By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
If only all family dynamics for Father’s Day were as simple and straightforward as the prose in store-bought greeting cards portrays them to be. Here’s an example from one card.
For being there every day,
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 that one of the kids on an old TV sitcom would send to dear old dad, since family life on TV was always played out as uncomplicated.
Today’s 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 much-loved stepdad, Father’s Day can cause the biological parents, stepparents, and children to have feelings ranging from disloyalty, envy, and even sadness. For the children, they can feel that by spending the day with one parent, they’re ignoring or making the other parent sad. But it shouldn’t feel that way, and it doesn’t ever have to!
With preplanning and determination among the adults to put aside any differences (if there are any) for the benefit of the children, Father’s Day can strengthen the children’s bonds with both their stepfather and their 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 unique, and there’s no one set of words that will fit every family. With that said, here are seven simple things you can do that will help make the day a little more like the Hallmark® moment we wish for everyone we love.
Father’s Day Etiquette for Blended Families —The Top 7 Tips
1.) Don’t be afraid of the word stepparent. 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 and that you’re only one step removed from the role of the biological father of the child.
2.) If a child is close to both her dad and stepdad, she should be encouraged to buy or make a gift or a card for both. It’s vital for a child not to feel as if she must choose sides between a birth parent and a stepparent.
3.) 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 if he shows an inclination to do so. DNA tugs hard at the heart. To tell a child that “Daddy’s not good” is distressing for the child who isn’t at an age to understand the complexities of adult relationships and the proper responsibilities of a father. Show the other parent respect when speaking of him to your child(ren). In this case, not because he’s a dream dad, but because he’s your child’s other parent.
4.) If your child knows you’re angry with Daddy, 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)?”
5.) Father’s Day can be threatening for the dad who is not living with his children. If you are a father in this position, understand that your children will always love you as long as you keep a relationship with them.
You don’t need to be jealous of the stepparent or feel that your children’s relationship with him is a betrayal of your special relationship. Every relationship is its own wellspring. Your children can dip fully from another well without losing their thirst for you.
6.) 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 the child 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.
7.) When possible and safe, the children should be able to spend the day (or one near the date) with their biological father. The biological parents should make plans for how the parent and child will celebrate, including the location, activity, and the number of hours in the case of non-shared custody.
It’s too much responsibility to place on children or teens, although they can and should be told about the plans and allowed to share their opinions. If the children are closer to one parent (step or biological) than the other, they can celebrate on a particular day with one parent and a different day with the other, or another similar arrangement. Father’s Day shouldn’t be limited to a 24-hour period. It’s fine to spread it out a little!
Let Love Lead the Way
My stepfather of 27 years died several years ago. He was always there for me. He understood me. He encouraged me. I loved him. I admired him. I miss him. He was in every way a wonderful father to me. I introduced him to my friends as “my Dad.” And by doing so, I meant no disrespect to my biological father. I will always love, adore, and miss my stepfather.
I also love my biological father very much. We had a limited relationship while I was growing up, and I’ve been thinking about how little I have been able to share 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 ever sharing a piece of 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!