Father’s Day For Stepdads
I hope all the dads out have a great Father's Day. Maybe you'll get breakfast in bed, a sweet card, and whatever else it is that dads get on our special day that I wouldn't know about.
Because I'm only a stepdad.
My fellow stepparents will understand. We don't ever get to be with our kids on Mother's Day or Father's Day in shared custody situations, because we're not really "real" parents. We're just the Steps.
Stepparents get a bad rap, though. In pop culture and fairy tales, we're usually evil, heartless meanies who either care nothing for our stepchildren, or have the annoying habit of trying to bake them into pies all the time. In sitcoms on network television, we're bumbling fools and inconsistent sources of unsteady drama. We're the extra bits tacked onto the the points of the Mom, Dad and Child triangle that make it stick out at embarrassing angles all the other shapes point and laugh at. In short, we're not worth very much to anybody.
That's the stereotype, anyway.
In truth, being a stepdad or stepmom is noble sort of thing, if you tilt your head just right and squint a little. After all, we chose to add our stepchildren to our lives, rather than roll the DNA dice and hope they land on seven. We usually aren't around for the baby days, so we accept our stepchildren as they already are: partially formed, at any age.
If we do things right, we take our place in a kind of familial tetrahedron, where the four points of Mom and Dad, Stepmom and Stepdad make up the base of a pyramid that supports the kiddo capstone at the top. I suspect that's how it's supposed to work, anyway. I've been at it for about a decade now, and I'm still trying to figure all this out. Your mileage may vary.
Still, in the interest of education, here's how to do it right. I think...
Five Rules For Stepparents
1.) If you are a stepparent, you are not Mom or Dad - and you never will be.
Remember that pyramid and your role as a vital component of the three-point base I just mentioned? (Okay. Technically, it's a tetrahedron, but I don't want to melt your brain with geometry.) It's important. Or, if that's too Dr. Phil-ish for you, try just not being a selfish jerk.
Try to remember that the only reason you're a stepparent at all is because there are children involved. Try not to screw them up just because you might not get along with your spouse's ex. Your kid is still going to love them in a way they simply can't love anyone else. It's probably all down to some kind of new age gobbledeegook I don't understand along the lines of cellular memory and crystals, but whatever it is, the biological connection is real. Regardless of why it's there, it's still there.
And it will always be there, even if the real parent is a great big jerkface. It simply doesn't matter. Your kid will love them all the same, and it's up to you to make sure that never becomes an issue.
2.) Your stepchild is the most important person in the world. And if he's not, he should be.
Children should always take priority in any marriage, without regard to biology or fate. A lot of parents (step or otherwise) forget about this, but it's important. When a child's involved, you can love your spouse with all your heart, but if they're both ever dangling from a cliff's edge and you can save only one, you'd best pull your kid up and let your better half get the sudden education in gravity.
In daily life, this means that everything you do is done for your child rather than for yourself or your spouse. If you're broke and can't buy much food, then your kid gets to eat while you get to go hungry. If you want a new car but your kid needs braces, you learn to love your ancient vehicle and get used to telling people that the squeaky door adds character. If you startle awake one morning with the crushing weight of marriage flattening your internal organs, you don't get to decide that you deserve more and suddenly start looking around for a new life partner. You grow up and get over it for the sake of your kid. It's really pretty simple.
And if your kid wants to make his own family costume for Halloween each year? You bust out the craft supplies, buy yourself a hot glue gun, and get to work. We've been everyone from the Super Mario Bros. characters to the paddles and dot from Pong, and everything in-between. (My favorite was when he decided to trick-or-treat as Netflix back in 2015, with me and his mom walking behind him in our fat clothes, watching him and eating popcorn.)
3.) Let your stepchild decide what to call you.
You may long to hear a Mama or Daddy escape your stepchild's lips when he's addressing you, but forcing the issue just highlights your own insecurities, which you'll probably end up passing on to the little guy. If he wants to start calling you Daddy, then let him. Likewise, if he decides to call you Humperdink Rumplefart, that's fine, too.
My stepson called me Blah Blah for the longest time, and then bounced around from names like Kris-Kris, then Daddy Kris, then back to Kris before he settled on calling me Papa. The important thing is that deciding what to call me was always his choice.
Unlike biological parents, stepmoms and stepdads have to earn the good names. We have to earn all the things. But do everything right, and those things will come in time.
Don't force them.
4.) Accept that the law hates you.
Stepparents have no legal standing when it comes to our stepchildren. We might have all the responsibilities of actual parents, but we get none of the rights. We have all of the obligations, but none of the protections. On the great family totem pole, we're not even at the bottom. We're that pile of discarded rocks off to the side that nobody really notices or cares about.
For example, if my wife I ever split up, there wouldn't be a custody arrangement for me. No visitation. No nothing. The legal system doesn't think I'm a real parent, and there's no such thing as Step-Parental Rights.
Or, if my wife were to be killed in a freak household accident or inexplicably contract some rare tropical disease and die, my stepson would immediately go back to his dad's, full time, like something out of a bad Lifetime Channel movie starring Sally Field and/or Melissa Gilbert. It's high drama, and it completely stinks.
I don't like to think about it much, so let's move on...
5.) You may be a second-class parent, but you don't have to act like one.
The world may see stepparents as inferior to biological parents, but that doesn't mean it's true. Did The Brady Bunch teach us nothing? What about Diff'rent Strokes, My Two Dads, or Full House? Heck, even Luke Skywalker was raised by his aunt and uncle while his real dad was off murdering younglings and strangling people with the power of his mind. Real parents get all the glory while stepparents get shot at by stormtroopers, and it hardly seems fair.
Still, even though the law hates you and the rest of the world suspects you of being one Evil Stepparent move away from turning your children out into the cruel world like dirty little Dickensian street urchins, you don't have to prove them right. Stop worrying about accidents of blood and what other people think. There's something much more important for you to be concerned with right now: Your kid.
So take care out there, stepdads. I know Father's Day can be kind of rough, but it's only a sticky note on the calendar. You can move it to whatever day you want.
Because stepparents are Time Lords.