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Parenting Stepchildren/What responsibilities does a stepfather have to a stepson?


I got married to a man when my son was 4. When we got married, my husband asked my son to call him dad, became a father to my son. He looked after him like a father, he behaved like a father. My son thought of him as his father and loves him very much.
Now my son is 8, and my husband and I have just split up. I'm really devastated, and I'm so upset for my son, because my husband says he doesn't want to carry on seeing him. He says he's only his stepfather, and that it'll be "easier for everyone" to have a clean break, and that my son will forget about him soon enough. But for my son, this man is his father, and he can't understand why his father doesn't want him any more just because he and I have split up.

It is very difficult especially because my husband has a son from a former partnership, and he carried on seeing his other son regularly during out marriage. But my son thinks he is just as much my ex-husband's son as his "real" son, and if his stepfather kept seeing his "real" son, why won't he keep seeing him? Also, my son's real father left me before our son was born and never wanted anything to do with us, so my son has no other father figure in his life. He has never even met his "real" father, and I don't know how to find his "real" father even though I have tried often.

Is there anything I can do about this situation? I know this man is only my son's stepfather, but he has always been a father to my son. Does he have no moral obligation to my son?

I don't know how to comfort my son. He asks me why his father does not want to see him any more, and I don't know what to say. I am estranged from all my family and have no one to turn to. There is no chance of a reconciliation with my husband, he has moved on with someone else and we are in the process of divorcing. He just does not want us any more. Please help me.

Hello Yevgeniya -  understand your deep concern for your son's co0nfusion and pain. He is too young to understand the real reasons his stepdad has abandoned him - that will come in future years. I suspect his abandonment is because maintaining a relationship with your son (and you) is too emotionally painful: It is his second (?) marital "failure." A harsh stepfamily reality is tht bioparents-child bonds are usually stronger than stepparent-stepchild bonds, and will usually take priority.

I suggest you [1] tell your son his "Dad" feels too sad to visit or call; [2] help your son identify what he has lost, and patiently help him grieve his losses; [3] steadily reassure him his Dad's leaving is not his fault; and [4] grieve your own losses openly.

See this free online "lesson" for options: Also use this to better understand your son's needs:

Yevgeniya, I suspect you have a bigger problem than your son's pain. It's probable that you and both your ex/es (and parents) are "Grown Wounded Children" (GWC):  //

If so, you need to learn how to avoid passing on psychological wounds to your son and any future kids.

This online "lesson" shows you how to heal your wounds, and guard your kids from acquiring them.

To better understand what may have caused your divorce, see this:

I suggest you search your town and then the Web for single-parents support groups. They will empathize with your situation and may have useful resources to share. You're not alone!

This is a LOT to absorb, so take your time. If you have further questions, please ask
Compassionately, Pete

Parenting Stepchildren

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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about remarriage preparation, stepparenting, stepchild discipline, child visitation, grieving, stepfamily norms and myths, mission statements, stepparent job (role)descriptions, communication skills, loyalty and values conflicts, stepfamily identity problems, common pitfalls, ex mate and relative problems, stepfamily merger and adjustment tasks, name confusions, choosing an effective counselor, resolving money disputes, co-parenting support groups, and the family effects of court (legal) battles. I can`t answer questions about medicine, family law, legal stepchild adoption, or financial planning.


I have studied and worked with stepfamilies clinically since 1979, and I have been a "step everything" personally. I was invited to be on the board of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) by it's founders, Drs. John and Emily Visher; and later was re-invited by president Margory Engle, PhD. For more detail, see this.

Former Board member, Stepfamily Association of America (SAA)
National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)Experts Council

Hundreds of Web articles on ; I've uploaded over 150 self-improvement videos on YouTube; and have self-published 6 books. My ad-free Web site offers a unique, practical 7-lesson self-improvement course.

Stanford University BSME (1958) George Williams College MSW (1981) Hundreds of post-graduate seminars on a wide variety of "mental health" subjects

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of appreciative emails and comments on my Web site and videos from people all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked clinically with over 1,000 midwestern divorced and remarried family members, and have had over 800 stepfamily students in various seminars and courses since 1981

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