Stepfamilies – How to Deal with Daddy Guilt

divorced father
Stepmother Meaning
Ali Wilks
Certified Stepfamily Coach

Creating boundaries is important for self care…indeed, often times, your survival.

Figuring out what you can control and what you can’t, and then basing our decisions and actions on that is a critical component of creating boundaries. 

Let’s be honest, we’d like to be able to control  a lot more of the stuff that happens and the people in our stepfamily home!! 

And here’s a tip for creating boundaries: not taking it personally. 

It is a healthy way to protect yourself in a lot of situations you may find yourself in as a step parent. And it helps you figure out where and how you want to expend your energy, as well as preserve your dignity and your heart.

It means understanding what issues are yours to take on and deal with  but more importantly, allowing your spouse the space and having faith in him to deal with his issues.

We as women tend to take a lot of stuff on. Especially the stuff we believe is our job.  But we also feel we have value and importance when we are taking care of our man.  We are nurturers by nature and a lot of us are pleasers by nature too.

We want our spouses to be happy. We take the team approach in marriage. And, we protect our spouses too, just like they protect us. Not taking it personally can be hard to do.  He hurts, we hurt and we want to fix it!

Recently, I’ve heard about some distressing stories in regard to  what I call Daddy Guilt. 

Daddy Guilt is common after a divorce where children are involved. These guilt trips can be particularly irksome when we believe our man is being manipulated and treated poorly by his own kids.

Sometimes you feel that, behind the scenes, the ex is the puppet master in this grande scheme of emotional blackmail.  And it appears that it is the insecurities, jealousy and agenda of the birthmom who transplants doubt in the minds of their children.

The threats, the manipulative words and the accusations – especially if you have your own children together:  “you love them more than you love me” “if you REALLY love me you will do/ buy..”   really twist the heart.

Several women shared that they had plans to take the children from their current marriage on a trip.

When the older children from the first marriage found out that they weren’t coming then the first class trip to Guiltville was booked. Another father was disparaged until he caved in  and payed for expensive yet optional dance recitals and trips to international competitions.

The nasty insults and insinuations cut them to the core- they already doubt themselves and doubt if they are being fair to everyone. 

how to deal with daddy guiltThat fear of not being fair is typical for the middle man because they often feel they can’t win.

It can be extremely painful for our men. It runs on the Parental Alienation Syndrome continuum. All a dad wants is for his kids to be happy, for them to know he’s there for them , that he loves them and that he has their back.

Sometimes they panic when the right button has been left exposed and then pushed…and they do a 180 degree turn on how they said they would handle a situation- to what it actually turns out to be.

How do we deal when we see our man disrespected and being dragged along Guilt Trip Road?

First of all, we CAN NOT take it personally because we want to jump in to protect them. Because of the guilt,  they want to please and pacify. They go to great lengths not to hurt their kids because they are in overcompensation mode: they think that the divorce was painful enough and maybe they can “fix this” by not hurting them anymore.

Side step it, take a time out, walk away, get some fresh air and a different perspective. This lesson is not yours. What we believe is an issue that he needs to deal with may not be a real problem for him at all.

If it is a problem for him be supportive but let him be in the driver’s seat.

Let him come to you to share his frustration and hurts, but don’t try to fix this because you can’t and shouldn’t! By trying to fix it for him, you undermine your faith in him that he can do this and you disempower him.

If he can’t deal, let him know he can ask you for help. You can, of course, tell him how this makes you feel and how it impacts you, but be careful. Perhaps the deepest part of the angst is best shared with friends and other stepmom sisters. It’s his journey with his kids. And if you push too far it might backfire. He may not want or need your advocacy for him. Again don’t take it personally if he does not want your help.

Find out if he has other support outside of you that he can talk to about this. Then, encourage him to reach out to them. It may be so frustrating for you that you can’t hear about it so encourage him to talk to some one else who can give him another perspective.

Then let him know that there are long term effects of Daddy Guilt.

If he doesn’t set limitations for his children he’s not doing them any favours in the grown up world. He has to teach them integrity and honesty and accountability…not about how to have a hissy fit and get your way. The two year old temper tantrums have to end.

Also, rules, limitations and consequences for choices and actions are part of the development of healthy self- discipline and self regulation. Limitations and consequences teach children that they are safe, loved and respected.  That teaches them responsibility and gives them self esteem and confidence to handle disappointments.  And those are the things they need for successful adulting.

My name is Ali Wilks (  and I have a BA in Psychology with a MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies and I am a certified stepfamily coach.

I have been working in Children’s Services since 1998 in Edmonton,  Alberta. I am currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit providing classes for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents. These classes include building essential skills in raising children not born to them who present with special needs. I am a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too)  and the birthmother of 2 beautiful girls.




photo credit: unpacking [2] “i did some things… it went wrong…” via photopin (license)

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