Four kids. When people ask how many kids I have, I say four. Biologically it’s three, but I say four.
I was 30 when I first became a dad back in 2003.I separated from Jack’s mother and we went our separate ways in 2006. Jack stayed with me a couple of nights a week. As with all people who go through such things, it was a rough time. Jack was young, though, and he grew up only really knowing that his dad lived somewhere else.
On February 28th 2009, I met Emma for the first time. Emma had a daughter, Rachel, who was born in 1998. Emma and I got engaged in December 2009 and married in November 2010. Jenny was born in July 2011. (A honeymoon baby!) I had just turned 39. Eve was born two days before Jenny’s first birthday and just over a month after my 40th birthday. Those are the facts.
So there are the four kids. Being a post-modern society, however, we’re not a ‘normal’ family. Jack lives with his mum and Rachel is my step-daughter. Rachel, Jenny and Eve live with Emma and I. I suppose it isn’t too unusual nowadays, but it seems like we have a sample of each kind of parent / child relationship going.
Being an absent dad, as I am with Jack, brings its own set of challenges. As a parent, you naturally wish to impart a certain set of values upon your child as they grow. That can be difficult if the other parent doesn’t consider those values to be as important. Jack’s an only child at his mother’s house. He is one of four at our house. They are very different environments for a developing child. If I only see Jack for two days out of seven, his behaviour is more likely to be shaped by the other five days.
A ‘step-dad’ role requires far more diplomacy than a natural parent. There are so many toes that you need to avoid stepping on. As the adult married to the child’s parent, all living in the same house, you’re going to have responsibilities. It’s when that starts to crossover into areas like giving permission for things or discipline that it gets a bit blurry. If one accepts that you shouldn’t get involved with the discipline side, then how do you deal with things fairly? For example, if you’re with a child and a step-child and they’re both misbehaving, it’s clearly not fair to only tell one off. But then what right do I have to say anything? At any point, they could turn round and say “you’re not my Dad”. Boom.
Luckily, I’ve not had many such problems. We have only had issues that any other parent / teenager experience on a daily basis. The “you’re not my Dad” explosion has never happened.
Parenting Jenny (4) and Eve (3) is therefore the first time I’ve been one of the primary parents (along with Emma) from day one to the present day. (By primary parent, I mean resident with them 7 days a week since birth.) I guess this is what people may mean if they say a ‘normal’ parent.
So, what’s the real difference when being all of these multiple types of Dad? Ultimately, very little.
Your goals are always the same. Make sure your child is safe, happy, healthy and not burning the house down. You want to keep them on the right path, whatever that is, without being too over-bearing.
And the rewards are the same. When Rachel’s amazing exam results came through, the pride I felt couldn’t have been greater if it was Jack, Jenny or Eve that had received them. Seven years of parenting will do that to a person.
I guess it boils down to the fact that to be a good dad, you need to be the best person you can. If you can deal with an argument and then not immediately think “I sounded like a right dick” then you’re doing fine. If you can tell a child off and get a hug afterwards, or immediately think “yes” when they ask if you can help, you’re a great dad.