Father’s Day Etiquette for Blended Families
By: Maralee McKee
If only all family dynamics for Father’s Day were as simple, loving, and straightforward as the prose in store-bought greeting cards portray them to be.
For being there every day of my life,
For holding my hand and drying my tears,
For listening to my words and sharing your wisdom,
For always letting me know you had my back….and my heart,
Today I sing your praises for having always sung mine.
I love you with all my heart. I’m so glad you’re my one, my only, my Dad.
Happy Father’s Day!
It reads like the perfect card for one of the kids on The Cosby Show to send to dear old dad to thank him for being there everyday. The reality is that one out of three children in the United States will no longer be living with their biological father before they reach the age of 18. Ninety-four percent of those children will be living with their biological mother and a stepfather. (PSC Research Report, 2001)
For those children (like me) growing up with a stepdad, in even the best of relationships, Father’s Day can cause the biological parent, stepparent, and child feelings of disloyalty, envy, and even sadness. But it doesn’t have to. With preplanning and determination among the adults to put aside any differences (if there are any) for the emotional benefit of the child, Father’s Day can strengthen a child’s bond with both stepfather and biological father.
I wish there were a manners fairy to wave her wand, say a few gracious words, and make the day magical in every way. In reality, every family situation is so unique that there are no magic words that will be perfect for everyone. With that said, here are seven simple things we can do that can help make the day more like a Hallmark® moment.
7 Tips for Blended Families Celebrating Father’s Day
- Don’t be afraid of the word stepparent. Sure, it’s gotten a bad rap from children’s fairy tales, but in reality it’s a compliment. It means you’ve “stepped” into the role of a parent in the life of a child you love.
- If a child is close to both her dad and stepdad she should be encouraged to buy or make a gift and/or card for each. It’s vital for a child to not feel as if she must choose sides between a birth parent and a stepparent.
- Even if the child’s biological father left, doesn’t show up much, and rarely pays his child support, don’t let that stop the child from expressing his love for his dad. DNA tugs hard at the heart and to tell a child, “Daddy’s no good,” is harmful to the child. Show the other parent respect, in this case, not because he’s a dream dad, but because he’s your child’s other parent.
- If your child knows you’re angry with Daddy, he or she is probably hesitant to bring up the subject of contacting him. You should lead the conversation by saying something like, “You know your dad and I don’t always get along and sometimes I’m angry with him. But that’s between your dad and me. I know Father’s Day is soon. Would you like to (send a card, call him, see him, or so on)?
- Father’s Day can be threatening for the dad who is not living with the child. If you are a dad in this position, understand that your child will always love you if you keep a relationship with him or her. You don’t need to be jealous of the stepparent or feel that your child’s relationship with that person is a betrayal of your special relationship. Every relationship is its own wellspring. Your child can dip fully from another well without losing his or her thirst for you.
- If you’re a stepdad who lives full or part-time with a stepchild and you’ve been hesitant to develop a relationship, don’t be. You’re a pivotal part of that child’s life, and he or she needs to know that you’re there for them, and not just because you were attracted to Mom. Without a relationship with you the child can easily grow up feeling like a third wheel.
- When possible, the child should be able to spend the day with his or her biological parent. The plans should be initiated by the adults. If the child is closer to one parent (step or biological) than the other, he or she can celebrate on Saturday with one parent and Sunday with the other, or another similar arrangement.
My stepfather of 27 years died last year. I loved him. I admired him. I miss him. I always will. I also love my biological father very much, and I’ve been thinking about how little I have shared with him. He and my mother divorced when I was in second grade, plus he wasn’t around much several years before then. When I was celebrating my birthday two weeks ago, I sadly realized I have no memory of sharing a piece of my birthday cake with my dad. I’ve decided I need to change this. I invited my dad to spend Father’s Day with me, my husband, and children. I’m going to make a cake and eat a piece with him. It’s never too late to make a special memory.
I wish us all a joyous day of remembering and celebrating the best of everything about the special dads in our lives!
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