Is He A Bad Stepfather? Signs And Red Flags To Watch Out For

Updated December 15, 2023by Regain Editorial Team
“Questioning if your spouse is a good stepfather makes you a good parent. If you are comfortable doing so, confronting the concerns you have with him will hopefully be met with understanding and growth. Remember family dynamics are complex and take time, and considering your spouse’s qualities as a parent can help make those dynamics work.” - Ryan Smith, LPC, NCC

You may remember a happy home and family life that you thought would last forever. Then things changed between you and your ex, seemingly overnight. Maybe 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 may have evolved into something quite different?

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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 a massive emotional trauma placed upon a family during a divorce, even before the process is finalized. This is especially true for the children involved. 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. Younger children may blame themselves for the divorce, while teenagers can become angry about the marriage's dissolution and the upheaval in the family.

The bottom line is that a lot is going on emotionally, and it may be challenging 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 if the new stepfather positively or negatively impacts your family dynamic. 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 pressing one first - abuse. Whether physical, emotional, or sexual, abuse can negatively affect a child and cause problems throughout adulthood. This can result in them losing confidence, developing unhealthy coping strategies, and finding themselves in unhealthy relationships. Abuse has long-term effects, and it takes a continuous toll on both physical and mental health. It goes without saying that if your child is being abused, drastic measures must be taken immediately.

If you suspect that you or your child are being abused, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. Trained advocates can give you discreet help and help you the safety of you and your children. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you and your family can heal.

He Neglects Your Child

Neglecting your children physically or emotionally can affect them in a harmful way. Neglect is a very common type of child abuse and can be 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 immediately.

He Sets A Bad Example

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According to the American Psychological Association, children often emulate the behaviors they see adults engaging in. Whether this is at home, in the car, at the store, or the ballgame when their 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 putting their safety first.

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 Overbearing

It's all right for a 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 may seem like the opposite of neglect but is damaging as well. It can spoil a child by making them too demanding and dependent, causing them to equate their value to attention and material possessions.

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 were 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 - what is he teaching your children? Is he teaching them that talking crudely to a partner is okay and normal? Will they grow up to do the same? Is he teaching your child that people are to be treated this way? In essence, is the lowering the standards of what your child believes they deserve in their future relationships? 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 stepparenting warning signs, let's switch gears and discuss codependency.

Codependency is characterized by unhealthy relationship patterns where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. These relationships often leave room for one person involved, 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 examine this pattern further. 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
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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 the most convenient way.

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