Seldom is the decision is sudden; divorced dads typically know well in advanced when their ex will be getting remarried. But regardless of the details of their courtship, the new union will not sit well with any parent that does not have primary or sole custody. There are so many factors to this addition to the family, it can be hard to know how to react. The most important thing is always the kids, but where do you fit in?
Some feelings are completely natural; men may feel a need to compete for the affection of their children or prove their worth through material gifts. 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. While we frequently hear about how hard it is for a divorced woman to see her ex-husband get remarried, it can be equally challenging when the tables are reversed.
Below, tips on how to deal with a new stepfather in your children's lives.
Dealing with Your Feelings
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.
Creating distance between the kids and the new stepfather is a sure recipe for failure. Having mom remarry is already a difficult reality for any child, and it would be twice as hard if their father works to undermine it. So, talk to the kids about their new stepfather and help them adjust to the new reality. Putting their well-being ahead of your competitive feelings is a good first step.
Don't Compete with the New Stepfather
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 positive when so much is changing in their world otherwise.
Don't Put Down the Stepfather
You may not get along with or like to be around the new guy. Still, it is important for your children to see that you respect him and their mother. If you do the opposite, say, by giving the impression that this is a person that your kids should not respect or take seriously, you will find yourself struggling with the entire family. Say nice things about him and their mom whenever you can.
That said, if the guy exhibits risky behaviors, you have to protect your children. A custody challenge could be warranted if the stepfather is verbally or physically abusive, or if he is regularly overly intoxicated, or if there are other violations upon your children.
Talking to Other Dads Who Have Been There
Opening up to another separated father may be outside your comfort zone, but it is the best way to gain perspective. You will have the chance to see how others have handled this transition and whether the experience was good or bad, which will help you find your own best path. If you don't know any non-custodial fathers with this kind of experience, find a fathers support group near you.
Have a Great Life Outside of Your Family
Get involved in activities outside of work; service clubs, PTAs, 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 on their lives. 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.