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When Your Child Says, "He Isn't My Dad!"
By Noel Swanson
Q. "Five years ago, my son's father left. In the meantime I remarried, David, who is a fabulous man. He has tried his best to make friends with my son, Nathan. I handle all of the discipline. We've been married for three years now, and my son still won't do anything David asks of him. How can I persuade him to listen to his stepfather?".
A. Although it is problems between you and your ex that have caused the rift, children often feel that they are in some way to blame for their parents' separation. Nathan no doubt feels that Dad left him, rather than you! This will be especially true if Dad's visits are rare or erratic. As a result he feels guilty, angry, and abandoned. He may also worry that you may be the next to leave him.
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, you must make it clear to Nathan that David now has parental authority in your family. What David says goes. Don't let Nathan come to you trying to discount any decision David has made. If you happen to disagree with David on some issue, address it in private. It's important that you stand by him in public. Nathan has to see and hear that you and David are of one mind, and that you will always back David fully.
About The Author
If you could do with some tips about your children's behaviors, take a look at Dr. Noel Swanson's excellent website, http://www.good-child-guide.com/. He also has a free newsletter that is packed with free advice: parenting newsletter