“You’re not my daddy.” How do you respond after investing yourself emotionally, physically and financially to raise a child that isn’t your own? Have any of you experienced this? Surprisingly, I never heard this from my two stepchildren but to be sure I felt there were times when their body language and behavior communicated the same message.
When my wife and I got married, her two children were 10 and 14 years old. My wife and her ex had joint custody of the children. I imagine hearing this from your stepchild is the equivalent of them spitting in your face when they’re frustrated or angry with you. If it’s a toddler or youth, I will give them the benefit of a doubt and not take it personally because they don’t fully understand what they’ve said and how much it may hurt.
But if they’re a teenager they must be held accountable for their actions. Their intentions to defy your authority and hurt you is obvious and represents a clear violation of a stepdads’ boundaries that must be addressed. Under these circumstances, my response would be, “Yes, I know I’m not your dad. I’m not trying to replace him, but you do live in my house. If you want to continue living in my house, you’re going to need to respect and obey me. So what’s it going to be?” Additionally, I would say this with my wife present, so the kids know we’re on the same page about this.
Here are some other responses:
I’ve heard, “You’re not my dad” from my stepdaughter. I tried it out once early on with my stepdad. The response he gave me and the one I used with my own stepdaughter: “You’re right, I’m not your dad. I’m not trying to replace them. I love you, and I am looking out for your best interests, so you need to do as I say.”
I made it clear from the start, “No, I’m not your dad – I’m under no biological obligation to take your crap!” But under no circumstances, would I let that go without addressing it. When they say it, it is designed to be a challenge to your authority in the home, not just something to hurt your feelings. The point is since you’re not their biological parent they don’t actually have to listen. The day that any child in my home regardless of age or parentage decides to tell me, they don’t have to listen, for ANY reason, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. Besides that, I think that if you’re wife/husband hears this and doesn’t put their son or daughter in check then you have bigger problems.
Some additional considerations:
Consistency Between the Households. If your stepchildren are members of two households, as much as possible, ensure your wife and you are on the same page as your stepchildren’s biological father in terms of discipline. This helps avoid the, “My dad lets me…” or “My mom lets me…” when they’re at the other parent’s home. Communicate bed times, homework schedules, consequences and concerns about what we will and will not allow so the rules remain relatively uniform from home to home.
United Front with Wife. Very important – your wife and you must remain a united front on issues in front of the kids. This will be challenging for most mothers especially if they were single parents for a significant period of time before remarriage. This will be a challenge for them because they’re used to making and enforcing the rules.
Because they’re so used to making the rules, it will probably be difficult for them to step back, and allow you to take control of a situation involving their child. Your wife must realize questioning or correcting you in front of her children will undermine your authority and only give them more fuel to play both sides against one another. Even if you disagree with one another it’s crucial to discuss the issue away from the children.
Remember this is a Process. It isn’t always easy for adults to learn to live with someone and it can be even more difficult for children who don’t always understand the changing dynamics. Even with a few years of marriage under your belt, your stepchild will still occasionally attempt to compare households when they don’t get her way.
Successfully blending a family takes time by conservative estimates at least seven years. Like marriage, it is a learning process. By trying to remain understanding, keeping the communication lines open, and being your spouse’s partner in discipline, you can help to make the transition run more smoothly.
To be hear, “You’re not my daddy” is like your stepchild deciding to go nuclear – it an “offensive” weapon used to inflict the highest level of pain and damage. It is used when the child feels threatened, and they have no more arguments left as to why they should not be forced to do or not do something.
* Be sure not to respond in kind – two wrongs definitely don’t make a right.
* Acknowledge your child is correct, “You aren’t his real dad.”
* Affirm while you are not his biological dad that is not relevant to you because you still care about them and want the real best for their life.
Your genuine care and consistent concern will always win out in the end.