Dear Straight Talk: How nice to discover this forum! I’m a new stepfather to a boy, 14, and a girl, 16. Their mother has had full custody for eight years. Please advise as to the ideal stepfather. What’s the worst thing I can do? The best? — New Dad in Vacaville
Nicole, 23, Santa Rosa: Support, support, support. My stepfather is very supportive emotionally. He really listens when I talk and “hears” what I’m saying. He offers advice when I ask, but doesn’t interject opinions otherwise. He’s trustworthy. All this makes him very influential in my life! Remember, the kids didn’t choose you, their mother did, so be mindful of boundaries. Body language and nonverbal cues will show when you’ve crossed them.
Gregg, 22, San Diego: I had a stepfather and a stepmother. I liked that neither felt the need to replace my real parents. I liked that they were neutral regarding family matters and constantly supportive. My stepfather is always sharing helpful advice on how to live, but not dictating how to live. He also gave me employment for a whole summer!
I’ve seen some stepdads try and bond with their stepsons by telling dirty jokes or playing video games with them. This is actually totally weird and a big mistake. Kids want you to be an adult and role model.
Brie, 22, San Francisco: Having had a stepmother most of my life, what drove me crazy was the blatant favoritism of her own child. That and my father bending to her will even when things were unfair. A good stepfather should be fair and refer to the biological parent for all major decisions. The best thing is being supportive.
Taylor, 16, Santa Rosa: If “Real Dad” is in the picture, don’t overstep. However, over time, it’s appropriate to be close. The ideal stepfather never acts like the utmost authority. When my stepdad tries to overstep my mom when we’re talking, it really frustrates me. Be respectful, nice — and patient. Being a friend first who slowly develops into a parent works best. Key thing: Treat their mom right.
Ochatre, 23, Kampala, Uganda: With my experience of being raised by a stepmother, an ideal stepfather would treat me like a real father. The worst thing is thinking that your wife’s kids are not yours. You must accept and treat them as your own. However, do not expect them to treat you as their dad. Winning that honor is a gradual process.
Breele, 19, Dana Point: After seeing my mother so happy, I eventually warmed up to my stepdad. It helped that he was very friendly and always interested in my life. He cared about my mom enough to care about me, no matter what. Tip: Have a hobby or other role-model-worthy reason to be absent certain evenings so there’s breathing space.
Lara, 22, Concord: My stepdad has been amazing. My mom married him when I was 8. He left disciplining to her, but remained a steady support throughout the years. He knows my dad is my dad and doesn’t try to fill the role completely. But being at all my basketball games, school functions, meeting my boyfriends (with quiet judgment and a long strong handshake), and sometimes telling me how proud he is of me has meant the world to me. Be yourself. Don’t make new household rules. Keep Mom happy and genuinely care about the kids and they will accept you.
Dear New Dad: You are a smart and caring stepdad to ask this question. Please visit our website, where the panelists’ excellent commentary continues in depth. Best wishes to you and your new family! — Lauren
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