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Stepfather, What Do Your Kids Need?

You cannot afford to be a vanishing father to your biological children.
By Ron L. Deal


Two-thirds of stepparents also have biological children of their own. Balancing parental responsibilities, spousal commitments, and stepparent roles can be challenging—and guilt producing.

This Father’s Day, many stepdads will feel torn because they believe that their roles as a biological dad and a stepfather are out of balance. All of your children need your continued presence in their lives. You cannot afford to be a vanishing father. Even if circumstances or distant living arrangements make your engagement infrequent or difficult, never stop pursuing your kids. Your kids are better off with an engaged, active father. And so is your stepfamily.

Here are four ways that you can stay physically connected and emotionally engaged with your biological children:

1. Strike a balance in your roles. Think about it. How can your children celebrate your role as a stepfather if it means losing you to their stepsiblings? Watching you abandon ship only to invest in your stepchildren would cause them to think of their stepsiblings and stepmother as the enemy. This competitive environment would certainly sabotage household harmony and cause many conflicts. What is needed is balance between the roles of father and stepdad, not an over-investment in either.

No, you probably won’t be able to give equal time to each child, but you can strive to be fully present with whomever you are with. Use modern technology (e.g., email and texting) to keep in touch even when you can’t be physically present, and seek to play all the roles a father plays, even when at a distance.

For example, some dads are tempted not to engage in stern talk or boundary setting with their kids when they don’t get to see them much. But your children still need to know you approve of wise choices and disapprove of poor ones. Don’t ditch your disciplinarian role just because time is limited.

Also, resist playing favorites with your kids. One stepdad, Gil, said: “When with my stepchildren, my attention easily switched to my kids. It’s natural to do this, but I had to be intentional—I had to pace myself and balance my attention.”

Putting specific effort to being “in the moment” is worth the energy it demands.

Striking a balance also means managing your guilt when circumstances give you more time with your stepchildren than with your biological children. Some men try to solve their internal guilt by remaining distant or critical of their stepchildren. But this won’t improve your relationship—or your conscience—with your biological children.

If you find yourself struggling with this dilemma, try to think of relationships with your children and stepchildren independent of each other. Give yourself permission to fully engage in each as you are able. You have enough love to go around.

2. Stay predictable in your availability and activities. Of course, some change before and after marriage is inevitable. But as much as it is within your power, remain consistent in your visitation schedule, phone calls, and pattern of involvement. Doing so builds bridges of trust and encourages your children to be open with you. They need to know that you still care to hear about their daily lives, their thoughts, concerns, and feelings.

3. Compartmentalize special time. From time to time, make opportunities for exclusive time with each of your children. Take your daughter to lunch or your son to a baseball game. Planning special time with individual children happens regularly in biological families and no one thinks anything of it (when balanced between all the children over time).

But for some reason, some people get paranoid about compartmentalizing special time in stepfamilies. Your wife might object to you taking your daughter to a special concert without taking all of her children as well, or your ex-wife might accuse you of favoritism for not including all the kids in an activity.

But special time helps to feed a child’s heart, and as long as everyone gets included over time, it doesn’t have to add up to favoritism. Find a balance; have entire family activities where everyone is included and individual special events meant to communicate ongoing dedication to your children.

4. Don’t buy the lie. Don’t ever be fooled into believing that cutting yourself out of your child’s life is to their advantage. Nothing could be further from the truth. “It just seems that my kids’ lives would be less complicated if they didn’t have to travel to see me every month,” Dan explained to me. “Aren’t I making life easier for them by letting them stay at their mom’s house?”

It is true that visitation causes inconveniences for children (and adults), but the blessings far outweigh the difficulties. Don’t buy the lie.


Adapted excerpt from  The Smart Stepdad © 2011 by Ron L. Deal. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by Permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

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Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit www.RonDeal.org and www.FamilyLife.com). 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g., ABCNews.com, Today.com), in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.

 

 

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