Balancing Marriage and Parenthood – A Father’s Story

Black father and Daughter

Let’s get the intro out of the way so we can proceed with my rant.

My name is David Dennis. I’m a 26-year-old stay-at-home writer. I have a six-year-old stepdaughter and have been married a year. I also have a son coming in October.

So, to answer the question in your head: no, I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s why we’re all here, for me to talk about what I’m going through, what I’ve been through and what I expect to go through while I embark on this journey with my family. Of course, you’ll learn more details about me as we keep it going, but for now that’s all you need.

The hardest adjustment I had to make after getting married was becoming a stepdad. The “dad” part wasn’t that difficult, as raising an intelligent five-year-old is relatively easy. I basically helped raise a niece and two nephews so I got a firsthand look at that age group.

Here’s what I learned: from ages five to, say, 12 or so, all you have to do is make sure your kid doesn’t die and does her homework. From birth to five, you need to feed the child and keep her alive. From 12 to 18 you have keep her from killing herself. But in between those ages? Just make sure she’s adding and subtracting at a decent rate and not throwing the toaster in the bathtub with her. A breeze.

So while being a dad hasn’t been too tough, being a stepdad has been a learning experience that challenges me every day. My stepdaughter’s father is very much in her life. Even though we live in different cities, the distance is close enough for them to see each other every other weekend and they talk on the phone throughout the week. My parents divorced when I was 11, yet they still came to my parent/teacher conferences together and handled raising me like a team. That’s why I understand the importance of a united front for the kid even though we don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye all of the time.

This, though, created an issue for me in my rookie year as a dad. No matter what you do, as a stepdad you’ll be on the third string at best of a kid’s hierarchy of importance. While our relationship has always been loving and positive, there existed a wall that I never seemed able to break through. When it was time to tuck her in, she wanted mom or a phone call from dad. She was more hesitant to open up to me, and made it known she’d rather be with one of her parents when it was just the two of us. Let me be clear: she was always respectful, not acting out with rebellion or disobedience. She’s just an honest child, telling me where she’d rather be. While we still had a bond, there was a pedestal reserved for mom and dad that I could never occupy.

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  • Mississippi magnolia

    You did a great job providing a voice for a population that doesn’t receive a lot if positive acknowledgement. Thanks for your honesty. Looking forward to reading more articles from you.

  • khudson

    Thank you. This story was heartfelt and honest. It really shows the perspective of men taking on family.

  • Jacklyn Chain

    This is an amazing and beautiful article. Looking forward to reading more!

  • StepFred

    Great article. Thanks for the perspective

  • atlantamom

    It sounds like you are doing a great job as a stepfather, and I appreciated this article as a way to see some of the challenges that my husband (a stepfather to my two children and a father to our daughter) faces.

  • Sydnie

    I have no experiential knowledge or advice to give you my dear, but I can think of an example in television where the step-dad is a good guy… that horrible show that premiered on BET last year with Malcolm Jamal-Warner and Tracee Ellis Ross, Reed Between the Lines. If you’ll remember, Ross’ character had twins from a previous relationship, and they have a daughter together. The twins respect Jamal-Warner’s character as their dad, even though he, like you, feels like the 3rd wheel sometimes. They did an episode about this, and I thought that it might be a pretty true to life situation…

  • Tracee Thompson

    Dave, this is wonderful. I think biological fathers should be reading this as well. they need to understand that a stepdad is not an intruder; he is a helper to raise strong, confident children that will know what family really means. I can’t wait to read more.

  • Laura Kay

    Hey Dave, this is Laura, Jules’ girlfriend. You 100% captured the unfortunate reality and beautiful side of being a step parent! I’m also a child of divorce who was fortunate enough to have my parents also continue to co-parent post divorce. My step father and mother just celebrated their 20 th anniversary. I pray that Jules and I never have to deal with a separation with our son. It’s a hard raising your own child, much less walking the line of raising another mans child. You are doing a great job! Keep up the good work. She will look back as an adult and refer to you as dad just as I do with my second daddy.

  • Cynthia

    Great article and believe me that the fact that you are taking time to think about these issues will only make the bond stronger as she matures. The reality is that every child needs at least 5 caring involved adults in their life. People who genuinely care about them regardless of the other relationships that may be in play. Congrats! I cannot wait to read more….