I resent my stepson...does that make me awful?
Parenting is hard work and full of challenges. Stepparenting takes that hard work to the next level of difficulty because of the friction within blended family relationships.
I recently chatted with a stepmom, Kayla, who was brave enough to share the "tough stuff." Being open and honest about her negative feelings wasn't easy! I reassured her this resentment is a common feeling in stepfamily relationships for adults and kids alike. As soon as she put her feelings into words and owned them, I could see the tension release in her face. By owning and admitting her feelings, she opened the door for the opportunity to work on improving things. The best way to resolve this issue is to dig deep and discover the source of the resentment. No, I don't mean her stepson Lucas! The Problems What we really needed to uncover were the behaviors or family issues that came to light when Lucas was in the picture. Through some hard work, we revealed 2 things that caused Kayla's tension towards Lucas. 1. Transition Days On the days Lucas transitioned from Mom's house back to Dad and Kayla's house, he tended to be argumentative. Everything was a battle for the first day or so, then things settled in and everyone was fine. In reality, Lucas was making a hard shift from a home with no structure or rules to his dad's home which had routine and behavioral expectations. At his young age, he was having a difficult time going from "I don't have to do any chores at Mom's house" to "I have to put my toys away and help with things at home."
From an adult perspective, it's the equivalent of shifting from a week of vacation back to the routine and structure of work, deadlines, and expectations of a boss looming in your head. It takes adults a hot minute to make the change, so of course kids will struggle!
For Kayle, just knowing there would be battles made transition days ones that she dreaded. Honestly, if you knew someone was coming to your house and they'd bring chaos with them, wouldn't you dread their arrival?! 2. Sibling Rivalry
While Lucas was an only child for both his birth parents before their divorce, he now has 2 younger siblings at dad's house and a soon-to-be stepbrother at Mom's place who is a year younger. Lucas and his future stepbrother compete for the attention of their birth parents at Mom's house. They are both learning to share their own parent with this "new sibling" and it's not going well. At Dad's house, Lucas has gone from the only child to the big brother and his two stepsiblings get dad all the time whereas Lucas gets to be with him only half the time. This can create a child vying for attention at both homes. Sometimes, when behaving well isn't necessarily getting you the attention you want, behaving poorly will certainly get you some (and a timeout along the way!). Looking at it from Kayla's perspective, she knows there will be some stressful sibling moments when Lucas arrives and just anticipating the problems sets her on high alert. The Resolution So what's a stepmom to do?! First of all, just knowing that her feelings are towards the actions or chaos of the situation and not about the child himself helped relieve her guilt. Regarding transition days, Kayla, her husband Scott and I developed a "re-entry" plan for them to put into action. Knowing how hard the shift was for Lucas, we planned on some kind of family activity to happen around the time Lucas was arriving. Nothing big or special, just something fun he could jump into with everyone. We aren't to going throw a parade every time a stepchild arrives, but we do want them to feel included and important. Some ideas we had on the list included: * Having the little pool ready to go so the kids could all play together
* Stopping at a park for some family fun time on the way home (I always recommend family fun time as a way to break up the monotony of rules, structure, and routines. We get along better if we can have some fun together too!) * Dad picking up Lucas and then running some errands with him for alone time * Family game time or just playtime in the back yard The goal was to set up a buffer between "no rules" and "welcome back, we're happy you're here, lets have some fun and then clean up as a family (sliding him into participating as a member of the 'team')." As for the sibling rivalry, it is a cry for attention in this family's situation. Here's the twist, instead of Scott doing 1:1 time with Lucas, I suggested Kayla do it! Here's why: 1. Kayla needed a reason to look forward to Lucas's arrival. It's not that she didn't enjoy him or care about him, she just rarely had the opportunity to spend special time with him. 2. By creating this window of shared activities, Lucas and Kayla would get to know each other more and bond better (instead of doing it while also balancing the two younger kids).
Will these same steps help in every stepfamily? Not necessarily! I'm sharing this to give you a pathway towards resolution. Of course, each family is different and needs to work on their specific situation. The secret of overcoming resentment is to identify the specific behavior or situation which is building up negativity in your home, clarifying the needs of the child, and finding unique approaches to remedy the situation. If you found these tips helpful and would love more strategies, join the Dare to Parent weekly newsletter: http://my.daretoparent.com/newsletter Be sure to share this with friends and family members who may also be struggling with stepfamily issues so they can add these tools to their parenting toolbox too! Photo by Eric AntunesfromPexels