Hello Mr. Hutten,
I have a question for you. I have a 14 year old step son who does not know that I am not his biological father. His mother and I have been separated for 9 years. I get him and his brother, who is my biological son, three times a week. I have had this visitation arrangement with their mother for the entire 9 years.
I met the boy when he was 8 months old, and he really has no idea I am not his biological father.
That said, the boy treats me with no respect, gets into trouble and generally makes the time I have with him and his brother a nightmare. I could go on, but I am sure you can imagine what I have been going through.
My question-- Should I tell him that I am not his biological father? I really want to tell him because I do not think he appreciates exactly how good I have been to him. I spend a lot of time being angry at him and I think if he knew the real situation he might have a little more gratitude.
Please let me know what your professional opinion is.
Thank you so much for your help and your program.
Yes! You should definitely tell him, but out of a sense of keeping the relationship on an honest level – not out of a need to apply your own hidden agenda (e.g., to lay a guilt-trip on him for how he has been treating you). Also, break the news to him at a time when things are calm – not after a heated argument or during conflict.
For all intents and purposes, he is your son – and as such, you should use all the disciplinary strategies in the eBook exactly as they are outlined. Some stepparents try to deal with the daunting task of being stepdad by taking the approach of "I won't interfere with your life." Unfortunately, this approach says to the stepchild: "I don't care that much about what happens to you." Stepchildren may resist involvement, but they will benefit far more -- and form a better relationship -- with an involved stepparent who applies both nurturing and discipline.
Give your stepson the gift of limits. Children need limits for healthy development. If they don't learn in the home that there are limits on their behavior, they'll have a harder time functioning in the outside world. If they resist limits -- and they will -- it will be easier for you to deal with it if you remind yourself that children do the same thing with their biological parents.
Use clear and explicit rules to establish limits. "You never told me that" may be a legitimate objection when you try to punish a child for breaking a limit. Limits should be clear, consistent, and invariably enforced. And there should be clearly understood consequences for following or disobeying them. Don't overwhelm your stepchildren with rules, but have enough of them to create a moral order in your home.
Let stepchildren participate in making the rules. Have regular family meetings. Use them for sharing positive experiences, openly airing grievances and concerns, and formulating rules. Children should not have the final say in establishing each rule. But they should know that they have been heard. It's a basic principle that people are much more likely to conform when they have participated in the decision-making process.
Encourage openness about feelings. "I hate you. You're not my father." It's tempting to reprove the child and forbid such language. But that teaches stepchildren to suppress their feelings. Instead, tell the child why this kind of statement hurts and how it makes you feel. Then explore with the child why he feels this way, reminding him that you still want to be his father. Be honest with your stepchildren about your own feelings, and encourage them to be honest about theirs.
Plan special times and experiences with your stepson. Shared experiences build intimacy. Spend time alone with him. Do something that the child considers special (e.g., going hunting or fishing).
Maintain your sense of humor. Humor helps keep matters in perspective. It helps relieve tension. It builds intimacy when you laugh with someone else. Sometimes you can use humor to resolve a problem with a stepchild. Humor won't cure all problems, but a lack of humor can kill the relationship.
Other than these items above, use the techniques outlined in the eBook.
Mark Hutten, M.A.