Pre-teen and teenage kids can pose a tremendous challenge for stepfathers. As they develop their identity and self-esteem, they are very sensitive to dramatic changes in their family structure and living situations.
Whether you realize it or not, your stepfamily has likely assumed a specific integration style. By that, I mean a set of assumptions about how your stepfamily 'ought' to come together. I like to use cooking as an analogy to identify some integration styles that stepfamilies attempt to utilize. Let’s start with the ones that generally don't work.
Orville is about to become a stepfather, and he wrote to me with a question: the 8-year-old son of his fiancée minds his father very well, but wreaks havoc at home. "What should I do?" Orville writes.
Ali McGraw told Ryan O'Neal, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." Well, here's one dad's love story which did involve saying "I'm sorry."
When Dietrich Gruen first became a stepdad, he struggled to find common ground with Matt, his step-son. They found it in the strangest of all places—not in fishing or music or cars. Dietrich and Matt's common ground was their own admittedly broken relationship.
If a machine breaks down, a repairman looks at all the parts and pinpoints the problem. Let's see if that works with kids.
The delightful humorist Erma Bombeck, who passed away some time ago, once dedicated a newspaper column to her stepfather. Being a stepfather is one of those heroic roles that rarely gets the recognition it deserves. Erma Bombeck knew that first hand, and wanted to give a little back to her stepdad.
Will the behavior you model as a dad really impact your child's personality and life choices? If your answer is yes, Judith Harris would like to debate you. "You have been led to believe that you have more of an influence on your child's personality than you really do," she writes in her book, The Nurture Assumption. Harris argues that genetic influences in child development have as profound of an impact on child development as the environment. She believes parenting and fathering have been "oversold."
If you're a stepfather, you're part of the most rapidly emerging group of fathers in our nation. Recent estimates have placed the number of divorced mothers who remarry at around 80%. Every new stepfather walks into an emotional mine field as he tries to simultaneously recover from the wounds in his own past, build a new marriage with his wife, and settle into this new family situation with his wife's children and possibly children from his previous marriage. And all this takes place in the aftermath of your wife's ex-husband, who still seems to linger mystically—if not physically—in the shadows of this new household. It isn't surprising that a large percentage of abuse cases occur in step or mixed families.