In this episode of Blended Fatherhood, host James Ferris talks about the ambiguous nature of the role of a stepparent. He explains that the title of father or mother can feel hollow or even lead to feelings of impostor syndrome. He acknowledges that the situation can be different if both spouses have stepchildren, as it can lead to a connection and shared understanding. However, he focuses on the unique challenges of being the only stepparent in a blended family, as it can lead to awkwardness and a lack of understanding from other family members. James encourages listeners to talk about their unique challenges and feelings to help combat the ambiguity of their roles as stepparents.
[0:00:23] James: Hello and welcome to Blended Fatherhood. I'm your host James Ferriss, and on today's episode, we're going to be talking about the ambiguous nature of the role of a stepparent and what we can do to kind of combat some of that ambiguity at the beginning of our blended family. So let's first kind of talk about this word that I used, which was ambiguous. And I think anybody who's not a stepparent will get a little bit confused by that because it's stepparent, stepfather, stepmother, whatever. It has that title mother, father, parent in there. And so it's kind of this thing of like, well, maybe this is common sense.
[0:00:59] James: You're a parent, right? And even just talking to people in general about it are like, well, yeah, you are the father. What are you doing? Of course you're the father in that family and that's great. I appreciate those comments, but they ring hollow a good bit of time because the feedback and the life that you live doesn't always match up with those particular terms and it doesn't always feel that way. And so you can feel very much like you maybe got a little bit of impostor syndrome or you're just kind of lonely and isolated just due to the fact that not that many people know exactly what you're thinking about or feeling and even from your own spouse. And that depends on your situation, obviously, because if your spouse also has some step kids because you brought kids, they feel a little bit of the same way. And so you guys can connect on that and that's really great and have those conversations. But let's say you didn't bring any kids into the marriage and so you're the only one who has step kids. All the other kids in the family are biologically related to their mother.
[0:02:08] James: It's going to be a little awkward, and I think that's something that's rarely discussed and especially among men. I don't think I'm going to go to my group of guy friends and be like, man, this is just awkward. I feel so uncomfortable. How do you feel? That doesn't seem like something that's going to naturally happen, at least for me, I don't think that's going to naturally happen. And I know even talking with my dad, who also was a stepfather, I don't think he as well would have been like, yeah, that's not something I'm going to kind of bring up either, because your idea of stepfatherhood and what you've done can be deeply rooted in a bunch of different things. And if you maybe didn't do so great for the first five years or so, you could have some shame in related to that. Or maybe you didn't do good with one of the step kids, but you did good with the other step kid, and that can kind of cost some issues. So talking about how you feel specifically about your role can be a little complicated.
[0:03:01] James: The other thing too, is that just even if you're trying to explain it to somebody, it's not easy to explain because I can say, oh yeah, I'm a stepfather and I do all the fatherly duties, everything that a real father would and stuff like that, but I'm not actually their dad. And someone's like, well, no, you are their dad because you fit in that definition of I do everything a father would do, but I'm not their biological father. And that has so much weight attached to it where it can't be ignored, and it's something that really just sticks around a long time and it's not a bad thing. I'm not saying that the tie to the biological father is a bad thing.
[0:03:38] James: It's a great thing. What I'm saying is that it's really strong. And so even if you're the one who's doing everything right, you're doing all the fatherly duties, you're still going to have some of the stuff, like I said in some of the previous episodes, where you get no recognition for any of that. And it's going to differ for each person that you have in your family because some of your family members are going to be totally okay and be like, yeah, this is my dad. He does everything.
[0:04:04] James: My biological father hasn't done anything for me at all. I still wish I had some of that connection, but honestly, he hasn't done anything. So this is my stepdad, he's my real dad. And that's great. That's not always going to happen, but that's awesome when it does. And then you're going to have people who are like, no, that's just my mom's husband. And especially if you have adult step kids, that's probably going to be the feeling. And that's just because they're already adults, like they've already lived a life growing up, not having you any relation to dad. And so you just become this person where you're like, that's my mom's husband. And so you can kind of act like a friend and not necessarily a dad. So again, this is what we're talking about. I just kind of labeled three or four different ways where you're a stepdad and you're labeled a little ambiguously.
[0:04:51] James: And we need to kind of figure out what label we are in the certain family dynamic that we have. So let's just take mine for example. So I didn't bring any kids into the marriage. My wife brought two kids, and then we have a kid of our own. So we have three kids, right? And I am the stepfather technically to two of them, and then the biological father to one. Now, I don't think all three of my kids do think that way, and nor do we really refer to it. I don't say step kids. I say those are my kids because they are my kids.
[0:05:19] James: For all intents and purposes, they totally are. And I will go to the grave, those are my kids no matter what. I will stand up for them in any way possible that any biological parent would, because those are my kids, regardless of what legal document or blood relation says, because that's not real life. And real life is a lot more complicated than just blood relations. And so because of that fact and the way that we've kind of approached that is the case or the way I've approached it, where I'm like, no, I care for you just as much as I would care for any of my biological kids.
[0:05:55] James: That's kind of helped to this idea that I'm dad. And not to say that all of my kids call me dad, but either way, I'm just saying that that's kind of how we've led our family dynamic, which is great. It's not a bad thing at all. I think it's really good. But there are certain moments where even though we've gone through this label of, like, hey, no, you are my kids. I'm going to do everything related to your biological kid. I still have some moments of insecurity and some moments of not being the best quote unquote biological parent mentality, because it is more difficult than I think anybody realizes. No matter how much you say that you're going to care for someone who's not your biological child just as much as you would care for your biological child. And that's just being human.
[0:06:43] James: And that's just a reality of life. And I don't like that about myself, but it has happened sometimes. And so you need to make sure that if it does happen, it's okay. That's okay. No one should make you feel bad for feeling that way. And it doesn't mean that you weren't ready at all. It just means that you're human. And so here's a great example. So actually recently, maybe like a year or so ago, so our daughter was in a relationship totally fine, and we're parents, her mom and I, and we obviously have concerns about anything related to people that our kids are dating. And that's a reasonable thing to think you care. You want your child to end up with somebody who is awesome and fits kind of the standards that you would like and they live up to what you think that your child deserves. And so for you as a parent, to be skeptical is totally okay and real.
[0:07:48] James: And I'm not going to go into any details because it's not necessarily my details to say. I'm just going to kind of go from whatever I was feeling in this moment where something not so great happened, right? And so we had this kind of parental idea that like, hey, this is not a good situation. This kind of needs to change. We would like to see some changes here because we think this is not healthy for the most part, and that's going to happen.
[0:08:13] James: I think a lot of people can probably attest to their parents kind of putting themselves into their relationships in maybe either both a positive or a negative way, which is just a parental thing that kind of happens because again, you love your kids, you want what's best for your kids. And so from an outsider perspective, sometimes you see something that maybe they don't see and sometimes you are just wrong. But whatever was happening in this instance, the main concept I want to talk about is that as a biological father, in my mind, I think I would have acted maybe a little bit differently because I was really uncomfortable in whatever relationship I had with my daughter at the time.
[0:08:53] James: And I haven't really mentioned this a lot to anybody because I just feel really insecure about it. But the main concept is that because of that insecurity that I felt between what role I had in my daughter's life, I did not act the way that I should. Okay? And as a I think the biological portion that ties people together kind of negates some of that insecurity because you have that grace, like I mentioned before, just for the person naturally and just kind of like in this sort of biological tie that you have that just exists.
[0:09:30] James: And because of that and because there was not that tie, I felt really uncomfortable saying certain things or doing certain things and even having conversations with my wife. She pointed out that, like, hey, I'm pretty sure if she was your biological daughter, you would say this or do this. And that really hurt at the time because it was just kind of pointing out, yes, I am secure in this moment and I really shouldn't be, and I should probably step up to the plate and move past whatever this is. But again, this idea of like, what is my role in this situation?
[0:09:59] James: How do I react to this relationship with what I have with my daughter and what I should be doing as a father in general was kind of conflicting inside my head. And that's really difficult to kind of think through because you're at conflict with yourself, right? You have some sort of like mental block where you're like, I should be doing this. I feel really uncomfortable because I'm not sure how this is going to land and I don't feel like I have that safety net that you would if you were like, have that biological tie. And again, this is something that where if you talk to somebody who's not a stepparent or even somebody who just doesn't know what's going on or doesn't have any sort of frame of reference for trying to love somebody unconditionally.
[0:10:47] James: As much as you would love your own child, that's somebody else's child, which is a hard thing to do day in and day out. And there are countless of stories of this going horribly wrong and that's not what we want. I think if you're listening to this podcast I'm talking to this podcast. You want to be the person who is the fantastic father in a blended family, whether that be the stepfather, a biological father, whatever. You want to be the person who's doing the best they can in whatever circumstances you are in. And that's the case for me. And I don't think in this instance, I did the best I could and I'm sorry for that. I regret that.
[0:11:26] James: But it all has to do with this idea of what role I am playing and what role I have with my kids. And you're not going to know what role you have unless you talk with them, get to know them, do some of the things that I've talked about in the previous episodes of this podcast and really just have open conversations, which is really difficult to do. You have to be open, you have to be transparent. You have to be vulnerable to figure out where you are in the relationship with your kids and what role you're playing in the family. Are you playing as a mentor or are you playing as actual dad and they feel like you are dad? Are you playing like husband of my mom to them, where you're just kind of like that guy that's there?
[0:12:11] James: Are you somebody who's like a friend? I don't know what it is, but you have to figure it out. And the only way you're going to do that is by having conversations that are real and open and being like, hey, what is my role to you? And literally asking that question. Now, the younger the kid, I want to go to my ten year old and I want to ask him, hey, what role am I DEMA your father? Because he's not going to say probably what anybody thinks to say or whatever. He's not even going to understand what you really mean.
[0:12:38] James: And that's not his fault. Like, he's ten, it's okay, let him get a little bit older. But the older they are, the easier it is to ask that question. I could probably go ask my daughter and be like, what am I to you? She could probably give me an answer. And that might be an emotional question. It might be a tough question. I'm not sure what the answer would be exactly. I don't know what the answer would be. I think I know what the answer would be. What I mean is, I don't know how that conversation would go and what would be brought out of it.
[0:13:07] James: My guess is good things. Because I think only good can come from asking those questions. And you need to ask those questions when you get to a certain point, you need to start asking those questions. And even if you're at the beginning of the blended family and you ask those questions, you can be transparent, especially if they're older, right? If you get into a family that's blended and you have a couple step kids who are like late teens or in high school or something. You can be like, hey, what's the reaction you want from me? How do you want to kind of move a relationship forward?
[0:13:40] James: Because you're in this situation, period. Like, it's not going anywhere. You married their mom. You should not be going anywhere. You're not planning on going anywhere at all, because you're planning on sticking around. You're planning on being whatever needs to be for the long haul. And if you're not planning on that, then I don't know why you got married in the first place. But if you are planning out, which you totally should be, right?
[0:14:02] James: Asking that question is not okay. And it gives you checkmarks, too, because if you ask that question more than once, like, you ask it every six months or something and be like, hey, where are we at? What are you thinking? How are things going? Is there anything that I'm doing that you absolutely hate? And this is good advice for most anybody in a relationship where you're stuck in that relationship.
[0:14:22] James: Stuck is a bad term. I don't really mean stuck. What I mean is that no one's going anywhere. You're okay. You like being in this relationship, and no one's going anywhere, and you just want to make things better. It's okay to be open, transparent, and ask those questions. They can be really helpful, and they can help you figure out what exactly your role is and how you should act. Because if I had asked that question previously and in my head, I had thought, yeah, no, she really considers me like total father figure.
[0:14:51] James: And I need to kind of put my foot down, and it's not going to have any negative repercussions that I'm thinking it's going to have from a blended family standpoint, then I can act exactly the way I want to be acting, and I don't need to feel insecure about it. But if I didn't ask that question and I didn't really ask that question, and I felt insecure for whatever reason I did, it caused my behavior to be not exactly what I wanted it to be, what my wife expected it to be, and probably what what was not best for my daughter at the time.
[0:15:24] James: And so, you know, just asking that question and putting some of that comfortability into my life would have been really helpful for this situation at hand and probably caused a little bit less heartache for everybody involved. So just be open, be honest. Ask those questions. Talk to your step kids and be like, hey, how are you feeling about this relationship? Where do you see this going? How do you see this getting better?
[0:15:49] James: Am I doing anything that's really annoying you? Am I doing something that you like? Is there something that you want to do together that'll make us get to know each other better? And you don't need to force it. Don't force it. Don't just be like, no, we're hanging out right now let's go. Be patient. Have a little bit of some low expectations. Just keep asking questions, keep at it, keep trying to define that role. Make sure you talk to your wife about what role she thinks that you're in with them as well. And if you keep getting that feedback and you keep asking those questions, your role become more and more defined, which will be way helpful. Instead of just feeling ambiguous in this step father, step parenting role for the long haul. And we want to shorten that time period so we can get to kind of the good stuff of step parenting.
[0:16:44] James: Thank you so much for listening. Next week, we're going to be talking about what to do when the biological father of your step kids is pretty absent or and doesn't really interact with their kids at all, and what you should be doing to help anything and everything involved in that situation. So stay tuned for that. Again, thank you so much for listening. If you like the podcast, please subscribe, follow, share it with your friends. If you have any questions, comments, I'd love to hear from you. My email is email@example.com,
[0:17:19] James: and I will see you next time.