Bite Back

I was over at Family In Bloom reading Tulip’s latest about how her husband put a really powerful and appropriate boundary in place for her pre-teen stepdaughter, Daisy. Go read her post, if you haven’t already – the way Tulip’s husband handled the situation was just SO perfect. It was like stepfamily poetry or something.

What was interesting though was despite the ringing-from-the-hills rightness of how the issue got dealt with, a rightness so patent that it had commenters alternately sighing wistfully and congratulating madly, Tulip was nonetheless second guessing the actions taken and wondering if the way the particular situation was dealt with was too harsh.

(In case I wasn’t already clear, there was NO.WAY. it was too harsh… in my opinion, anyway.)

The whole thing made me think: isn’t it funny/weird/interesting that we stepmums tend to push harder than our partners for boundaries, rules, structure in a dynamic that can feel utterly ENDLESS, but when we finally get our wish and we get to firm up the boundaries or someone else does it for us, we suddenly feel a tiny bit guilty, uncertain, or just plain mean?

I had this come up recently in a different context.

It was my week in the Boys’ City, and there had been a steady but not slow degeneration into morning chaos and disorganisation from the Boys. Morning after morning, we’d get halfway to school to hear a voice from the back that someone had forgotten their assignment, due today and reeeeeeeally important. Or someone else had left their lunch behind. Or their tie, and now they wouldn’t match the other kids at choir and would risk getting into trouble.

I’m sure I need hardly say that in every instance, there had been a range of reminders that morning about the assignment, the lunch, the tie. For goodness sakes, the Lovely Man and I give multiple prompts about taking assignments and homework with them, we place the Boys’ lunch boxes on top of their school bags to be packed and we LAY THEIR UNIFORMS OUT ON THEIR BEDS for them (OMG, I’m a valet to pre-teens!) while they enjoy their leisurely reading breakfasts. Which is another story altogether…

Anyway, the Boys were constantly and sloppily forgetting their school things. And for the most part, the Lovely Man would either turn the car around to get whatever it was, guaranteeing a late arrival at school for all the Boys, including any that were organised that morning, or he would drop them at school, then drive the twenty-five to thirty minute round trip to collect the forgotten item and deliver it to the school. There were never any negative consequences to the Boys from their forgetfulness, just a confident expectation that the adult servants would rectify the situation with minimal inconvenience to the child involved.

I’ve always had a problem with this approach; the incentives aren’t there for improvement in the patterns of behaviour, so how could we expect improvement? It would actually be unfair to expect the Boys to be more careful to remember their things unless the adult response changed.

So anyway, the Lovely Man had early work on a couple of mornings in a row and it was down to me to do school runs alone. The Boys were a tiny bit more motivated about getting ready in a timely way than usual, but inevitably the call came: Boy B had forgotten his blazer and tie, and Boy A had forgotten his blazer as well, despite my reminders.

We were about halfway to school, doing okay for time but set to be late if I turned the car around, so after checking that they wouldn’t be cold, I said:

It’s a pity, but I’ve got things on today, so I can’t run home and get them for you. You’ll just have to manage as best you can.

There were no demands that I rearrange my schedule or accusations of cruelty or wickedness; they were pretty accepting.

But you know what?

Even though I stuck to my guns, it was a warmish day, and I absolutely knew letting them tough it out was the right and necessary thing to do if they were ever going to learn to take responsibility for packing their school necessaries properly, I felt bad and guilty and just plain mean.

All day long.



Filed under Kids, Stepfamily Life

5 responses to “Bite Back

  1. Ahhh yes, the guilt of step-parenthood. Why is it that suggesting rules, discipline, and even simple well intentioned guidance always makes me feel as though I’m overstepping some imaginary line that separates us step-parents from “real” parents? Husband does a spectacular job of taking care of and instructing his kiddos, but it’s a Guy-Environment around here, with me being the only female in the house. Naturally, there are things I notice that most dudes either don’t see, or don’t care about (think picking up toys and clothes, throwing out small wrappers, etc.) But as one who still feels like an interloper in the family, it’s hard to lay down new laws, even when it’s in the family’s best interest. Thanks for the link to Tulip. It’s a great example for the rest of us.

  2. Amy

    I loved how Tulip’s hubby handled that situation!

    And I love that you told the boys tough with their jackets. At some point, kids have to start taking responsibility for their own things. And learning that actions have consequences. And even we bio moms feel guilty when we step up and tell them no – tough luck – deal with the situation. It’s hard to tell your child “nope sorry, I won’t deliver that assignment (that I reminded you about 3 billion times), now take the partial credit for it being late”. Or “sorry you forgot your lunch, eat the peanut butter sandwich the school provides, you won’t starve”. But, its the only way they’ll learn.

  3. Grrr guilt sucks and btw not all teachers approve of parents running around at the behest of their children who have forgotten (to do) x,y and z. In fact I’m very much of let the child deal with the unpleasant consequences camp.

  4. I think you handled it right. Don’t feel guilty! They will be more careful to remember in the future, and that is the goal, right?

  5. Hey, cool!! I didn’t know you referenced my page! I was even frustrated with myself for feeling guilty about something that I knew in my gut was right and I’ve been working towards (boundaries, rules, consistency) for YEARS!!! It’s crazy how us stepmoms are sometimes hardest on ourselves!

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