How to Explain Dad Is Really Step-dad

Updated on January 18, 2011
C.S. asks from Bennington, NE
27 answers

i have a complicated situation and i am not sure what to do.

My 7 year old doesn't realize that Daddy isn't his real dad. when we started out it wasn't an issue my husband and i started dating my son was barely two and for the longest time called him by his first name and understood that his daddy wasn't here. We would see his dad a couple times a year but he is a druggy and basic loser who really doesnt' care that he has a son so for the most part we just visit the grandparents and aunts.
When our 7 year old was almost 4 my husband and i got married and shortly there after came along little brother. Being busy working and having 2 kids i didn't make it down to see the loser very often and every one was now calling my husband Daddy. We still aren't sure exactlly when it happened but our 7 year old now thinks that my husband is Daddy.

Legally my husband has formally adopted him and his last name is the same as everyone elses but we still feel we need to explain the situation soon before it gets more confusing. His "real dad" has two other kids, who he doesn't provide for either. The kids mom wants our 7 year old to be a part of her kids life, which i am not completely opposed to but he has to understand everything first.

I am just not even sure how to start the explaination, he doesn't understand the birds and the bees so will he understand how some one is or isn't a dad. Plus he has been having major behavior issues and is in the phase where everyone is out to get him and the world jsut isn't fair. I just don't want to turn his world upside down and cause any issues between my son and husband. My husband and his family treat him like a natural born member and everyone supports us in every way they can.

Has any one been through this, is there a good time or way to start the conversation?

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answers from Green Bay on

Hi C.,
My Daughter is in a similar situation. Her husband just tells the story of how he fell in love with mommy and him when he was 2 and then they became a happy family. later in life they will explain that he has a real daddy and a biological dad. good luck,



answers from Duluth on

WHY say anything???WAIT for him to ASK!!! Then you know IF he asks he at an age he can handle the answers..and it's NOT lieing...All you need to say (when he asks) is I was waiting for you to be old enough..and when he is old enough to ask he is old enough to realize HOW much his step dad WAS there for him all those years and a GOOD DAD!!(No matter what the title)



answers from Grand Rapids on

C., first of all, remember a dad is someone who is there and who loves you , any one can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a dad, dad is just a term that can apply to many, my child was in a stable home with a real mom and dad, and yet called other freinds close to him dad, no need for explanations, they will understand it later in life, dad is a loving term , i would let him use it and eventually no matter wether he is a step dad or not, it is dad to him, and always will be, just enjoy life and dont fret over little words, D. s

More Answers


answers from Sioux City on

Tell him that he has a birth Dad and a real Dad. When he was born his birth Dad was with him but that he is sick and God knew that he wouldn't be able to help take care of him so God sent him one that could.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on


My mom remarried when I was four or five. She included me in the wedding and I totally thought "we" were getting married. Your son is lucky that he has been adopted. I have always been sad that my dad wasn't allowed to adopt me. I've wanted to be adopted since they married. I actually changed my name legally when I was 18 and presented dad with the certificate and gave him a card and balloon congratulating him on his new baby girl.

I would tell your son right away. I would tell him that his stepdad (is he a stepdad if he adopted him?) wanted him so badly that he adopted him to make him his real son. Maybe you could start having a birthday party to celebrate his adoption. Some kind of ceremony would be nice to make your son feel special and wanted.

If he asks about his bio-dad maybe you can tell him that he wasn't meant to have kids but he helped create him so that someone special could take care of him - something like that. I don't know if that's exactly how you'd say it but hopefully you get my point.

Good luck!


1 mom found this helpful


answers from La Crosse on

That's great you are open to telling your son the truth about his biological father, because hiding facts like this from a child only creates shame for the child and that has lifelong ramifications for a person. However, I think you might want to wait for your son to ask about it before you start discussing it with him.

I would suggest you answer all of his questions when he asks them. If he and his (stepfather) Dad have a healthy father-son bond, you really don't need to bring up the issue of who he really comes from. Bringing it up without his asking about it may compel him to develop a sense of alienation from his (stepfather) Dad.



answers from Minneapolis on

I was in the same situation - but I was the child being told that my "step" dad was not my "real" dad. I was 5 years old (my parents wanted to tell me before I went to school because I lived in a small town). I still vividly remember the day. My parents took me to a park, not in our town and they just sat down and told me that daddy was not really my father. I remember my dad crying and it being really hard for him to tell me. They used the phrase Dad and Father, my mom explained to me later that anyone can be a Father but it takes someone special to be a Dad. I also had a step brother from my step dad so it was easy for them to help me relate. They said you know like your brother has another mom, you have another dad. This might work for you if your child has friends that have step parents. You really need to enforce that it is okay to call his step dad, dad. My "step" dad is and always has been my dad, he walked me down the aisle and has always been there for me. I am sure your son will be able to connect that way too if you give him the information like I was given it. I know some kids do not feel the love from their step parent and then when they are told they feel shunned from the family, especially if there is another sibling... I hope that helps!



answers from Cedar Rapids on

I don't have much experance with this but my friend has! And personily with behavoir problems you may want to lay off for a while. At seven years old they have so much going on they are just starting to feel peer pressure! Confusing him now may make behavoir problems worse! Sounds like his real dad is a true dead beat. Let your boy learn that on his own speed! Since he's got a great father figure in his life i would just let it stay that way!! If that is ok with your husband of course! As for the other womans kids wanting to see him! I too would not let that happen they have no legal right to see him! Of course it may help with family health history later on in life! I hope this some what helps you out! Good luck in what ever you chose!



answers from Minneapolis on

Hi there! I want to preface this by saying that I don't really know what the best thing is, but I can give you some thoughts based on my situation. I had a son when I was 16. My son's bio-dad was really not in the picture, but the bio-dad's family was. They helped me out a lot, and as my son grew, his best friends became (and still are) his cousins from that family. I met my current husband when my son was three, we married when he was five. He's now 16. (Side Note: For some dumb reason we never went through with my husband adopting him but my son uses my husband's last name. Now we have issues we never dreamed of re: his legal name.)

I was always really open with my son telling him that he could call my husband whatever he felt comfortable with. It didn't take long before he started using "Dad." He would see his bio-dad occasionally, like when he was at his cousins' house playing. As my son got older (7-10 yrs.), there was confusion about who his bio-dad was. He heard his cousins calling him "Uncle" so that's what he did. About this time, and as he was able to understand more about the birds and bees, I was very honest about who bio-dad was. When my son was young, we used this story about two seeds coming together to make a baby. There was one seed from me and one from bio-dad (that's why he had some traits of mine and some of his bio-dad's). As my son asked questions, I would answer them. For example, he wanted to know why he didn't see bio-dad very much or what to call him. My husband and I said he should call him whatever felt comfortable -- he could even just call him by his name and not use a label if he didn't want to.

My husband and I have since had children and we just found out that bio-dad is having his first children. My son, at 16, fully realizes that he is equally related to all his siblings, but acknowledges that he's really part of our family. I'm not explaining this well. I guess as he's gotten older, he's realized that you can be related to people and those people are "family," but also that "family" can mean much, much more.

It sounds to me that your son just wants to know that he's part of your family with your husband. If he's calling him "Dad," I would celebrate that. The last thing my son wanted when my other children were born (he was 11 when the first one was born) was to feel like he was different or wasn't as much a part of the family.

Sorry for the lengthy response. I guess, in a nutshell, I would do whatever you can to make your son feel as much a part of your family as you can and not focus on the fact that your husband isn't his biological dad. He is, after all, his "real" dad (the person who cares and provides for him). Be respectful and honest about his questions, and maybe the seed story will work to talk about his half-siblings until he's ready for the real thing. At his age, his questions might be less about the true answers and more about getting reassurance that he has a secure place in his family.

I wish you my best! It's really hard to know how to handle all of these tricky relationships but it sounds like you're thinking it through really well.



answers from Madison on

I do not think you have to explain anything. I think your son knows the truth, but is ignoring it. Now you said your husband adopted him. As far as anyone is concerned your husband is the father of your 7 yr old. What exactly do you want to do? You can explain that "his biological father" is a different person. I do not think you need to say that his daddy is not his daddy, because legally your husband is his daddy as well as emotionally. Why break your son's heart and make him feel different. Do you realize that this could effect your son's relationship with his younger siblings? I ask this because I have 3 ( 14yr and 2 12 yr olds) from my first marriage. It is sometimes hard, because the older 3 want to be my 2nd husband's kids, but they have different names. Try explaining that to a 4 yr old. It was very hard to explain that the older 3 had a different dad. She kept telling me that dad was dad. She didn't really get it. Are you ready for that? What happens when the younger ones want to go with him to visit the grandparents and aunts? I have gotten lucky and the grandparents that I do visit accept my other kids as their grandchilren. I guess what I am getting at is I would love to be in the situation that you are in. You have it alot easier that you think. You have a wonderful family and I would wait for your son to bring up questions first. Then you can explain it to him. I think he already knows, but wants to "hide" it. Ask him if he wants to visit his siblings on his other side. I wish you good luck in this. This is a sticky situation. Just remember, your son is more important than even the biological truth.



answers from Des Moines on

I don't have any advice, but look forward to hearing the responses you get. I am in the same situation, but I am actually the stepmom. My husband gained a wonderful son from a previous relationship and I have also formally adopted him. His biological mom is just a very messed up person. She has been married multiple times and has 2 other kids by two other dads and she is only 25. She is barely involved with the other two kids, one guy has both of them and they do well. We are still in contact with her parents, grandparents and sister. So I know that some day down the road we are going to have to explain how everyone is related. And I want to be totally truthful with him so he can form his own opinion on his biological mom. But I don't know how or when to do that. I just thought I'd let you know that I know what you are going through!



answers from Omaha on

Have you thought about asking a professional family counselor?



answers from Appleton on

A man who goes to work to support a child and does his best to raise his is his 'real' dad. He has adopted him so he is also his legal dad. I would tell your son that he has other brothers or sisters and they would like to be friends with him. That is all he needs to know for now. He will probably figure it out in a few years anyway once he meets his siblings. When he does all you need to tell him is that his biological dad went away and you met and married his dad, who then adopted him. So he was chosen as his son.
I truely hope for the sake of your son his biological dad gets his act together and can become a part of his son's life. It would be good for both of them. Is he in contact with his parternal grandparents? That might also be good for him.
My ex-husband got remarried and had a son, when he was little he didn't understand why the two older children could call my parents grandma and grandpa and not him, so my parents gave the okay and they are also grandma and grandpa to him. I would say don't make a big deal about it. Just be matter of fact and only explain the least and when he asks questions answer his honestly and simply.



answers from Omaha on

We as parents like to shelter our children and think they are too young to understand certain things. Let me be the first to tell you we could not be more incorrect!! My oldest son who is also 7 is not by my husband either. We have been together since my son was 5 months old. His first word was dada and he was with my husband. So that has always been his father. Now my sons biological father was in and out of his life and we always told him that he was his father. Well, his biological father was murdered a few years back. My son was 4 years old. I was going crazy as to if I should tell him and whatnot. Well, I have a very supportive husband that said yes, we shouldn't keep this from him because he will find out eventually. Well, it was hard but I sat my 4 year old son down and explained this to him and I know he might not have understood everything, but he knows that he has a daddy and a dad that is his angel in heaven. He actually feels special that he has two daddies. So by all means talk this over with your husband and sit down and talk to your son. You will be amazed at his responses! I know that I was coming from a four year old.

Good Luck!



answers from Boston on

hi there. i've been through this but from the child-angle. though, i was 26 when i found out so I applaud you for addressing this early and honestly. there is no perfect way to say it. there are, however, many things you can do once the truth is out like being supportive and seeking others to speak with who can help you and your family through this. 1 out of every 10 children are not the genetic offspring of the man officially recognized as the husband so you are not alone. i recently created a website with another friend (he found out when he was 23) because we both wanted to help parents and the families get the truth out there early. and if the truth didn't come out until later, we'd like to be there in case someone wants to know if this happened to anyone else. if you're interested, i'm at mydnad at gmail dot com and our site is www mydnad .com If nothing else, I'd be interested in hearing how the conversation went. do you feel better having talked to him? it did teach me that we don't have to be biologically related to feel just as close or just as special. kudos to your family for being so supportive!




answers from Wausau on

I think you may be underestimating what your son understands about the birds and the bees. 7 year olds are frighteningly smart about that stuff. You might want to sit down with him and have "the talk" - this is a good age to start bringing that subject up if you haven't already. Just ask him a few simple questions to see if he knows the basics. "Can you tell me how babies are made?" etc. You might be surprised at what he knows- or you might be surprised at what myths he has been believing- other kids may have told him just about anything! Then you can correct his mis-perceptions.

I have no idea about the subject of dad not being dad, other than if your sex talk goes well, you could use that as a starting point.

I think it's important that your son understands what really makes a dad- spending time with him, providing for him, being there for him. Biology is only one little part- that makes a father, a blood relation- but it doesn't necessarily make a "dad" as you have found out.

Sorry I can't help more with the real question you asked, but it would be interesting to see what your son thinks he knows about the birds and the bee :)



answers from Omaha on

I am in the adoption field. Tell him now. He looks to his mom and dad for truth and honesty. There will not be a "perfect time." To often, people wait until their children are older and can "better understand" but what it teaches the child is that the two people they look to for the truth have lied to them all along. I would definitely read up on some books about adoption. You may think that since his dad has been in his life since he was two that he won't have any adoption related questions. This may not be true. One book to read would be "Growing Up Adopted." If you do end up seeking a counselor...find one with adoption experience (Lutheran Family Services, Child Saving Institute, Adoption Links World Wide). Also educate yourself on appropriate adoption language. A "real dad" is someone who does all the things a dad does. If your husband adopted your son...he is not his step-dad...he is has dad. Period. His biological father can be referred to as his birth father. I would encourage you not to speak negatively about his birth father in front of him (not that you would) but he is still going to have a lot of questions about this guy some day. If he knows that you do not like this man...he will also know that he can't come to his mom when he has questions. He may also think, "Well, my birth dad was a schmuck so does that mean I am part-schmuck?" In your eyes...your family is a normal nuclear family. At different developmental stages...your child may have questions regarding his geneology. It has nothing to do with his love for his dad and everything to do with...where else did I come from and where did I get these looks or traits?
Your son will need you both to remember that he is an everyday kid...he will also need you both to remember that at times...he is not an everyday kid.

This is totally doable and you are so smart to realize that this needs to be handled sooner rather than later! Good luck to you!



answers from Milwaukee on

I read a few of the responses quickly, but one thing that I didn't see was an opinion from someone who is in your SONs situation.

My "Mom" is actually my step-mother. She has been a part of my life since I was 1 yr old and has been a constant parent in my life. My birth-mother (Wendy) came and went from my life with years left in between when she was not around.

First, ever since I can remember I have called my step-mom "Mom" and to this day she IS my mother and is also my best friend. That is not to say though that this road was completely free of bumps.

I think if you plan to tell your son at all then you need to tell him now. Kids understand more than we sometimes like to think and I'm sure he will know what a step-parent is. As a child who grew up not knowing my mother it was hard, but I truely believe it was better than having the concept sprung on me when I was 18 yrs old.

I know it seems hard now, but think about being a teenager and what it is like "figuring out" who you are -- now imagine finding out that the father you knew is not the ONLY father you have. Now think about the same thing as a young adult.

I guess what I'm saying is that there will NEVER be a good time to tell him. But telling him now will let your son and his Dad (step-father) work through this relationship and to develop a closer bond -- your husband can let your son know he CHOSE your son by adopting him.

Good Luck.



answers from Iowa City on

I am and have been in the same situation. I have two older boys that have different biological fathers than my husband. Both boys have called my hubby Daddy for so long I can't even remember when or how it started only that it was their decision. My oldest boy went through a phase when he called his bio-father, his step-father. My hubby was his "real" dad and he had a step father (actually his bio-father but he called him his step-father because as he explained it - he was a step out of the family). Because I didn't want him to be confused I explained that he has a biological father that helped put him in my belly and a dad who is teaching him things and loving him every day. he was 9 when my hubby adopted him. Since then he states that bio-father is his ex-father (kind of like an ex-husband) and my hubby is his dad. Bio-father was a real piece of work too. But we tried to keep open lines of communication with grandparents. it worked for a time and has now grown less frequent. My hubby is now adopting my second child. He had less questions than my first, but still calls my hubby dad and his bio-father by his first name.
I agree that not using "step" and "half" is a good idea. Find a word/name for the biological father. My oldest called him by his first name, my second son called him "papa". Make sure it's something you are comfortable hearing. If you cringe every time you hear it, your child will pick up on it.
Explain the difference between being a father and being a dad. Any male can be a father but it takes a special man to be a dad.
Your son will problem circle around to the topic several times. Keep your answers short and sweet and slowly but surely he'll start to under stand.
With my oldest, we made a family tree. We put pictures on it and then let him name everyone. We even included everyones pets and his therapist. Everyone that he felt connected to.
Good Luck! Just be careful not to damage the relationship your husband has with your son. He is after all his true dad!



answers from Minneapolis on

my kids wish they could get adopted more than anything else in the world. It isn't that my husband wouldn't but the ex will not sign over (even though he's done with other children) just because he wants to be a jerk.
my kids don't ever refer to that guy as their dad. my husband is their dad. to them he is their dad and the bio donor is just that and most of the time not even thought of as that.

My son was talking about an accident that daughter had years ago. it happened before my husband and were dating. Ds asked where was Dad? then immediately answered himself with oh that's right, he was at work. He filled in the blank the way he preferred. He would rather remember that Daddy was at work and thats why he wasn't there instead of just not being ther at all. He knew that it happened long enough before that dh wasn't here yet, but the way he wants to remember it was nicer than the truth. I'm not saying lie. Don't ever do that to your kids. But I've come to learn that some things are just not worth correcting them for.

Now dh and I have had three kids together but WE have 5 kids. He loves them like they were always his kids. DD and DS have the knowledge that he isn't biologically their father but they love him as if they had been born to him. DD had even told the bio that her spirit was meant for my dh and not him.
our oldest kids never consider their younger siblings to be half brothers and sister. what a horrible word when talking about your family. that implies that they are less and that's just not true. They all love each other all the same.

when you talk to your son about it maybe you could ask him what the word Father or Dad means to him. let him know that even if your husband didn't help to make his body he is there for him as his dad every day to make sure he is safe and happy and that he is there to help him to grow to be a good man.
the fact that the man he calls dad wasn't there to help make him but he is here now means more. Your husband is his daddy by choice not by obligation and that means way more.



answers from Rochester on

My son was 4 when my ex came back into his life. My husband had been helping me raise my son since he was 2. So my husband was dad cause that was the only dad he had ever known. I sat him down and showed him pictures of my ex and asked if he knew who that was. I told him my ex's name and explained to him there are different kinds of daddies. There are the kind that help make you and the kind that help raise you. Sometimes one person does both of those things and sometimes it is two people. I told him my ex helped me make him and my husband helps me raise him. That seemed to be good enough for him. I didn't have to go into explaining how we made him and the birds and the bees and all of that stuff. Now although my son still does not have a good relationship with my ex he at least gets to see his little sister and brother. Which I think is very important. It would be nice to keep my son just in our little family circle. But that would not be fair to my son and I would never want him to resent me later in life for keeping his family from him. They may not be my family but they are my son's family and out of love and respect for my son I am happy to let them share in his life. It is the right thing to do. I have an older half brother I have never met and I am still angry at my mother for keeping my father's side of the family from me.



answers from Rochester on

My son is the same age and was also two when I met my husband. However, he sees his biological father 2-3 times a week, so our situation is a bit different.

I started out by reading the book "Why Was I Adopted" by Carole Livingston with my son when he was five (I was adopted when I was 2, and this was given to me by my new family). I didn't want to get into the nitty gritty details of reproduction, so I simply said that everyone starts out with a Mommy Person and a Daddy Person. They're the ones who gave you life. Your parents are the ones who raise you, love you, play with you, feed you, etc. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes they are different. In my son's case and mine, they were different.

I let him ask me all sorts of questions about my adoption and about why he has both his biological father and my husband. I also brought up the fact that he's a very lucky boy to have so many people who love him. He took it very well and it's never been an issue since. It's a tough subject, good luck and just remember that sometimes it's better to listen than to keep explaining. Kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for. :)



answers from Milwaukee on

i have a 8 yr old son and i am in the same situation. my son thinks my husband is his daddy too. my husband has not adopted my son yet, he wants my son to decide what he wants. so my son has a different last name than the rest of us. i think u need to talk in his language and be simple. we have been talking alot about step parents lately and it has helped cuz my parents are divorced and re-married. but i dont know, my son has asked some questions but we have pacified him with simple answers. this mite not be much help but thought id give my two cents. =)



answers from Rapid City on

My husband has been in my son's life since he was 6 months old. My first husband and I split up when my son was 3 weeks old for the same reasons, drugs and alcohol on his part. My husband adopted my son when he was 2 and is dad. I never hid the fact that daddy adopted him and never made a big deal over it. I just would tell him that his biological dad had problems with loving himself and made bad choices in his life. When he was quite a bit older, preteen, I explained that his biological father got involved in drugs and alcohol and I couldn't raise him with that kind of life. It never seemed to be a problem. My husband was adopted when he was a baby also so it is a normal thing in our household. My guess is that your son remembers some of the visits and the adoption to a point. He probably just isn't thinking much of it all. Don't fret so much on this, if there is questions, answer them. Don't try to hide it either though



answers from Minneapolis on

I'm with Niki - my mom & biological dad agreed that when she remarried he would stay out of the picture - I was 6 months at the time she married. He and my other dad were friends as kids (they all grew up together in a small town) and he knew I had a great dad. My "step dad" adopted me.

Because of the arrangement, there was nothing to talk about - no other family visiting, etc - so it was a subject that just didn't get discussed.

Because of that, I felt that my mom wouldn't discuss it - it made asking questions the most painful thing I could imagine as a kid.

And since it wasn't a topic of conversation ever, when my other grandparents sent me a high school graduation gift, my sister was stunned with the news @ 12.

Needless to say, things could have been handled better. My mom and I have discussed this and agree that a continuing conversation would have been best but without new topics (family gatherins, family news, etc) it can be difficult. Not making it a single huge important conversation but part of everyday life in some small way.

My biological dad and his family are now part of my life, too. He also ran out of information to keep up a conversation about me to my brother and sister so my 18 yr sister was a bit shocked with the reunion. My brother remembered the conversations but didn't know where to start.

I guess my advice would be to open the topic. As he goes thru school projects like family trees will make this uncomfortable for him if he has a clue but isn't sure how to approach the subject.

I had the best dad I could ever dream of and I'm sure your sons legal dad is also a fabulous father. Having the conversation won't take that away, but your son may feel he's betraying that love by asking for someone else.

I personally loose "step" and "half" titles unless everyone is involved from personal perspective. Since your husband is his dad, maybe having dad and father might be easier.

I'd be happy to talk to you privately if you think it could help you in any way. Good luck!



answers from Milwaukee on

I was in your sons situation when I was younger. My mom told me about it during an episode of Punky Brewster when I told her I wanted to be adopted because it seemed cool, that was her window of opportunity. She explained that actually I was adopted, and I had my Step-dad's last name because of that.
Technically because of the adoption, I have NO step-dad, I only have a dad. Technicality aside, and in my heart I have NO step-dad, he IS my dad.
I think there are some books about adoption and step families, there certainly are movies out there about families merging together, maybe you can find one to be your "window of opportunity" or at least get a conversation going in that direction.



answers from St. Cloud on

First of all- I'm sorry you have had to endure rude advice. I do hope that Mamasource will remove the insensitive content and you can throw it out of your mind as well.

The best advice you received was the first responder! Liz suggested that you try a family counselor. We can not begin to answer your question since we do not know your situation and you seem like a woman who wants to do right by all the family members involved. It sounds as though the behaviours are an issue and definitely family counseling will help! Especially since the issue seems to be that your son has siblings that you don't want to keep apart from him?
Good job mom! I hope you find your answers!

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