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Step-Parent Advice: Response to “You’re Not My Parent”

Did you know that more than four in ten American adults have at least one step relative in their family – either a stepparent, a step- or half-sibling, or a stepchild? This is according to a nationwide Pew Research Center survey, and it illuminates what many of us already know: Blended families are as common as ever, which means that the unique challenges they present are too.

In this series of articles, we consider the stepparent experience from four perspectives – that of a father, mother, child, and professional. Excerpts from and links to those articles can be found below. We have also crafted a series of conversations that are bound to arise between children and their stepparents.

When a teen retorts, “You aren’t my parent!” adults can respond in a variety of ways – from emphasizing their responsibility as an adult role model to explaining the importance of respect within a household. In any case, regard for the child’s feelings can be accommodated without disregarding discipline.

Chances are, you might have experienced this already if the findings above are any indication. Whether you are a stepparent or not, parenting teens is hard work – and we can all use a little help along the way.

How to Respond When Your Stepchild Says, “You’re Not My Parent”

Scenario #1:

STEP-PARENT: “Can you clean up your room?”
TEEN: “No, and you can’t make me because you are not my real parent.”
STEP-PARENT: “That’s true, but we’re all members of this household and we each need to do our part to keep the house in order.”

Scenario #2:

STEP-PARENT: “Be nice to your sister.”
TEEN: “No, and you can’t make me because you are not my real parent.”
STEP-PARENT: “I’m not your parent, but I do care about you and your sister. I don’t want to see her feelings get hurt, and I don’t want to see you acting in a way I know you don’t feel good about.”

Scenario #3:

STEP-PARENT: “I saw that you were speeding down the street. Please drive slower and with more caution.”
TEEN: “Seriously, you’re not my parent.”
STEP-PARENT: “Yes, it’s true I’m not your parent, but I am an adult and I am not doing my job as an adult if I stand by and allow you to hurt yourself or someone else.”


1st Story: Finding a new role

We’ve been at this thing called “Blended Family” for over five years, and I can safely say that it’s been both a challenge and surprise for all parties involved.

The dynamic really began when my girlfriend (and future wife) asked me to pitch in two nights a week to watch John*, then 9, and Carla*, then 6, while she completed her degree at Ursuline College. “When I’m not here, David is in charge,” she would say, and I took that seriously. I automatically turned on the Dad-as-Protector-and-Rearer mindset, and I dreamed of the day that these great, fun, welcoming children might call me Dad…

Click here to read one dad's story:

2nd Story: Plan ahead

When my husband and I first married, it never occurred to me that his then 14-year-old daughter might join us in our new home. At the time, she was very close with her mom and inseparable from her tight group of friends on the other side of town. I should have known that things could change and regret never having the “what if” conversation with my husband before we married…

Click here to read one mom's story:

3rd Story: Look on the bright side

Many families in America are blended; my family is one of them. I have both a step-mom and a step-dad.

I have found that there are more advantages than disadvantages. Being in a blended family means that there are more people to love me and for me to love. I have no problems with my step-parents. I was blessed with a good set. They love me as their own, and so I feel comfortable around them, which is very important to me because if I didn’t, how could I accept them into my life? Whenever I’m frustrated, I can get more than one opinion that I trust on the issue…

Click here to read one teen's story:

Expert Opinion: Give it time

After a divorce, parents and children worry that there will never be a “happily ever after.” Parents who do find new partners often discover that their children and step-children do not enthusiastically respond to their second chance at love. In fact, everyone involved— the parent, step-parent, and child—usually view remarriage from unique, and not always compatible, positions.

Click here for Dr. Lisa Damour's expert advice: