Being a “Stepfather”

One of the issues that has come up for discussion at our OnlyDads meetings – from those men in relationships – is their role as “stepdad”. As with most aspects of parenting, there are no set rules and little in the way of guidance to help men fulfill this vital role to the best of their ability.

We know that our website needs more information around this whole area of “step-parenting” and we turned to our friend Keith to get the ball rolling. He was asked for some words that covered the “joys and challenges” of being a stepdad; what he has written sent shivers…

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…”I hate the term ‘stepfather’. For me, it conjures up images of distance, not intimacy.

The media have turned it into a term of suspicion (and thanks to Cinderella, stepmothers have it worse!)

Even in these modern times of complicated, ‘blended’ families, eyebrows are raised when a husband’s relationship with his wife’s daughter is a ‘step’ one.

But I am one. Legally. I am married to the mother of my wife’s daughter. And I use the term ‘stepdaughter’ all the time, both in the blogs I write about parenting, but also to everyone who, on introduction, asks: ‘So, is this your daughter?’ To which I reply, ‘No. She’s my stepdaughter.’

But I never use the term stepfather, or stepdad within our family. And nor does my, er, stepdaughter. We call each other by our names: in her case, Daisy, or Dais; in my case, ‘Beef’, or ‘Cheeseglasses’ (don’t ask!).

It is this informality between us that makes my relationship with her very different to the one I have with my two sons. I am very much ‘Dad’ to them, and I am very proud of that fact.

Logic, therefore, suggests I am not proud of being Daisy’s stepdad. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. I am immensely proud of the 10 year-old girl who has been part of my life since she was one year old. And I am immensely proud of the relationship I have with her.

But even as her ‘primary carer’ since my wife and I swapped roles a year ago after I was made redundant, I still don’t regard her as my ‘step’. She’s just Daisy. My sons’ big sister. My wife’s daughter. Her dad’s little girl.

And it is this lack of comfort with the term ‘stepdad’ that makes my parenting of her fraught with difficulty.

I’m not her dad. She has her own dad who she talks to on the phone twice a day, who she sees every weekend, who she spends at least half of her holiday time with. And not just with him, either, but with her ‘stepmum’, her three ‘step siblings’ and her other little brother by her own dad and his wife.

Yes, it’s complicated. Both logistically and emotionally.

I don’t cuddle her like I cuddle my boys, because she’s not mine. I don’t discipline her like I discipline my boys, because she’s not mine. She has her own mum and her own dad to give her both those things.

Occasionally, this is frustrating for both of us. If one of my sons is upset, I pull them onto my lap, stroke their hair and kiss their tears away.  If one of my sons steps out of line or back chats, I give them hell. I am their dad. It’s my job.

But I don’t feel comfortable doing either of these things with Daisy.

I put myself in her father’s shoes, and imagine how he would feel if his life and soul was being cuddled and comforted by a man who wasn’t him. I put myself in his shoes and imagine how defensive and protective he would feel if a man who wasn’t her dad was tearing several strips off her in the way I do my sons.

So I keep my distance.

And instead, what has developed over the years, is not a father/stepfather relationship with her, but a friendship.

Yes, she’s only 10, but she’s an ‘old’ 10.  She’s finding her way in the world; she’s full of questions and curiosity. And it’s me she turns to with these questions.

It’s a different relationship to the one she has with her mum or her dad. She tells me stuff she would never tell them – and I would never tell them, either.

It might be struggles with homework; it might be issues with classmates. But she comes to me because she knows I’ll listen; because she knows I’ll never break a confidence. Because she knows I won’t judge her.

Yes, I’m her stepdad, and I have all the stepfatherly responsibility of feeding, clothing, running around and nagging.

But hopefully, with my own approach to step-parenting, I will never have to suffer that moment of teenage rebellion when one’s stepkid reacts to an instruction with the cruel retort: ‘You can’t tell me what to do – YOU’RE NOT MY DAD.’

No, I’m not. Never pretended to be. Never want to be. I’m ‘Beef’. And to me, my wife’s daughter will always be Daisy. Mates. Forever. Hopefully.

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
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5 Responses to Being a “Stepfather”

  1. Karen says:

    What a wonderful post. At the risk of sounding patronising, you’re pretty amazing!
    What you say fits so well with my family. My parents are divorced and both remarried. My Dad’s wife is just that, his wife Elaine. I call her Elaine and always have done. She’s been in my life since I was about 5 and I have never referred to her as my step-mother. Similarly, my mum’s husband is Roy and not my step-dad. I have my own Mum and Dad and never felt the need to associate their partners with a parenting name.
    I am divorced and have 2 girls from that marriage who live with me and my fiance and our 2 little boys. Again, he is Paul, their brothers Dad but not their step-dad. Although their Dad lives 200 miles away with his wife and young son (complicated eh) they speak to him/see him regularly. Paul provides a very practical and sometimes emotional parenting role to them but he has never tried to take their Dads place in their life. They are good friends and have a lot of love and respect for each other.

  2. mightbeatranny says:

    the step dads i have known have been amazing. they take on the role and its “real” for them. honestly, i cannot imagine anyone wanting to raise another persons child. it takes a special person to do that. its SO, SO important that the relationship is not just good, but really special. the childs vision of what parents are and how they treat each other and the child are already tainted by the divorce (maybe death is different). if the step-dad role is not done right; BAD, BAD for the kids. when the child is yours, there is a natural love and desire to protect and proide for it (for most people). but when its not your child, especially when you come around after the adorable, baby/toddler stage; that takes a really special man.

    i think your daughter will probably say, “you’re not my real dad” at some oint, not because its rational or how she feels, but because teens are raging w/ emotions and they say what they think will hurt most when uset. if you didn’t take on the role of dad w/ any real gusto, what would you care if she said you weren’t her real dad? you wouldn’t. there would be no point in her saying it.

    your daughter is very lucky to have another person in her life to love and support her. hopefully, her father does not feel threatened by that. we should all be so lucky.

  3. Tony says:

    Being a stepdad has been a very empty and lackluster experience. If I had it to do over, I’D never married into a ready made family. Anyone who says you can love stepkids like your own is full of shit ! They need to be honest.

  4. David says:

    I completely agree with Tony, if I had my time again I wouldn’t go through it again!!!!

  5. GRH says:

    Excellent post. I’ve been the stepdad to my stepson since he was born. He’s now almost 16. Over the years I’ve searched for similar stories but it’s been hard to find as most articles are written for the Step Parent who comes along later in a child’s life. While we chose to handle things differently than you did with Daisy, I must say, I’m envious and wish we would have done it that way.

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