As Fathers' Day approaches, one wonders where the stepdads are. Unlike stepmoms, there is no collection of myths and legends that cast them as "evil" or "wicked" or even as the opposite. In fact, stepfather tales are strangely few and far between.
Evidence remains of two websites devoted to stepfathers, but now they are defunct, from lack of use no doubt. All of this seems odd when we learn that 80 percent of divorced mothers with children remarry. There are actually more stepfathers than stepmothers, but why don't we hear from them?
Maybe it's because most stepdads "get it." Perhaps they learn early on that a stepfather is different from a father in important ways. Family relationship counselors tell us the best stepfathers do not try to become fathersÃ¯Â¿Â½instead they act as mentors, adult friends, helpers, and caretakers. They make themselves available as open-minded listeners, neutral sounding boards. Love and respect are allowed to develop slowly, never forced, never expected.
This stance works well with the whole family. Stepdad isn't trying to make the rules and enforce them. He learns very fast that stepdads who try to discipline are usually met with an angry, "You're not my father!" The wise stepfather lets mom do the discipline, conferring with her behind the scenes of course. He realizes that these children are not his and therefore shouldn't have to live up to his preconceived notions of what they should be.
Still there are some stepfathers who try to rule over their stepchildren, forcing them to call him "Dad" and follow in his footsteps. They, along with their wives and stepchildren, might seek help in Susan Philip's wise book Stepchildren Speak, offering advice and comfort to everyone involved. Written by grown-up stepchildren, this book has a different perspective than most books on the subject.
But fortunately most stepdads bumble along till they get it right. They go with the flow of the household. They advise, but they also accept and adapt. And that's why stepfathers don't carry the same bad reputations as stepmothers, who have a much harder job.
So are the best stepdads wimps? Not at all. They just don't want to fight a battle they cannot win.