You still clearly remember a happy home and family life that you thought would last forever. Then things changed between you and your ex, seemingly overnight-you started arguing a lot, and then your ex left the house for good. The divorce uprooted the entire family, including your kids, with a different schedule, two households, and the uncertainty of what tomorrow would bring. What was once a "normal" life evolved into something quite different?
And just when things seemed to be settling into a new normal, you met someone. And although you reassured your kids that you were dating and that their dad would always be their dad, you knew that in the back of their minds that they couldn't help but think, will Mom remarry? Will this new man become my stepfather? What will he be like? Loving and kind or mean and cruel?
There's already a massive emotional trauma placed upon a family, especially the children, even before a divorce is finalized. Divorce can affect children differently depending on the circumstances and the age of the child. Studies show that young children struggle to understand why they must go between two homes, and they may worry that if their parents can stop loving one another, someday their parents may stop loving them as well. Grade school children may blame themselves for the divorce, while teenagers can become angry for the marriage's dissolution and the upheaval in the family.
The bottom line is that there's already enough going on emotionally to gain a clear view of the consequences of a new relationship; what is "good" versus "bad" can be hard to judge in the state you're in. It may be difficult to tell with the new stepfather in the house, especially if he has motives, is cunning, and sly about his emotions and intentions, whether he's good or bad. How do you know whether he is safe or not? To help you differentiate, here is a list of signs and red flags to watch out for.
Is He A Bad Stepfather? Signs And Red Flags To Watch Out For
We'll deal with the most obvious one first-abuse. Whether physical, emotional, or sexual, abuse can negatively affect a child and can cause problems throughout adulthood, including losing confidence and developing unhealthy relationships themselves. Abuse has long-term effects, and it takes a continuing toll on both physical and mental health well into adulthood. It goes without saying that if your child is being abused, drastic measures must be taken immediately.
He Neglects Your Child
Here's another obvious red flag. Neglecting your children physically or emotionally can affect them in a harmful and negative way. In fact, neglect is a very common type of child abuse and can be just as harmful as physical abuse. Ignoring your children's needs, leaving them unsupervised, or placing them in dangerous situations can affect your child's mental health and social development, and it may even cause lifelong emotional wounds. Moreover, neglect can negatively affect a child's cognition, behavior, and language development. If he neglects your child, that's a big red flag that needs to be addressed right away.
He Sets A Bad Example
Children often emulate what they observe at home or in the car, at the store, or the ballgame when the stepfather is cursing the umpire because he called "strike three" when it was a ball. Is he driving too fast or erratic to have a little fun? Well, if your kids are in the car and he's acting like a child himself, then he's not only setting a bad example, but he's also placing your children in danger and not protecting them (remember neglect?). It only takes one foolish act to create physical and emotional damage to your kids. Is he drinking too much or too often? What example is that giving your kids? Kids are sponges-they take in everything and remember it, too. Furthermore, if their stepfather is exhibiting bad examples in front of your children when you're present, then you can be assured he's doing the same, if not more, when you're not around.
This is a two-tiered category: a stepfather can either exhibit favoritism among your children, or he can favor his children over yours. Either way, it can be very damaging when he prefers one child over another. Disfavored children experience horrible outcomes across the board: more depression, greater aggressiveness, lower self-esteem, and poorer academic performance; and many of these consequences persist long after children have grown up and moved out of the house, and could continue to affect their self-esteem and relationships throughout their adulthood.
He's the stepfather. Not the parent. Having said that, it's all right for the new stepdad to take it slowly in the beginning and work to build trust and a loving relationship with your kids; but to take the reins from day one is a red flag. If he expects obedience and respect from your kids and demands to lead in discipline, this is a sign that he's overbearing, controlling, and is not a healthy role model for your kids. Furthermore, he could be having anger management issues which could lead to emotional or physical outbursts, thus placing you and your children in harm's way.
Too Much Pampering
What are his motives? What are his intentions? Is he pampering your children or buying gifts every other day to win them over? Is it a conditional love he's exhibiting to them, thereby teaching them that you receive attention or gifts when you do what people say? Is he trying to be the new "dad"? Too much pampering or involvement is the opposite of neglect but is damaging as well. It can spoil a child by making them too demanding and dependent, causing them to become incapable of taking care of themselves.
He Bad Mouths Your Mom
As we discussed before, kids are sponges. If their stepfather is bad-mouthing you, the kids are watching. Not only does it create a hostile environment in what should be a safe place, but it also could emotionally trigger your kids, especially if your previous marriage was filled with verbal bombshells as well. Your children might fear that another divorce is looming, as well as all the other negative effects that went along with it.
Furthermore, along the lines of setting an example, what is he teaching your son? Is he teaching him that talking crude to a woman is ok and normal? Will he grow up to do the same? Is he teaching your daughter that women are treated this way? In essence, is lowering the standards of what your daughter believes she deserves in her future relationships? Does she believe that's all she's worth? Badmouthing someone might appear innocuous compared to the other items on the list, but as you can see, it holds much more weight than what appears on the surface.
Let's Talk About Codependency
Now that we've looked at some bad stepfather's warning signs let's switch gears and discuss codependency. Why? We'll get to that in a second.
Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person, like a stepfather, to maintain their abusive and irresponsible behavior. If you're finding yourself having relationships with men who exhibit similar signs and red flags, it might be beneficial to do some soul searching and figure out why you're attracting men like that. One reason might be that you are codependent. Here are some common traits of codependency to think about:
Low Self-esteem - feeling that you're not good enough.
People-pleasing - going out of your way and sacrificing your own needs to accommodate other people.
Poor Boundaries - feeling responsible for other people's feelings and problems.
Caretaking - putting other people's needs ahead of your needs
Dysfunctional Communication - having trouble communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs
Dependency - needing other people to like you to feel okay about yourself
Denial - Denial of your feelings and needs; focusing instead on what other people need
If you're seeing signs and red flags of a bad stepfather in your marriage, or if you want to know more about codependency and how the two are related, then it might be time to seek help from a mental health professional.
ReGain is always available to those in need of help. Whether you're attracting emotionally unhealthy men, are healing from a divorce, or want to find ways to heal your relationship with your spouse and the relationship with your kids, know that you are not alone and that we at ReGain are here to help you work through it. With ReGain, you can speak with a therapist seven days a week. With chat, text, phone, and video chat options, you can speak with a therapist in a way that is most convenient for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What do you do when you hate your stepparent?
If the thought “I hate my stepdad” plays on repeat in your head, you’re not alone. It can definitely be difficult to live in the same house as someone you don’t like. But if you hate your stepparent, the first thing you should do is ask yourself why you hate them. Is it because they’re mean or even abusive? (If so, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 any time for help and support; they have the resources to help you with scary situations like child abuse. It’s also a good idea to talk to a trusted family member about what’s going on.)
Most of the time, though, the reasons people tend to say, “I hate my stepdad or stepmom,” are not because their stepparent is a truly mean person. Instead, the feeling of “I hate my stepdad or stepmom” comes from the fact that their personalities clash. In some cases, you may feel that you hate your stepparent because they are married to one of your parents. You may even decide, “I hate my stepdad or stepmom,” because you feel deep down that it would be a betrayal to your real dad or mom if you get along with your stepparent.
If you’re always saying, “I hate my stepdad or stepmom,” then the best thing to do is figure out what you do like about your stepparent and what the two of you have in common. Since you most likely don’t have much of a choice about living with your stepparent, your goal should be to coexist at the very least peacefully. It can help keep a journal to work through your “I hate my stepdad or stepmom” thoughts and feelings. You can also talk to another family member or a trusted friend.
Sometimes, kids get stuck in a situation where their real dad or mom won’t listen to their problems concerning their stepparent. You might find yourself saying something like, “I told my mom why I don’t get along with my stepdad, but she always takes his side. I even told my mom I hate my stepdad, and she still takes his side! No matter what I told my mom, she wouldn’t listen.” At this point, it’s a good idea to talk to a trusted teacher or a guidance counselor at school; they can find resources to help you get through this challenging situation.
How do you deal with a toxic stepfather?
First, if you ever feel unsafe in your home, be sure to reach out for help. One option is to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233). This hotline is available 24/7, and they also have an online chat option that you can visit here. This website can also help you find resources for additional help.
Next, you’ll want to determine whether or not your stepparent is actually toxic or if you feel like “I hate my stepdad or stepmom” for one reason or another. If you dislike your stepparent, try working through your feelings by writing in a journal, confiding in a friend or family member, or talking with a school guidance counselor.
If your stepparent truly is toxic and you have no choice but to live with them, the best thing to do is find ways to focus on yourself. Make sure you have a support system you can rely on, and set low expectations for your stepparent interactions so that you’re not disappointed or upset when things don’t go well. If you’re close to adulthood, do everything you can to become self-sufficient and financially independent so that you can move out and away from your toxic stepparent as soon as you’re old enough.
While it can be extremely challenging to live with a toxic stepparent, try to remember that the situation won’t last forever and that it’s not your fault that your stepparent acts the way they do. As much as you think, “I hate my stepdad or stepmom,” this thought doesn’t actually benefit you, even if it’s true. Try to continue enjoying your life rather than letting your toxic stepparent take control. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
Can a stepchild ruin a marriage?
Unfortunately, the effects of having a new stepchild can cause issues in a marriage. But it’s important to realize that these issues are not the stepchild’s fault; they stem from how you and your partner behave towards your stepchild. Here are a few problems that often occur in blended families with stepchildren:
You and your partner feel that you’re pitted against each other due to the stepchild’s behavior or comments
You and/or your partner feel guilty about the changes you’re putting your stepchild through, so you give them too much power and control
Your stepchild copes with their emotions by acting out and misbehaving
Luckily, these problems all have solutions. If your stepchild is a kid or preteen, try being friendly and inviting them to do activities with you. Please do your best to maintain a positive relationship with their other parent, and be patient with their emotions--remember that kids’ brains aren’t fully developed. Hence, it’s natural for them to act out when they’re experiencing difficult emotions.
If your stepchild is a teenager, make sure to take things slow and avoid trying to force them to have a relationship with you. Teenagers want to be independent, so give them some space. If they are blatantly rude or disrespectful to you, let their parent handle the situation instead of acting as an authority figure.
Is it OK not to like your stepchild?
You often hear kids say things like, “I hate my stepdad!” But does this feeling go the other way too? In an ideal world, you would grow to care for your stepchild just as easily as you fell in love with their parent. But in real life, that doesn’t always happen. It’s pretty common to have a difficult relationship with your stepchildren. If you don’t like your new family member, it’s actually in your best interest not to force it. Instead, find ways to work through your emotions surrounding the situation and set a goal to accept your stepchild into your life instead of attempting to force a relationship that just isn’t working.
Be sure to talk to your partner about the situation and let them handle the parenting if there’s too much friction between you and your stepchild. Try to think of one thing that you like or admire about your stepchild, and focus on that instead of the qualities you don’t enjoy as much. Put yourself in their shoes and see if you can understand why they act the way they do. Make an effort to spend some quality time together and to see if you have anything in common. Remember, you are the adult in this situation, and the least you can do is treat your stepchild with respect and compassion.
What is guilty father syndrome?
Guilty Father Syndrome, also known as Guilty Parent Syndrome, occurs when a parent is no longer in a relationship with their children’s biological dad or mom. Their parenting decisions are negatively affected by the guilt they feel. Guilty Parent Syndrome manifests itself in multiple ways:
Not requiring their children to do chores or help around the house
Not enforcing rules or not having any rules in the first place
Buying their children everything they want
Refusing to tell their children no
Letting their children have the power and control in the relationship
If you or your spouse shows signs of Guilty Parent Syndrome, know that while your actions are meant to make your child happy, they aren’t doing your kids any favors as they grow up. A balance of discipline and nurturing, or being an authoritative parent, is much better for children in the long run than being a permissive parent.
Who comes first, spouse or children?
This question can be controversial, and you’ll find many adamant people that you must put your children first. You’ll also find others who are equally sure that you need to put your spouse first. Oftentimes, the best choice is to find a healthy balance between your children and your spouse. Remember that having a happy relationship with your spouse will help the two of you parent more effectively. Children who see that their parents are happy together tend to have fewer mental health issues in the future.
At the same time, it’s crucial to note that children are incapable of caring for themselves, while your spouse is an adult who can handle their own needs. Therefore, there are always certain situations where you’ll need to put your children first to care for them properly, but that doesn’t mean letting your marriage and relationship with your spouse fall by the wayside.