Being an effective stepdad starts and ends with intentionality. Yes, a lot of good stuff will happen in the course of parenting that is meaningful and yields good results. But I’ve found that thoughtful structures are very effective in terms of making sure those important check-ins, connections, and discussions happen regularly. As they say, communication is key.
One of the routines I put in place in late 2016 was a monthly Stepdad Summit. Stepdad-only time is important, and I don’t just mean hours of video games and The Revenant (insert relevant activity options if you’re a stepdad to girls). I mean heart-to-heart time.
Yes, these can happen at bedtime or any number of other opportunities throughout the week. But there’s something fun (and also more effective) about the practice of setting aside one night per month for a discussion that actually contains a set agenda. My boys have learned to expect it. Ours usually take place at a local doughnut shop, which helps to set the stage for a positive time together.
Here’s my current Stepdad Summit agenda:
- From 1-5, how is school going? The number forces the boys to be more thoughtful than the robotic “good” that we typically get back. It can also provoke further discussion. “Only a 2? Why is that?” Our kids spend 35 hours/week at school. If there are negative dynamics happening between classmates or teachers, we don’t always hear about it without some gentle probing. By the same token, we also need to know the good things that are going on as well.
- Who are your best friends right now? I find this one really interesting. I’ve started to track my boys’ responses, too, so if names on the list have changed I want to know why. This discussion point may or may not also lead to romantic interests – which is definitely interesting, too – but I try not to be too pushy on this one. Right now, are boys are comfortable disclosing what is what in that arena, which is a lot of fun for us as parents.
- How is hip hop/parkour/soccer/swimming going? Here I make sure that I touch base on clubs, teams, and other activities (this can vary widely by season and level of involvement). As with everything else on this list, these are discussion items that may come up in around-the-home conversations. But as parents, sometimes we can drift into the autopilot of drop-off and pick-up without really hearing about the coach who’s driving them crazy or a great friendship that is forming in the pool, etc.
- What are we looking forward to? What fun activities would we like to do in the next month? I like to use NST as code for non-screen time, or eyeball time. The best relationship building activities happen during NST. Letting the boys have some input and choice about what our next ones will be makes them feel like an important part of the equation. And they come up with some pretty fun ideas, too.
- How much money is in your chequing account? What are your savings goals? To date, I haven’t done a great job of enforcing the habits of 80% spend, 10% save, 10% give. It’s tough to subdivide their cash when we’re paying their weekly $5 allowance by bank transfer (more on that in another post). But money is important. Managing it effectively is one of the most important life skills I can teach them. So here I like to have some thoughtful discussions around spending, saving, and giving that steer them gently away from impulse buying and toward more strategic practices.
- Purity check-in: have you been guarding your eyes? Have you seen any content anywhere that made you feel uncomfortable? Let’s just say it. We all dread the moment that our kids are first exposed to hard core pornography. As hard as my wife and I fight its entry into our home, we’re realistic enough to recognize that our boys will likely be exposed to hard core pornography eventually (I’m taking soft core exposure for granted here since any walk through a mall ticks that box). When this happens, they’ll have stuff to process. I want to send the signal that our table is a safe place to talk about it and process it together.
- Device review: chats, activity, games. Here I pull out the boys’ iPods (I’ve brought them along with me, and I ask the boys for a quick tour. What’s their current game of choice? Who are they messaging? All of these questions are nonthreatening because the boys know they are coming. This is definitely not an interrogation. It’s a partnership. It says: I care about your online life just like I care about everything else in your life. I want to know what you love and what’s important to you. (*I should mention that as of this article, our boys did not have any social media accounts, no access to Youtube, and very limited browsing capabilities.)
In summary, I love this new family routine. It’s so healthy, it signals to our boys that they are important to me, and it lets me in on their world.
Do you have a similar arrangement in your home? Do you have some feedback or follow-up questions about what I’ve shared here? Am I missing an important discussion point? If so, please comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.