Tag Archives: stepkid

Small delights

I did the school run for the Boys by myself today and will be again tomorrow, since the Lovely Man has two early starts at work.

By “school run” I don’t just mean the drive in to school but the entire early-morning-drill-sergeant-get-boys-up-and-ready routine.

It only lasts about ninety minutes, but it’s quite an intense process, especially since stepmother authority to compel obedience/listening/quick responses is often fairly limited.

I sometimes dread the prospect of school run days, but today went fairly smoothly, on the whole. (Three boys of various sizes invariably = a range of at least minor hiccups, but that’s parenting, I guess.)

There was one lovely moment, though – I had made umpteen slices of toast with strawberry jam, which had been delivered to the table and duly devoured, and was standing at the sink trying to get the post-breakfast fallout cleared away.

Suddenly, a little pair of arms wrapped around my waist from behind and hugged me, and Boy C said:

Thankyou, B. You’re *really* nice to us!

He’s such a sweetie, and my smile persisted even after I looked down at where his hands had been and saw his little jam-sticky paw prints on the front of my cream dress.

That’s the other side of parenting, I guess, and I like it, jam and all.

6 Comments

Filed under Family, Food, Kids, Me, Stepfamily Life

Shades of beige

Monday was the first night of our regular week with the kids.

As usual, Boy A was fairly hostile towards me: he refused to respond to my hello, and every comment I made (not to him – I don’t waste time trying to make conversation with him directly) was met with a shrug or a smart remark.

For instance, I was talking to the other boys about making Crepes Suzette for dessert this week and describing how we would set fire to the crepes before serving them.

(Setting fire to foodstuffs has gigantic appeal to boys, in my experience.)

At this point, Boy A butted in to snidely suggest that he’d rather pour petrol than liqueur on the crepes. To which I replied that he was quite welcome to add petrol to his own serve.

Normally I wouldn’t have responded that way; that night had me teetering alarmingly close to the cliff edge of my self control.

His rejoinder?

“Yeah, that’s really funny.”

Oh, right, because it was all about me being funny at his expense.

Anyway, by 5pm I’d had it and retreated to the bedroom with my laptop for much of the rest of the evening, feeling besieged and frustrated but glad to be avoiding further hurtful comments and pointed exclusion.

Later, once the kids were finally in bed, I asked the Lovely Man how he felt the evening had gone and whether there was anything extra I could have done to support him with the kids.

I was expecting to talk about specific tasks, like me doing dinner so he could cover homework duty – that kind of mundane stuff.

Instead, I heard:

“I think it was good that you kind of made yourself scarce and kept a low profile in the bedroom, because Boy A finds it difficult when he thinks you’re too much in the foreground.”

*Cue crickets*

Finally, I found my voice.

“I’m all in favour of keeping things low-key, especially in the first 24 hours we have the Boys, but I am NOT going to hide out in the bedroom or generally fade into the wallpaper because Boy A prefers it that way. His behaviour is the problem here, NOT MINE.”

Turns out that the Lovely Man hadn’t even noticed Boy A’s nastiness, and just thought I was relaxing in the bedroom because I wanted to.

I found it disturbing and a bit hurtful, though, that it’s considered preferable that I minimise my presence and role in the house to keep the peace and keep Boy A “happy”.

Ultimately, I think those kinds of accommodations devalue and disrespect me and enable Boy A to continue deferring his adjustment to our family situation.

I understand that the Lovely Man feels stuck in a lose/lose situation, juggling to keep everyone happy, but this incident has made me wonder – if my best contribution is made by downplaying my existence in what is meant to be my part-time home, why am I here at all?

As a stepmother, are you ever asked or expected to downplay yourself or fade into beige to keep others in your stepfamily “comfortable”?

14 Comments

Filed under Communication, Kids, Lovely Man, Speaking Up Challenge, Stepfamily Life

And… another search string

Found in my blog stats today, in the section showing what search phrases lead poor hapless victims readers here was this sad snippet of stepmother misery:

“my husband is teaching his kids to treat stepmom as a doormat”

I would call the Lovely Man more than usually supportive, and yet there are still times I end up feeling like a doormat, or, as I recently expressed to him, “the disregarded fourth child”. Perhaps it’s just a built-in and inevitable feature of the step dynamic?

He has never, ever allowed the Boys to give me orders or expected me to wait on them, though. Or disbelieved me when I’ve explained that events have occurred differently from how Boy A one or other of the children has described to him. And I’ve overheard him stand up for me against unreasonable complaints and kid griping born of loyalty conflicts more than once.

So I can’t even begin to imagine how dreadful it would feel to have this difficult stepmother role to play, to try your best to help care for someone else’s children but be exploited in the process by the partner who is supposed to cherish you.

Once again, I feel very lucky.

3 Comments

Filed under Communication, Kids, Lovely Man, Stepfamily Life

Disengaging

Disengaging is not a new concept in step-land.

But it was new to me when I first came across some articles a few months back.

At that time, I was trying trying trying to get the Lovely Man’s kids, and especially Boy A, to like me.

There were thoughtful little gifts, special efforts to make their favourite foods, questions about their interests and opinions.

Boy B was mostly ok, though he was wary and occasionally rejecting. The day I overheard him tell Boy A that he hated me I went into our bedroom and cried.

Boy C was, as ever, fun and funny to be around, offering me a level of mostly unconditional trust and pleasure at our friendship that felt like it was all that was getting me through.

Boy A, though, was really letting rip. Everything I did was stupid, he felt free to criticise my appearance, my cooking, my family. The sighs of disdain rang out and the eyes rolled and his gaze and ears were always averted from me. He actively sought to exclude me and tried to build alliances with the Lovely Man against me.

My poor sister used to patiently hear out my venting and say:

B, you’ve got to stop trying so hard! Just ignore him if he’s being nasty.

That was her approach with her own (heavily alienated) stepdaughter, and she found there was less pressure on them both.

But me? I Wasn’t Giving Up.

But then, after a particularly awful visit, I came across the disengaging concept.

Here’s the classic piece about The Disengaged Stepparent.

And Help! My Wife is Disengaged, an article aimed at men with frustrated stepparent partners.

And finally, Disengaging Made Easy.

(A lie, I’m afraid. It’s not actually easy. But it’s easier than the alternative!)

I didn’t follow the suggestions exactly.

I haven’t refused to do laundry, or made any big announcements. I will if I need to, though.

Here’s what I now do differently:

I’ve mostly given up cooking for the Boys.

It was causing me way too much grief to have my nice meals rudely rejected, so mostly I allow the Lovely Man make the dinners. If I do cook, it’s something their Dad makes that they’ve had a million times before, or a dessert that they’ve eaten in the past and liked. School lunches, when I make them, are exactly what they had the previous day.

The best thing? I’m not giving anyone a hook to hang their loyalty issues or desire to reject me on.

I now almost never buy little treats or presents for the Boys.

I liked doing it, but I didn’t like being expected to do it or not being thanked, so I stopped.

If, for instance, I decide to go to the fancy deli to buy Boy A’s favourite gourmet jam so he has an extra breakfast option, I don’t mention it, or I let him think the Lovely Man bought it.

It’s not that I don’t want to do nice things for the Boys – I do – it’s that I don’t want the stress of being unhappy with the way they choose to react, or to add to the “pity spoiling” they already get from other family members.

Instead, I aim to be completely present in the time I spend with them, whether that’s wrestling on the floor or helping with their homework.

I play with Boys B and C and hang out when and as much as I feel like.

Generally, we have a play session each day, but if I feel like staying in my bedroom with a book, then I do it without feeling guilty.

And because I’m actually enjoying the time I spend with the younger Boys rather than forcing it, we have more fun. They beg me to come and play now.

I no longer try to include Boy A. He’d be welcome if he wanted to join in, but he never does and I don’t mind at all.

I try to do what I say I will rather than “give in” to be popular.

So last visit I told the Boys they could choose a treat for two days of smooth morning school runs. If both mornings hadn’t ended being smooth, they would not have gotten their treat.

I tell Boy C exactly what time I will read until in the evenings, and it is his job to be in his PJs and in bed with clean teeth before that time. The longer he takes getting ready, the shorter his reading time. I don’t give in to cries of “just a few more minutes!”

Because I said I wouldn’t, that’s why. And I want them to know that I can’t be swayed by begging, pouting or bad behaviour.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Ironically, I’m both happier in myself and more popular with the Boys as a result of my decision to disengage.

There are different approaches to disengaging as a stepparent. Depending on the situation, it may not need to be full-scale, on-strike, you’re-hitchhiking-to-school revolution. But I bet there’s a few things in almost every stepmother’s life that might benefit from a strategic disengagement.

What do you disengage from in your stepfamily?

What could you disengage from?

22 Comments

Filed under Family, Food, Kids, Lovely Man, Me, Stepfamily Life, What I Wish I'd Known

The Unnegotiables

Boy A once described something as “unnegotiable” – I’ve never forgotten the clumsy word.

A brilliant post from Urban Stepmom got me thinking about what is “unnegotiable” for me.

In the past, I’ve tended to put up and shut up a lot, endeavouring to silently tolerate situations that leave me grinding my teeth.

It’s not that I’m planning to institute a Reign of Terror, but there are certainly aspects of our stepfamily life that give me so much stress or plain niggling annoyance that I need to try to change them.

In the end, gritting my teeth and trying to endure just causes a kind of overflow effect, where the pent-up stress makes me less able to handle other stresses that wouldn’t normally rock me.

The little things often seem to create more frustration that the Big Bad Majorly Ugly Issues.

I’ve always taken the view that I can’t make changes happen by myself; without the Lovely Man on board nothing will be different. Some of these I’ve half-heartedly tackled in the past, been met with assurances that things will change and then watched, frustrated, as the same old song kept on a-playin’.

Maybe it’s a question of really speaking clearly and firmly about my feelings, negotiating solutions and then following through with determination.

In a stepfamily don’t ask, don’t get sometimes translates to don’t insist, don’t get.

One thing I’ve learned is that in selected matters that are REALLY important to you, you can’t afford for your concerns to represent the path of least resistance, or the extended family members who don’t mind recruiting Nasty or Whingy to get their way will automatically prevail.

After all, if I say I really want something, but back down from insisting, the Boys or their Mum’s contrary wishes will always bulldoze through, leaving me waving my tiny garden trowel and squeaking But!.. But!.. in their wake.

So here are some matters I’m going to aim to have formally added to the Family Unnegotiable List over the next few months.

No kids in my ensuite bathroom.

The Lovely Man recently commented that if we were to do a planned remodel where we move the weirdly-sited back toilet into the main bathroom and turn the extra space into a walk-in pantry, we would need to be flexible about letting the Boys use the ensuite if another kid was already in the main bathroom.

If that’s the deal, I’d rather keep my cooking appliances in their current unreachable ten foot high storage cupboards and retain my ensuite sanctuary.

After all, we have another bathroom that the Boys can use in the studio.

Our ensuite is the only place I have in the entire house guaranteed kid free. Otherwise known as The Sanity Room.

Sanity and wee on the floor are mutually incompatible, in my view.

No toys in the loungeroom

Our loungeroom is basically a wide hallway. I’ve tried asking the Lovely Man to encourage the kids to keep toys out of the walkway. I’ve even corralled toys onto one rug so we can transit the loungeroom without clocking up painful Kid Recreational Equipment Injuries.

No matter what I do, the lounge instantly becomes an obstacle course of Lego, remote-controlled vehicles of various descriptions, comics and general junk the moment the kids arrive in our city. I can’t handle the complete encroachment of kid chaos any more.

From next visit, there will be a designated playroom set up near the kitchen.

(Oh, and please don’t tell me That’s just living with kids. We are talking about domestic crazy of Hurricane In ToyWorld proportions here, not just normal kid mess. I have the pictures to prove it.)

Pleases and Thankyous – every time!

Self-explanatory… I don’t feel good about giving or doing for the Boys unless they Use Their Manners.

They’re getting a lot better already – at the instigation of the Lovely Man, impolite requests and answers are met with Pardon? Pardon?

I’m sure it’s violently irritating to them. But it’s also highly, highly effective.

Effective is good.

Kids who don’t answer when offered food/asked for their flavour preference/their opinion don’t get what’s on offer/don’t get consulted further.

I am not going to stand begging them to pick from raspberry or chocolate like they are doing me a favour.

Currently they know that the Lovely Man will make sure he persists until they eventually decide to pay attention.

This visit, they’re going to learn that if they’re not on the ball by my second inquiry, the opportunity to get whatever it is will just fade away.

What’s on your “Unnegotiables” wish list? Or what would you like to put on there if you could?

11 Comments

Filed under Communication, Kids, Stepfamily Life

A sticky one

Boy C, in the car on our way home from dinner last night, within earshot of Boy A, Boy B and the Lovely Man:

B, I want to ask you a question?

Me:

Sure. What do you want to know?

Boy C:

When will you have babies?

Me:

(Gulps, hearing Boy A’s ears swivel around to listen)

Boy C, continuing at warp speed:

If you do, will they be girls? Will they be super annoying? Will they try to push me off a cliff?

Me, very relieved at where the second, third and fourth questions took this discussion:

Ummm. Well. What I can say is, if I ever did have babies and they pushed you off a cliff, that would be much worse than annoying.

Perhaps I should have engaged with this question seriously and dug to find out if Boy C was feeling a bit insecure, but attempted in front of Boy A it would have been a straight-back-to-Mummy, lose/lose endeavour.

So I didn’t.

5 Comments

Filed under Kids, Me, Stepfamily Life

Divided loyalties

Loyalty conflicts are perhaps the key to the challenging nature of life in a stepfamily.

Loyalty binds of various kinds for kids, a sense of loyalty imbalanced or even betrayed for step-parents, divided loyalties for repartnered parents.

Recently, I read a superb description of the problematic but central role of loyalty in stepfamily life in an article by therapist William J. Doherty, originally published in the Family Therapy Networker, May/June, 1999, pp. 32-38, 54.

Given recent posts on Wednesday Martin’s blog, and subsequent discussion in the comments, about the importance of finding a therapist who is knowledgeable about stepfamily dynamics, I found this article particularly topical.

Interestingly, Doherty notes that he has no personal experience of life in a stepfamily. That being so, all I can say is full marks for empathy!

I really, really recommend reading the full article.

For non-clickers, though, I have included several paragraphs that, for me, eloquently encapsulate the challenges and achievements of stepfamily life.

More than anything else, stepfamilies make us face the unpleasant truth that core goals of adults and children, and of husbands and wives, sometimes diverge in family life.  We want a divorce and our children want us to stay married to their parent.  We want to remarry and our kids want us to stay single–or remarry our original spouse…. We want our new spouse to love our children the way we do, and they are… counting the years till the children leave home.  When stepfamilies nevertheless succeed in creating a nurturing life together, as many ultimately do, it is a striking human achievement.

….

Conceived after a loss and born in a love affair that represents the renewal of hope for grownups but not for children, stepfamilies strive everyday to reconcile that which cannot be fully reconciled… Stepfamilies are the moral pioneers of contemporary family life, showing us all how to love and persevere in the face of loyalties that multiply and divide but never fully converge.*

*This extract is quoted under the Fair Use doctrine of the Copyright Act 2009 for the purposes of criticism, comment and education.

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Filed under Counselling, Stepfamily Life, Writing

Adventures in Goo

So, I bought Boy B some green Gelli Baff as a Christmas stocking filler…

Boy C: B! B! You’ve gotta come in here and see the goo!

Me: Is everyone decent? (Knowing that Boy A and, increasingly, Boy B can be a bit bashful)

Boy C: Yes, but Boy B’s only got his t-shirt on. He says you can come in, though.

Me: Don’t worry, Boy B, I can’t see a thing.

Boy C: You can now! (pulling up Boy B’s shirt to expose his bare bum)

Me: That’s ok, Boy B, I’ve got one of those built-in editing things they have on the the TV. All I could see was a blurry section.

*************

Some time later…

Lovely Man: Boy B, if I can arrange the bathslime so that it’s visible on your back but your penis is completely hidden, can B come in and look at your scales?

*************

Boy C, to the tune of Walking On Sunshine, accompanied by actions to match:

I’m dancing on the toilet, oh-oh

I’m dancing on the toilet, uh-ha

I’m dancing on the toilet, woo-hoo

And don’t it feel good!

*************

Guess I’m back in the Kidhaus


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Filed under About Us, Christmas, Family, Kids, Lovely Man, Me, Stepfamily Life

The missing link

I generally think of myself as a fairly well informed stepmum.

I read the books, I follow the blogs, I’m newly subscribed to the magazine (which is great – thanks Brenda!).

But there’s something I miss doing, time after time, despite knowing how important it is.

And that’s self-care.

When so much research tells us how important self-care on the part of stepmums is to the survival of the stepfamilies, sometimes I feel like banging my chin, hard, against the tabletop.

Not just once, either. Except that the whole repeated banging thing might end up being a bit counter-productive…

Seriously, though, I find that when I’m coping alright, my self-care routines get pushed aside. There’s always so, so much to do.

(And I don’t even have kids of my own – how much harder must scheduling self-care be for stepmums with their own tribes?)

And then – wham, bam!

Out of the blue, whattayouknow, I’m not coping so fabulously all of a sudden!

Ummm, duh, could these phenomena be linked, readers?

I think they are. And I’ve found that when I’ve got to work to dig myself out of one of those holes, the trip to the surface is oh-so-much harder and longer than it would have been if I’d refused to let my self-care time each day get encroached on.

Interestingly, these little episodes of stress, rumination and anxiety seem to occur whether the children are with us or not.

They are always about or fuelled by the step dynamic with the boys, and particularly the ongoing hostility I experience from Boy A, or by the challenges posed by negotiations with the Lovely Man’s ex-wife, but I’ve noticed that we don’t have to be in the middle of a brown tornado for things to get to me.

And that when I’m looking after myself properly, the situation, however lumpy and bumpy, never really seems to feel like more than I can handle.

So, to keep it very simple, and knowing that not all of us will allow ourselves time to design and implement a self-care plan as wonderfully comprehensive as Peggy Nolan’s, here’s my new self-care shortcut.

What’s one thing you like to do, just for you, that makes you feel good about yourself and that you can do today?

Mine is “go for a run”.

So now I’m going to go and do it.

And I’m committing to asking myself that same question and doing whatever it is I come up with every day this week.

To help build a proper self-care habit, I’m going to make myself accountable by posting a brief blog update for the next seven days, saying what my self-care activity was and whether I followed through.

Anyone want to join me in the self-care challenge?

7 Comments

Filed under Me, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life, Writing

Focusing on the strengths

Often, if our partner has several kids, we can find that one of them in particular will really call on a lot of our attention. And not in a good way.

Anger, acting out, resentful and disrespectful behaviour, symptoms of Parental Alienation, being a paid-up cheer squad member of Team Mummy; all these can mean that we stepmothers and, even more noticeably, our partners, concentrate lots of extra attention on the child experiencing the biggest problems.

This might be controversial, but today I want to ask:

What is this intense focus teaching a child who is behaving badly?

Is it teaching them to communicate their needs, or that if they want attention they should just act out until they get it?

Is it teaching them responsibility for their own happiness, or that it’s the job of everyone else in their world to rearrange life, the universe and everything to make them happy?

Is it teaching them to work on feeling good, or that there is a secondary gain to being depressed and angry?

Is it showing him or her self-control and that other people’s feelings are worthy of respect, or that the way to get what he or she wants is to throw a fit, and if that tactic doesn’t work first time to just keep ramping up the emotional volume until it does?

Is it teaching them to value relationships, or that playing on their Dad’s guilt about their post-divorce pain is a good way to score well materially?

Positive psychology tells us that it’s important to focus on the strengths in our lives.

While of course an unhappy or angry child needs to feel heard and have his or her needs lovingly considered and addressed, perhaps even with professional assistance, making our relationship focus all about that child’s “issues” is sending a message that may not have the outcome we hope for.

Ditto for our partners, who can sometimes feel so driven by the dreaded “Daddy guilts” that they push everything aside to act as 24/7 rescue squad for their acting-out child.

It can be easy, too, for any other kids who are behaving better and working towards acceptance of the new realities in their families to end up being deprived of their fair share of attention from the significant adults in their lives.

Maybe, underneath their compliant behaviour, these less “difficult” kids have needs that aren’t getting met in the sprint to focus on their more obviously troubled sibling. A case of the squeaky wheel getting the oil, perhaps.

So today, I’m wondering if it might be worthwhile to spend some time focusing on the quiet achievers amongst our stepkids, on the kids who might be struggling inside but are giving it their best, and on nurturing our relationships with those who more willingly accept us, rather than bashing our heads against the wall of those who reject us and enjoy it.

My beloved sister, a stepmum herself, said to me once,

B, if one of the boys loves you and one kind of likes you and one doesn’t like you, I’d call that a victory.

I think she’s right, so I’m going to make an effort to focus on the victories and let the most draining, depleting and frustrating relationships take a backseat. For a while, anyway.

(For more about positive psychology, I can thoroughly recommend The Happiness Hypothesis as a practical handbook, as well as The Happiness Institute, which has lots of fantastic (and free) resources for identifying and nurturing the strengths in our lives and relationships.)

6 Comments

Filed under Kids, Stepfamily Life