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So the situation is that I'm not the real father of my son. I call him my son since I love him very much, but he is my girlfriends son from her previous relationship.

I'm afraid though... He does listen to me.. for now. But I'm afraid that when the time comes, and he will be a teenager who rebel against everything, he will pop this line.

I do thing that i have a good relationship with him. He does love me too very much I can tell so much, but you know... Children are children, he will change his mind the first thing i forbid him to smoke a cigar or whatever.

So how should i handle this? This IS an ultimate defense.. And a hurtful one too...

Thanks!

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13 Answers 13

up vote 39 down vote accepted

I was brought up by a stepdad, and yes, "You are not my real dad" is an "ultimate defense" used to hurt, and only to hurt, when you feel wronged, and you feel you have no more arguments left to why you should not be allowed to do something/forced to do something. It's the equivalent of saying "You are stupid". He will not change his mind about how he feels for you, or maybe he will, and that's okay.

Don't be hurt by his words. Admit that he is correct in that "you aren't his real dad". Reaffirm that not being his biological father is not important to you because you still care about him. You are forbidding him to [smoke, drink, whatever] because you care.

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So you are saying that i should just ignore that sentence and say i know, but then just carry on? –  Hannibal Apr 4 '11 at 12:09
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@Hannibal: No, I'm saying what I said above. You should say that you know, and he is right, you aren't his real dad, but that it doesn't matter to you, and that you are forbidding him to [smoke, drink, whatever] because you care. –  Lennart Regebro Apr 4 '11 at 12:22
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I know. I read it. I'm just asking if you think that it is enough to just ditch the question so to speak. He will understand and obey never the less? –  Hannibal Apr 4 '11 at 13:23
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@Hannibal No one can guarantee a future hypothetical teenager will obey. But I think Lennart's point is that if he disobeys, it'll have nothing to do with you not being the source of his DNA, and everything to do with his upbringing and the fact that all teenagers are rebellious. –  HedgeMage Apr 4 '11 at 14:16
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@Hannibal: No don't "ditch the question". That may make him think that it's an issue, which it is not. Point out that even though you aren't his real dad, it doesn't matter to you, you still care about him. Therefore: admit that he is correct in that you aren't his real dad, but that it doesn't matter to you, and that you are forbidding him to [smoke, drink, whatever] because you care about him even though you aren't his real dad. –  Lennart Regebro Apr 4 '11 at 18:06

As someone who was adopted at four my advice is to ask why the child feels that way, does he feel you are treating him differently than any other child in your family? And then ask what exactly constitues being a "real father". Then I would explain the best you can that you are his real father, you are the one raising him, you took the legal and financial responsibilities, you are the one who is involved in every aspect of his life caring for him and protecting him.

You are his father, he needs to understand and respect that.

I don't recal ever saying this to my dad, but my brother used the line "you are not my real brother" on me when he was mad and it hurt a lot.

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I remember coming across an advice column in which the man writing in had given up his son for adoption as a baby several decades earlier, back when his life was messed up. The man had become wealthy later in life and wanted to do whatever he could to put right this part of his life. He asked very respectfully and I remember the advice was to offer help, just don't expect to be called Dad. Because "somebody else did that job". –  hawbsl Apr 5 '11 at 21:35
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I fully agree with that. My biological father receently contacted me. He isn't my dad, I treat him just like I would treat anybody else. The person who raised me is my dad. –  MasterZ Apr 5 '11 at 22:57
    
"you took the legal and financial responsibilities" What the hell? Apparently he didn't even marry the boy's mother, let alone adopt him. He has zero legal responsibility over the child. –  fkraiem 17 hours ago

As Lennart says, he may say it just to hurt you, but whether it comes out or not, it has nothing to do with whether or not he'll obey you. If you were his biological father, he'd just find some other biting remark.

That said, by the time he's a teen, doing the right thing (mostly -- we all make mistakes) should be the result of his good judgement, not yours. If he can't make good decisions for himself by then (with your advice, but not just out of obedience to you) you've already failed as a parent.

Good parents teach their children to be progressively more independent and capable, not to simply do as they are told as teens the same way they must as young children.

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Yup, nothing to stop a biological child saying "I wish you weren't my father", which probably hurts just as much (if not more)... –  Benjol May 16 '11 at 11:40

I've never been in that situation but the first response that comes to my mind is to say

"Thats true, and I love you anyway. But you still can't ..."

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Tell him:
Father is not only a title, its a job. You may not be his biological father by title,
but you have the job of his being his father and you plan to do it as well as you can.

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-1 if I had more rep. I very strongly disagree with this response because IMO it simply takes what is obviously a very difficult situation and makes it more difficult by degrading it in to a simple power struggle. An arms race of mutually-assured destruction that nobody can ever win, and nobody can ever gain from in the long term. –  John Dibling Apr 7 '11 at 14:01
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Unfortunately, this is a very subjective topic. I am a biological father rather than a step-father and so I am obviously not the ideal candidate to give this kind of advice. Given that, I see your point, it is very well made, and has opened my eyes, thank you. –  funkymushroom Apr 7 '11 at 15:11
    
It is subjective, but then again I cannot think of any parenting-related question that will not be subjective. There are no YES/NO questions when it comes to parenting in which the same answer applies to all. I do not blame you or condemn you for your opinion. In fact, I'm glad you posted this response because I'm sure many others feel the same way. I have a different opinion, equally as valid as yours, and simply wanted to bring another perspective. On the stackexchange platform, those opinions are expressed through votes and comments. Cheers, and best wishes. –  John Dibling Apr 7 '11 at 15:18

I used to live with my stepfather and my mom for many years and at one point I told my stepfather "you are not my real father" in response to him trying to discipline me. I think it was hard for him and he let my mother do the disciplining part. That didn't work either.

I think as a stepfather you are in a very disadvantaged position, especially if the father is a figure that the child can admire or like.

I hadn't seen my father for more that 34 years and when I finally met him it felt like for 30 minutes I got out of him more than I got from my stepfather for 30 years. We just have immediate connection that seems to have always been there.

So I think you should acknowledge in your heart this possibility and try to build an emotional connection with the child by being available, open minded, accepting and loving. You can never replace the birth father as he is a huge part of the identity of the child, even when the father is absent. And you cannot reinforce this identity and have this type of connection. You can only ensure your child has a voice in your home and is able to develop without being judged and rejected.

So if I were you, I would say "Thank you! I am glad we can talk about that. Let's acknowledge that. I am not your birth father and I respect your father's place in your heart. I am not trying to replace your father. I am just concerned about your well-being because I love you. And I think that's something your father would want me to do." That would have worked for me though I know it's very hard for a stepfather to say.

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I moved your comment into the answer. You can also edit your posts using the edit link underneath it. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 17 '13 at 16:20

Let him know that you love him very much and that you have rules for his betterment. Also, If you feel hurt by that statement you should tell him. It is important that people in general understand when they have hurt someone. If he knows how much you love him and realizes that he is hurting someone that loves him by saying that then he may start to think better of it. It is not a weakness to let children know that they have hurt you. It is also not a weakness for them to see you cry. Don't turn on the tears to make him feel guilty, but if makes you cry don't try and hide it to "play the man".

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I'm not sure if I have an answer per se, but I do have a point of view based on my own experiences.

When I was a pre-teen, my mother remarried to a man who had a temper problem (no physical violence) and felt the need to control every situation. One day I was having an animated conversation with my mother. My stepfather walked in to the room at the end of the conversation and heard something I had said facetiously. He barked at me, "Your attitude is bullshit!" So I barked it back, "well, you're not my father!"

The "you attitude" comment is not what precipitated this episode. What precipitated it was the constant tension caused in the household by this man. He was judgmental, off-standish, verbally abusive to a degree, and very controlling and dismissive of other people's points of view. The "you're not my father" comment wasn't the war; it was the nuke to end the war and emerge the victor.

So, my point of view is this. Maybe this is idealistic fantasy, but if my step-father had had a better relationship with us, was more in control of his emotions, and in general just a better person, this episode would never had happened.

I hope I'm right about this. I'm a new step father myself. I have a great relationship with my 2 step-sons. Whenever I'm faced with a difficult situation I think back to my own experiences as a child. I try to learn from everything my own step father did wrong in figuring out how to be a better step-dad myself.

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My experience as a parent of three children, ranging from 12 - 19 years old, is that all children are different in how they react to boundaries being set, and the more familiar they are with the adult setting the limits, the more freely they will express their particular style of objection.

I've also had the situation of trying to introduce a new man into my children's lives (their father died when they were little) and forming a relationship with his daughter.

At one point or another each of my children have told me they hated me (when young and being told they couldn't do/have something they wanted). I've never taken it to heart and my response would be something like, well I love you, or that's a shame and leave it at that for the time being. If their behaviour has been explosive or over the top in an attempt to get their own way, I firmly stand my ground; but it is later when things are calm, that I will sit down with them and discuss their reactions.

I generally tell them, that it's ok for them to feel, however they feel, in fact, it can be quite natural. However, I do point out clearly that it's not ok to launch into tirades, insults or abuse because they are not happy with the limits I've set. It's an ongoing process, as many adults have difficulty with behaviour, teenagers are on a steep learning curve. The increasing desire to be independent and "grown up", mixed with the conflict of still needing the nurturing and protection of a parent. Add to this all the hormone changes and it's amazing human beings manage to mature at all.

The key with parenting and the teenage years is this:

  • Build a solid relationship in those formative years, this is the most helpful thing you can have when the teenage years arrive.

  • Spend time when things are calm, using examples in their lives, as they present, to illustrate points of discipline to try and elucidate that setting limits, as a parent, is not about punishing the child, but actually caring for them. I go to great lengths to impress that, as children, they really don't know as much as they think they do, in fact their teachers and elders DO indeed know more and have been children before; regardless of the generation gaps. I use every available example of when I've set a boundary and there's been a natural consequence to use it as an illustration.

  • The car is one of the best places to have discussions. They are forced to listen :)

  • I usually become friends with some of my children's friends' parents. I have found this to be a valuable resource in realising that what is going on is the norm. If I see someone I like, who I think is a good parent, and the child is misbehaving or saying hurtful things, it's reassuring, that it's not necessarily personal. That it's a stage.

  • The will be an apex of maximum rebellion. This varies between individuals, though I tend to observe 14 years is a time of increasing confidence and cockiness. That's when the big guns are pulled out, to push at the boundaries. So whether you are a step parent, an adopted parent, a birth parent, some teenagers (not all) will say hurtful things. If you believe you are being reasonable, and you can validate this with feedback from peers and family discussion in calm time; view the rebellion as an indication that you are being a responsible and good parent.

  • I tell my children and my close friend's children ..

You don't have to like your parents, you can even hate them, but you have to respect them.

  • The other thing I express is this... when I get the

"You don't care about me! You don't let me do anything I like!"

I reply calmly..

If I didn't care about you, I'd let you go out with your friends to get you out of my hair, rather than enforce a curfew and have to put up with your whining. I do this, because I do care about you and want to keep you safe.

  • Last and not least forgive them. As human beings, we are all flawed and we all make mistakes. It's important to let them know that you love them no less. We don't like the behaviour, but we always love the child. It is an acquired knack to let people know that you are ok with them, even though you do not condone the behaviour.

One of my favourite quotes, not by a parenting expert:

"Discipline is a symbol of caring to a child. He needs guidance. If there is love, there is no such thing as being too tough with a child. A parent must also not be afraid to hang himself. If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent."
Bette Davis

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I think when (if) he says it, you should not appear overly hurt by it, even if you are. And especially not angry. If he is saying it to hurt you, in a moment of anger (as all teenagers tend to have from time to time), knowing that it is a way to get to you could encourage them to do it more often.

It may not happen, I had a step dad and a step mum, I felt more rebellious towards the latter than the former. This was just to do with the interactions I had growing up.

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As a stepdad of a 21mo I've been thinking about this one. I figure if/when he throws this attack at me my reaction ought to be apathetic. Lennart's answer is right, its just a last-ditch attack that doesn't actually mean anything. So I'd try to let it roll off (of course I'm sure its easier said than done).

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One possibility is to stop calling him "son".

Obviously you love him and want him to think of you in that way, but he already has a father, and he's aware that you're not him. If he doesn't want to think of you in that way, it might be better to use his name, as if he were just a friend's child, and see how he reacts. He might prefer it, as it means you're treating him more like an adult and equal in his mother's life; or he might decide he prefers the father-son relationship and go back to calling you Dad.

Bottom line, accept his terms on how he wants your relationship to be. He may well be worried about being abandoned again, and have negative connotations about how much "Father" actually means.

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Do you seriously think that yelling "you are not my father" in the heat of a fight somehow represents the teenagers true wish about how their relationship should be? Do you also think that "you are worse than Hitler" represent a historical and societal analysis and comparison between the parent's and Hitler's leadership and the impact it has had on society? –  Zano Apr 10 '11 at 10:27
    
Do you seriously think that a teenager's behaviour is in any way representative of their "true wishes" at any time? If he's saying it, it means he recognizes it on some level. Which means that if it's an issue at all, it needs addressing in a way that's not just "I'll MAKE him acknowledge me as his father" –  deworde Jun 17 '11 at 12:33
    
I guess you completely missed the point of my comment. –  Zano Jun 17 '11 at 18:18

There is a reason why God put you with us and not your old dad. Be grateful.

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This does not answer the question, Bill. Did you mean, this is what the asker should say to his stepson? How is that going to help? Not clear. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 16 '11 at 5:37
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I'm guessing you intended this as the response that should be given to "you're not my father"? If so, you are assuming an awful lot about the situation. What if the boy still has a good relationship with his biological father? What if the biological father passed away? That response would be way out of line in either situation. –  Beofett May 16 '11 at 15:25
    
Ignoring the above concerns, stooping to the boy's level is a poor choice, as the adults in the conversation we really should do better than that. –  cabbey May 16 '11 at 17:13
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I recommend AGAINST taking this advice. It is likely just to raise tensions and keep the fight going and escalating. –  balanced mama Nov 8 '12 at 2:17

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