How to Be a Great Step-Dad

Dear Courage,

I’m a divorced mom with two kids – my son is a teenager and my daughter is ten. My fiancé loves my kids better than their own dad, and he wants to be a great step dad. He was wondering about information or books or groups to help step dads. We’re getting married in a few months, but he’s really stressing out about this. My kids like him okay. They haven’t really warmed up to him yet, but they aren’t against him, either. What can I do to help?

Signed, Out of Step

Dear Out of Step,

Just the fact that he wants to be a great step dad shows that his heart is in the right place! Congratulations, honey, it sounds like you’ve found a winner. As for online helps, there are several websites. Here’s one I found: National Center for Fathering.

Have you two talked about the rules of the house? This is a great place to start. Together, sit down and discuss what your rules and expectations are for your children. Tell him how you’ve enforced the rules, and the consequences your children face when they break a rule. Encourage his input. Does he feel the rules are too strict / too lenient? You two must come to an agreement on this before the rules can be consistently enforced. For instance, what happens if your teenager stays out too late? Does he have a curfew? Would he be grounded? Given chores? What would happen if your ten-year-old got sassy to you, and stuck out her tongue? Once you and your fiancé have a list of the house rules and consequences, then together, you can present them to the children. It shouldn’t be “news” to them. What it is, is just reinforcing that everyone knows the rules and expectations, so if your fiancé is home with the kids and one of them sticks out his or her tongue, your fiancé knows how to react, and the kids can’t pull the old “mom never does that” routine.

Next, encourage your fiancé to spend time with the children. Of course, you will do things as a family, but he should also spend one-on-one time with them. Keep it simple at first. The children need to learn to trust him before they are comfortable sharing with him. Maybe he could take the teenager out to shoot hoops, or play a round of mini golf or bowling. Maybe he could drive the daughter to one of her after-school activities and cheer her on, and swing by an ice cream shop on the way home. Being a great dad or step dad begins with spending time with the children. Only through sharing time together, can their relationship grow.

Finally, tell your fiancé right now that his role is to be their cheerleader, not their coach. If they play sports, then their coach is the ONLY one who should tell them how to play the game. Dads and stepdads on the sidelines should never ever tell the child, “you should have done this, or do that better.” The dad and mom should be the child’s cheerleading section. No matter what the child does on the field – whether it’s soccer, football, orchestra, drama, anything – the parent should say “Great! Fantastic! I can tell how hard you worked!”

Spend time with the children. Be consistent in enforcing house rules. Be loving. And be a cheerleader. This is a good start to becoming a fantastic parent or step parent.

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