Being a stepdad for over 20 years has been both rewarding and challenging. If you think becoming a stepparent is going to be a breeze, then think again. I would describe it as a rollercoaster ride. It can be amazing and exciting, but also unbelievably stressful and scary. At times it can feel like a battlefield with potential “land mines” in every direction, as you walk on very unfamiliar territory.
No one can prepare you for what it feels like to be a stepdad. In some ways, it is similar to being a biological father, but in many ways, it’s completely different with a whole bunch of unwritten rules about what you can and can’t do.
For example, if you meet your future wife and have children together, you grow into your parental role together as mum and dad. You grow your family together and with this comes making your own memories and experiences within your biological family.
Coming into a blended family is a whole new ball game. Your stepchildren and your partner already have a history together. They talk about past memories, experiences, and people they know. Of course, this is completely normal, but it can make a stepdad feel like an outsider.
Some parenting experts compare it to the school playground game Lock Out. This is the game where children form a circle by interlocking their arms, and one child on the outside of the circle tries to break into the circle any way they can. The more he or she pushes to get in, the tighter the other children hold on to each other to keep them out!
This can be how some stepparents feel when they enter this new family dynamic. They try hard to get in the middle – sometimes too hard – which can be counterproductive. I remember as a stepdad feeling like the ‘outsider’ but I wanted to be an ‘insider’. But how could I achieve that? This is where many stepparents make the same mistakes that I did. I wanted to be the coolest, funniest, and kindest stepdad in the world. Surely this would make my stepchildren love me and want to be around me all the time. Wrong!!
So, then I decided on the tactic of buying them presents, sweets and even giving them money to try and win them over. I was the most amazing stepdad in the world… for just a few minutes! Then it went back to being how it was before.
This is when I started to realise that this was going to be a long-term thing. This wasn’t going to happen overnight or in a few weeks.
I needed to be patient and not so forceful. I needed to not try to make things happen, to watch and see how relationships can naturally grow with time. It takes time to build trust with stepchildren. The more you push, the more resistant the stepchildren become. The good news is that, given time, you will create your own memories within this new family dynamic.
I’m excited to share the experiences and learnings of my journey in future articles and in my Agony Uncle Column – Ask Martin.