Learning To Be A Stepfather
Learning to be a stepfather is a continual process, but these ideas may help you know where to begin.
“Oh,no,” I said. “Not me. I’ll never have any of those blasted children! Let other people raise those things, and I’ll be just fine without any around here!” I didn’t much care for children, once upon a time. I regarded them as filthy, nasty, loud and obnoxious little beasts who were barely human. I had no interest an all in them.
So, I wound up married to a single mother with a two-year-old son, and I’ve never been happier in my life. Go figure. So, how did this happen to me? Well, initially, I’ll just say that young Michael pretty much forced me to like him. I started dating Michael’s mother, Marci, in March of 1999. We went out exactly twice, and then she brought Michael along whenever she and I would have dinner or she’d come over to my place to spend time with me.
I didn’t know what to make of Michael, at first. He was barely two-years-old and was cute as all get-out when he and I first met. He took to me instantly, and I grew to love the lad. I love him so much, in fact, that I’m going to adopt him soon. Such a process is merely a formality for us as he already calls me “Daddy” and I think of him as my son. I’ve all he’s ever known as far as a father goes, and he’s all I’ve ever had in terms of a son. Yes, we all get along quite well, but I have learned a few valuable lessons that I would like to pass on to those who find themselves in the position of being a stepfather.
First of all, these little children are clever and sneaky, and they’ll try to con inexperienced adults whenever they can. I learned this shortly after Marci and I started dating and she began bringing Michael over to my apartment when she visited. I took a liking to the boy, and decided I should do something to make him feel more at home.
I bought a large package of those Hershey’s Miniatures. Hey, all kids love candy, and what child can resist fine chocolate. Marci, Michael and I watched a movie one night, and I showed Michael the bag of Hershey’s. He took one.
“Can I have another one?” Michael asked.
“Of course you can, lad,” I replied. I figured that he liked to have two of them so he could hold one in each hand. That process repeated all evening, and I handed him at least 30 Hershey’s Miniatures that night, two at a time.
After Marci and Michael got back home that night, Marci gave me a call.
“Honey,” she said. “Michael scammed you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, when you’d give him two pieces of candy, he’d eat one and then stick one in his pocket,” Marci explained. “He’s thrown them all over the floor here, and he thinks it’s all pretty funny.”
See what I mean? They’re sneaky, and they use their native cuteness to fool people.
I also learned that children are anything but quiet. I thought that a child could be left in front of a television and would relax much like an adult. This is not the case. I learned this lesson, too, before Marci and I were married. She left Michael at my place so I could look after the boy when he went to the store. Michael didn’t much care for that. He threw himself on the floor in front of the door and began to cry and scream.
“I want my Mommy!” Michael yelled. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!”
“Hey, kid,” I said. “Uh, you want a Hershey’s Miniature or something?”
“Oh, oh, oh! I want my Mommy!” Michael bellowed.
“Hey, Michael. Look! I’ll put on your ‘Blue’s Clues’ video,” I said.
“I want my Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” Michael yelled.
“Okay, kid. You just hang out, you know. I’ll be right over here reading my book if you need anything,” I said.
One thing I did learn after Marci and I were married is that children repeat everything they hear. When Marci and I met, I used profanity in my normal, every day speech. I tried to curb that when Michael was around, but that didn’t always work. I’m a fairly aggressive driver, and tend to gripe when people violate my “rules of the road.” A woman cut me off in traffic one day as Michael and I were making our way across town, and I participated in my usual griping.
“Blank, filth, foul,” I said. “Cut me off. I’ll kick your filth, foul!”
I knew I made a mistake when I heard Michael in the back seat.
“Foul, blank, filth,” he said.
“Uh, Michael, don’t say that,” I replied.
“Filth, Daddy! Blank, blank, foul, filth!”
I realized I’d messed up and was afraid of my Wife as Michael happily cussed away in the back seat of my car. I chose a tactic, though, that worked well.
“Michael, you don’t want to say those words,” I said. “If you say that, you’ll be a bad boy. “
“I’ll be a bad boy, Daddy?”
“Yes, Son,” I reviled. “Daddy was bad for saying those words. He was bad and wrong. You, though, are a good boy, right?”
“Yes,” Michael replied. “I’m a good boy, Daddy.”
“Okay, Son. Good boys don’t use those words,” I said. “So you won’t use them either, right?”
“That’s right, Daddy,” Michael said. I won’t use those words because I’m a good boy.”
Yes, I went home thinking, “That’s right. You want to see some parenting! Now, that’s some parenting!”
I haven’t heard him used those nasty words since, and am happy that he never used them in front of my wife.
I also learned that children are a lot of fun and can be taught some clever things that, when said, stroke egos. Teaching them certain things, though, can be a bad idea. I learned this just a few weeks ago in what I like to call the Big Daddy Experiment.
I’ve always loved Burl Ives in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and thought it would be cool to be called “Big Daddy.” I’m a Southern boy and have that drawl, and thought it would be fantastic to wear a white suit, maybe have a straw hat and a pinkie ring with a big diamond on it, and be called “Big Daddy.” So, I began working with Michael when Marci wasn’t around. It all fell apart, ironically, on Father’s Day this year. Michael had a package of candy, and couldn’t get it open.
“Will you open this, Daddy?” Michael asked.
“What did you call me, Son?”
“Oh. Will you open this, Big Daddy?”
“Ah yeah, Son. Big Daddy will take care of it, now. Don’t you worry.”
We were heading to Marci’s Grandmother’s house at the time, and she was driving. I thought she was about to take the car off the road.
“Michael, you don’t call him ‘Big Daddy!’ You just call him ‘Daddy,’” she said. “Understand?”
“No,” Michael replied. “That’s my Big Daddy.”
“Oh, come on, honey,” I replied. “Leave the boy alone.”
“No, Ethan,” Marci growled as she shook her index finger at me. “I’m not having it! I’m not having it!”
So, a valuable lesson was learned -- you can teach children all kinds of things, but make sure to stay away from things that will provoke a child’s mother.
Probably the most important thing I learned is that children are trouble. They get into things they shouldn’t, and they constantly test their boundaries. However, it’s never personal, and it’s no reason to get angry. I well remember the time that Michael wrote on a wall with a pen, even though I’d told him a thousand times not to do that.
So, what was to be done? I found myself not getting angry, but had to discipline the boy firmly and tell him not to test Daddy. That, I think, was the appropriate way to deal with the situation. I’ve seen parents, “step” or not, fly off the handle and beat the crud out of or scream at children that defied them. That’s totally inappropriate and unacceptable, and I vowed to never be that kind of parent. I haven’t broken that promise yet, and Michael respects my authority and knows that I love him.
In the final analysis, my life has been made much richer by “marrying in” to a complete family. My Son is a complete joy who enriches my life in more ways than I can begin to count. I now understand why people have children -- they are an absolute joy. It is a bit scary, though, as I realize that the development of young Michael depends a great deal on my actions. By the way, my Wife is pregnant and due to deliver in December. Maybe I can teach this next one to call me “Big Daddy.”