There’s a huge change in dynamic from when you’re a single man, to being in a strong relationship with a woman that has children, especially if the father of those children is not what you would call a positive role model. I want to take this time to extend my hand in help (hopefully) to any man that may be in the same situation, or is contemplating a relationship that would make him the father figure, so I will be covering the 3 biggest obstacles that I had to overcome. I myself am in a long-lasting, happy relationship, in which I am the ‘stepfather’ to her kids, so I feel as though I may have a little insight for those struggling to make the change. I went from a single guy that was focused on work and football, to being the daddy to 5 little heathens. (I use that word in the most loving way possible.)
Dealing With The Father
Sometimes, you won’t be the only ‘Daddy’ in their life, and that’s okay, especially if the biological father is a loving, caring soul when it comes to his children. In the best case scenario, the father will be a mentally stable guy, and you two will be able to both be parents, and maybe even friends. But what about when it isn’t the best case scenario? What about when the biological father rarely takes his children, or puts bad thoughts in the heads of the children about who you are? What about if the biological father stoops so low as to threaten you, or scream at you in your own home?
Most men have the retaliatory instinct. The foremost thought in your head will be to lash out in return, but I encourage you not to, and here’s why. It’s simple, really. Not only do you stand to lose the fight, but you also could lose your freedom due to police involvement. The kids could also have a different view of you, depending on how they feel about their father. If they have positive feelings about him, you lashing out, either verbally of physically, could poison their view of you for the rest of their lives.
Instead, rise above. His words may be painful, and you may find yourself defending every move that you make, but in the end, if the kids and woman who is raising them are happy, then you should be happy. It is a concept that took me awhile to grasp, myself, but it will make your relationship better.
You Are Not The Father
Calm down, Maury fans. That’s not the direction that I’m going in. What I mean is, from time to time, there will be decisions made that you do not have a say in. Again, this is okay. While you play an important role in the children’s life, you are not the end of the road as far as decisions. Some will be made by the mother, and some may even be made by the biological father. (Although the latter will be rare, depending on the situation, as well as if the mother is the custodial parent.)
In any relationship, there needs to be compromise, and that holds true especially for relationships that involve children. There will be decisions that need to be made for the good of the children that may not be your first, or even your second choice. It is vital that you take into account that you are no longer alone in the decision making process, and you can no longer do whatever you wish in any situation. From time to time, you will have to take a step back and let the mother (or father, in certain cases) have the final say in the decision at hand.
Discipline is another aspect of this. While it is okay for you to enforce the rules that are already in place in the home, making too many new ones can be a detriment to how the children feel about you. You must be gentle, yet firm, as the kids are not your blood, and this will help them grow to love you like you were. You also need to be more selective as to your breaking point. While the mother may spank the child, you should refrain as much as possible. Try using time out as a punishment instead.
Accept That Stuff Will Break
That includes your spirit. You’re moving from a situation that is laden with freedom, to one that is laden with responsibility. Own it. While you may not be able to do whatever you choose, whenever you wish, you will have a love in your heart that was previously dormant. However, there is a dark side to this. Things in the house are going to break. A lot of things. Beds, chairs, plates, movies, games, your spirit, your heart.. the list goes on.
It’s important not to put too much thought into things like this. Material things can be replaced. (Alternative: If the kids continually break things, don’t replace them. They will learn value that way.) Nothing is worth too much rage directed at your new family because you valued something over them. Here and there, your spirit will break. You will have moments where you don’t know if you’re cut out for fatherhood. But the truth is, every father has had that feeling, whether they are biological or otherwise. This feeling will pass, and come less and less over time. And believe me, if you don’t learn to let things go, then your heart will break. One day you will go too far, and the tears in the eyes of your new family will shatter your soul into a thousand pieces. You’ll feel like that can never be repaired.
There has been a phrase thrown around for years: You are the parent, not their friend. And that holds true, for the most part. But an interesting dynamic comes into play, when you are the step-parent. You have the unique ability to truly be both parent and friend.
Let me explain. As a biological parent, you will need to make rules, and enforce them without wavering. There will be times that you are called stupid, told that you’re hated, and doors will be slammed. (This will happen as a step-parent too, just not as often.) However, when you are the step-parent, the beginning of your relationship with the children should be used to make friends with them. Find out what they are interested in, and partake of that with them. Make them laugh, and laugh with them. Throw them around, and show them that you are there to have fun with, to take care of them. This is how you win their trust. Because believe me, there will be an initial period where they will test the boundaries of what they can get away with. They may even try to run you off here and there.
This will be remembered as the relationship goes on, and it will create a bond. They will trust you enough to tell you their secrets, climb into bed with you when they’re feeling scared, or run and tell you if they need some help. At that point, you have become the parent, but they also view you as one of them. From time to time, it will create an obstacle, for you are now the ‘fun one’, but for the most part, this will create a stronger relationship with the children. (The mother will see it, and appreciate it, too.)
Your Shoulders Need To Be Strong
I’ve listed the 3 things that were the hardest for me to overcome, but I would like to go over one more thing. When you are a single man, sure, you have responsibilities, but they are nothing in comparison to having little eyes looking to you for guidance. Even in your weak moments, you need to find the inner strength to carry on and show them what it means to be a man, what it means to be a parent. (Especially if the biological father rarely makes an appearance in their life, or if he has a negative impact when he does make an appearance.)
You don’t need to be strong to the point of stoic, or emotionless, because that’s not what they need. (The kids or the woman in your life.) But you need to stand firm on your morals and beliefs. You need to be strong enough to show them the right path. You need to bestow morals upon them, as your parents did for you. You need to show them that you will forever be a part of their life, especially since the last man in your position left. (This holds true for any father that is no longer in a relationship with the mother. Regardless of whether they see their kids frequently, in a child’s mind, he is no longer around all the time, and this causes a sense of abandonment.)
Finally, you will need to be able to bear the weight of the bad things that will happen. Be it a scraped knee, a nightmare, being bullied, or whatever else may come their way, you need to be there to take that weight from them and make it your own. To be able to guide them through whatever rough times they may be having. Regardless of what your title is, you are their dad (at least one of them), and you need to act accordingly. If you do anything less, you have failed them as a parent, and you have failed yourself as well.
I do hope that this article finds the eyes of a man in need of these words. This situation can be rough, tough, and ruthless. But it is of utmost importance that men in these situations provide the best life for these kids that they are capable of. If you, as a man, do anything less, then you need to take a step back and think about whether this is something that you are truly ready for. I implore you, do not make this step if you are not ready to do it. (Caveat: You’re never truly ready. The kids will grow up, and become adults, and you still won’t be ready.) Because if you do make that step, and you fall on your face, the kids will be worse off for it.
I love my family, and I wouldn’t change the road that we have been on for the world, good or bad. So again, I beg you to make sure that this will be a situation that you can handle, and handle it with care. Because kids deserve a man that will do the next right thing by them.