5 Wise Tips for the Smart Stepdad - How to Become a Better Stepdad
As you know, I am passionate about helping marriages last a lifetime. Many men my age cannot remember what they got for their last birthday, let alone their 13th birthday. But I remember that day too well. It was the day my parents gave my brother, sister, and I the infamous, “It’s-not-your-fault-we-are-getting-divorced” speech. As an ACOD (Adult Child of Divorce), I have seen the wreckage divorce places on a family, and it takes careful navigation to lead wisely as a stepdad.
This week was our second interview with Ron Deal, who is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is founder of Smart Stepfamilies, Director of FamilyLife Blended, and the author of over a dozen books and video resources on stepfamily living including the Smart Stepdad, which was the subject of our interview.
If you want to listen to our first interview with him, click here. I was honored recently to join Ron as a guest on his podcast FamilyLife Blended with Ron Deal, which is heard around the world. Click here to listen.
The Painful Reality of Divorce
In the United States 50% of children will have a stepparent at some point in their lifetime, and 90% of children in step-families live with their mom and stepdad. Forty percent of children from divorce will not see their dad for an entire year, which places an added burden on stepdads.
Stepchildren who have good relationships with both their stepfather and their nonresident biological father have better outcomes than children who have good relationships with just their father.
In the Smart Stepdad he writes, “Essentially the goal of step-parenting is to join biological parents in their task of raising and maturing healthy, responsible, faith-focused children.”
If the Shoe Fits…
Step fathering takes wisdom and tact. It’s like putting the right pieces in the proper places on a puzzle board. Ron states, “Being successful as the new stepdad depends heavily on finding your fit, identifying your responsibilities and objectives, and buddying up with your allies.”
I think of one of my favorite John Wayne quotes when I think of some stepdads, “if you’re gonna be dumb, you’d better be tough.” This reminded me of the stupid stepdad in Ron’s book who, because of his military background, tried to build a new puzzle by fitting his new stepfamily into his puzzle.
He was dumb and tough, and it still did not end well!
Below are five wisdom tips for the smart stepdad to leverage his parenting potential.
Smart Stepdad Tip #1: Still Dating? Slow Down!
A divorce is a death. One mistake I see with second marriages is that they happen way too fast, often within a year of the divorce. Think about more than yourself. Your children have had a massive life change, the death of a marriage they expected to last forever.
Let them grieve the divorce and adjust to this new way of living.
Their lives have been completely disrupted with no fault of their own. Show a little maturity and wisdom. Think about your children instead of your desires. Step back, evaluate the hearts of your children—SLOW DOWN!
Smart Stepdad Tip #2: Pace with the Stepchildren
Remember, your wife is bringing you into the family. You have been “hired” into a family that existed before you. Each child is in a different place.
For example, I accepted my stepmom much later than my two siblings, but she was patient with me. I am very close to my mother and I saw my stepmom as the enemy—the other woman. She recognized this and treaded lightly with me. Over time, she won me over. I’m close to her today because she kept pace with me instead of demanding that I keep pace with her.
Smart Stepdad Tip #3: Be Smart Stepdad before Becoming a Good Father
In many cases, your stepchildren have a father somewhere. As mentioned earlier, 40% of divorced children will not see their biological dad for an entire year.
But he is still their father.
YOU ARE NOT.
My stepdad recognized that we were close to our dad, who remained impressively connected to us. Even though we lived with our stepdad, he took a wise tactic. Instead of trying to replace Dad, he became the “Cool Stepdad”. He was literally called this by my peers. He loved my mom but never tried to replace my dad or subvert his authority.
You are not the father of your stepchildren. You are a welcomed guest.
Smart Stepdad Tip #4: Pursue Stepchildren with Common Sense
Most likely you are bringing children of your own into this new marriage. Be careful how you express affection for your stepchildren around your children. Let them set the pace.
Ron wisely recommends having a conversation with each stepchild to build boundaries. Especially be wise with how you show affection to stepdaughters! Smart stepdads find the balance between expressing no affection and excessive, inappropriate expressions.
Click here for the top guardrails I practice with any woman who is not my wife.
Initially, stay away from anything more than a side hug. Your stepchildren will need affection, but each will receive it differently: high fives, knuckle punches, and side hugs are appropriate.
Smart Stepdad Tip #5 Be patient
A couple years ago I purchased my first smoker, a Traeger. I believe the greatest strength of a smoker is its ability to take a tough cut of meat like a pork butt (shoulder) or beef brisket, heavily seasoned and slow cooked at low temperatures, until the meat pulls off! My mouth is watering thinking about it. Smoking meat too fast ruins it.
Conversely, a microwave cooks at high heats over very short time periods. You do not want to cook meat in a microwave! Smart stepdads are like smokers. They realize this and patiently, slowly blend into the family over time.
The mistake we make is to cook and stepparent too fast. Do not be that guy.
Boots on the Ground
My parents were divorced when I was thirteen. I was fortunate to have great stepparents. If you want to dive deeper into the Smart Stepdad, I have included my favorite quotes from the book here.
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