Stepfamilies - Building and Maintaining Relationships
DAD.info looks at the introduction of a 'new dad' through Daniel's eyes, the teenager in this existing family setting. The perspective is quite interesting, and something to consider if you are the 'Mike', aka - the new husband in this story...
‘Daniel’ lives in Birmingham with his mother and her new husband Mike. Daniel’s parents were divorced when he was eight and mum began courting again when he was 12 eventually remarrying when Daniel was 14.
New dad Mike - compromising and rule setting
Right from the outset relational ground rules were set (by mum) for Daniel and Mike. Mike was to be called Mike by all in the household even though Mike would have preferred dad! Getting into a relationship with someone who has children means compromise and there are no set rules about how involved you become with your partner's children. It will depend on whether they live with you, whether you have children of your own, if the other parent is still around and/or actively involved and so much more.
What is a Step-parent anyway?
The word “stepparent” is believed to have come from the old English word stoep, which means “to deprive or bereave.” Adding the word “stoep,” and later “step,” to the word “parent” implied that a stepparent was one who cared for a child who had lost a parent due to death, and was thus a deprived or bereft child. The current Webster dictionary definition of stepparent is: “related by virtue of a remarriage (as of a parent) and not by blood.” In modern times the idea of a stepmother or stepfather is so common that the terms are often used for a biological parent’s long-time girlfriend or boyfriend, an adoptive parent, a foster parent or even an adult with whom a child is exceptionally close.
In the USA over 50% of marriages end in divorce, and over 75% of these folks will remarry, creating many potential stepfamilies. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that, “50 percent of all children under the age of thirteen are living with one biological parent and that parent’s partner” and that there would be more stepfamilies than original families by the year 2010.
In the UK figures concerning ‘reconstituted families’ are not at all reliable; estimates vary from 35 - 50%, depending on if it includes cohabiting couples, casual cohabitation and other short-term arrangements. What is clear is that alongside the difficulties of ‘original families’ step arrangements bring added pressure.
Mike's expectations with Daniel
Mike had no children of his own and felt he needed to prove he could be a good dad. Right from the outset he put himself under pressure to love and get on well with Daniel. When things reached crisis point he sought the advice of a professional. Through counselling he accepted that he was impatient and did not allow time for the relationship with Daniel to develop. He had lavished Daniel with gifts and ended up feeling used and frustrated when Daniel did not respond in a way Mike would have hoped. Daniel’s dad was still on the scene, albeit at some distance, and Mike would become infuriated when “once in a blue moon” Daniel’s father took him to some “cheap restaurant” and “we would have to listen to his (father’s) praises being sung until the next outing!”
Mike had unrealistic expectations about how his relationship with Daniel would progress. Relationships are built, and it takes time and shared experiences to create a meaningful one. Mike took no account of Daniel’s familial ties and connections, or that he may feel guilty about betraying his biological father by having a close and caring relationship with his stepfather. Great care and patience should be taken to allow the child an opportunity to work through those feelings.
The key thing to remember is that the children are passengers on this train. They didn't get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so time and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation.