Monday, January 15, 2007

Superman and Kryptonite: Stepfathers and power

I know that we were in love when we got married. In fact, I know we still are in love. However, I can't help but feel like I was supposed to come in and bring order to this family. And yet it seems like everything I do is counered, denied, defied, or invisible.

When Bozo ran off with another woman, Sherry was left with three kids, a part time job, and a mortgage the size of Texas. She needed a hero and there I was - Superman.

First of all, I had a job that brings in the bread. Second, she was getting run over by the kids. They're not bad kids, but when dad runs off with a bimbo, they're going to have to take their rage out on someone. Mom was the nearest target. She needed someone with the authority and courage to confront her kids. Well, there I came to the rescue. I'd slam dunked dozens of business deals, stared down compeitors without blinking, and found my way up the ladder of suceess. How hard could it be to whip three kids into shape?

Well, if we're looking for easy, then I'd take corporate America every day if the week. These kids have power. I have no authority in their lives. It doesn't matter how good I am to them or their mother; it doesn't matter that their own father is as worthless as they come. In fact, the only power I have in their lives is the power they give me.

Geez, this seems so backwards. But I guess parenting and stepparenting are not the same.

There is a lot of pressure on stepfathers to pull off miralces. They often offer the family financial stability, a sense of control and authprity, and a male figure in the household. All is hoped to be well once stepdad assumes his position. And yet, sometimes for all of the power the stepdad has, when it comes to stepfathering, he can feel like Superman next to a chunk of kryptonite - powerless.

After an initial valiant effort (which usually falls flat), it can be very tempting to either crank up the heat an become hyper-authoritarian or shrink back and become a non-factor. Either way is tempting yes, but not effective.

Stepfathers should do the following:
1. Assume authority slowly, as it is earned.

2. Maintain balance in engagement. Not too much engagement and not too little.

3. Assume the necessity of flexibility. The kids will want you some days and not others.

4. Honor the fact that the kids and mom had a relationship that predates you.

5. Even if dad is a scumbag, he is still dad. Respect that fact even if you cannot find it within yourself to respect him as a man.

13 comments:

Blessed said...

This is excellent advice for step-moms, too!

Fajita said...

Yes indeed.

Anonymous said...

Hi I just want to say I do feel powerless in my roll as a stepdad,and have no way of seeing beyond today. I am not in control here whatsoever and am not even seeing if I ever will? I am not the breadwinner in fact I am often looked down apon for not being so,or providing more! I do my best and just keep persevering!

Fajita said...

Anonymous, glad you're here.

A couple things come to mind immediately.

1. When attention is paid only to what you're not doing or contributing while everything good you are doing is being ignored, you're sunk. Instead, making a case for your contributions and maybe even investigating what would be lost if you were not doing them could be a good internal thing for you to do. In no way do I mean make a threat "appreciate me or I am outta here." No, perish the thought. But what often happens for the non breadwinner is their contributions are overlooked because they cannot be connected directly to a salary.

2. Examine the reasons why you are not the breadwinner. If it because that is how the family decided to exist, no problem. However, if it ibecause your partner makes more money thatn you because the nature of your work, then that is just something everyone is going to have to live with. Contrary to popular belief, nobody is going to just give you a load of cash because you are a man.

Now, if you are not the breadwinner because you don't want to work outside the home and this is an area of disagreement between you and your partner, then you have got to go and get you some bread.

3. Finally, you aren't going to be in control of as many things as you want in general. Being in a stepfamily tacks on a multiplier effect. What you an do is to keep focused on what you are good at as a starting point and then expand fom there. DO NOT start at what you are not doing. That is guaranteed failure.

Anonymous said...

I know that blessed said..."This is excellent advice for step-moms, too!" And that is so true! I am the step-mom to a child that was left by his mom around 6 years ago. What amazed me about the post was how I felt the same way that step-dads feel. Thanks so much for the encouragement!
Step-moms in my situation have a hard time finding good information that fits us.

(My situation: I only have a step-child, I have never had children of "my" own.)

Mindy said...

anonymous (stepmom), I completely understand how you feel! I'm also a stepmom with no bio-children of my own, and most people don't realize that stepmoms like us face different challenges than stepmoms who were already moms when they entered steplife. They at least have some previous parenting experience, where we are starting from scratch with nothing but our own background. Five years ago I found an online support group for stepmoms without bio-children, and I have to say if I hadn't I don't know that I would still be here. They have been my lifeline, and have become my friends. If you would like info about the group, please feel free to contact me through my webpage.

anonymous (stepdad), My cousin was once engaged to a woman with a young son, but because of the way she constantly put him on the back burner when the 3 of them were together, ignoring his attempts at building a relationship with her son (not to mention that she seemed to really only need him for his $$$), they finally broke up. As much as I tried to advise him in steplife situations, I realize that he must have been faced with different issues as a stepdad than I do as a stepmom.

Unfortunately, there just doesn't seem to be enough support (groups, books, information) out there for stepdads.

Hang in there! Fajita gave you some great advice!

Tony said...

I really don't know how to describe how I feel. I'm a StepDad of three girls. Two of them call me Dad and respect me as one. However two years ago the youngest (now 18) because of a fight she got into with her Mom, that I stepped into to keep it from getting ugly (er), has flat out told me that I'm not her Father and doesn't speak to me.

Now that she is pregnant at age 18 everybody wants me to feel happy that I'm going to be a Grandfather.

I ask everyone: How can I be a Grandfather if I am not recognized as a Father?

In a situation like this, what can we do? I'm forcing the issue of her becoming independent and making her own life, but Mom is not sure how to go about it.

Her Mom and I are not legally married. So, I basically feel like moving out myself and leaving Mom and daughter to handle their own issues.

What do you think?
jadiaz@myway.com

Anonymous said...

I cant express all the feelings i have boiling over inside just waiting for some one want to listen to my problem. I have been married for two years to a very good women strong stubburn Hispanic women with two boys. My father Hispanic also raised me and my two brothers and one sister really tuff. Spankings and kneeling in a corner and restrictions the whole tuff parent thing. All but one brother grew up never getting into trouble. All except one, the baby of the bunch he was spoiled but not too bad. Still he is a mess today financial ruined, sloppy house, vehicle ,every thing married sloppy standard of living. My mother did every thing for him when he was young shes german and very clean, extremely clean. He the little one needs mom and dads help financially and all. What a mess he is. I believe that comes from my mothers way not teaching him responsibility like the rest of us learned. My wife made me agree before marriage that she would decipline her kids and i wouldnt touch them. reluctantly i agreed only on the condition that she keeps them in line. I.E. Not talking back, being disrespectful minding their mother so on so forth. The oldest boy Now 15 very great kid clean well dressed and star quarterback football high school. The problem comes from the Father of both boys tells the youngest one to talk back and disrespect his mother and me as offten as he likes and now were are going through world war three with the boy. I cant tell you how much Iv done for them and their mother. raised their standard of living new house car furniture Electronic toys TVs every thing. I also help the younger with school projects home work and pick him up and drop him off to school every day almost. Hes become i tirant and hes now getting out of hand and my wife cant handel him. I wanted to beat his butt this past weekend then he told us that his father told him he could do that. Now i want to knock his block off but it would destroy every thing i worked for to establish a reppor with this boy, What am i to do now.

Fajita said...

resist tempation to knock is block off - as strong as that temptation may be. Your goodness and hard work must speak for itself. There is no block knocking that is going to work here.

You and his mother do have leverage if you work together. Opening up conversatin with each other and dealing with the situation at hand is important. Making decisions in the heat of the moment is not good.

Stepfamily life is messy - inherently messy. This is part of the mess. Do not violate your own chracter and virute in order to "win." Winning is based on keeping your cool and maintaining your integrity.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice, We so far have been talking regularly to him with him at him nothing seems to work today hes said hes glad his dad cheated on his mother and left her. I know that her his mother real bad and shes at work probably cant focus on her job now. She said we will talk again with him when she gets home and if it doesn't change things she'll pack his clothes and send him to the fathers house that would make her bsad and the father happy.

Fajita said...

Wow, tough place. One of the developmental presses kids are going through is learning how to be more autonomous and make their own deceisions. Stepfamily life, even under the best of conditions, an wreak havoc on the emerging autonomy of a teen or pre-teen.

Kids have been handed, whether we like it or not, the tremendous power of free will. We can guide them in it to the extent that they will receive influence, but we cannot take it from them, especially once they are onvinced that they have it.

Breathe. Seek wisdom. Be confident that a generous and forgiving posture is success. The outcomes for others are ultimtely their success or failure. Love always. Sacrifice. Be there even when it is unfair against you.

Anonymous said...

There are days now where I feel like running away- 2 years into the relationshiop, a few months of married life.

Three step kids, 8,9,11 plus mom. But I cannot run away, i still love her-- she makes me happy. But handling the kids make me crazy -- and I teach high school these days.

If I say something to the kids, she is the lioness protecting the cubs. If I try to escape a bit she thinks I dont love her and retreats into a shell.

I cannot let her go back to the life of before -- poor with no opportunities to be better. The kids too, already lost their father who died a few years ago, when they were little. Besides, I, committed.

Good kids, but neither mom nor the kids want to live the way I would like to.....

.... today, I am despairing.

Fajita said...

Anon,

Sorry to hear about the despairing situation. This kind of stuff is so hard.

"Blending" is such a false word to use for what ihappening in your family. It's a chunky stew in the crockpot - slow cooking. this is an important metaphor because of how long it takes to make become a stepfamily that feels normals.

It's a merger of cultures, for another metaphor. Each culture will need to protect itself for its own preservation, but will also need to let some things go, to protect the merger (marriage). What is exciting (when it happens) is when the merger creates new cultural norms. Creativity is probably the most important part of stepfamily life.