I’ve never been a stepfather, but we all know what that character is like in movies and television. (Think Dennis Quaid in “Yours, Mine and Ours,” or Adam Sandler in “Big Daddy”). Whether he is married to the “mother” character or not, he’s trying to fill in as a father figure, and he’s probably not succeeding- the child simply won’t respect the “stepfather” as the audience desires. Dennis Quaid’s character’s strict military background certainly did not help him get along with his new family members. This places the “stepfather” in an unfortunate position where he must decide between commanding respect from the child or becoming the child’s best friend.
Every time he commands respect, he appears bossy and unnaturally in charge. Almost always the stepfather is trying to fit into a situation which has survived without him for some time- any harsh or unusual commands understandably lead to the child feeling resentful towards his new master. Unfortunately, the converse isn’t perfect either; when he befriends the child, he equates himself with him or her, allowing the child the opportunity to walk all over him, and the child becomes the master.
In a similar way, a babysitter must tread this tightrope as well. Of course, the relationship between a babysitter and children is on a much smaller scale than that of a stepfather, but if the babysitter wants the children to like him, he must behave carefully. In my experience, I find babysitting much easier when the kids respect me AND enjoy my company. (I tend to lean heavily toward the ‘befriending’ M.O., occasionally to my disadvantage.)(The kids usually convince me to allow them several extra TV episodes.)
Unfortunately, I have yet to find Aristotle’s golden mean between the two vices, though I feel I grow closer with experience. The “stepfather” almost always seems to somehow figure it out, too.