Stepdads: What Children Need

Any father might wonder at times what role he should play in his family. Fathers in blended families probably have even more questions.

Is the role I play with my stepchildren different from the one my partner plays with them? Is it different from the role I play with my own children? What role should my partner play with my kids? If we have children together, will we treat them differently from the others? How can I get my stepchildren to listen to me? These are good questions and it’s not easy to give simple answers.

But let’s start at the beginning. Any time a man is unsure about the sort of fathering role he should play, it’s always good to go right back to basics. What do children need? The roles that fathers play – and there are several – are directly related to the needs of children.

What All Kids Need

What children need from parents can vary depending on their age, personality and family circumstances. However, there are certain basic things that all children need. Here’s how they link up with the roles fathers can play.

The necessities of life:  The Provider Father

All children need food, clothing, water, a roof over their heads and basic care that keeps them clean and healthy. If they don’t have these, the finer details of parenting won’t matter much. The Provider Father works to help make sure his children have the necessities of life; sometimes he looks after his children so his partner can work to support the family. These days, most people think fathers should play other roles beside provider. But it is still one of the essential ways to contribute to children’s well-being.

Care and comfort:  The Nurturing Father

Children need to be well cared for and they need to know that adults will look after them. A Nurturing Father takes part in the daily care of his children. He feeds them, helps them get dressed, changes diapers, gives baths, and makes sure their teeth are brushed. He drives older children to activities. He comforts his children, helping them to feel better when they are upset.

Human interaction:  The Interactive Father

Children learn how to be part of our social world by relating to other people – talking, asking questions and copying what other people do. That starts with their parents. An Interactive Father makes his children part of his life. He talks to them, plays with them, reads them stories and takes them along for trips to the hardware store or park. This helps children to understand and communicate with others, learn about the culture and values of their families and learn the little unwritten rules that guide our behaviour in society.

Guidance, teaching and protection:  The Responsible Father

Children also need to learn about the world we live in – where they can go, what they can touch, what places, people and activities are safe and which are not safe. The Responsible Father is a teacher who watches and supervises his children to keep them safe. He shows them how to do things: how to wash their hands, catch a ball, ride a bike or set the dinner table. He uses positive discipline to help his children learn how to behave and how their actions affect others.

To be important to someone:  The Committed Father

Children need to know that they belong – that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that they are very important in their parents’ lives. The Committed Father shows his children how important they are to him. And no matter what else he might be doing, whether he is with his children or not, he keeps his fatherhood responsibilities in mind.

Warmth and love:  The Affectionate Father

Whatever else children need, they need to be loved – not only told they are loved but shown love through the way parents touch them and talk to them. Research has shown that parents’ affection not only helps children to feel good about themselves, it is necessary for normal brain development. The Affectionate Father shows his love in various ways – by carrying, cuddling and hugging his kids, by wrestling with them playfully or calling them pet names. As children mature and may not want to be touched as often, he finds new ways to show his affection.

(from One Step at a Time:  A guide for fathers living in blended families.)

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