Podcast Episode 26. Being a step parent brings with it some unique challenges. In this episode, Rob Step Dad to two boys one, Thomas, who has autism and ADHD, talks about his experiences as a stepdad.
The first challenge for many is what to be called. Sometimes Mum or Dad isn’t the right option. Rob happened upon a fairly unique solution to this issue and you will hear from him why he is now known by family and friends as “Kiwi”. And it has nothing to do with New Zealand.
Rob shares his thoughts about coming to parenting at a later stage. He suggests that it is a different experience at least for him. Rob also discusses sibling relationships and the impact our own family history can have on the way we view sibling rivalry. He talks about the fact that often when one child has additional needs things what should be seen as normal sibling interaction (arguments) are sometimes mistakenly attributed to additional needs.
Finally, Rob addresses what the future might hold for Thomas and the need to support his independence while still providing the safety net he might need.
Rob’s experiences are unique but in telling his story he provides give us with a first-hand insight into what it means to be a Step Dad.
[4.45] – Rob’s journey and why he is now known as “Kiwi”
[6.15] – Why being a step parent is different especially if you don’t have any children of your own
[7.00] – How being an only child or having siblings impacts on your own parenting
[7.30] – How important patience and taking things slow is especially for simple tasks like getting a haircut
[8.30] – Encouraging cooking to develop independence skills
[9.00] – What the future might hold and the dilemma of where do our children live near or with us
Step-parenting is hard but can bring a fresh perspective
Siblings fight because they’re siblings not always because one child has additional needs
DEBRA: Welcome to the Journey Skills podcast. As you know, the aim of this podcast is to share stories and solutions to help you as you help your young person develop their skills to live a more independent life. Some of the topics I’ve covered so far, I’ve had first-hand knowledge of and others, well, it’s all been new to me as well. It’s been a great learning experience and certainly given me some ideas and I hope it’s done the same for you.
This week, it’s topic I don’t know anything about and that’s being a stepparent. I’m talking to Rob who’s a stepdad to two boys: one, Thomas has autism and ADHD. So, well I might not know much of step parenting, I do know a little bit about parenting and it’s not easy having a child with additional needs. I suspect, when you throw in the new family dynamic that step parenting seems to bring, that will have its own fairly unique challenges, notwithstanding those fairy tale stereotypes which makes step parenting look like a bit of a nightmare.
Rob talks first about the dilemma that most stepparents face and that’s what to be called ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ doesn’t often get into the frame but it still kind of weird being called by your first name by a child, at least for most of us. Rob happened upon the perfect solution which might not be entirely replicable but it’s maybe worth noting for future reference if the need ever arises.
Rob also talks about feeling different coming to parenthood part way through, so to speak. He admits his relationship is very different because in part, Rob approaches things very differently but he also suggests in a way that’s because he hasn’t had the early struggles. As he says, he’s not tide and in some ways he feels that makes it easy for him. It’s an interesting point which I really like to hear your thoughts on, it got me thinking about as a parent whether there’s still left-over guilt about what did I do? I don’t know about you but I’ve spent too many points this out wondering what I did. Point is because I didn’t do anything and point is because it serves no useful purpose for my daughter. So, Rob is arguing that in a way he’s baggage free coming into his relationship with Thomas.
Rob also talks about the sibling issues and where arguments are because one sibling has additional needs or it’s actually because siblings fight all the time and as they grapple for power. Again, your thoughts on that would be pretty interesting. And every time someone talks about siblings on the podcast, this whole issue seems to come up. And I even have to remind myself quite a lot not falling into the well. It’s all down to her additional needs when my daughter is arguing with her sister and it’s underestimating my daughter in a way because even if I don’t like the way she can argue about anything and everything and nothing with her sister, I should be thankful she’s developing some fabulous negotiation skills for later life.
Rob also talks a little bit about how independent he thinks Thomas will be as he gets older. Rob feels that the most likely scenario for Thomas will be partial independence and the good old granny flat at the end of the garden. I understand why this is an attractive option for many of us because it enables us to support our children at arm’s length or should I say, adult’s arms strength.
From my own point of view, though I’m quite worried because I wonder what would happen after we’re gone. As we move forward with Journey Skills, we hope to be able to offer solutions, or at least suggestions, for how to solve problems like these. I’m hoping that with technology would also enable a lot of things to change and facilitate a level of independence that perhaps previous generations couldn’t imagine.
I guess though that this assumption that we have as parents that our children will become adults but they’ll still be quite dependent on us is a reminder of the sacrifices, very willingly, that we make as parents of children with additional needs. So, give yourself a quick pat on the back.
DEBRA: Welcome to the Journey Skills podcast. This week we’re talking to Rob who has a stepson with autism and ADHD. Welcome, Rob.
ROB: Good morning.
DEBRA: Tell me a little bit about your story or journey so far?
ROB: I have two step sons and they’ve been in my life for 7 years and my eldest stepson is Thomas who’s an ADHD and autistic and then I have William who’s 10. Coming to it as a stepdad was kind of interesting. I’m very blessed in fact that purely by accident I ended up having met them for the time given the fact that I was carrying an innocent smoothie. They were like, “Are you like the hulk?” And I said, “No”. I said “I’m drinking, drinking, drinking kiwi.” They never heard the word kiwi. So, it stuck the name kiwi, so I got called Kiwi. Which at the time, I thought “Oh fine.” Seven years down the line, I’m still called Kiwi but it’s great because it got me out of that whole conversation with an autistic child about calling me dad because they’ve already got a dad. So, we have dad and we have Kiwi.
So, I get to be introduced to some of the school teachers as Kiwi, and it’s like, “Your dad seems nice” And he says, “No, that’s Kiwi.” And they all look at me and go, “Why is your name Kiwi? Are you from New Zealand?” “No. I got the drink once that was green and had kiwi in it that kind of stuff.” But even now, so the point that obviously, mum that have nanna and Dave, which is my name and her partner and they call me Kiwi because if they call me Rob, Thomas goes, “Who’s Rob?” because he only knows me as Kiwi. But it’s made that whole ‘I don’t have to have that conversation about you can call me dad. So we’ve never even have arrived at that conversation. And I met somebody else’s stepdad and literally, I can’t even remember how it come up with that being a stepdad or how he found me. But I kinda smile when he asked “How you been through it?”. I said, “Oh no, not really.” And I explained to him. I went “I have no idea how much I can thank innocent smoothie for that one bottle of drink because actually, that saved me hours of how to take him briefed.”
It sounds really crazy to say, but I think, people who come to relationships, (and I don’t mean it’s just kind of father) if you don’t have kids, you kind of get it. So, my mum’s partner and they had children and he’s phenomenal with Thomas. Probably because they’re not our children as such, because you’ve got to know children of your own, just want to be able to understand. You don’t have this tie a parent would have. Does that make sense? And I feel like, (it’s wrong to say) older brother.
I think also the other interesting kind of situation we have is Katie is an only child whereas I have brother and sister. So, there are things happened between the boys that Katie would only go, “That’s happened because of Thomas’ autism.” And I went, “No. That’s happened because they’re brothers and they will fight like that. That’s fine. That’s not autism. That’s siblings.” So that gets questioned in our house. Is that normal behavior for two siblings? Or is that Thomas’ autism coming in? A lot of time I say, “No, that’s not him. They’re being little nuisance it’s because they can do that to each other because that’s what brothers would do to each other. Brothers and sisters.” So, that’s quite an interesting thing, they’re actually normal behavior kids.
With Thomas, you kind of slowly, slowly… So, those clippers during haircut. Thomas would refuse to have clippers. He has quite curly hair so everything had to be cut with a pair of scissors so we couldn’t cut it, not in a couple of years. So, we had found after about 5 or 6 different barbers that he was quite happy with. And that’s how we got, the whole autism. So, things like, rather than sitting facing the mirror, they would turn the chair to face the tv in the corner so he would sit facing the tv and they would cut not facing the mirror. And then over the period of time, I said, “Okay, when you get older, by the time you get to 13, you gonna need to be able to have clippers.”
So, I would go, his younger brother would go, the 3 of us go together, we’d have our hair cut. So, then the youngest one would have clippers on, I would have clippers on mine. We’d have Thomas sit on my lap. We would let them put clip at the back of my hair, see it was like. And we’d let him feel the vibration in his arms then we’d clip at the back of his hand.
DEBRA: Are there other ways that you’re helping him with independence skills?
ROB: We have a massive interest in cooking through the secondary school. My mum was a chef and so I’ve got trained at a very young age. We’re at the stage now where we let him have a go in the kitchen, not very much overseen, but we get the chance to cook in for family. So, he’s getting into that stage now where he wants to do things for the family which is kind of a nice phase and improve him with his skills. So, definitely, that sort of stuff. We’re now in a stage where there’s not a lot damage on his own or anything because the problem we have is the attention span. We get him into phase of how his attention span would be on something else.
DEBRA: So, do you see him live independently one day?
ROB: I’d love to think so but we’ve pitched it that we reckon he’d be with us for good, so we’re just in the process of looking into buy a house. The theory is to buy somewhere that’s potentially got room for a granny annex. Because granny, my old mum, but actually be granny annex stroke Thomas annex. So, I think he could live at the end of the garden so he could do what he needs do it. I’m just not quite sure whether he could do it on his own whilst he’s away from everybody. It’s a security knowing you only have to run 50 yards down the garden and he’ll come up to mum and dad’s back door. It’s probably far more of a security blanket than I kind of pick up the phone and phone somebody and I’ll have to wait until they get here or whatever.
The independence is definitely coming slowly. We’re now in the state where we get up in the mornings and we get dressed, we make our own bed, we’re making our own breakfast. To you and me that may seem silly little things but to him that kind of huge things. We try and train him into that whole ‘Taking Ownership’. The big one at the moment is obviously, we’d have to take certain pills. It’s like if I’m doing the school round for breakfast, one of the family members has to remember to take his pills. “If we haven’t given you your pills, you need to remember and tell us. It’s your responsibility to remind us because we’re trying to do everything.” So, he gets in a stage now where he’d stand front door and just about to leave the house and he hadn’t got his medications and you just go, “Hit that door” and he got, “By the way, I haven’t had my pills!” And you kind of, “Oh, brilliant. Good that you told me otherwise your teacher will be having a hell of a day!” So, ownership to that sort of stuff. It’s all coming slowly but surely.
DEBRA: Key takeaways? Well, Kiwis have multiple uses. Seriously, things that parent does have unique challenges but it can also bring a fresh perspective to things. Note to self: Siblings fight because they’re siblings. It’s a rite of passage.
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