Father’s Day is just around the corner. It’s that special day when millions of dads are treated like kings and honored by their children with expressions of love, respect and admiration.
There’s no denying the importance of a father in a child’s life and today there are many different descriptors for dads; step dad, divorced dad, single dad, Mr Mom dad, gay dad. What they all have in common is a positive impact on their kids’ lives in terms of increased self-confidence, a strong sense of well being, self-control, and success in school.
It’s true that a small percentage of deadbeat dads taint the reputation of many; we only wish these absent fathers could be present for their kids and enjoy the most important job they could have. But it’s also true that over 90% of fathers believe that being a dad is one of the most fulfilling roles a man can have.
In celebration of Father’s Day, we want to offer some insight into two of the most common blended family dads: the step dad and the divorced dad. We invite you to share this with any step or divorced dads in your life.
There can be a lot of confusion about the role of step dad because even though, as male head of the household, he has important financial and physical responsibilities, he cannot assume that he has those same rights and responsibilities over his step kids.
He’s not the biological dad and that distinction often causes conflict and resentment, especially when he has every good intention of being a supportive husband and provider by being a co parent and disciplinarian to his step kids.
Fireworks can fly in any number of ways:
1) the kids may resist his influence because they feel loyalty to their biological dad
2) mom may feel he’s too hard on her kids, critical of her parenting skills, or unfair in his treatment of her kids and his own, or
3) he may feel anger and resentment about his wife being disrespected by her kids or by being ignored or discounted himself.
Any way you slice it, these situations cause tension in the family and arguments between the couple. Issues like these are the major reasons for second marriages failing at a higher rate than first marriages.
Following are some basic guidelines for all the step dads out there who may be struggling to define their role with their step kids:
1. Above all, remember that your role is to support your wife in parenting as a mentor, coach, or friendly uncle. Take it easy, and over time when mutual trust and respect has built up, you may develop a stronger, more active role with the approval and support of your wife and the kids.
2. Focus on being unified as a couple which means not only loving and respecting each other, but communicating clearly about household responsibilities, financial contributions, expectations of behavior, and forms of discipline, including the role you play in backing up your wife. Her job is to define limits on behavior and follow through on consequences and your job is to support her and remind the kids what their mom wants. A weekly Family Meeting is an effective way of clarifying behavioral guidelines and getting problematic issues on the table for discussion and resolution.
3. Be aware of unrealistic expectations by reading and learning about what it means to be an effective step dad. Acknowledge and respect the unique history that each person brings to a second marriage; much of it, especially for kids, comes with a sense of loss. And, remember, it takes a lot of time, patience, understanding and sensitivity to help the family move towards mutual affection, trust and connectedness.
4. Consider an enlightening coaching session with a professional blended family coach to help the step dad in your family sort out some of the issues and challenges he may be facing as he tries to be the best dad he can be. This may be the most important Father’s Day gift he ever received.
Father’s Day for many divorced dads is not a particularly happy day, especially if they are not close to their kids physically or emotionally. There are many reasons why divorced dads find themselves marginalized and seemingly unimportant in their child’s lives: geographical distance because of work, remarriage, or divorce poison where the children’s mother has systematically alienated the kids from their father with the intention of eliminating him from their lives.
Dads may be discouraged but they should always remember just how important they are as they guide, teach, and show love and support to their kids, even if it is long distance. Fathers are important role models for young boys and girls: they teach their sons what it is to be a strong, responsible and decent man and they show their daughters the good behavior to expect from all the other males in their lives.
Following are some basic guidelines for Divorced Dads:
1. Try to create a working relationship with your child’s mother and
agree to act like grown ups for the sake of the children. Agree on a visitation schedule, either weekly or vacation time and stick to a co parenting plan. Kids are more interested in you getting along so they can have fun with both their parents, rather than worrying about your specific issues with each other.
2. Kids thrive on structure so be consistent with phone calls, pick up and drop off schedules and behavioral expectations while at your home. The most effective way to create consistency is to agree on a parenting style with mom and try to replicate it at your house. If that’s impossible, set up your own rules and expectations of behavior and acknowledge that although they are different from mom’s, they are important.
3. Resist being Uncle Dad or Disney Dad with lack of boundaries, limits, and inconsistent discipline; this leads the kids to believe you are a peer and best friend and not a responsible parent guiding a minor child. Uncle Dad parenting results in lack of respect, emotional blackmail, and ultimately kids who develop behavioral problems because they have no respect for authority.
4. Consider an enlightening professional coaching session with a blended family coach who may help the divorced father in your life gain some new insight on issues and challenges that he faces as he tries to co parent with his ex spouse.