Step-Parenting 101

Step-Parenting 101Observations From An Old-Fashioned Guy in a World of Modern Teenage Drama
By Jason Dehart

This past year has been one for life changes. I got married in December 2009, and my bride and I have settled into a new life here in Tallahassee.

Before Tallahassee, I lived in rural Central Florida, where I was born and raised. My wife, Patricia, and I actually lived 2 miles apart when we were kids and knew each other in high school (we were band geeks), but for 20-plus years we led separate lives. Then fate stepped in and we stumbled across each other on — where else? — Facebook. (We joke about being a Facebook romance. We like to stare lovingly into each other’s eyes and say passionately, “You had me at ‘Confirm Friend Request.’”)

The marriage deal came with two teenage kids, one 18 and the other 14. Naturally, Trish has been with these kids for a while now. Coming in so late, I missed all their younger years. Instead of teething pains, I have to deal with all the drama that comes along with teenagers. They know it all, can’t be told anything and have that slouching, sullen teen ’tude.

When Trish and I were growing up in Sumter County in the 1980s, kids didn’t have time for attitudes. Everybody worked from an early age at packing houses, grocery stores, service stations and truck farms. At home, we had chores to do. If you got in trouble, you could count on corporal punishment when Dad got home. We learned self-discipline, responsibility and the value of honest hard work. We weren’t given anything. We made our own money and spent it on stuff we needed, like vehicles, gas and Redwing boots.

As I got older, I valued how I was brought up and vowed that if I ever had kids, they’d be raised the same way. Unfortunately, in today’s “enlightened” world, my ways are old-fashioned and obsolete. It’s no longer possible (or legal) to be the father my father was to me. So I’m left with trying to learn new tricks … and it’s not easy.

It’s harder still because as a stepfather, I’ve learned I have no power or authority whatsoever. The only authority I can claim comes from being an adult, and kids must listen to their elders. Right? Riiiiight.

It’s especially tough because I have no prior parenting experience. Of course, all first-time fathers have no previous experience when they are handed that new bundle of joy. But at least they get to raise their kid from scratch. A stepparent who inherits teenage stepkids has to deal with young adults who come with fully formed ideas and personalities. Me, too. I’m 41. Will I have the ability to adapt? Or am I hopelessly set in my own ways? Time will tell.

Here are some other things I’ve learned so far:

There’s nothing quite as impervious to vocal commands as an earphone-wearing teenager curled up with an iPhone.

Throwing said iPhone out the window of a moving minivan is never an option — no matter how much said teenager drives you crazy with the “machine gun” app.

So what if you don’t understand their fascination with books about teenage vampires? They’ll never understand your obsession with the History Channel.

You feel absolutely elated when your stepdaughter acknowledges your existence by asking you if she can play Crazy Taxi on your GameCube.

Teenagers can act like politicians. They can be inconsiderate, manipulative and conspiratorial. However, you can’t simply vote them out of office. All you can do is take your blood-pressure medication daily, pray for guidance, and never let them forget that you are the one in charge.

I am the one in charge, right?

… Right?