What to do about disrespectful 20 yr/old SS
My SS is 20 and I'm only 32. He has no respect for me at all and treats me like I'm his slave. I’ve tried responding to his behavior in a calm manner, but it seems to go nowhere. I've spoken with my husband and he always makes excuses for his son’s behavior and has never supported me by letting his son know that he's to treat me with respect. My SS not only treats me with disrespect but his father as well. I'm at my wits end and really don't know where to go from here. I'm a very caring and giving person, but I feel that I should get some respect.
What can I do? Tired of feeling like a servant
Dear Tired of feeling like a servant,
I agree with you 100% that you SHOULD get respect and that your husband should indeed stand up for you (as he probably would if a stranger did or said whatever your ss does or says to you.) However, the sad reality for some of us, sometimes is that we don’t get the respect we deserve and people don’t stand up for us and kids we have cared for turn on us without any seeming sense of remorse. It is very sad and hard to let in this reality. I’d like to help so let me share what I’ve learned-maybe some thing here will make sense for you and your situation.
I’ve noticed that many Husband’s who allow their kids to treat their Smom Wife (and themselves) rudely do so because they feel, 1. we should be able to take it because they can. 2. They feel powerless to change things without risking losing their bio-kid’s love (and presence). 3. They may feel that we’re just too over-sensitive and should just “ignore it.” These are all fear-based choices and avoidance strategies. For more of a description about fear vs growth choices- please see my article about that topic. “Are your choices based on courage of fear?” They are designed to deny and delay conflict when in reality, the problems remain and more damage is added to the situation with each event ignored. However, using logic with our skids or husband’s about should be or is the right thing rarely works if the situation has gotten this far.
As we use the mantra, “Take Nothing Personally” because it makes sense to us. We’re also faced with the very practical dilemma of “who wants to be treated like this?” Many of us felt this credo also implied that we needed to keep doing whatever we were doing for these kids (or other people) even when they treated us badly. (turn the other cheek you know) For me, the Golden Rule has played a big part in the painful relationships of my life and has really messed me up in regards to my ss and his bio-mom. I now firmly believe there needs to be a corollary added to the Golden Rule; something like, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you UNLESS, they start to do mean things to you, then it’s time for a new approach.!” Please read the Smommentary about “Dealing with disrespectful Teenagers” for lots of insights and new tactics for dealing with teen Skids. When we’re under pressure it’s sometimes hard to see choices. The good news is that you do have choices and the more choices you can come up with, the more powerful you will feel in this upsetting situation. (Please read my article for more support on this important concept.)
Recognize YOUR emotional needs in this situation and it may change your viewpoint. I recognized that I wanted to have a relationship, a loving connection with the ss I’d helped raise since he was 5. I enjoyed the mothering role, without any confusion over who his mother was, I wanted to have a child in my life and this need colored my vision. As he got older and older he grew more and more hostile to me but I continued, almost could say relentlessly, to have a happy connection with this skid. What I learned, after reading Anthony Wolfe’s terrific Book, “Get out of my life but first could you take me and Cheryl to the Mall?” was that teenage boys (unlike teen girls) want parental role adults to leave them alone...period. When you look at these 2 factors and add in the possible (and despicable) loyalty/guilt pressure a hostile bio-mom could (and in my case did) put on her own kids...you can see there would be a conflict in the skid. I know your ss is 20 but I bet emotionally he’s acting much younger. With this knowledge, can you see any pattern that shows you that some or much of the disrespect you are experiencing comes when you seek to connect with him either with question, requirement, reminder or just to converse? Can you see a pattern that says “when you start the conversation, it goes badly?” If so, you may want to try (even for a day or 2) being your caring giving self without starting up any conversations. (I found it quite interesting.) This is called detachment and you can make the choice to do it with love, out of respect for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a cold hostile act. You can do it for yourself and for the easement of the angst that the disrespectful behavior is having in your home. If you decide to detach with love, you will be able to smile and chat with him when he does approach you. He will feel powerful, since he is making the 1st move and you will have your power because you realize you have a choice to say “Yes or NO.”
Sometimes our need or desire to have a connection ends up putting us in a position of having unknowingly given our power away to the skid. Our intention to be loving and helpful and caring and tolerant and open and helpful,etc. was sincere but the other players in our drama responded in a different way. Not your fault at all. Also not within our control. Kids being who they are, can often read this situation as one they can manipulate. They see they can get stuff from us, spew back at us, feel powerful, get away with it and score some points with their bio-mom while also easing any loyalty conflicts or guilt they may be feeling because part of them actually does love or like us. Do you see how this “survival strategy” satisfies a lot of their emotional needs and soothes their angst? When it is allowed by their bio-dads-it also gives the skids an outlet for any unprocessed anger at their Dads.
What can you do? Can you “try on the attitude” that your self-respect and dignity is MORE important than a connection with this skid, with anyone? Can you look at this as a sort of “Field test from the Universe” giving you the chance to stand up for yourself, without having to lash out or lose your loving nature? Did you ever watch the TV show Matlock? He was terrific at staying his “Good ole boy” Self and getting his point across. It’s really a communication art form we SMOMS could learn a lot from by watching. Here’s how you might be different if you decided to try on this attitude:
Look at all the things you do for him-please write out a detailed list so you can see all that you do, how often, when, etc.
Now look at the list and cross off all the things that you’re doing to be kind, nice, thoughtful, caring SMOM-because you believe a good caring mother of the house would do them.
Is there anything left on the list? If there is, take a good hard look at those items and ask yourself, “Do I want to do them or not?” “Why am I doing them?” If you do not want to do them-cross them off. If you’re doing them because there’s outside pressure to do them-talk to the people asserting this pressure. (Hubby, family, etc) and see if you can creatively find a way to have someone else do them-you’ll be amazed how at many things you can stop doing when you give yourself permission to reflect on what YOU want to do! Creative Delegation is a good skill to develop.
With the anything left on your list (sometimes we have responsibilities as part of a couple or family) look at the list carefully and see if you can do them for the purpose of feeling good about your contribution to the family, instead of needing any appreciation from your ss. As the saying goes, “Nothing changes until you do...and when you do change, everything around you changes in some way.” This is a real profound wise truth. Give this exercise a whirl and see what comes up for you.
Lastly, give yourself some time, space, support and compassion to feel the inevitable grief and anger that will rise to the surface as you stop trying so hard and begin to accept the situation. As I went through this myself, I realized that by staying angry, I was keeping my grief at bay. Even while angry at this child I’ve loved so much, I was connected and keeping my deep fear (disconnection) shoved under the surface of consciousness. When I finally set aside the anger, did my work at looking into what was really going on, my needs, all the things I was doing (all the stuff I just shared) I felt so much grief. I cried and cried as I realized just how hard and for how many years I kept trying to connect, all the time just giving him what he wanted and taking the emotional shrapnel thinking it was all part of the cost of trying to be a good SMOM. After a couple of days, the relief and the sense of self-respect began to rise out of the ashes of mourning and a new sense of freedom, dignity, power and well-being began to take hold of me. At the time my husband watched all this, still not seeing how the behavior he was allowing was so unhurt to all of us. But the key lesson was that as I stopped doing things for this ungrateful person, accepted that he didn’t want to interact with me, found creative ways to delegate or not do things for him, sought support for my grief and finally began to look for other ways to use my time and take care of myself....I found that life went on, even though I wasn’t trying so hard to be a good stepmom and getting crushed in the process. Any of this making sense?
As we become more aware of our needs and beliefs about what it means to be a good SMOM and what the skids on our lives mean to us (meaning what mothering needs we may have and not be clear about), we begin to see we do have choices. I look back and see that while all those years I was trying so hard and investing to much time, energy, love and attention in my relationship with my ss, I was sadly, shockingly and actually teaching him to treat me (and other kind women in his future) like a doormat! Holy Cow!!!! When I saw this, it was horrified but upon reflection it was true. I’m not saying all kids are like this but if you have a child that is taking and not giving in return (on any of many levels) it is a relationship that is not healthy for both parties. Over the past 3 years, I’ve not had the happy connection with my ss, I hoped for AND I’ve not been mistreated or disrespected or hurt or angered by him either and my husband and I are not at odds about our differing views of required respectful behavior of his son. This is not what I imagined and yet, it is the hand I was dealt and it feels better to be responding to what’s really going on instead of holding out for a solution that the other people involved are not willing to be part of.
NOTE: My husband has since awakened to the situation and this is a much easier path to follow now that he believes we both deserve the right to be treated respectfully. I will hope that yours will wake up also. However, in the meantime, please consider taking up your own cause and doing what you CAN do to create a situation that will give you, your needs and your life a better chance of thriving in the environment you choose to stay in. You will be amazed at your choices once you give yourself permission to step out of the “ideal SMOM wife” role you imagined and were willing to fulfill. As we realize we can’t do the happy blended family on our own-the realities of the impact of the other players often requires a revision of our dreams, choices and actions. Happily, there are other dreams out there for those of us needing to regroup and reformulate a new Happy Dream.
May you find your power, your self-respect and your well-being as you reflect on the situation from a couple of new vantage points. I wish you well, Cathryn