As a stepfather to two children with absent biological dads, I know firsthand the emotional complexities that come with blended families. Can you ever truly fill the void left by an absent parent? Join me in a raw, heartfelt discussion about the challenges and heartbreak we face as stepfathers, and gain some insight into helping your stepchild cope with loss and disappointment.
We dive into the importance of selfless love when parenting a stepchild and the struggle of putting yourself in their shoes, especially if you've never experienced an absent father yourself. Discover how to create a supportive and loving environment for your stepchildren as we explore how to navigate family dynamics and help them grow and thrive, despite the absence of their biological parent. Tune in for an honest, emotional conversation about the role of a stepfather and how to best support your stepchildren through life's challenges.
Hello and welcome to Blended Fatherhood. I'm your host, james Ferris, and on today's episode we're going to be talking about a brief overview of some things that you can kind of get your mind wrapped around of when your step kids do not have a biological father that is actively involved in their lives. And I just want to give a little disclaimer. This topic is incredibly complex, incredibly emotional and one that can take a really big toll on the upbringing of a kid, and just the idea of an absent parent has a really kind of drastic effect on how a kid views the world and experiences love and different emotions as they grow up. And so I just want to say that, like again, i'm not an expert in this This is more of just some like basic information from a stepfather who has kids who don't have the most active biological fathers in their lives, and just some stuff that you can do. This is not going to go over everything super in detail And there will probably be more episodes on this topic, because it is very, a very important topic and one that affects a lot of different things that happen, but again, i just want to throw out a disclaimer that it can get a little emotional and triggering to some people, because there's a lot of like baggage and emotion and memories and feelings that just deal with the idea of an absent father. So let's just get started real quick and talk about how you can kind of help your stepchild cope with this kind of idea of loss and disappointment, because that's what we're talking about here. When you have a child who is missing a parent, either by them not being actively involved or them being like sort of involved, they have this idea of loss in their head right. And normally when we say loss of like someone lost someone, that's usually like they have passed away, they have died, and so then there's a grief and they have to grieve that loss. Now family dynamics are complicated And so let's say, your wife divorced her now ex-husband and that's kind of split the family up, and so the kids have to deal with this idea of like. Now I have a new family dynamic where my parents are not living together. They are not together And there's a loss of like that family unit number one, number two. If the father then kind of disappears from their life, maybe not instantly, but over the course of time, they are consistently trying to grieve that loss and trying to figure out how to deal with that loss. Now take that idea and then you step into the picture and they have someone who's trying to fill that gap while they're still grieving the loss of something that might still kind of be there. Like that's a lot of complex emotional situations for a child to handle, and the younger they are, the more they will not know how to deal with those emotions that come up or the anger that comes up or the sadness that comes up. The older they are, the more they're going to realize a couple of different things that are in that situation. Like hey, it's not really his fault that he's coming into the picture, you know, i understand that, i understand the logic behind that. But even if they understand like hey, it's not, you know you're a fault. Like you're the stepfather, it's not your fault that you're coming into the picture, they still have to grapple with that situation, even if they logically understand that. And so just because they're older and they can have that kind of understanding, there's still a lot of like emotional sort of things that arise from the idea of an absent father. Now another disclaimer I didn't grow up with an absent father. My father was there all the time. You know, even when we were younger like he might have. He has his own issues and things that he he's dealing with. He did a pretty good job raising us and I love my dad. I'm really good friends with my father. You know we talk fairly often And so I don't have personal experience with this idea of an absent father, and so this is not drawing from that experience of the child. Now we will have an episode soon where we'll be talking, probably with my, my daughter, and kind of going over some of that from the perspective of the child, because I think that is really interesting to hear and to understand, because if you're a guy going into the situation, it's not the easiest to put your shoes or put your feet in the shoes of your stepkids, especially if you have no sort of personal experience. That's my thing, i didn't have any personal experience. I'm like my dad was always there And because of that it's hard sometimes for me to put my feet in their shoes, okay, and it makes me a little bit less kind of empathetic to that situation And so this can be kind of difficult. But I have been in the situation and I am in the situation where I am the step-parent to two kids whose biological fathers are not as involved as I would want them to be, and they probably want them to be, and that can be really heartbreaking, especially when you're the dad and you're trying to, you know, make them feel loved and make them feel like everything is okay, because no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will not fill that gap that exists because their biological father is gone And it's not your job to fill that gap, like so. Those are two things that we need to think about in regards to like it's not your job to fill the gap, even if you really, really, really want to, and it's not gonna happen the way you want it to happen, where it just magically fills that gap in their life and everything magically, you know, goes really well, it's not gonna happen. So you wanna make sure your expectation is not that, hey, i'm gonna come in, i'm gonna be the dad, i'm gonna fill that role, everything's gonna be all hunky dory or whatever. It's unrealistic, and so you need to have that expectation that like, hey, i'm probably not gonna fill that gap, but even if I'm not gonna fill that gap, i can still do some things to help the situation progress in a really nice way and kinda deal with some of those issues that happen. So first things first, you wanna make sure that you allow your step kids to let out any of that emotion that they are feeling in regards to their biological father not being there. Now you might wanna play the hero and kinda rescue them and try to fix it, and you don't really need to do that. They need to feel their emotions. If you're not letting them feel their emotions, you're kinda just like shoving things under the bridge and kind of hiding it and not dealing with any root problems. You're also not preparing them for things that go into the future because regardless, or not even just normal parenting, you're not always there for your kids and you're not always gonna be there for your kids, no matter how much you want to. They have to eventually grow up and do things by themselves and so if you constantly are trying to rescue them from their disappointment or make them feel better about it all the time and not letting them experience their feelings and their emotions and acknowledging those emotions, you're not setting them up for success in the future. So try as hard as you can not to shove those away or rescue them from those emotions. Now I have my son, and his dad comes around every once in a while, which is great, but it doesn't always happen as much as I maybe want it to happen, and I don't think it happens as much as he wants it to happen. There are times where he'll call his dad and his dad won't pick up and maybe that'll be a couple days in a row and then he finally picks up, right. And so it's not my job to kinda be like well, maybe he's busy and kinda sugarcoat that and it's more of just like hey, you know, i'm sorry, buddy, that sucks. I wish I could make him pick up the phone, but I can't. And kinda you just wanna make sure that you're there for them and you allow them to experience those emotions in full and just be that person who's supporting them genuinely, even if you can't just kinda fix those emotions right. You also want to make sure that you're nurturing that self-esteem that they have. Right, because I don't know about you, i don't really like being rejected. I don't think most people like being rejected. You know whether it be just like hey, i had a job interview and they said no, i don't like that rejection, right. But if you're a child whose parent is constantly not picking up or not showing up to things or not really involved, you have experience of constant rejection, right? That can be pretty detrimental to a child's self-esteem, and so you want to make sure that you're building up that self-esteem as they are going through this and kind of making sure that you're teaching them about that like unconditional love. That's a little bit bigger than they can think about it, even though the person that's supposed to be the unconditionally loving them is absent. And that's one of those things that, like can be really powerful is that you're a step parent, right? You're not required not required Maybe that's not the right word. You are not like innately giving them some sort of unconditional love because you have a biological tie. You are choosing to show them that you love them, regardless of what's going on, and help building them up as a person and nurturing them. And that is very powerful because it's saying the exact opposite of what the absent father is doing. Right, You're saying no, i want to be here, i'm choosing to be here, i'm actively choosing to be here, i'm not obligated to do this, i'm choosing to do this, which is the exact opposite of an absent parent just being like I'm not picking up the phone or I'm not showing up at the baseball game, or I'm not going to the recital, or I'm not, like you know, sending money for the trip, or I'm just not asking you how you're doing right. You're constantly being that person who's encouraging, building up that self-esteem, and you're actively choosing it. Now that's like a black and white picture. It's not as easy as I just made it sound. Right, because you could be met with like I hate yous, get out, i don't want you hanging around me. Uh, why you asked me this question? and that's okay, that's going to happen. You know they might they might still totally not like you at all, but consistency is something that is important in this area, because you're still constantly showing up, regardless of what's happening. It's something that's like selfless. It's something that's um shows that you have good character, and it provides a good role model image for your stepkids going forward, someone who puts themselves or puts other people before themselves. And again, that's like advice is so much easier said than done. You're going to struggle with it. I struggle with it because there are some times where I'm like man, i'm like I don't, i got this, like, oh, it's another thing, or I get no praise for it. And then even the idea and this is something that, um, we can also delve into for a long time is the idea that, no matter what you do, no matter how many times, you're the one who's at the soccer game and their biologic father is not at the soccer game. You're going to hear this comment that's like oh, where's my dad? And they're not referring to you, right? You're the one who showed up, you're the one who drove up, you're the one who said, yeah, you're the one who cheered them on when they scored that goal Or when they got, like, slide, tackled and hit the mud, whatever it is, you're that person, but the person that they want to be. There is someone who's not you, and that's a difficult feeling for someone who's putting in a lot of work to be rejected yourself, and so you have to. You're the adult, you're the father, you're the leader of the family. You have to get rid of some of that idea of like you're being rejected by your stepkids and you do the opposite and love them instead. It doesn't mean that you don't bury your feelings, and this is the one thing that I'm going to say that is just really simple to say and difficult for, i think, guys in general to do, is that you're going to get rejected by your stepkids, even though you're putting in the work and you're showing them that, hey, I'm not rejecting you And that is okay, and that is not your stepkids fault, okay. I think a lot of stepfather sometimes get into this realm where they're like man, these kids reject me, man, you know what I'm done with them. Like they're, they're ungrateful and I just I put in all this work trying to love them or whatever, and they don't and then the relationship slides okay. First of all, it's not their fault that they want to see their dad. They're 100% valid and it's okay for them to want to see their dad, talk to their dad, have their dad at whatever, have their dad involved in life. That is great, and it's not your job to put the negativity of what you're feeling onto them. They are 100% valid in what they're doing when they want their dad to be involved in their life. And just because you might feel hurt by that statement, it doesn't mean that it's their fault and that you need to take it out on them. Instead you should talk to your wife or talk to somebody else, find a group of guys and talk with them about it and kind of air your grievances and work on that yourself and not throw it back to your kids. Okay, because you're accepting of them and you want them to be accepting of you and you're gonna drive a bigger wrench into the relationship if you take offense to them wanting their dad to be there. They are 100% valid and wanting their dad to be there. I went on a little bit of a tangent there And I will dive deeper into that topic of, like you as a stepfather kind of feeling slighted and how you deal with that later on. So coming back to like what you can do because the father is absent, right, like I said, building up your children's self-seeing, kind of accepting them as who they are and where they're at, which has to do with, like them, wanting their dad there, but also just telling the truth. Like you might want to say well, maybe he's busy. You know he got caught up doing blah, blah, blah. You know you don't need to be the one who's making excuses for them. That's their job. You know they're an adult, they have consequences to their actions and this kind of goes back into the like, the letting it out thing. Don't sugarcoat it, don't make excuses for them, just tell the truth, like. A good example is like your son wants their dad to come to their basketball game, great, you send the details, everything's there, everybody knows. Whatever The biological father does not show up, okay, it is not your job to make an excuse and be like well, maybe he got caught up at work or whatever and stuff like that. Just be like hey, buddy, i'm sorry, i don't know why he didn't show up. You know you did great. You know you had some amazing assist at three point was awesome. You know I don't know why you're gonna have to ask him. That's really easy to tell the truth. Because you don't. You might know why and, depending on that, why you might not want to say exactly what it is. But even if you, especially if you don't know why, just say I don't know, like you're not, you're not. It's not your job to make an excuse. Be like oh, he got held up in traffic or something, or lie to your kid. It's gonna, it's gonna make you not trustworthy to your child, to your step child or whoever, and so don't just tell the truth, right. And then next, don't don't add on to that by badmouthing the biological father. You know I've said this a bunch of times in different episodes, but you really want to make sure that you're not badmouthing them, and so you know, and I can see this happening where, like, they don't show up to the basketball game, you're mad because they said they were gonna be there. They, they weren't there. You can see the disappointment on your step, kids face, whatever. And you're just like man, what a jerk. And you're saying it in your head and you're saying like how can he just, you know, disregard this. Like whatever, it's not your job to say it out loud. Again, that comes into the thing of just being like hey, you know what? I don't know, i don't know what happened. Buddy, i'm really sorry, but you did great. You know you don't have to be like I can't believe your dad didn't show up. Like what a jerk. Like you want it, like why would you say that? Like you know, and if you really want a place where you can say that, talk to your wife about it. She's a great soundboard, she knows the person who we're talking about. It doesn't need to become a thing where you're just like I hate this guy, i hate this guy And you kind of do this thing and kind of have this really negative image of the person. But you have feelings and you need to express them. So your wife is a good person to like talk through those issues, you know. It's okay to talk about it. Just don't do it in front of the step kid and don't judge them because of it. Right, they could have something else going on And you know, given the situation, you might know what's going on and it could be something really bad, you know, and so it's okay to kind of be discerning of that situation. But everybody has actions that they do And but they have to deal with the consequences. So what I mean by don't judge, it's not your job to be the person who is giving them that consequence for not showing up, right, because again you're, you're encouraging of your step kid, you're letting them deal with that emotion, but the consequence comes from, basically from the step kid to their parent and whatever happens happens. Again you're trying to be this like back, sort of like supporting role for your step kids. And I think I'm gonna end this in two ways and we're gonna delve a lot deeper into this, the negative side of this. This will just be part one, really. I think a really important thing is always say and it's important that you say this out loud, even if it feels awkward and forced a little bit, and this is just something in general that I think people should say more, rather than just kind of thinking it in their head and just assuming that everybody knows what's going on is say and remind your step kids that you love them, that their mom loves them. Right, you care for them. Now your actions are gonna speak that to them, but saying it out loud is very important, especially because they are dealing with this idea of being rejected and grief, and so you can be. That person is saying like, hey, i'm here, i love you, and it might not get you anywhere, it might be really weird, they might not like it, they probably they might not say it back at all, it doesn't matter. The consistency of you showing up, being supportive, telling the truth, okay, letting them have experienced things, their feelings, and saying I love you is way more kind of accepting and non-rejecting to them than they might realize or you might realize. Okay, it can be really powerful for you powerful for them. The other thing is that it just kind of like keeps everybody in check. Right Now you want to not make sure you're not lying when you say I love you, and obviously if you're not in a place where you caring a lot, then you're probably not listening to this, And even if you are, i'm just saying that like is that you're taking the long view and how you approach your family And you want your family to be a healthy family where everybody kind of loves each other and can kind of grow and be accepted. And you know it is not your fault that the situation that your stepkids are in are in okay. And so again, because it's not your fault, even if they think it's your fault, your job is to be a kind of like supportive role in making sure that they feel loved and accepted, and especially when they're in a spot where they feel kind of rejected by one of their parents. And so I wanted to leave this episode kind of with a story from my sort of situation as a step parent in regards to this like absent father kind of being the supportive role. And that's really tricky to do because, like I've said, i don't want to badmouth my kids' biological fathers. I don't, you know, it's not, it's again not any position of mind for that to happen. And so kind of coming up with a story that doesn't shed like a bad light on them is really difficult, because we're dealing with a topic where the just kind of general consistency that an absent father is not really a good thing, you know, even when you just like think about a lot of people you know, or think about a lot of people's like lives and maybe your life, where you didn't have a father growing up or you didn't, one of your parents was gone, and how much kind of a toll that took on you, and even in like movies, tv, drama, whatever, it doesn't matter, if you read it's all over the place and how this is such a big issue, right, and it usually is shed that the person who left is like that's not, that's not a good thing, and so because of that it's really difficult for me to be like, say, a story without making it seem like I'm badmouthing them. Again, i'm not trying to judge the biological parents of my stepkids, i'm just saying that there are issues and there are times where I get really angry because something is not happening and it's something that I'm just like why are you doing this? Come on, okay, and I think the feeling that the reason I'm trying to say this is not a specific story, but the feeling I get a good amount of times is that this child of yours is a beautiful person, who has a fantastic personality, who's either funny, strong willed, you know, does things that are awesome, and you should be really proud of the child that you have And you will have. And in my head, i sit here and go like, why do you make the decisions that you make to separate yourself from having a relationship with this person who is awesome? And I don't have an answer to that question, and that is a part that I think we could talk for hours, and hours and hours about. But I think it's one of those feelings that you should express out loud to someone if you also feel them, like I'm just saying that if you have any anger here about this issue, you should say it out loud to somebody and you should talk about it, because the anger that you have is not going to go anywhere or be productive if you keep it to yourself or let it drive you to something that's not good. And so, again, the idea of saying a story can be a little bit complex, and so I just want to end with this idea that is really simple. Your stepchild will eventually figure out what kind of man their father is on their own, and they may or may not forge some type of relationship with them when they're older or even as they're continuing to grow up. It is not your job to be the person who is angry at their dad or telling them how they should feel about their dad. It is your job to manage some of their expectations and to be there for them, no matter what happens or no matter what you are feeling, and you being there for them will be more beneficial than you telling them that their dad might be a bad guy Because, like I said earlier, you are the person who's saying no, i accept you, i want to be here and I love you, which can be way more beneficial than telling them what they should think. Just be there for them, no matter what happens, and be patient, because this is a 30 minute episode and life takes years to kind of get through some of these situations. So be patient, manage those expectations and just be there for your stepkids, no matter what is going on in their life. Thank you so much for listening to this episode. Next week we're going to be talking a little bit more about the same sort of topic about like an absent father, because it is something that's really deep And then, i think, the next episode after that, actually, i'm going to have my daughter on for the podcast and we're going to talk a little bit about it from the child's point of view and from her point of view, and so look out for that. Again, thank you so much for listening. I know I've been gone for a couple of weeks. School year ended and we just kind of took a couple of weeks in the summer Summer break so had to kind of recharge. But we'll be back into this full swing every week, every other week episodes. So look for the next episode. If you get any questions, please email me at James at blendedfatherhoodcom. Please like, subscribe, comment, write a review and I will see you next time.