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Evil Stepmom


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Articles & Interviews
Time Alone with Dad

I have received much reaction to the Bio-Dad's Perspective piece about stepparents encouraging their mates to spend time one-on-one with each of their young adult children. (See: A Bio-Dad's Perspective: Time Alone with the Kids, posted below this article.)

One stepdaughter now in her mid-thirties responded to the article by saying, "That was the huge mistake my dad and stepmother made--they were inseparable!" She went on to say that eventually her father and stepmother loosened their grip on one another and she was able to spend time alone with her dad.

"But," she says, "it took years. And by then it was too late." Not too late for a relationship, but too late for her dad to enjoy the young person she had been, and too late for her to tap into her dad's experience and wisdom at the time she needed it, without her new stepmother around.

Other young adult stepchildren agreed—many stepparents just don't understand how important it is for young adults to have intimate access to their parents. Like most people, young adults are private about sensitive topics; it's hard enough to bring up a difficult issue with a parent without being forced to have a personal conversation in front of a stepparent.

This is one of the biggest challenges of becoming a stepparent to young adults: starting a new marriage while figuring out how to get it right with stepkids who are on their way out the door and only need their parents for certain things. But when they need them, they need them.

Here are some ways you and your mate can help your young adult stepkids with this challenge.

Give your mate some space. When you hear him on the phone with one of his young adult children, give him privacy. Take a shower, run an errand, or walk the dog. Leave him alone, and let him know there's no pressure to hurry.

Encourage your mate to spend time alone with each of his young adult kids. Urge him to spend an afternoon at a museum, a baseball game, or out to lunch with one of his kids while you read, garden, or catch up on some work. If the kids live far away, encourage him to go spend a weekend with his daughter or to invite his son on a road trip. When you get back together again, plan a little celebration just for the two of you.

The key to success is sustainability. Only do what you can handle without feeling too uncomfortable. Parents must figure out how to have consistent, light contact with their young adult kids. And stepparents need to figure out how to encourage and support this contact.

Respect your stepchildren’s privacy. Don’t nose around in their business. Don’t pump your mate for the news about his kids’ lives. Get in the habit of asking if they had a nice time and leaving it at that. Young adult stepkids won’t confide in their parents if they know every word they say is going to be repeated to you. Your respect for them will earn their trust over time.

Never, under any circumstance, punish your mate for time spent with his children. Not in tone, attitude, words, or behavior. What’s good for his kids is good for you in the long run, so figure out how to get behind his time with his children.

Support your mate in developing a habit of checking in with his kids. Remarried parents of young adults, especially dads, don’t always realize that young adults need to be coaxed into conversation sometimes. A parent has to make himself available for intimate connections to happen.

One-on-one time used to happen organically in the family. 
When the kids were younger, parents and children had more time together: a trip to the store, driving to soccer practice, or washing dishes side by side. These were all opportunities to catch up alone with one or the other of their parents. Now he may need to text message, email, or write postcards to keep in regular contact with his busy young adult children.

Most stepfamilies work these challenges out over the years, but early young adulthood--17 to 24--is the period of adulthood when kids need their parents most. By paying attention to this fact and working together to create opportunities for one-on-one time, you can help give your stepchildren a wonderful gift: the gift of a present, available parent at a time when they really need one.

In time a stepparent may be included in the circle of people the young adult wants to hear from. But for the first five to ten years, it's best if your mate is available for private parenting sessions when his young adult children need him. Stepparents can do more than they know by giving their spouse the freedom to stay active and involved in their kids’ lives.

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