What to do when your man refuses to play the step father role

By Faeza
05 May 2017

Worried mom writes:

I’M a 33-year-old woman who is in love with a 39-year-old man. I have a nine-yearold

son from a previous relationship. My boyfriend intends to marry me soon. He has already spoken of sending his family to mine for lobola negotiations. My problem is that he has

no relationship with my son at all. He doesn’t even seem to be trying. He just acknowledges him as anybody who visits us would. This is a child who is about to be his stepson. Surely he should be making an effort. For example, doing simple things like inviting him to come along when he drives out to the shops or helping him with school

projects. Am I asking for too much? How do I ask him to do this without making it seem like an obligation? How do I handle this delicately? I just want him to do simple things that will allow him and my son to bond.

Linda Yende responds:

YOURS is a very legitimate expectation and it would not be unrealistic to make that

request to him. However, this cannot be a one-sided request. This means that you cannot

expect this man to step into a father role and be comfortable, if you are not giving him the right to be a father to your child.


Yes, your child has his own father but this man is about to become a father too. He is the man that your child will be spending most of his time with. If he is expected to be a father, then he must equally have the right to be a father. He must be allowed to discipline, give

rules and be given the same respect as a father. In short, he must be allowed to be a father, the same way that the biological father is. The man helping to raise a child needs to be given the same respect as a biological parent and this needs to be put in place by you.

If this man scolds your child for something, the two of you need to present a united front. Your child must not be allowed to disrespect your man and must certainly not be allowed

to come running to you to complain about your man. Be prepared for that.


You must also understand that your man has never been a parent. It is all new to him. Normally, one is given a bit of time to adjust to the idea. Nine months of pregnancy prepares the mother for the child that is on the way. Birth to early childhood gives you

a chance to bond with the child. So to wake up one morning and to suddenly be the father of a nine-year-old child, must be quite a shock to the man. Give him time to adjust.

Having said that, the rest is really on your man. There is nothing confrontational about starting this discussion. It is a crucial discussion. The truth is, if he is unwilling to step

into the father role with your son, then you should really ask yourself if it is worth going forward with the relationship and the marriage. You and your son are a package deal.

If he loves you, then he needs to love your son too. Not just accept him, but love him.


Have the conversation with your man. Maybe he is holding back because he is afraid of stepping on your toes or crossing the line, so he needs the goahead from you to step up.

The bottom line, though, is that you need to know the answer, one way or another. Whether the outcome of this discussion is a bad one or a good one, it is a discussion that needs to be had. Do not be confrontational but do not be evasive around the issue, either.

Confront it, head-on. A simple question like: Since you are about to marry me, have you thought about the fact that this will then make you my son’s father in a way? Are you

ready for that? In as much as your son may have his biological father, this man will be

spending the greater part of his life with his “new son”. So suggest that they do things

together – like washing the car. When your man is on his way out, just say, “Don’t you want to take Thabo with you? Go be boys, so I can have some alone time.” This is phrased in such a way that you are not forcing this father-son bond, but you are facilitating it.


Start involving him in decisions that affect your son. Whether you are buying him a new pair of shoes or deciding on a new school, have a discussion with your man about it. As I

said, you can’t make him a half-dad. If he is to be this boy’s father, then he must be the boy’s father completely. Your son must know that he can talk to your man, just as much as he can talk to you.