As a stepmother to a teen daughter, I had no idea how to help her celebrate her father without coming across as bossy or intrusive. Lacking the bond and inherent authority of a biological parent, I struggled with insecurity, uncertainty and being the outsider in my new family.
If wondering how to help your teenage stepchildren celebrate Father’s Day well has added even one gray hair to your head, be encouraged. In the 35 years I’ve been a stepmother, I have learned a few strategies that will up your chances of helping your stepkids celebrate and make memories for all the right reasons.
Let them lead
As much as you may want to take control, your role is to come alongside your stepteens to support them planning the celebration. But you can get the ball rolling by gently reminding them of the approaching day. Asking, “What do you think Dad would like to do for Father’s Day next Sunday?” allows them to take the lead and keeps them aware of the timeframe.
Especially if you are new to this gig, asking what Dad has enjoyed in the past fills in some blanks for you and encourages their thinking. Be sure to model respect as you listen to their ideas without criticism or judgment. Express confidence in their ability to produce good plans, even if nothing in the past leads you to expect it. Compliment them on any fun sounding possibilities. Teens thrive knowing you — yes, you the stepmother — believe in them.
Offer ideas — if they ask
Be prepared to offer ideas if they ask. Just brainstorming together puts you on the same team. But tread carefully here. Speak as a trail guide considering a path rather than a battlefield general barking orders.
One year when my stepdaughter was struggling to come up with something creative and inexpensive, I suggested a top 10 list of “Best Memories with Dad,” encouraging her to remember and appreciate those times. She hand-lettered her list on parchment, and we bought a frame for it. It still holds a cherished place on our bookshelf.
Another stepmom, Karen, knew that since stepchildren often feel displaced by a stepparent, time alone with Dad could be just the remedy. She posed the possibility of her teenage stepchildren spending the afternoon with their dad goofy golfing. Everyone appreciated her unselfish act, and she appreciated a day at the spa.
Another creative possibility is to encourage your teens to make a contribution to their dad’s favorite charity. If you match the donation and keep it a shared secret, you have built a bond with your stepchildren — and they’ve honored their dad.
If they don’t ask
Do not take it personally . . . no matter what “it” is! Put yourself in their shoes. If they don’t ask your opinion, reject your ideas or don’t want you involved in their plans, it may not be because they don’t like you or your ideas but because they are teenagers and you are the stepmother. It wouldn’t matter if you were Mother Teresa or Lady Gaga. Keeping this in mind helps lower the hurt and anger level in your home, something most stepfamilies (and intact biological families) with teenagers experience.
Invite them to celebrate your dad
If you’re celebrating with your father, invite your stepteens to join you. Modeling how to honor a parent (or parent figure) is an invaluable contribution to make as a stepmother, a role some have a hard time describing, defining or even validating. But don’t take it personal if they pass on the idea. One Father’s Day, I invited my stepdaughter to join me in baking my father’s favorite angel food cake with strawberries and whipped topping. I told her it would be fun for me if she did, but I understood if she didn’t have time, offering her an “out.” My dad and I both felt thrilled when she not only helped me prepare it, but also came with me to deliver it and enjoy a slice with “Da.” She even made him a card! Inviting opens the door but doesn’t demand, something Jesus models for us.
Keep expectations realistic
Being the outsider in your own family is never easy. While teens naturally grow more independent, you may want to take the day to pull everyone close and cement family ties. Teens come with an abundance of hormones and mood swings, neither of which you can control. Take a deep breath and pray that the day is a blessing for all. If it doesn’t live up to your dreams, that’s OK. It’s about their celebration of their father. And any role you get to play in helping them do that is sure to be a success.
Carol Boley is the co-author of But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother!