While stepfathers do not start out with a “bad name” as stepmothers might, they also often have many obstacles to overcome. Natural dads may have some jealousy about another man in the lives of their children and children often struggle with developing positive feelings about this new person who is important to their mother, while also remaining loyal to their father.
One of the biggest mistakes that men often make is to think that they can “get things in shape” as they frequently see the mother as too lenient or soft and believe that what the children really need is a firmer hand and clearer rules and consequences. If he has children of his own, a stepfather may be used to setting rules and enforcing them, and yet, that is one of the last things that he can do when entering this new family.
Mothers and their children may have developed a close connection before the stepfamily began and the stepfather may really struggle with finding his place in the family. He may literally have to kick children out of his bed in order to connect with their mom.
We will share with you some of the ideas we have for guidelines for stepdads and invite you to share some of your thoughts as well.
· Build a positive relationship with the children before attempting any kind of discipline. You can do this from conversations about them and their lives, playing sports or games, attending school events and initiating family gatherings. Children will rarely accept discipline from someone that they do not respect … and respect takes time to grow.
· Give the children space when they need it. Don’t ask too many questions, just be there if and when they need you.
· Look for things to like about your stepchildren and try to think about those things more than you think about the problems with them.
· Support your wife when she needs some alone time with her children. This will help the children to understand that you are not a threat to them and want them to continue to have a close and loving relationship with their mother.
· Nurture your marriage. Find ways to have dates and build on the positives in the relationship.
· Talk lots with your wife about the small successes and steps in the right direction, even more than you talk about the problems. It often takes a couple of years before people can say “we are okay now” in stepfamilies. Going slowly and celebrating small steps is the quickest way to get where you want to be.