Stepfamilies make up more than 10% of all families in the UK and of these, 85% include a dependent child from the woman’s previous relationship, which would suggest there are more stepfathers than stepmothers. My family is one of these statistics.
My husband is stepfather to my son, Teenager No.1 and with the dust just settling on Father’s Day for another year, I found myself reflecting on the role of the stepfather against the backdrop of this customary celebration of “fatherhood”.
My first marriage broke down when my son was just two years old and my husband has been my son’s stepfather now for more than 13 years. The benefit (if it can be described as that) of remarrying when my son was so young was that the process of him adjusting to another father figure in his life was easier than it might have been.
I remember the compelling need I had when I first met my husband as a divorced, single mother to explain that “I came with baggage”. It was as if I had to warn him and give him the opportunity to say “Forget it!” After all it is said that it takes a strong man to accept another man’s child! My husband, however, is that strong man. I had underestimated him. From the outset he made his view clear…..when you fall in love you don’t choose to be a step-parent, but you do choose to love the child as your own and it is that conviction which makes him a fantastic stepfather.
I am certainly not going to suggest it has always been plain sailing. It requires bucket loads of resilience and the patience of a saint to build a successful stepfamily and I am thankful every day that my husband has broad shoulders built for the job. It took a lot of hard work on my husband’s side to win my son’s trust and ultimately that of his biological father. There have been moments along the way when “You are not my real dad!” or alternatively “You are not his father, I am” have been used in the heat of an argument. But my husband has stood firm and shown that love has no biological boundaries. We all know that having a child does not make you a great parent, but raising them does.
From day one he has raised Teenager No.1 as his own and committed to his upbringing emotionally and financially. When Teenager No.2 was born, my husband was mindful of my eldest not suddenly feeling pushed out by a new baby in the mix and took him to buy a present to give his new sister. Never in our house have we used the term “half-brother” or “half-sister”. They have been raised as siblings in the full sense of the word and without favouritism.
Most importantly my husband has been clear on his role as the stepfather, not once has he tried to compete with my son’s biological father and despite the inevitable early teething problems the “Dads” have a good rapport with each other and we all frequently come together over Sunday lunch. The upside is that Teenager No.1 has a bonus father in his life and all the benefits that brings such as two vocal supporters on the rugby pitch or cricket field instead of one.
So considering the prevalence of stepfamilies it is surprising that the valuable role of the stepfather can be so easily forgotten in the family unit when it comes to Father’s Day. I would hate my husband to feel undervalued or forgotten. I am thankful every day that I met such a remarkable man and that my son has benefited from having him in his life and I know that even if my son forgets to say it sometimes he thinks it too!