Step Dad

As most of my regular readers would be aware I am a father to three beautiful children, two young girls who are One and Three, and a 16 year old boy. For those doing the math in their heads, no I did not have a son at 15, Joseph is my wife’s son to her first husband, and he is my son, period. Having a step-child is no real different to having children, you still need to love on them, guide them through trials and tribulations, and you need to be there when times are tough for them. I wrote a while ago about boundaries, and encouragements for the children, and all of this is extremely relevant, but there are some pitfalls, and they are quite deep.

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When I first came on the scene, dating Alinta, and generally being around Joseph he was Nine years old. I didn’t force any sort of title on him, I told him my name was Luke and he could make his own mind up. Over the proceeding months, I showed him how to properly set a table, showed him chores he could do around the house to be useful, playing imaginary games in the back yard, and generally hung out. One night, at the dinner table, about three months into the relationship, Joseph stops eating at looks at me, and he says I think I am going to call you Dad. My heart melted. The hardest thing with any step relationship with a child is creating a close enough bond with them so they feel as though there is no difference between you and who would be their parent. Our relationship has grown since the early days, he gives as good as he gets now which is refreshing, but he still calls me Dad, no matter how angry or twisted he gets.

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Another complication which needs to be addressed is the Biological parent. In my instance Bio-Dad. Once Joseph had decided to call me Dad he was quickly getting confused between the two of us in conversation, I suggested that while he was with his mother and I he could refer to his Dad as Bio-Dad, keeps it all clean and simple. What I hadn’t  expected was when he visited Bio-Dad and he was talking about me as Dad and was corrected by his Nanna to call me Step-Dad, Joseph got quite fired up and defended me as just Dad. This isn’t the case for every parent, step-parent or otherwise, but it is still a complication.

The other half of this problem is arranging time with the Bio-Parent. I know plenty of people who loathe seeing their child go to the Bio-Parent, get spoiled rotten for two weeks, then come home. Initially, I loathed Joseph going away, as I would have to spend the next 3 months correcting him and directing him to get him back to where he was before he left. Since then I have softened, I do not stop Joseph spending time with his Bio-Dad, we arranged a number of years ago the Easter and Term 3 school holidays are free game for Bio-Dad, instead I encourage Joseph to do all the things his Bio-Dad wants to do, but stress that he doesn’t ask for any expensive gifts. His Bio-Dad is not a wish granting fairy. The short and tall of all of this is you need to be comfortable allowing your Step-Child visitations with the Bio-Parent. It’s going to hurt, it’s going to be rough, but it is in the best interest of the child, and that’s what’s important.

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Parenting a step-child can be difficult. Some children make it exceedingly difficult for you to really fulfil the role of Mum or Dad, others make it all too easy. As a step-parent you are not second rate, or just a fill in, you are their parent, sometimes more so because you chose to be there. You looked at the Child and decided that you can step up and be the parent they need. To all my brothers and sisters out there who are parenting a step-child, stand up, be proud, and know that you are awesome.

Maintain the Rage

Luke Sondergeld

Childhood Rage – Part One

Following my post last week about how my wife and I Maintain the Rage in our marriage, my 15 year old son asked me why I haven’t written about him, and the joys of being a Dad. So here it is, Childhood Rage how I endeavour to raise my two children to be somewhat respectful, independent, useful and productive members of society, and how I Maintain my Rage when my best intentions don’t quite work out.

This topic is too much for one post, so I am going to split this over two weeks, this week will be focussed on what I do as a parent to achieve all of the things I mentioned previously, and next week I will go over how I regroup and Maintain my Rage when things don’t go according to plan. With that said, along with my wife as we are a united front, we maintain boundaries and structure, push for improvement and love unconditionally.

Maintaining Boundaries

Any good parenting course, book, blog or otherwise will  always talk about the need to maintain boundaries, to have rules in place, to be a parent and not a friend, and to know when those boundaries have become blurred or ignored completely. I know that from an outside perspective I can be seen to be a hard task master. A dear friend of mine shares a similar regime and he calls his a ‘Dad-Tatership’. Ultimately, I want the best for my children, I expect the best out of my children, just as they should expect the best out of me. I have a clear set of rules for my eldest son, who is nearly 15, including a chores list, do’s and do not’s, pocket money, and expectations for schooling. These are all outlined in a contract, which he signs, and we renegotiate every Summer Holidays. The rules and punishments he helps develop (that stops the fighting later on) and the expectations are listed by myself and my wife.

I run pretty tight ship, there is an expected bed time, there is an expected morning routine, there is the expectation that there is work before play, there is an expectation of manners and respect, and there is an understanding of knowing ones place. My son knows he can come and talk to either of us about anything, whether he takes that up is another thing, he knows we love him, he also knows the reason for the boundaries and expectations are to prepare him for the real world.

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I am a firm believer in no empty threats, if you tell your child If you do that I am going to kill you, and you don’t actually kill them, its empty, the child knows that you aren’t going to kill them, and therefore the assumption will be, they can get away with it. The threat of the other parent also doesn’t sit well with me either, as a parent you need to be able to discipline and control your child when needed, if you use the other parent as a threat or weapon the child is going to realise you do not have control of the situation and abuse it.

Words can be powerful for children, as can actions, the child needs to know that the punishment for breaking the rules isn’t because your angry, but because they did the wrong thing. This could mean the best course of action is to send the child away for 5 minutes to collect your thoughts and calm down, then go and see the child and calmly explain what the punishment is and why. It is also important to know what is going to allow the child to reflect on what they have done, a smack on the hand or tap on the backside can sometimes be the most appropriate punishment, but I know, for example, my son hates to be separated from people, and not be included in things, so the most effective punishment for him is to remove him form what is going on and leave him alone.

We have recently taken to the 12 Labours of Hercules as a punishment. The idea being he will receive a list of mundane, boring, but constructive tasks, like pulling weeds, mowing the lawn and washing cars, and have no electronic devices until the tasks are completed, the punishment will last as long as it takes for him to complete the tasks. If its a day, sweet, if its a week, sweet, the record to date is 6 weeks, for a task that actually only took two hours when he finally sat down to do it.

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Push for Improvement

First up I am just going to say, I don’t celebrate mediocrity, not with myself, not with my wife, not my children, not with anybody. If you complete a task as given, or complete something that is an expectation, like your job, I won’t celebrate it and tell you how awesome you are. I will thank you for completing the task, because acknowledgement is important, but no celebration. If you go above and beyond, or do something unexpectedly well, that will get celebrated. I expect a lot from myself, just as my parents did for me and themselves. This attitude is how I purchased my first home at 19, joined the military at 21, bought my second home at 27, and how I am now studying Nursing at University. I push myself to the absolute limit and expect nothing short of awesomeness. I am therefore going to expect the best from my children. Having said that, if they are just starting to learn the guitar and they smash out smoke on the water after 15 minutes, that gets celebrated, if six months later, they can still only punch out Smoke on the Water and haven’t progressed, I will start to push. If we push our children and expect better of them, they will continue to grow and flourish. Fight mediocrity and Push for Improvement.

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Love Unconditionally

I love my children, I love them when they are happily playing, I love them when they are quiet, I love them when I at my wits end and close to pushing them out of the car. I love my children. And that is unconditional.

Love, especially with children, needs to be that Agape Love, the unconditional, not matter what, kind of love. My children, God bless them, test me every day. My daughter just the other night pitched a fit because she was hungry, she pulled out of the cupboard what she wanted, pitched a fit because we prepared it for her, then pitched a fit because we served it to her, pitched a fit when we left her to eat it herself and finally pitched a fit when we ignored the previous fits. But I still love her. My son continues to push the boundaries between being stationary and moving. I have seen herds of frozen snails move faster than my son in the morning. I am perpetually frustrated by constantly telling him to chew with his mouth shut, or not talk with a mouth full of food, or do the simple tasks that he needs to do every day, like put on deodorant or comb his hair. But I love him.

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My children know that I love them unconditionally, even when I lose my temper and yell and scream, I love them. They also know that I am here for them no matter what. That’s what we need to be as parents – there for our children. We are not their friends, their play pals, or their life sized dolls, we are their parents. We are their protectors, their confidants, their guides, their sages, their fences around the play pen, the guardians in the night and shelter in the storm. We as parents need to act like it more often.

Maintain the Rage

Luke Sondergeld