It’s June. With Father’s Day approaching, the question again arises on the internet about whether to honor the Stepfathers and how. I wish the day would be renamed to something more inclusive. Fatherly Day? Male Role Model Day? All Male Nurturers Day? Whatever. Stepfathers who do what’s required to be real Stepdads deserve recognition and appreciation too.
Stepfather families comprise about 8.4% of U.S. married couples with children. That may not sound like much, but it translates to 16.5 million men being Stepdads and 4.1 million children who live with their biological mom and a Stepdad. That’s a lot of fathers and children!
Just as with any family structure, there are tremendous differences in how blended families operate. Sadly, there are some families in which the Stepfather remains at a distance from his wife’s children by a prior partnership or marriage either because of his own issues or because the mother won’t allow it. In such families, both the man and the kids miss out on the potential for a significant and mutually rewarding relationship. The mom misses out on having a partner in every sense of the word.
But in many other families, Stepdads do develop close emotional relationships with the children. They understand that the quality of the relationship with their stepchildren is really up to them.
Just as it takes more than biology to make a father into a Dad, it takes more than marrying a kid’s mother to change a stepfather into a Stepdad. When he makes the effort, everyone benefits. The mother gets a real partner in raising children. The children get the many benefits that come with having a loving and supportive man in their lives. The man gets to have rewarding and loving relationships with his stepchildren. It takes work, sure. But helping children become happy, loving, well-grounded adults is something that can be a source of immense pride and satisfaction.
Father’s Day gives families a chance to focus on the Stepdad who is doing it “right” — or at least mostly right. Stepdads are allowed to be as imperfect as the rest of us.
Let’s honor the Stepdads who
- Know that they don’t have to compete with the kids’ relationship with the their father (if he is in the picture or their longing for their bio dad when he isn’t). They know there is enough love to go around and that children benefit from having all the love and attention they can get.
- Don’t wait for the children to show love and affection before offering it. He takes the lead by gently and carefully nurturing the relationship — just as he did with their mother.
- Understand that it takes time before they can expect respect, compliance, or love from children whose trust may have been betrayed by another guy.
- Take the time to develop a close relationship with each of their Stepkids individually and take care to know each kids’ talents, interests, friendships, like and dislikes.
- Go to the kids’ practices and games, theatre productions, band concerts and youth group events.
- Read to little ones every night and provide supportive help with homework for the bigger ones.
- Take kids out on adventures.
- Work out a consistent code of consequences and discipline with the kids’ mother.
- Provides love, guidance, and positive modeling for what it takes to be a loving husband and father.
- Never see the kids as a burdensome extra when they married their mother, but instead enthusiastically embrace the role of being a Dad.
These are the Stepdads who step up and do their very best to be the father or another father in the lives of the children they live with.
Mom’s Role in Making Father’s Day
Whether the man in the house is a biological father or stepdad, it’s up to the kids’ mom to provide the encouragement and opportunity for children to make Father’s Day special. (Fathers need to do the same for mothers on Mothers’ Day). Little kids aren’t aware of a calendar day. Big ones may be confused about their role in the day. Teenagers are sometimes so invested on showing their independence that they forget relationships go two ways. So it’s up to Mom to promote the day.
Why? Because there’s a lot more to it than giving in to card companies and retailers who make a big deal of any day that promises profits. Events like Father’s Day can be an opportunity for parents (in this case, mothers) to give children practice in being on the giving end of expressions of appreciation and love. When they are supported in honoring the men in their lives who love them, they learn the importance of showing love and gratitude to those who care for them. That’s an attitude and skill that will stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
Father’s Day is any day.
Father’s Day can be complicated for blended families, but it doesn’t have to be. Although this article has focused on the Stepdad, Father’s Day is really a day to recognize all the fathers and fatherly people in our lives.
I’ll close with a friendly reminder: Father’s Day officially happens on the third Sunday in June. But there are 364 other days in a year. When children have multiple fathers who are important in their lives (Divorced Dad, Stepdad, Granddad, Baby daddy, Honorary Dad, etc.), and especially if any of those men don’t get along, it’s possible and appropriate to mark another day as a father’s special “day.” It’s the thoughtfulness and recognition that matter — not the “date.”