Questions in the Parenting Forum are being answered by doctors from MindWorks. Topics include: Behavioral Issues - Discipline, Emotional Development, Family Issues, Recreation, School Issues, Social Development
I've been a stepfather to both a stepson and stepdaughter for 2 years. My stepson is now 15. I have known my stepson for 7 years and over that time our relationship has been tough but over the past year has gotten much worse. In general I have no problems with my stepdaughter. I use to have activities that I could do with my stepson but now we have nothing we enjoy doing together. I find myself very irritated by many different small things that he does. Small things like not doing his dishes(constantly reminding him), him fighting with his mom about doing homework, and always wanting to eat special made or bought meals just for him is just driving me crazy.
I've had several discussions with my wife about my feelings over the years but attempts to fix the issues have failed. She is at the point where she is happy with the way he is and views me as always finding problems with him that need fixing. This has increased my irritation to the point where it's impacting my feelings for her and I find myself not wanting to go home (needing to stay away from the entire situation).
I also had a very bad relationship with my father where I always felt I could never do enough to make him happy. Both my wife and I wonder if that is what is leading me to have so many issues with my stepson and none with my stepdaughter?
Any help on where to begin to try to accept these things more and not allow them to anger me would be appreciated.
I wish I had a magic answer to your question, since I too have a teenage stepson. Your issues and frustrations are very typical--because you are trying to parent someone else's child! No matter how hard you have worked to make the relationship a good one, you are likely to be a convenient 'scape goat' (target) for teenage angst. From the children's perspective, it is much safer for a child to risk alienating or hurting a stepparent rather than biological parents. This is particularly so if you are trying to enforce rules and standards that the biological parents do not agree upon. Teens are very good at sensing opportunities to 'divide and conquer' their parents, and excel at forming alliances where one parent is pitted against another (usually the less permissive parent is the 'bad guy').
Most of the information out there on step parenting is for stepmothers, but your issues are the same even though you are a dad. The primary issue here is your marriage. Your marriage is the foundation for the family, and it must take priority. Psychologist John Gottman, an expert researcher in marriage, has documented that couples must maintain a sense of 'we-ness', making their marriage a safe haven from life stressors. The first priority is working out the issues with your wife so that you can both be happy in your home. The books The Relationship Cure and The Seven Secrets of Making Marriage Work by John Gottman are excellent resources. Couples therapy is also very helpful,.and I recommend it strongly for anyone with stepchildren. You may find that your own father issues are significant, but I doubt that is the only issue here, so don't write off the whole situation as just your personal problem. Parenting teens is hard, and you do not have to accept rude behavior or maltreatment just because you are a stepparent.
Finally, you need to agree with your wife on how you will manage behavior. Check out the book The Kazdin Method by Alan Kazdin-the chapter on managing behavior in teens is really good. You can also work with a psychologist or counselor to learn more effective ways of managing behavior.Everyone in the household will be the happier for it, including the teens. Also check out www.steptogether.org, they have a nice resources page, articles, and a chat room.
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