Stepfamilies: What Can I Do for My Son who Hasn’t Seen his Birth Father?

Dear Lisa:

My 9-year-old son has not seen his biological father in a year because his father started taking drugs. My son sometimes cries about this and my new husband, his stepfather, thinks that my son is just being manipulative. He (the stepfather) also does not spend much time with my son and my son feels ignored and sometimes says he does not feel like he is important. The stepfather does spend a lot of time with his 12-year-old daughter and we have all blended very well, except for my new husband.

What can I do to make my son feel more loved? I have asked my husband many times to become more involved””he tries””but then he falls back into his old ways of working all the time. I also work full time and provide the major financial support for the family. My new husband will not go to counseling, period. Any ideas?

Distressed mom

Dear Distressed Mom:

Your son sounds like he is in a lot of pain, and it’s upsetting to hear that your husband calls him manipulative.

I think your son’s sadness over the loss of his dad is a separate issue from the other issue you raised: his stepdad doesn’t attend to him. Let’s address your son’s loss first. I suggest that you and your son find a counselor with whom your son can discuss his sadness about his dad. Also, is there any chance your ex may be rehabilitated? Perhaps you can stay in touch with your ex in the hopes that he may re-enter your son’s life drug-free. Your new husband is not the boy’s dad and never will be. He can’t replace the boy’s dad.

I think it’s really important for you to attend to your son as much as possible during this difficult time period. In a new stepfamily, it’s critical to spend one-on-one time with your biological children. I hope that you find time to do that.

Now, about your new husband. It’s true that he can’t take the place of the boy’s father, as I mentioned. However, he seems to be behaving in an incredibly insensitive manner. If your husband refuses to go to a counselor and dotes on his daughter while ignoring your son, you’re in a real tough spot. I suggest your husband read “Seven Steps To Bonding With Your Stepchild.” The author gives great advice about how to connect with stepchildren. I also suggest you continue to ask your husband to go to counseling. If he won’t do that, will he consider a stepfamily support group? In the meantime, you should consider joining a stepmom support group.

I’m also upset to hear that you provide the main financial support for this family. If your husband is working, why isn’t he contributing? Why did you agree to this arrangement? Too often, women take on too much in a stepfamily””and it sounds like you are one of them. This can spark a lot of resentment. To read more about this issue, please click here:

As for your comment that your family is blending well, it’s important to avoid embracing stereotypes about blending. As Patricia Papernow, a psychologist in Hudson, Mass., and author of “Becoming a Stepfamily,” likes to say, “When people in stepfamilies try to blend, someone always gets creamed.” Trying to encourage the members of a new stepfamily to act like a first-time family often sparks resentment and anger. The truth is, your family is not a first-time family. You need to give people time to adjust and get to know each other. Again, that means spending time alone with your son.

You sound like you are in a very difficult situation. Good luck with it all and stay in touch.