Parenting Advice: When Your Child Says, “He Isn’t My Dad!”

Q. “Five years ago my son’s father left us. I am now remarried to a great guy named David. He has tried his best to be friends with Nathan, and I take care of the discipline. We’ve been married for three years and Nathan won’t do anything his step-father asks of him. How can I change this?”

A. Adults know that problems between spouses cause divorce and any lingering negativity. Children on the other hand, often blame themselves when their parents don’t have a succeed at marriage. Nathan undoubtedly feels like his dad abandoned him and not you. Those feelings will be reinforced if his dad visits rarely or not at all. This leaves Nathan feeling guilty, angry, and abandoned. He may even be afraid that you will leave too.

Having another man in the house only intensifies the problems. Nathan now knows that his parents won’t be getting back together. It also means that David is getting attention from you as well. When you were single, he had you all to himself. No wonder he feels terrible.

Perhaps Nathan got on really well with David before you married. At that stage, he was just Mum’s boyfriend. Then, he was fun to have around, and never tried to act bossy. Now he is living in the house like he owns it.

Becoming a parental figure after being a visitor can be problematic. The main thing for you to do is be completely honest and open. Take the time to sit down and talk with him on a regular basis. Sometimes you and Nathan should talk alone, and then Nathan and David should talk. At other times, all three of you should converse. Be sure to invite any other children you may have into these discussions.

Acknowledge Nathan’s confusion, anger and resentment. Make it clear, also, that David is not taking Dad’s place, and never will. It is all right for Nathan to love and miss his father – even if you don’t! Try to remain matter-of-fact about the separation, and keep the children out of any ongoing battles that you are having with your ex.

Make it clear, also, that David is here because you love him and want him in the family. This does not mean that you love Nathan any less. Also, for Nathan to like David does not mean that he is being disloyal to Dad.

Finally, make it quite clear that you have given full authority to David to have parental authority in the home. What David says is what goes. Do not allow Nathan to come to you to try to undermine decisions that David has made. Even if you disagree with what David has said you will need to back him up in public. Then when you are alone with him, you can sort out your disagreement. Nathan must see and hear that you are both completely united, and that you will back up David one hundred percent.