As I scrolled through my social media newsfeed over the last few days, I noticed a stark contrast in the posts leading into Mother’s Day and the days leading into Father’s Day. It could simply be due the mix of folks I follow, but I didn’t see near as many posts talking about Step Fathers and their role in the grand scheme of parenting. If your newsfeed looks anything like mine, You probably could not help but run across posts that read something like “It takes more than DNA to make a parent” or some insults thrown around between Biomoms and Stepmoms (which I am 100% AGAINST, by the way). There were so many Mother’s Day posts floating around from fellow Stepmoms that were beautifully written and expressed every sentiment I would have shared, so I chose not to add my two cents on Mother’s Day.
Since I’ve not seen near as many posts talking about Stepdads, I want to tell you about MY Stepdad (AKA Robby, Rob, Rojo) and how his influence shaped me as a human and me as a stepparent.
DISCLAIMER: I do have a Biodad, whom I love and who loves me. This post, however will be focused on Rob due to the fact that my intended audience is mainly made up of parents in blended families. This post is not meant to heal or cure any crazy bioparent/stepparent relationships, nor are there any claims to that effect. #checkyourheart #dontgetoffended #FDAwarningstyle
“No! That’s MY Robby“
Rob came into my life around the age of 2 (?) and, as I am told, I thought his visits were for my benefit only. I didn’t realize that he was actually there to spend time with my Mom. We were living with my Granny and Pappy at the time and Rob, who was a college student at the time, chose to spend time with Mom in that setting since they both had limited time to spare at that stage in their lives (and limited babysitters, I think).
The truth is, I don’t remember a time without Rob. My first memories have him in them, starting with the time that my mom hugged him as he walked in the door and I yelled “No! That’s MY Robby!”. Others include him making all sorts of animal noises to make us laugh, reading Uncle Remus stories in FULL character, taking me fishing on the bayou and swinging us so high on the rope swing in my grandparents’ front yard that I was able to add the first time I heard my mom yell at Rob to my bank of memories!
Rob was just 23-ish when he made a conscious decision to marry my mom and assume responsibility for my sister and I, who were both under the age of 5. Some say it’s noble, but i say it’s INSANE! I don’t know what he was actually thinking, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that his mom and dad split up when he was a kid and he just saw two babies that didn’t have a dad in their home. I feel like his own sense of loss he may have felt as a child made him allowed him to see us as more than a burden or responsibility. And so, he became “Robby”.
As We got older, Robby seemed like kind of silly name (kind of like Mommy after a certain age), so we shortened it to Rob. Stepkids adopt all kinds of names for their stepparents, but we kept it simple.
What is funny about this, is we never introduced him as Rob to people in our lives. We just said “This is my Dad” or “These are my parents”. We were never told to do that. I think it was just our instinct to try not to confuse folks unnecessarily. In that same way, he introduced us as his daughters. No more, no less. Nobody asked questions and he never attempted to explain.
I’m not sure we ever spelled out to one another that there was deeper meaning in this gesture on both sides. He may not have thought anything of it to hear us introduce him as Dad (doubtful. i’m sure he was touched), but when I heard him introduce me as his daughter to a group of co-workers for the first time, it held a significant meaning to me. I was his and he was mine. I belonged.
As I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more how significant his presence was in my life. He was intentional in his parenting and took his role in our lives very seriously. He could have just had a civil relationship with us and left the labor of parenting to my Mom and Dad, but he chose to use his position in our lives to make an impact.
Rob’s legacy in who I’ve become is even more significant now that I’m in the same shoes he was in. The only difference is that our family is serious about co-parenting as a team (thank God! teenagers are tough, ya’ll!) whereas that was more difficult for my parents, given that we lived in different states and our situation simply didn’t allow for that level of involvement.
While I often feel the need to apologize for my behavior during my pre-teen and teenage years, I am grateful that I was able to watch someone else navigate this tricky dynamic before I dove in head-first!
I’d like to share some things I watched Rob navigate with absolute grace (that I know of) that have shaped who I am to my boys.
1 . Having influence in a child’s life in any capacity shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until the day I die: Children are always watching, studying and observing EVERYTHING. WE. DO.
If a child sees you as someone in a position of authority (AKA an adult), they will catch on to what we SHOW them before they understand what we SAY to them. Good or bad, they learn to behave and interact by watching us. It will shape them into who they become. Period.
2 . It ain’t about you
I’m SURE Rob often questioned his decision to marry a woman with 2 small children. After all, we already had a Dad who we didn’t get to see often so when we had our weekends with him, we were SO EXCITED. Our excitement probably stung a little to the man who, by simply just being there, sacrificed for us daily. He probably wondered why we didn’t feel the same way about him sometimes. I have to wonder about these things, because he never expressed any disappointment. He supported and encouraged our relationship with our Dad, even when he didn’t agree with the way things were going down.
The truth is, as adults, it’s our responsibility to encourage our kids in healthy relationships with their parents. Even when we have a difference in opinion with the way things are being handled, the only thing a child knows is that they want their parents to love them. It’s our job as stepparents to “step” back when needed. Ouch. It’s hard.
3 . You show a child what you’re willing to offer and let them decide who you become in their lives. Regardless of what you think they already have.
The first thing kids often worry about when a stepparent enters the picture is “How will this person change my current situation?” or “Is it ok to like this person?”. It often awakens worry and anxiety that they aren’t yet able to articulate (hence, the temper tantrums, eye rolling and slamming of doors).
While it’s important to tread lightly and let the relationship develop naturally, it’s equally important to show some sign of good faith to that very worried child that you have the best of intentions. Sometimes it’s WHILE they are rolling their eyes or screaming that they need to be reassured of how seriously we are taking our role in their lives. Eventually, they’ll just know that you love them and want the same thing their parents do: For them to turn into awesome humans.
Rob never forced his way into our lives. He did have the benefit of us being toddlers when he came on the scene, so it may have been easier for him in some respect, but even as we got older (and meaner) he showed us he was on our side and THEN let us come to him and he simply allowed us to feel the way we felt. Even when those feelings toward him were negative, he was consistent. What he was willing to offer us as a parent was never contingent on what kind of relationship we were willing to have with him. It was never contingent on our preference toward him or our Dad. It was never contingent on us picking a side. Even if we didn’t choose him, he STILL provided for us, loved us, taught us about life and LOVED US HARD.
Thanks Robby. Love you.