring to them. I feel it cheapens their worth to me. I think it actually weakens the relationship that I feel we have built. So, now to that recipe.
1 Part Patience: If you are a guy like I was this is going to be needed-big time. I basically went from a dude who lived alone in a small apartment in El Paso, Texas to a guy with a wife and three daughters-all walking and talking and doing girl things. Something I referred to at the time as “insta-fam”. And patience has never ceased being needed. On mornings when we are going somewhere as a family I have had some of my greatest moments of over-flowing frustration. Arguments over the bathroom, who is wearing who’s shirt, blow dryers and music blasting. Then, as I am expecting our departure I come to find out that the one who takes the longest to get ready is still in bed. Others areas that will required patience: boyfriends or girlfriends, school work, and giving rides to friend’s houses, to name a few.
1 Part Understanding: For me the most difficult part here was understanding my role. At first I tried to be the primary disciplinarian. Wrong answer. After reading and learning on the subject I have since found that the natural parent must always be the “that guy” or “that girl”. Of course, another piece of understanding is learning who these people actually were. I couldn’t believe (or understand) some of the ways they reacted to certain things at times. I remember once cooking a meal and my oldest not wanting to eat the spinach. I love spinach and just could not believe these people didn’t! After making her sit and eat it my wife finally said, “Ken the girl don’t want it. She is almost gagging.” So, yeah. My bad. Another example is that of feelings. Girls have waaay different feelings than guys. Other areas that may require understanding if you’re situation is similar to mine: girl specific stuff (you know what I’m talking about and yeah, it really is an issue), Barbies, motivators, fashion, Justin Bieber and Twilight.
Heaping Handfuls Of Love: Paramount. I will be blunt here; If your step-kids can never be special to you then you will never be special to them. I love my girls and would choose hanging out with any of them over all of my adult friends. Heck, we have similar interests. Comedy, games, music, school etc. The funny thing is, I don’t know when it happened. I just sort of evolved into that. There have been times in my marriage when it has become rocky and my first instinct has always been, “what about the girls?” I couldn’t imagine myself leaving them even at the worst of times with my wife. Once these kinds of emotions develop I think success has been reached, actually. Which also makes me real bad at being a disciplinarian. I melt when the smile or cry. If I do punish or correct I have to do so and then leave or detach for a while. If not I will cave and it is impossible to stay mad at them.
Pinches of Assertiveness: Let’s face it you’re going to have to lay some claim to your life. If it is a similar situation to the one I am in you may have to claim large chunks of it back. I can remember a time in my house where we had 2 computers and 3 TV’s and I couldn’t find a chance to use them! Like a public library I was waiting for the next one to come available and had to run to the spot! Food? Forget about it. At times I would buy ice cream or some chips and they would be gone before I had a chance to eat them. So, I guess what this all comes down to is this: you can be assertive with your step kids. You can have rules and boundaries. You’re life is not over! Even if those rules seem immature and stupid, it is OK. “Don’t eat my Doritos” is a standing rule in my house and one which I enforce with constant vigilance.
Once all of these ingredients have been put in the great bowl of what has now become your life, don’t do anything. I know that the recipe calls for “mix well” but don’t! Stop! Do not force it. Refrain from stirring, shaking or rolling. It will happen naturally over time. For me it was about ten years. It was not at all rocky or unenjoyable during that time but it took that long for all of us to fully meld.
My daughter’s know how important they are to me too. They have grown up under my watchful eye, they are currently 20, 17 and 16 years old. All good students and fun people. They are positive contributors to society.
Their father has not been able to be a part of their life but I don’t ask that they call me “dad”, that is some of the understanding part. It’s just easier this way. When we all first started living together I was “Ken” and “Ken” I have remained. Should I force it? I don’t think so. Besides, they refer to me to other people as “my dad” or “my father” and, this may sound cheesy but I don’t care, when they say “Ken” I actually hear “Dad.”