Thursday, December 18th4.3°C
The Dad Vibe

My step-dad struggles

“Our son did that!”

“You mean your son or my son?”

“Yeah, guess what stunt your son pulled today?”

With more and more marriages ending in divorce, the number of blended families continues to rise. In fact, in the stats I found, the blended family has become the most common form of family (1 out of every 3 Americans is either a step-parent or step child, or has some other form of blended family - that’s almost 100 million people). Aside from the normal everyday challenges that any family faces, a blended family has different struggles, challenges, and opportunities.

We are a blended family. Loyal readers of my work may remember that under our blessed roof, I have two children from my previous marriage (boy 9 and girl 6), my partner has one child from her previous marriage (boy 7) and now we have a new baby boy. We are almost three years in and I honestly believe we are a successful blended family. While scheduling and unified discipline can be challenging, we have cultivated respectful working relationships with our ex-partners which makes the day to day life much easier. Without the added stress of strong negative emotions toward our ex-partners, we are better able to focus on our own relationship and the individual needs of our children.

In building our step family, we have moved slowly and with much thought and intention as to what is best for the kids. We have a happy crew in an energetic house, but I am failing at one of the biggest blended family challenges; treating all of the kids equally. It is a hard truth to admit to yourself and to your spouse that you are failing at something so important - loving and treating their children as your own.

Is it assumed that in a blended family, a parent will always favour their own biological child over a step-child? Is biological favouritism a reality? I know my partner is better at treating all 3 (now 4) equally, better at separating the behaviour from the person. According to, it’s okay for me to feel differently about my own children than my step-son. But is it? Something about that just doesn’t sit right with me.

I am terrified that in my step-son’s eyes, he feels he is at the bottom of my totem pole. But how can I help that?

I try so hard to be unbiased, non-judgmental, non-favouring, but my patience level and tone of voice are not the same for all three kids. My intentions are true, but sometimes I fail, and I hate it.

I have read the step-parenting books and have learned how to discipline equally and earn respect, but when it comes time to discipline, I know I don’t create a level playing field. Hence, my biological children tend to get the benefit of the doubt more than my step-son. I should say that all three are amazing kids; bright, polite, and fun. They all make bad decisions and mistakes. But if it comes down to a “No, he did it!”/“No, he did it first!” my default loyalty seems to always be my own children.

In my mind, I strive to be tougher on my own kids (so that my step-son can see some tough love dealt their way) but is this an effective approach?

If I had a step-daughter rather than a step-son, I think things would be much different, not necessarily better but different. With my sons, as a father, I feel the need to help teach them to ‘be a man’ - not in a macho-stop-crying- testosterone way, but in a good-honest-ethical-man way. So with a step daughter, the behaviour triggers would be different, but the lack of equality might still exist.

In my “Loving My Red Headed Step Child” article (featured in the “Dads Behaving Dadly” book), I focused on the great challenges and opportunities of being a step-dad. I am not replacing his involved dad, so I am not his “real dad” but I am pretty damn close…way cooler than an uncle! It’s a constant balancing act of being involved, but not intrusive, respecting his own dad and also my own role in the parenting hierarchy.

As a step parent, new children are delivered into your life with their pre-existing interests, self-esteem levels, and behaviours. You only move forward, playing the hand you are dealt. Our role as step parents is to create a loving relationship with our step children -- to add to their lives. Is this easier said than done? It’s been over a year since I wrote my ‘redheaded’ article, time is ticking, and I need to be better - starting with my tone of voice and the words I use.

In my last few articles, I have examined couples in conflict. One of the major areas of potential conflict for us is when there is a perceived injustice inflicted on a step child. That is when the lioness or poppa grizzly roars loudly - to protect their young. Perhaps my partner feels I was a little harder on her son in tone or consequence, or maybe I feel she didn’t have the patience for my daughter that she had for her son - etc, etc, etc. Any blended family can provide hundreds of examples of perceived injustices. Every parent has triggers that set us off, but we need to always separate the behaviour and choices from the child, especially in a blended family setting.

Here are 5 things I am working on to be a better step-dad…

  1. Being hyper aware of the language I use - my son, our son, your son (our new baby should not be the only child to receive the “our” pronoun, they all should). We also try to limit the use of “Step” in our house - he is my son, not step-son.
  2. Keeping my tone of voice equal for all children.
  3. Striving for a equal level of patience for all children.
  4. Constantly separating the child from the behaviour
  5. Putting my relationship/marriage first -- that is essential for blended family success.

The takeaways this week from my confessional (thanks for listening!), are that blended families may have additional challenges. “Biological favouritism”, be it intentional or not, is a daily challenge for many step parents. When people ask how many children I have, I use to say, “Two from my previous marriage, a step-son, and we have a new baby together”. But now, in this fresh new age of enlightenment, I just say four children, because that is the beautiful truth!

Time for you to confess, blended family or not, do you favour one of your children or are things equal in your house? If yes, you do favour, what changes could you make to make things equal?

Until next time…


I know why you two fight: Part 2

In part 1, we looked at the first reason why you two may fight, your protective self vs. your authentic self.

Now I want to talk about the great Terry Real, best selling author and founder of the Relational Life Institute, who coined the term "core negative image (CNI)” as it relates to the core negative image you may possess about your partner. This thought provoking nugget has really helped me on my journey and it may help you too.

Your partner's CNI of you isn't really you, but an exaggerated version of you at your worst. It's your evil twin that often shows up in a disagreement or conflict.

"She is so cold, controlling, and manipulative!"

"He is nasty, withdrawn, and passive aggressive!"

CNI awareness is great, but learning how to work with each other's CNIs, according to Real, can be the single most transformative aspect of relationship empowerment work.

In his book, "The New Rules of Marriage", Real has an entire chapter/exercise in working with CNIs. Essentially it comes down to this reality. In a fight, when you are presented with your partner's CNI of you, I guarantee you will react combatively, citing the obvious distortion of their image, "You are crazy, I am NOT like that at all." We defend, deflect, and diffuse.

But remember, the CNI is the you, when the most immature wounded parts of you are driving the ship. So instead of battling or refuting it, the true power comes when you stop denying the truthful aspects and instead accept that a few grains of truth might exist and accept that. Being defensive will not help.

When couples enter into this classic Texas gunslinger standoff of "I'm right. No, I'm right!" the only winning answer, according to Real, is "Who cares?!"

Do you want to be right or happy? You can’t have both.

Your relationship needs some heroic leadership sometimes. You can be the one to lay down your armour and sword, disarming your protective self, thus taking the high road to happiness, not the well worn trail to righteousness. Stop slamming doors, withdrawing, or trying to control your partner. You can only control yourself.

Feeling brave? Here is the takeaway this week.

When you and your partner are in a good place, be vulnerable and try asking about their core negative image of you. Again, don’t refute or build a defense, just listen and learn from the grains of truth.

What is your core negative image of your partner? How does that affect your day to day living?

Moving forward, how will this new CNI awareness change the rules of engagement??

Please be brave and share….


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I know why you two fight

I know exactly why you and your partner fight with each other. Sure, your fights might masquerade and manifest as arguments about money, the kids, the lack of sex, or who took out the garbage last, but that is not really what they are about.

At the absolute root, it's about your protective self and your core negative image (CNI) of your partner. I will discuss CNI in my next article, for now, I want to focus on your protective and authentic self.

You have an authentic self; the true, real you, often referred to as your inner child. The good guy that lives his values inside you. We like this guy, but he is vulnerable and easily hurt.

He has been hurt before. Past conflicts and hurts from parents, siblings, and early relationships, have necessitated the need for constant protection from a body guard. This bodyguard is your protective self.

Your protective self lives the motto "Nothing is going to hurt you, not on my watch!" Like anti-virus spyware, your protective self is constantly vigilant, on the lookout for anything that might hurt, disrespect, or threaten the authentic self.

Your partner has a protective self too. And when those two meet in the narrow alleyway of conflict, look out! You engage, argue, and fight, but it's your protective selves that are battling, not the authentic selves.

Like two proud gladiators, these protective selves battle for honour, ego, and the pursuit of righteousness. As the battle escalates, the authentic selves try to stay safely nestled behind, holed up in a little cave, waiting for the battle to subside before they, like frightened turtles, can surface again.

My partner is a match and I am a torch. She is fiery and can run red hot but quickly cools. I am the opposite. I take a long time to heat up, but explode and simmer for way too long. When I finally lash out at my partner, I often feel sheepish, shocked, or embarrassed at the extremes of my protective self. For example, do I really think she is an animal hater and wants to kill my dog, or is she just sick of cleaning up dog hair and feces?

Once you gain the awareness that your argument is simply two protective selves battling, you gain the power to disengage, step back from your 'flooded' state, and breathe. Go make a sandwich, take the dog for a walk, or sit on the throne. No argument has ever changed a feeling anyway.

Even if you disagree with 85% of the exaggerated, emotionally charged 'crap' your partner is saying, in the remaining 15%, there are some nuggets of cold hard truth.

Self awareness is the key to transforming your relationship. Becoming more aware of your default patterns, triggers, old scripts, and reactions can improve your relationships in challenging times.

This has NOTHING to do with your partner or changing his or her behaviour.

Be aware of what triggers your protective self. Let's spend the week in a heightened state of self! Be ready to ask your protective self to step back to play well in the sandbox!

Next time I will share insights into Terry Real's relationship changing notion of Core Negative Image... you will be amazed and uneasy!

Until next time!


Dads do it differently!

Dads do it differently. Not better. Not Worse. Just different.

That was one of my main points in my keynote speech “What Dads Really Want…” which I delivered last week in beautiful Penticton, BC.

My room was full of childcare service providers, moms, and actually, a great number of dads! I wanted to challenge them, and now I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to carefully consider and examine your core idea of what a dad is, what a dad does, and what a dad wants.

Dads are not dummies as we are often portrayed in popular culture.

Dads do not babysit their children and neither does a mom.

Dads just want to be treated as a parenting equal – an achievable role to be earned, not just granted.

Dads want just as strong a relationship with their children as mom does, but he may have a different approach to getting there. Mom may need to turn judgment into curiosity and recognize his different style and method will end up at the same destination; a loving bond with his child.

When I started speaking on parenting in the early 2000s, I was still talking about the ‘changing’ role of the father. But now, that role is not changing anymore; it is finished ‘changing’! The 100th monkey/tipping point has arrived and involved fathering is the societal norm now. Just like littering in the 1970s vs. today, an involved father is what we see.

I know not EVERY dad is on board yet (that is part of our collective mission), but how dads behave, in the day to day lives of their children, has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Fifty years ago, to receive a trophy for “world’s greatest dad”, you were a protector and a provider; your children had food in the bellies, shoes on their feet, and a roof overhead. That is absolute bare minimum today.

Back then, dads tended to be more remote and authoritarian, dad was tougher to get to know -- sure he would play with you from time to time, but his main role was to keep order in the house and everyone IN LINE. Mom, if faced with too many shenanigans, could always drop the greatest threat known to a child, “Wait till your father gets home!” Then dad would walk in, home from a tough day, and be thrust into the role of disciplining a terrified child. Today, when kids hear ‘Wait till your father gets home’, they are excited and can’t wait!

Dads today have more passion, patience, and presence than ever before. Their KIDS don’t know anything different, and would shake their heads in disbelief if told that years ago dads were not that involved. You only need to look at a school playground at 8:15, a school field trip, or a soccer field on a Saturday morning - at least half of the parents present are dads; would you have seen that 30 years ago?

At the end of the day, like the feminist women’s movement of the 60s and 70s, we, as dads, want equality, freedom from stereotypes and gender bias. I am thrilled to be a voice and part of the movement. I am a DADvocate, not a zealot or crusader. What we are after is recognition as equal parents, not put on pedestal or having parades thrown for us.

In the same way women are after equal pay in the workplace, we are asking for fathers to not be treated like second-class parents or mom’s helper.

With no disrespect to the late great Martin Luther King, who was also fighter for equality on a larger scale, I too have a dream. A dream deeply rooted in today’s families.

I have a dream that one day, all parents will be treated equal. Both in the home and at work. No more “Mr. Moms” or “Mrs. Dad”.

We will no longer need “father friendly” programs as all programming will always consider BOTH parents needs.

I have a dream that one day, moms and dads can sit down together at the table of parenthood and we will live in a society where parents will not be judged by their gender, but rather by the content of their character.

I have a dream today, that although dads do it differently, their contribution to the family will one day be seen as just as valuable as mom's.

Are dads equal? How do you see the role of dad today? Is dad an equal in your house?

Until next time…

Read more The Dad Vibe articles


About the Author

Jeff Hay… is a Kelowna based writer, motivational speaker, parenting coach, and father of three. Along with writing for Castanet, Jeff also writes for the Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, and the National Fatherhood Initiative in the United States.  When he is not playing his favourite role of “DAD”, Jeff is speaking throughout Canada as a popular parenting educator and working on his website – and his parenting book for Dads, “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home!” Jeff dedicates his life’s work to improving the well-being of children by increasing the proportion of children growing up with involved, responsible, and committed fathers.

E-mail Jeff your thoughts or questions anytime at [email protected]



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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