The Fathering Role is Necessary
Although most mothers provide direction and guidance to their children, there is something authentic that sons and daughters learn directly from interacting with their fathers. Fathers teach their sons and daughters how men are expected to behave. This is important information for both boys and girls, as boys learn by example how they are to behave in their future lives as fathers and girls learn what they are to expect of their future partners and fathers of their children. Successful youth living depends on young people learning from both parents. Children therefore need to have the opportunity to develop and use the direction, guidance and skills that their fathers provide.
When Fathers are Missing
When fathers are missing, as when they are away at war, in prison, through divorce or death, or when some fathers challenge and do not claim paternity of their children, mothers often step up and try to play both roles of father and mother. While mothers often take on the financial responsibility for their children and try to provide their children with direction and guidance, they often find that there are gaps that they often cannot fill. This is when grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, and friends sometimes step in to fill the gap. But this cannot be a permanent arrangement.
Stepdads Fill an Important Place
Stepdads often fill a permanent and important place in the lives of many children. For some children, their stepdad is their only dad. In this case, the stepdad not only provides financial help, but also provides the emotional and psychological support that children need to grow into healthy adults. These stepdads also provide encouragement to their stepchildren to pursue worthy goals in lives and to be responsible adults.
Other Positive Impact of Stepdads
While providing positive examples of how to live, stepdads can also influence their stepchildren to pursue academic goals and can be there to help them through. In some cases, stepdads take their stepchildren under their wings and help them to become responsible adults, providing the companionship and the leadership these young people need at a crucial time in their development.
Stepdads and Dads Uniting for a Common Cause
In some cases, stepdads are full-time dads that live at home with their stepchildren, but there may also be biological dads who still remain in the lives of their children, particularly after divorce. While this could sometimes be awkward or unsettling to some children, responsible stepfathers and biological fathers have made the relationship work. In a study, a survey carried out in the Netherlands among adults between the ages of 25 and 45 who did not grow up with their two biological parents but who had stepfathers, revealed among other findings that the quality of relationship between adult children and their stepfathers was related to the length of time of step fathering (Hornstra, Kalmijn, & Ivanova, May 2020). Further, the bond developed between these adult children and their stepfathers was “positively associated with the attitudes of the two fathers toward each other” (Hornstra et al., May 2020, p. 14). Therefore, when fathers and stepparents recognize the importance of their children’s happiness and healthy development, despite their differences, they can have positive relationships with their shared children.
Forget About the Stereotypes
However, when stepfathers come into the picture, there are potential problems that also come with this. There are many stereotypes about stepparents, many nurtured through fairy tales and other accounts. Many stepfathers face similar stereotypes to those faced by stepmothers. What these stereotypes do is to undermine relationships, putting blended families under stress.
Children and Young People Know These Stereotypes
Young people know about these stereotypes and sometimes use these to get benefits from either of their biological parent, especially in the case of divorce. Sometimes, in resenting one’s stepparent, some young people find it easy to draw on the stereotype and complain about their stepparent. With the stereotypes so pervasive in our society, a well-meaning mother may easily accept the report of ‘her’ child as the truth, not realizing the small embellishments (drawn on the stereotypes) that were made to the ‘story’. There lies the beginning or the continuation of tensions in relationships.
Young People Can Help
Young people can help to create a harmonious home life with their stepdads. Get to know your stepdad. Acknowledge that your stepdad is now a permanent member of your family. If you used stereotypes to discredit your stepdad in the eyes of your mom in the past, you can change things around by speaking to your mom and stepdad and coming clean about your story. Explain that it was not malicious, but you saw the opportunity to benefit from the stereotype. By doing this, you may discover a new peace of mind and the start of what could be a better and more rewarding relationship. Successful youth living is based on being positive in life and in relationships.
During this past week or so, I came across a resource that really impressed me about the importance of stepdads. Support for Stepdads (https://supportforstepdads.com ) provides a vast resource on materials for stepfathers, a veritable compendium, with hundreds of topics on personal relationships covered, including activities to do with stepchildren, and inspiration for daily living. There is also something for stepmothers and parenting in general.
Keywords: Stepdads, stepfathers, blended families, family relationships, step parenting stereotypes, stepparent, support for stepdads, direction and guidance, successful youth living.
Ahlers, G. P., Sr. (2016). Stepfamilies are becoming the Norm, so Let’s Retire Cinderella: How Stepfamilies can Learn to Thrive. Child and Family Law Journal, 4(1), Article 3, 25-78. Retrieved from https://lawpublications.barry.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1016&context=cflj
Hornstra, M., Kalmijn, M., & Ivanova, K. (May 2020). Fatherhood in Complex Families: Ties between Adult Children, Biological Fathers, and Stepfathers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 1-18. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jomf.12679
Support for Stepdads: Help and Inspiration for Stepdads Worldwide. Retrieved from https://supportforstepdads.com/