Steps in the Right Direction
Here are best practices of Smart Stepdads, young and old, new and veteran. Consider how you might implement them into your climb.
1. Trust God to lead. Probably the one universal negative experience of stepdads is the feeling of uncertainty. If you find yourself wondering what to do and how to go about it, you’re in good company. From a spiritual standpoint, uncertainty is an invitation to faith. God always uses our “I don’t know what to do’s” to invite us to trust him more — and we should. Don’t anguish because you don’t know what to do. Ask God to show you. Don’t panic in your uncertainty and give up on your family. Seek a word from the Spirit. Don’t assume you are alone. Find comfort and direction in his Word. Then you can climb Stepdad Mountain one step at a time.
2. Know your place. A Smart Stepdad understands that there is an inherent dilemma to his task: How can you be Dad when you’re not dad? Obviously, you can’t. Even if the biological dad is deceased, you will never replace him, so don’t try. Playing “who’s your daddy” only causes stress in your home. And stress in a stepfamily thickens blood, pitting you against your stepchildren and often your wife. I’ll talk more about this in chapter 4.
3. Understand the limits of your role. It’s not your responsibility to undo the past. Years of poor parenting from your wife or her ex-husband, the negative consequences of divorce, or the pain children experience when a father dies is not yours to resolve. Come alongside children in these situations and try to offer a positive influence over time, but don’t try to be the white knight in shining armor. Just love them.
4. Move in with tact. Don’t be a bull in a china shop. Respect children’s loyalties. “I became a stepfather when my stepdaughter was eight. Her father was very involved in her life and a good dad. There just wasn’t room for me in her heart; therefore, we had a very strained relationship. We were never able to build anything. Now that she is a grown woman, I sense she is becoming a little less competitive . . . but I think the best way to describe our relationship even now is ‘uneasy toleration.’ ” Anthony’s climb was and is steep. Thank goodness he respected this reality or things might have become worse.
5. Round off your rough edges. In my book The Remarriage Checkup, coauthored with David H. Olson, we reported that the number one predictor of strong marriages in stepfamilies was the absence of rough personality characteristics in the couple. According to our research, being stubborn, critical, controlling, moody, jealous, and having a temper predicted with over 92 percent accuracy whether couples were healthy and strong or fragile and unhappy. I’ve long said that the same applies to relationships with stepchildren. If your personality is naturally angry, critical, aggressive, controlling, or stubborn, don’t expect them to warm up to you — and don’t expect your wife to entrust her children to you. To make any progress you must change this part of yourself.
6. Partner with your wife. She needs to believe that you are committed to and care about her, her children, and their past experiences before you will receive her trust. Therefore, do a lot of listening before injecting your opinion; demonstrate an authentic appreciation for all she has done to provide for her children before trying to make suggestions. When you do make suggestions, especially early in your climb, be sure to reveal your heart’s intentions first. Consider the contrast between harshly saying, “Your son is a lazy boy. When are you going to make him get up in the morning and get to school on time?” and saying, “I have come to really care about David. I’m hoping to offer some guidance to him and better prepare him for life. I’ve noticed he’s struggling to manage his time and responsibilities with school. Can we talk about how we might encourage more responsibility in him?”
Adapted from The Smart Stepdad, by Ron Deal
Copyright © 2011 by Ron Deal, published by Bethany House, used by permission