Coping with a New Stepfather in Your Kids' Life
By Wayne Parker,
While Steve was waiting for his kids at their mom's house for his weekend with them, his ex-wife came out and indicated that she was getting remarried. "You will really like Tim," she said, "and the kids seem to like him too. I think he will make a great stepfather for them."
Steve was not too sure he liked any part of the idea. It was weird enough to be thinking of his ex-wife married to another guy. But what troubled him even more was the idea that there would be a new father figure in the life of his kids. He didn't like the thought of having another man in competition with him for the affection of his children.
What Steve is feeling is completely natural. While we frequently hear in our society about how hard it is for a divorced woman to see her ex remarry, it can be equally challenging when the tables are reversed. It almost feels like this other guy, who has no connection with your kids other than being married to their mom, is barging in and disrupting the delicate balance that already exists in a separated family. The dad almost feels like he has to compete against the new stepfather, especially when the kids live with their mom and her new husband.
So, how does a dad deal with these feelings? How can he still stay the "father" to the kids when there is another man in their daily life?
First, it is important to recognize that it is best for the children to have a positive relationship with their stepfather in their new blended family. Regardless of how you feel, he has a major presence in their life. To try to create distance between the kids and the new stepdad is a sure recipe for failure. Having Mom remarry is a really hard reality for any child, and it would be doubly hard if you are working against it. So, talk to the kids about their new stepdad and help them adjust to the new reality. Putting their well-being ahead of your new competitive feelings is a good first step.
Sometimes dads who find themselves in this situation will try to compete with the new stepfather by being a "Disneyland Dad," and giving his kids everything they want and being really relaxed with rules and standards. It is natural to want the kids to have more fun with you than with him. But allowing the rules to go out the window and letting them get away with anything does not do the children a service. In fact, maintaining consistency in your relationships with the kids will actually be a positive when so much in changing in their world otherwise.
Don't put down the new stepfather unless the kids are in danger. Whether or not you like the new guy (and you most likely won't), it is important for the kids to see you and hear you respect him and their mother. Getting a message from you that he is someone that they shouldn't like or respect will be a problem for all of you. Say nice things about him and their mom whenever you can. That being said, if the guy is abusive verbally or physically or if he is regularly drunk or stoned, you have to protect your children and need to build up to a custody challenge. But without these risky behaviors, try to help them see their stepdad as a person worthy of their love and respect.
Try talking to other dads who have been there. I know we dads don't often share feelings with other men for fear of appearing to be weak. But having the chance to see how others have handled this transition, whether the experience was good or bad, will help you find your own best path. If you don't know any dads with this kind of experience, find a fathers support group near you.
Finally, make sure that you have a great life outside of your family as well. Get involved in activities outside of work; service clubs, PTA's and the like will give you some release. Stay healthy and physically active. A good life balance will help you in the long run to keep being a positive influence on your kids and will put many of these things into perspective.
Your children need their father to be a positive, fun and loving influence in their life. While they should also have a good relationship with a stepfather, the best thing you can do is to be their real dad, to live up to your obligations and to be a positive and upbeat part of their lives.
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