I'm a step-dad to 3 girls under 6. The eldest is still fairly enamored by bio-dad and while I won't go into the details; he's a man-child. The 3-year-old just follows the eldest at present, but I'm fairly sure that'll change in another year or two and she won't really bother with him. The youngest is 1 and barely even knows him, I'm essentially her dad as far as she's concerned.

My partner (his ex-wife) has obviously taken full custody of the girls and he gets occasional visits, wherein he allows anything and everything. Even if they do something wrong, say biting, he will tell them off. That's it. No timeouts. No loss of toys or whatever was involved. He's the "fun parent", there's no rules, no real consequences.

The 5-year-old mentioned the other day that "real daddy never gets grumpy with us" and while my partner and I are well aware of why this is happening, we're struggling to find a way to explain it to our 5-year-old.

Any suggestions on how we can approach this? Or are we better to just leave it and let her figure out that "fun parent" doesn't mean "good parent".

  • 6
    "No timeouts. No loss of toys." You know, there are very good ways to raise kids without timeout/confiscation/... If they only see him just a few times, I wouldn't worrie to much. They will (hopefully) learn that people are different, and different places have different rules.
    – the_lotus
    Aug 26, 2015 at 11:30
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    Lots of parents stick with telling kids off. That doesn't make them awful parents just as being "strict parent" isn't a synonym for "good parent". Also it's pretty normal for kids to try to play parental figures off against each other to an extent. They might be pointing to you when trying to get the bio-dad to do stuff when it suits them as well.
    – Murphy
    Aug 26, 2015 at 12:26
  • Without wanting to contradict LaurentS's excellent answer, you might also try explaining that "He doesn't see you very much, so he wants to have as much fun as possible when he does. I think if you lived with him all the time you'd find that he got grumpy and made you tidy your room, just like we do." May 22, 2019 at 12:35

1 Answer 1


There's no point discussing "good parenting" with a child. Actually there's no point discussing it at all with anybody. There will be (are) a lot of occasions in which your child will be exposed to different discipline levels or rules than the ones you set at home. Was it for stronger or weaker discipline (they are probably allowed more at home than they will be at school). They will eventually only need to understand one might have a different set of rules but they need to follow rules whereever/with whoever they are, not as it is somewhere else or with somebody else. You probably should only explain that to them, and insists on it each occasion you get, and you will get a lot of it!

Indeed although kids usually get really fast up to which extent they can go with whom, they will probably always be testing and trying to push limits further, of course using examples in their immediate advantage (..."but real daddy lets me do that"). That's when you can remind them of the different place/different rules thing. If that becomes that much of a trouble, a discussion with the dad might also help, but it depends on how receptive he is to that kind of advise. I don't know a lot of people who are and he would probably be even less in such a situation...

  • 3
    Agreed. As a foster parent, it is almost always the case that the rules the natural parents enforce at visits are completely different than mine. Rather than argue who is right or wrong, we just go with "my house, my rules, their house, their rules". That makes it clear to the kids, and doesn't leave an opening for the child to argue with you over who has the better set of rules.
    – swilliams
    Aug 25, 2015 at 13:13
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    Fair points. I think my biggest concern is that he's trying to be the fun parent to win their love/affection. I guess, like you said though, unless he's open to changing his behavior, we just have to hope the girls figure it out for themselves.
    – Trent
    Aug 26, 2015 at 0:24

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