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 girlfriend's 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 rebels against everything, he will pop this line.

I do think that I have a good relationship with him. He does love me, too. I can tell as much, but you know... Children are children, he will change his mind the first time 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.

  • possible duplicate of How should I handle my foster son saying he's not my 'real' kid?
    – A E
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 14:17
  • 2
    @AE Tricky. A foster parent relationship may be different from a step-parent relationship (less permanent), but an appropriate response may be similar...
    – Acire
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:08
  • 1
    Based on this meta, I would leave this open and not mark dupe. Highest voted answer quote: "One thing I think we can do here is to be more encouraging of small variations of specific questions."
    – user11394
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 1:02

15 Answers 15


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.

  • So you are saying that i should just ignore that sentence and say i know, but then just carry on?
    – Hannibal
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:09
  • 6
    @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. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:22
  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 13:23
  • 15
    @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
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 14:16
  • 2
    @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. Commented Apr 4, 2011 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.

  • 6
    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
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 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.
    – JLZenor
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 22:57
  • 4
    "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.
    – user7953
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 16:19
  • 1
    @fkraiem You are correct. I guess I overlooked that aspect in the question. Before you should be called a dad you should be making the decision to take those legal and financial responsibilities. Just sleeping with his mother doesn't make you his dad, even if you care for the boy. You're right, thank you for the correction. :)
    – JLZenor
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 20:33

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 ..."


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.

  • -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. Commented Apr 7, 2011 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. Commented Apr 7, 2011 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. Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 15:18
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    @JohnDibling: Why do you feel this creates a power struggle? It is simply stating the truth, and (hopefully) reassures. Maybe something about love and helping should be thrown in (if OP really feels it), but otherwise I don't see a struggle.
    – sleske
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 8:23

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.

  • 5
    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
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 11:40

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.

  • I moved your comment into the answer. You can also edit your posts using the edit link underneath it. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 16:20

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


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".


How you should handle comments like this will depend on the situation, and what language is used around it.

There is a difference between:

"You're not my father! I hate you!"


"You can't tell me what to do, you're not my father!"

There's also a difference between a flippant remark, meant just to irritate/hurt you, and an outburst used as a final argument when logic and reasoning have been overcome by irrationality and emotions. It's not necessarily an "ultimate" response.

If your child is in a state of emotion that takes them beyond the point of reasoning with them, then the best response would be to ignore the comment itself, despite its sting, and instead hear it as a cue that the situation has escalated too far.

If it's a matter of them saying "I hate you!" along with it, then their statement is pretty much the equivalent of a child saying "I hate you!" to biological parents: That is, it's the most hurtful comment they can think to say at the time. Comments like this likely indicate that the child is beyond reasoning with, because they're overwhelmed with their feelings, lack of control, hurt, or whatever it may be.

If your child isn't beyond reasoning with, then you could try and respond with calmly with a rebuttal that acknowledges, defeats, and moves past the comment.

"Whether or not you think of me as a father makes no difference here..."

This may apply to instances where they add the "You can't tell me what to do..." type of comments.

As @Lennart says, don't be hurt by his words. Initially, you'll likely be hurt regardless, but being cognizant of why he used those words can help move you from an emotional state to a calm, assertive state. As I mentioned, used these words as an indicator. Either the situation has become too hot to touch, or your child is feeling a mix of emotions that's causing him to lash out.

In most cases of conflict, it's best not to focus on the hurtful words themselves, but the emotions and intent behind those words. Your child may curse at you, call you names, say you're not his father, or any number of things to rile you up. It won't help the situation in the present or the future to bring up that, "You said such and such."

If the situation is too emotional for any party involved (which is likely going to be the case), then I'd step back and not address the comments later. When you're able to have a calm moment with your child, you could start a discussion about how you're not his biological father, but you're his parent/have his best interest in mind/are concerned for him/love him. This may seem as if it conflicts with my last paragraph, but the difference is that you're not holding his words against him and are addressing the intent of the words, not the words themselves.

Whenever this discussion happens, don't:

  • Ask/demand the child to apologize for saying it. It's counterproductive and puts them back on the defensive.
  • Focus on the fact that it hurt your feelings. Your goal isn't to make them feel guilty about that comment. Also, this lets them know that using such comments will be effective in the future.

Something else you should do is keep in mind that you're not alone. Non-biological guardians are increasingly common. Unions where at least one person already had a child, same-sex marriages with adoption, children living with relatives, and adoptions are all examples of families with parents who may have heard "You're not my real parent!"


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.


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.


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.

  • 1
    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
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 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
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 12:33
  • I guess you completely missed the point of my comment.
    – Zano
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 18:18

My daughter has said this to her step-father, and it was of course in a situation where she was in trouble. I felt he handled it pretty well under the circumstances. He kept calm and pleasant & simply said to her "No I'm not your birth father, but I love you guys and I work really hard to support you and make sure you have everything that you need" and went on to ask what she felt constitutes a "real" father, to which she didn't really have a response. The issue was calmly resolved, however my husband's feelings were still really hurt and it still sticks with him, but I think he handled it great. Hope that helps :)


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).


Ive been a single parent to a boy who's not my biological son. I see it this way...I am his real dad as in 'The one who's loved him, raised him and has been and always will be there for him. A father is biological not spiritual, as in 'I fathered the child', but this could just be a sperm donor or someone the child doesn't even remember. As a dad...you'll have all the same problems as a
father who is a dad. Just do the best you can. We all make mistakes along the way, but let love be paramount, and you'll be fine. It's not easy always thought is it?

  • 1
    Hi Dave, welcome to the community. While it's definitely appreciated to offer real-life examples and anecdotes that apply to the question, in this case you're not actually answering the question ask asked [i.e., how should the stepfather respond when challenged].
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 19:28
  • Hey Joe,Sorry yeah I realized that after..I'm not very good at forums. My son always accepted me as his dad so I was really lucky there,
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 12:58
  • I hadn't finished and it sent that...but I think patience is most important. I had to have loads of this through his teenage years! I would just have said to my Chris,' I'm not you father but I am trying my best to be a dad for you, and will always be here for you....well until I die anyways.
    – Dave
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 13:02

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