What stepmoms can do for dads and their kids.

10 12 2008

Before you read this post, please read the research by Constance Ahrons that sparked this list. In my book and on this blog, I have said many times how important the relationship between your husband and his kids is. Not only because I value my own relationship with my father, but also because much research has been done on how negatively impacted children are when they don’t have their fathers in their lives.

So what can we do to help foster the relationship our partner has with his kids?

Encourage one-on-one time. When your stepchildren are visiting, suggest that your husband take each one of them out at a time for a walk, a visit to the park, a meal, so they can have time together.

Support involvement. If your stepkids have school events, games, or concerts tell your husband to attend them with or without you. I clearly remember looking for my father at my sports games and feeling such deep disappointment when he didn’t show and joy when he did.

Let him do the parenting. As a stepparent, you play second fiddle to the biological parent when it comes to discipline. If Dad is showing signs of becoming a permissive parent because he feels too guilty about what he’s done to his kids to parent them, then show him this post. He needs to parent his kids for them to feel loved and safe. Disneyland Dads are harmful to their children’s development. And as the stepmom, you shouldn’t be asked to discipline his kids. It’s not fair and it has the potential to ruin your relationship with the children.

Create traditions. Because stepfamilies take so long to feel like family (7 to 12 years according to researcher Patricia Papernow) do everything you can to build traditions that are just for your new family. One tradition my stepmother started that I deeply appreciated was a gift she made. Every year she put together a photo album of each of us kids with our dad. Though she was a part of those albums, too, she stayed in the background. By putting together those albums every year she was fostering my connection to my father.  

Let go of jealousy. Your stepchildren will have a relationship with their father until the day he dies. So think big picture here. That relationship will affect graduations, weddings, funerals, the birth of children, etc. etc. etc. If you’re really in this relationship for the long-term, then you simply can’t be jealous of the time he spends with his kids. If you have your whole lives together, then there is plenty of time for Dad to spend with you, any children you have together, and your stepkids.

Do you have things you do to support your partner’s relationship with his kid(s) that have worked well? Let us know what you do so the rest of us can try it!

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7 responses

11 12 2008
Erin

This post arrived at just the right time.

My stepkids’ mom and I have been “the team” that attends the school functions, helps with homework, etc. and my husband (their dad) has been the one who’s missing out.

Right now, he’s got so many things on his plate that stressing to him how important it is to be there for the kids will just rock the boat.

Thankfully, my stepkids’ mom and I get along well and can count on one another if the other can’t make it to an event. It’s almost as though we’ve become the parents and my husband is the step.

Any advice you can offer to help us through?

11 12 2008
Blended-Families.com

Great post! If blended families, especially parents, would only follow these tips, life would be more pleasant.

11 12 2008
Jacque

Wow, Erin. That’s fantastic that you and bio mom get along so well. I do have advice for helping your husband see how important it is that he gets involved. First, you can tell him how important your own father was in your life. Ask him about his father. Help him see how he is one of the central figures in their lives. Their relationship with him will shape their lives…forever. My husband can recall exactly how many times his father showed up at one of his sporting events. My husband is almost 40 years old and has a crappy memory so this tells you something!

Fathers shape children’s self-esteem and well-being. If he thinks that his job is more important that a concert or a school event, he is kidding himself. Children have long memories and eventually they will be the ones who confront him with his absence. (Sounds harsh I know, but true!)

Perhaps you can negotiate with your husband so the three of you can rotate so that he shows up 1/3 of the time. Surely he can make time for that?

11 12 2008
Lisa

Funny, I’m also in the situation where the mom and I do a lot of the coordination and leave dad out of it. Although he’s a very involved father, he doesn’t want to deal with his ex-wife because she makes him crazy. I set boundaries with her pretty early on in a friendly manner, while also going out of my way not to do some of the petty things I’ve seen others do. I try to be fair, but firm even with her. She’s learned to respect my co-parenting of her children while becoming downright friendly with me. She’s even thanked me for the way I’ve handled this–and this comes just a month or so after I told her her sister could no longer come over to pick up the kids if the sister persisted in giving me the obvious cold shoulder in front of the kids. The kids see that the mom and I get a long and they are doing better because of it. And dad still gets to be involved (he goes alone to parent/teacher meetings, etc.) I just do all the arranging and organizing. I think the kids will be fine when we marry in a few months because they can see their parents getting along better, there’s less confusion, they get lots of alone time with their dad (which I schedule and orchestrate) and their mom isn’t unhappy and complaining about dad any more.

11 12 2008
Kate

Kudos to Lisa for being such a great boundary setter! That’s such a valuable skill. I’m excited for you that you’ve commanded your due respect and even been thanked. My stepkids’ bio-grandma and I have expressed our mutual gratitude for each other and it feels great, but I think hell will freeze over before bio-mom says thank you to either one of us.

Jacque, thank you for your suggestions and reminders. My fiance is a read-the-research kind of guy, and also a dad who loves to be involved, so I’m lucky that he’s aware of how important it is for him to build his relationship with the kids, be there for them, spend one-on-one time with them. But when he feels stress in other areas of life (like work) he starts to let that slide. This is a good reminder for me to remind him not to. Also, I love your story about your stepmom’s tradition. I did a picture project for my fiance last year, similar to what you describe, but I never thought of making it a tradition. Great idea.

24 12 2008
lwayswright

I tend to do a lot with my stepkids, but I have kids of my own in the home too. I try to make things as equal as possible because I want us to be a family. If there are two sets of rules for two sets of kids it becomes confusing and causes a lot of ill will between the kids and the parents. The hard part comes when my step kids go back to mom’s house where pretty much anything goes. So, dealing with bio mom has been hard for all of us!

28 04 2011
Jil

While I agree with the article and alot of the statements and ideas. It’s just not happening in my family. My husband is a very permissive parent, with his children. With my son he is very vocal and doesn’t hesitate to “discipline” him or give his opinion. He and is ex wife are very permissive, therefore I am alone in this whole thing. 2 of their children dropped out of school in junior high. And….they allowed it. The don’t work, either of them . The 17 year old daughter has piercings and smokes and drinks etc. Her father, my husband used to buy her smokes until I put a stop to it. He lets them be rude and foul mouthed. He expects NOTHING out of either one. Yet, the minute they want something he gives in a gives it to them. He doesn’t come to my or my sons “defense” when she is throwing fits, lacking in manners etc. There is an enormous amount more to this whole story. Needless to say this is ruining our relationship. I have tried to discuss it with him, he will agree it’s out of hand, but still does nothing. He also spends NO time what so ever with my son who lives with us. He is 12. I’m at a loss. I’m getting very depressed and withdrawn in our relationship. I would love some direction and/or advice.

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