So You’re a Step-Parent!

So you finally discovered the woman of your dreams, and she’s got a kid. That makes you a step dad, a role that’s been stigmatized by popular culture into something quite horrible, but it’s not as bad as it looks on TV. According to the popular urban legend, step dads are intolerable hard cases whose sole purpose on earth is to make their new kid’s life miserable, but real life step dads are regular guys who are simply trying to make the best out of an tricky situation.

The first thing you’ll want to do is get the lay of the land. Figure out how important the child’s biological father is in his or her life. If the biological father is a staple in your step child’s existence and the two have a healthy relationship, your job may be blessedly easy – just be nice to the kid and let his blood father do all of the heavy lifting.

A lot of times though, the real dad is either out of the picture or a hopeless wreck (your new wife got divorced for a reason), and you’ll need to assume a more complicated role in the child’s life. If this is the case, the first thing you’re probably going to discover is that the child would rather not have you around. Most kids are very protective of their mothers and worship the ground their biological father walks on, regardless of whether or not the dad deserves it. In the beginning you will be seen as a trespasser on hallowed ground, an interloper in the child’s home who would be more comfortable on the fast train to nowhere than he would be taking up residence in his or her mother’s bedroom.

The best way to deal with this drama is to simply sit the kid down and explain that you understand their discomfort and want nothing more than to make the transition as smooth as possible. Let them know that you have no intention of replacing their biological father, that you love their mother, and that you would like it very much if you and the child could become friends. If you’re dealing with a good kid, this should do the trick (minus a few natural hitches along the way), but if you’re dealing with a holy terror you might have to resort to plan B.

If you find yourself with a problem child on your hands, the type of kid who raises heck just to be doing it and turns the house upside down out of pure spite on a regular basis, you’re going to have to step up to the plate and lay down the law. Before you do this though, you’ll need to have a heart to heart with your new wife and explain your feelings to her. Ask her what role she would like you to play in the child’s life as far as making the rules and enforcing them goes. This is an important step, as some women will expect the step dad to rule the roost, while others will want to handle the groundings and lectures by themselves.

Should domestic life turn hectic, try your best to remain calm. Keep in mind that losing your temper is only going to make matters worse, and that most kids are good at heart – they may act out sometimes, but often that’s just what kids like to do. Always try your best to shy away from doling out any physical punishment (spankings, etc.), even if the mother encourages you. That kind of discipline, if it’s required at all, should be left to the blood relatives. If your marriage lasts there will eventually come a time when the child is mature and responsible, and you don’t want to leave any bad memories ingrained in their mind involving the beatings of Christmas past.

There’s no quick and easy answer on how to become an exemplary step parent. Like everything in life, it’s a process. Remember to be nice, and try to keep your sense of humor firmly intact. Your new wife loves you, and even if the kid never learns to, at least the two of you can be civil.