I was genuinely touched when I read this submission from writer Rachel Thomas and I think you will be too. No two blended families are alike and neither are a family member’s experience within the blended family.
Stepparents and stepchildren can benefit from hearing your story. If you have a desire to share your blended family experience especially what worked and what didn’t work please go to Write for Us.
When I was six years old, my mom remarried. I had never known my “real” biological father so there was no one for me to compare my new father to.
I guess that made it easier for both of us in some ways. However, I was old enough to remember a time before he came into our lives.
Going from having my mom’s undivided attention to having to share it with this man would have been hard on most kids. I am a more flexible person than most, so I believe I dealt with it pretty well.
It was a friendly relationship at first. I treated him like I would any friend of the family. He treated me like he would any kid.
He decided to adopt me so I would be legally his child. Although at the time I didn’t see much difference I now appreciate it as an adult.
His adopting me was a good move on his part as it showed my mom he was serious about becoming a family. However, had my biological father been in the picture, that would have been hard to do.
Anyway, a little over a year after the wedding my brother was born. That is when the trouble started.
You see, I was an easy child: quiet, obedient, easy to get along with. The only problem Dad and I had (and I called him Dad the same way a child with no history of a dad would probably do) was the one time he spanked me.
Mom got furious as she saw it as an overreaction on his part to an accident – my spilling a drink. From then on, disciplining me was strictly “Mom’s job.”
My brother was not an easy child. He had seemed like trouble even before he was born, wanting to come out prematurely.
He had nervous system issues, breathing trouble, didn’t want to be held, didn’t want to sleep, cried all the time, and was just a strain on everyone. Of course he couldn’t help it, but Dad couldn’t take it either.
He had jumped from being a perpetual bachelor of 30 odd years to a husband and dad of two children – one child with many issues. Not to mention my Mom isn’t the calmest of women, she demanded far more from my Dad than he was prepared for.
He simply started to check out. I guess he figured he couldn’t cope well so why try at all.
However, he also knew he wasn’t supposed to leave. So he stayed, but not really.
He distanced himself from all of us, retiring to the bedroom as soon as he got home from work to watch TV or fiddle with his gadgets. If you knew my mom, you know she wouldn’t take that lying down, which I am sure was just further incentive for him to mentally check out.
It was fine for me, though. I got my mom back, mostly, and I also had a living, breathing baby doll to play with. As my brother grew, however, I wondered at his need for Dad’s attention.
He was always trying to crawl into his lap, play with him, talk to him, and join in his activities. Why?
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what drew my brother to someone who gave him only the barest bits of attention. As an adult, I now understand his need for a father and my own need as well.
But back then, it was unfathomable. If someone obviously didn’t want you around, then why would you try so hard?
I can say one thing for certain. He never treated us differently.
I never felt like I was the step child and my brother was the real child. That was a point in his favor.
My brother never even knew we were only half-brother and sister until he was eight or nine years old and one of his cousins spilled the beans. He came to me crying because I “wasn’t his real sister.”
Being seven years older than him, I could quickly comfort him.
I am as much your real sister as any sister can be,” I said.
What do you mean?” he asked.
I explained to him about X and Y chromosomes and how boys got the Y from their dad and girls got the X so all brothers and sisters are really only half.
Plus I couldn’t love a “real” brother any more than I love you, so there!”
He grinned more than satisfied with the answer, and has never had another doubt.
The status quo with Dad lasted until he finally left – for real. I wish that was the end of it and we could have all went our separate ways on good terms. However, he got back on drugs, having been drug addict as a teen. He then returned home because he lost his job and had nowhere else to go. He brought the drugs and his abusive lifestyle with him. It was no longer just an emotionally absent dad we had to deal with but an outright dangerous one.
By this time, I was an older teen and well aware of the damage he was doing to us. I hated him for a while for the abuse he gave to my mother and brother. Never to me because we both knew where we stood. I can honestly say I don’t think the “step” had anything to do with my ability to cut through his bull and call him on his lifestyle.
Eventually I got my mom and brother out of there and left him to his own devices, which landed him in prison. The divorce was finalized, he got out and moved on with his own life, and finally left us to ours.
My brother, as always, wanted a relationship with him again as soon as he got out of jail. But not me. I was done trying. After a few years of healing on my part, I was able to forgive him and I made it a point to go with my brother to visit him on major holidays. But the relationship is still not there.
Finally, this brings me to my point. My stepdad showed me a lot of things NOT to do, and some things TO do also.
Tips on How to be a Good Stepdad
Treat Everyone the Same
This is especially important if you end up having more kids together after you get married. Treating the biological and step children the same not only makes your relationship better with all the kids but also makes the children’s relationships better with each other. How terrible would it be to feel that your sibling was loved more than you because of their genes?
This doesn’t mean you treat all the kids exactly the same, as in one gets to stay out late or they all do etc., but the love and affection for each child should be equal. Children are different and have different needs, and that is okay. Some need more rules, some fewer, but all of them need love.
Agree on Discipline
Speaking of rules, you and your spouse should agree on discipline before it comes up. Is spanking a child okay? Stepchild or no stepchild, discipline can be a hot topic that can cause a lot of conflict.
Make sure you agree on not only how to discipline but when and where as well. Keep in mind the more you show you love the kids equally, the less who does the discipline will matter.
Build a Relationship
Relationships don’t just happen. They have to be cultivated. Think about it: you just didn’t meet your spouse one day and get married the next. You spent time getting to know them, making sure they knew you, and making sure you were both interested in starting a life together before you actually made the leap.
While stepchildren do not get the option to choose, you should still make the effort to get to know them. Don’t try to be “likeable” or fake; you can’t keep that up for the long term. Just let them get to know the real you. Chances are if their parent found something they liked in you, the child will too.
Last but not least, be open. Don’t push your way into your stepchild’s life, but don’t close yourself off either. I always felt like my dad was physically there, but emotionally closed. There was no point in me even trying after a while.
However if he had been open, even without making any overt effort, I would have eventually tried to connect with him. It doesn’t always have to be the adult that is the initiator in forming a relationship. Be there, be open, listen, respond, be kind, and the stepchild might be the one to make the first step.
Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for www.babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author @ gmail.com.