There are approximately 60 million children under the age of 13 in the US, and 50% of them currently live with a step-parent. This is a reality in today’s world of divorce and one that is not often talked about. As adults, especially after a bad relationship has ended, we tend to focus on our happiness and the love we believe we deserve, and my friends, I’m with you on that. But what we also need to understand is the trauma that our children have gone through and be very cautious about the next person we allow into their lives. You do not have to look hard to find a step-parent story gone wrong. It is extremely difficult to walk into three-quarters of a family and fit right in seamlessly, but today, I don't want to talk about the ones who failed. With Father’s Day tomorrow, I want to shine a bright light on all the loving, supportive, patient men who have come into our lives, embraced us and our children and made our world a better place.
I don't have any research to back this up, but I’m going out on a limb here and say that I believe it is a little easier for women to integrate themselves into a stepfamily environment. I say this only because of the maternal/nurturing component that is natural for us. I know there are horror stepmom experiences out there too, but I still hold to my position that for men, it is a bit more challenging.
Men (the good ones) walk into a situation and want to fix things; physically and emotionally. They see the scars and the aftermath of the pain and it sets them on a course to provide healing and restoration. Of course, his main objective is to win the love and devotion of the woman, but he also sees the children and their situation.
It is a wise man who practices patience and sensitivity when it comes to these children. Depending on their age, they may resent another man with their mom and absolutely do not want someone else telling them what to do. The step-dad has little authority and his basic disciplinary role is to back up the mom. All that being said, a loving step-dad can make an amazing difference and impact on the family; and I know this first hand.
My first daughter was born out of a hasty and ill-fated relationship. I was young, impulsive and did not consider the impact of my actions. This beautiful red-headed baby girl had no one to call Daddy – until she has a stepfather. I met a man when she was barely a year old and while I was thrilled with his interest in me, I was forever touched at how much he was also smitten with my daughter.
He immediately brought her into his life and I truly believe with all my heart he loved her as his own. From Day One he included her in our plans and never asked me to choose or divide my time or love. He is the only man she ever considered to be her dad and even when she connected with her biological father years later, until the day her stepdad passed away, she loved him fiercely and called him Daddy.
American country music artist Brad Paisley released a number-one single in 1999 titled “He Didn’t Have To Be” about a stepfather's relationship with his stepson. The chorus goes:
Lookin' back all I can say about all the things he did for me, Is I hope I'm at least half the dad that he didn't have to be, 'Cause he didn't have to be.
In a very few words, this speaks volumes to what it means to a child to be loved unconditionally, even by someone introduced later in their lives.
Now, not all step-dads/families are dealing with absentee fathers. Many divorced dads try very hard to be a part of their kids’ lives and do not appreciate another man around. Unfortunately, these are choppy waters to navigate, but if everyone can just keep in mind the best outcome for the children’s well-being, then boundaries and acceptance can be agreed upon. Another wrinkle comes into play when the step-dad has children of his own and has to balance his time with them. As you can see, all of these factors create a very challenging situation, and it is for the men who accept this challenge and work diligently to provide a stable and loving home for everyone that I have high regard and appreciation.
So on this Father’s Day, I want to give a big shout-out to the men who stepped up, accepted, loved, and stood in the gap for children they did not bring into this world – but cherished as if they did. Who handled any resistance with grace and maintained outstanding character even when things were rocky. Who accepted the children at whatever level they could handle and promised to always be there for them. For the men who came in and taught our sons to be respectful and our daughters to be respected, being everything you didn’t have to be, but still chose to be!
To the Step-Dads who hate the "Step"in that word and just want to be called "Dad" – Happy Father’s Day!