I’ve been married to my husband for almost 2 years now, and have been helping him raise his son for the past 5 years. Just recently, my SS and I have not been getting along. Being that he is 9 years old, he constantly tests me. I then discipline him and he in turn disrespects me by smirking or by rolling his eyes. My husband is so much better at picking his battles with him than I am. So, he rarely understands what the fuss is all about. You see, my SS does not have set rules or boundaries when he is with his BM (which is every other week), so I could only imagine that abiding by the rules of his SM is quite difficult for him. Every week that we have him some kind of drama happens and it usually occurs at the the point of me losing control of my emotions. I’m sure that I can go on and on with the different scenarios that occur, however I believe that it is a much bigger and deeper than that. I want to ultimately feel content as a SM, whether my SS hates me or not. Because when I am content and happy, so is my husband.
My need for advice: Is it even possible to become content as a SM?
Hi, I feel like I could write a book in reply to your letter. I “inherited” my ss when he was 5, when he was 8 his bio-mom got married and his attitude towards me changed. I understand how absolutely infuriating even the most trivial things can be and you’re right, it’s deeper than the actions themselves. Realizing this is the first, hardest step on the raod to feeling content. So good for you! You’re perhaps further along than you thought.
Oh my, where to start?…
Skid’s often have a hard time when the rules at their two homes are different. Several therapists told us that when one home has rules and the other one doesn’t (or has significantly less) the stepkids are always (their words not mine) going to openly prefer the home with less structure and rebel against the home with the rules. Yes, we hear kids need (and secretly love) structure, but it doesn’t overtly seem to be the case with children of divorce. I tell you this, so you can know that his actions, be they subtle or quite overt, are to be expected given his circumstances. Knowing that is upsetting, yet once accepted as something you can’t control, it may make it easier for you to “ignore” some of his protests.
Also, as the stepkids we’ve loved since they were young, grow older, they inevitably begin to feel the need for expressing independence and sometimes anger about any tension between the parents. When they become old enough to see the differences between their bio-mom and Stepmom, this can make them feel guilty if they love their Stepmom, especially if their Stepmom is openly more loving or attentive than their own mom. (See Smommentary about “The Loyalty Wars for more about this.)
There are many things that could be causing his behavior and I bet you’ve thought of all of them. My point is for your to see that none of these things have anything to do you with personally. It’s just that you’re in the position, in his eyes, of the most dispensable adult in his life. This is very sad for us, but true for these stepkids. I also tell you this so you can look for any available compassion for this skid, he’s out of control of his life and he’s lashing out where he feels he can be powerful because he feels so powerless with his situation.
OK, now about you. You have a chance to save yourself (and your hubby) lots of pain and suffering. You’re ready and so let me offer a couple of thoughts about the bigger and deeper issues.
If you make a list of the things that really drive you crazy, (big things and little things) you’ll see a connection. Many of the things that drive SMOMS nuts about their stepkids are things that we were never allowed to do when we were children OR, they are things that the stepkids are getting away with that we NEVER got away with as children. They could also be things the stepkids have, we didn’t have or take for granted that we treasured or be things the skid’s feel entitled to that we worked hard for…or never got. When the feelings of rage bubble up from our unconscious, it’s because these long repressed (and un-honored) feelings finally feel aligned with the present situation in some way. Most people, before they know this, just react to whatever is happening and believe that the only way to end the feelings is to stop the event from happening again. This makes sense but is not necessarily true. As we become conscious of what’s happening, we will react differently. Why? Because, when we’re conscious of why something what bothers us, we also gain the ability to control our actions (and not lose our tempers). We become compassionate to ourselves and the child we used to be.
Bottom line, next time you’re feeling upset about something he does, pull yourself into a quiet space and think about what situation it’s reminding you about from your childhood. (You can certainly get a big jump on this if you make your list and reflect on this provately. If you do this, it will make many, many things almost non-events.) When we can look at whatever triggers us as a clue to unprocessed feelings that need our attention, we can be gratefu for the “heads up” and turn our attention to helping ourselves. This is very different than trying to get someone else to change so we won’t feel badly again.
The line from “The Four Agreements” can help us here. “I paraphrase but am pretty close. “It’s not what someone says (or does) that hurts us, it’s that whatever they say or do touches an unhealed wound within us.” When we embrace this approach everything starts to change for us. Growth and revelation can be invigorating. This energy, time and attention that will yield tremendous, palpable healing and the good news is you’ll notice a difference in your reaction to his actions almost immediately. No kidding!
An example from my life: Once I learned this approach I started with my ss’s disrespectful responses to me (or to his Dad) and really noticed that it drove me nuts that he got away with such behaviors, over and over again. What was he doing compared to what happened to me in my childhood? Was it something that I did or didn’t do? For me, it was that I never had the freedom to express my anger to my parents. I was taught very early on, to behave in a certain way, no matter what or how I felt. I was enraged because I was watching him get away with things and do things that I would never have done or gotten away with. Boy oh boy could I feel angry on behalf of the child I used to be! That rage and anger I could honor and process and release. It was an amazing experience how, “Right on” that felt. I’m 55 and yet, I could really identify with my 5,7,9,11 year old self as I looked for and had compassion for those feelings. After that, I began to see his behavior as something I didn’t agree with AND as something I was not responsible for-accept when he spoke to me directly. It was very liberating to no longer give him the power to ruin my day.
Let’s talk about the eye-rolls and smirks you mentioned. I’ve finally learned that you can’t force someone to care for or respect you. You can threaten them into certain behaviors if you have something they want or can hurt them in some way, but that usually doesn’t apply to Stepmoms. So what can we do…we can decide that we’re going to get very, very good at not reacting (unless it is a direct assault on us) knowing that reacting isn’t going to do us any good. As a matter of fact, not reatcing to their bad behavior actually has a chance of getting their attention, but that’s not why we are doing it. We can use our interactions with our stepkids to heal the child we once were. Dr. Alice Miller has written many books to help us with this process. The “Drama of the gifted child” is the first one I’d recommend. It’s going to be a process that requires lots of self-love, patience and determination and is worth all the effort. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful it will be, if you stick with it. Once you read the book, it’s a short one, you’ll know if it is right for you or not.
Your last sentence, “Is it even possible to become content as a Stepmom? Yes, it’s possible if you’re willing to do the work. I’m back on this site, after years of intense training and reflection, to help Stepmoms do this work as they’re ready and/or interested. If you haven’t already, please read the “Lessons Learned” section, under the “Get Help” button. You’ll get lots of other ideas as well as this one.
You’re on the verge of tremendous growth and healing and it’s going to give you the sense of well-being you’re looking for. Your willingness to be “disconnected” from your ss is going to make this process even faster for you-that’s good.
I’m here to help as I can. Be aware, the book is likely to shake you up a bit so be gentle and patient as you open up those unprocessed feelings from your childhood. It will really, really make a big difference how you view and react to your ss’s actions. I’m excited for you. This is the tip of the iceberg, but now you know where to focus your attention. One day, believe it or not, you’ll be able to thank your ss for being the catalyst for your transformation. Strange and hard to imagine, but true nonetheless. All the Best on your journey, Cathryn