Father’s Day – A Reminder that the “step” part of “stepdad” doesn’t erase the “dad” part.
Go ahead. Turn on the nightly news. There are a lot of headlines about fathers who do a lot of things other than love their stepchildren. The features do little to help out society’s view of the stepdad’s plight. And it’s true. Stepdads aren’t perfect. It’s even true that some have been involved in some nefarious acts. But it’s also true that out of the 3.3 million men reported to live with at least one stepchild in theU.S. (a whopping 11.1% of U.S. fathers!), there’s a pretty good-sized pile of accolades that should rightfully go to stepdads, too.
Henry Valez with Fatherville.com reminds us, “Being a step-Dad in many ways is no different from being a Dad, but comes with its own challenges and extra responsibilities.”
Roger, a 75 year-old stepdad from a small, Missouri town, talks plainly about some of those challenges, too. “You can love a child that isn’t yours, and love their mother, but there’s still something innate that’s missing. No matter how much you want it to be there, it’s not, so you set the goal of loving a stepchild the best you possibly can, because children deserve to be loved.” Though Roger’s stepchildren are now adults nearing the age of 50 themselves, Roger recalls tougher times during the “wonder years”… times defined by blended family issues like: Resentment. Rebellion. Uncertain roles for everyone.
Despite some of the more tumultuous days, however, Roger describes one day – Father’s Day – as a day he felt his two stepchildren were able to express something positive toward him. “I always felt the kids were able to say thank you in some way on Father’s Day, even though they really had a hard time with that on other days.” Roger, a seasoned stepdad after forty-one years of donning the complex role, shares some encouragement with younger dads, “It gets better through the years. It gets easier. In the beginning, everyone’s trying to find their way. Now, I see my stepchildren in a very similar light as my own. You’re proud of their accomplishments and disappointed when you see them struggling.” Roger goes on to point out that blending families is no different than a lot of other things, in the big scheme of things. It may not start out a perfect situation, but you adapt. All involved are thrown some little, life lemons, and the best you can do is collect those lemons to make a delicious pitcher of lemonade.
Stepparenting – A Stepchild’s Story
With so much emphasis placed on the challenges of stepparenting, sometimes it’s easy to forget to check in with other, unsuspecting players in the blended family dynamic. Stepchildren. After a divorce, children are tasked with the arduous emotional undertaking of: learning to live without the physical daily presence of one parent, learning to make sense of something mental health researchers say is second only to death on a psychological scale of stressors, sometimes learning to adapt to new physical surroundings; and, in many cases, learning to live in a re-structured family with a new “parent” or set of “parents” in the stepparenting role. Regardless of the age of the child when parents divorce, that’s a lot to ask, and even the most well-mannered children don’t have the option of saying “No, thanks. I think I’ll pass.” It’s no wonder children act out during some of the toughest, initial years. But (confirming Roger’s experience in the case above), stepchildren, too, often later appreciate the occasion to reflect… to forget the physical and emotional upheaval that defines newly blended families long enough to say, “It wasn’t so bad.” And sometimes even… “I love you.”
Take, for example, the following sentiments expressed in a letter to a stepdad from his stepdaughter (for the Stepfamily Letter Project). Warning to stepdads: Grab a hanky.
Thank you and I love you.
If I could say one phrase to you for the rest of my life it would be that. You have inspired me in ways you can’t even imagine and I don’t give you nearly enough praise for that. I also don’t tell you how much I love you for all of the things you’ve done for me in the past 20 years.
I am a great stepparent because of you. I don’t know if I’d be able to say that had you not been in my life the way you have.
I don’t know how you managed to not ship me off to boarding school during my teen years. Letting a woman into your life at 31 is one thing. Letting in her teen-age daughter should have earned you a medal of honor. I wasn’t a horrible kid, but I didn’t make your life easy. Who can forget the “Mr. and Mrs. Highness” debacle and the constant eye-rolling I did when you asked me to do chores.
I see that same eye roll in my own stepchildren and all I can say is: I’m sorry. Really, really sorry. I owe my housekeeping and work ethic to you. If my stepkids turn out anything like me, they’ll have the cleanest houses in their counties, too.
Thank you for marrying my mom and thank you for my brother and sister. I really, truly couldn’t imagine life without any of you.
When Mom calls to tell me you’re all trying to get home in bad winter weather, I genuinely stress that you won’t make it home. I don’t know what I do without you in my life.
I wouldn’t know who to take my most personal stepparent questions to. You are the True North of my stepparent life. Without complaint, you contributed your life savings to my college, my braces, and even my near-bankruptcy.
If you didn’t like doing it, I never knew. You never made me feel like I owed you something in return like I’m afraid I do to my own stepkids.
Stepdad, you’re one of the five best things that have ever come into my life.
Thank you…for everything.
I love you,
Father’s Day for Stepdads
With millions of stepfathers leading blended, custodial households today, and so many children impacted by the role stepparents play, it’s hard to ignore modern-day family dynamics on special days designed just for parents. As Father’s Day approaches, it’s more than okay to honor the men who’ve “stepped” into their wives’ lives; who’ve “stepped” into a fathering role they didn’t necessarily dream of while growing up; who’ve chosen to make lemonade rather than pucker at the sour taste of life’s imperfect lemons; and who’ve chosen to step into a parenting role to love others’ children in the best ways they know how. For those stepkids needing a little inspiration…
A few gift ideas to honor a special stepfather:
For any stepdad:
- T-Shirts, mugs and more novelty items
For stepdads that work really hard and could benefit from relaxing:
- Homemade “movie night” gift pack (place the following in a small basket: a purchased or rented movie, soda, a bag of microwaveable popcorn, a favorite candy, etc. Place a bow somewhere on the basket and… voila!)
- A pair of comfy slippers
Amie Martin is a master-level social worker, freelance writer, and mom & stepmom to five, wonderful, quirky, interesting children.