Your Questions Answered: Troubled Stepkids

5 05 2010

Dear Jacque:

I have written before in regards to my step son. To be honest I have reached the end of my rope. I am tired of the lying and stealing from him. He hasn’t been stealing “big” items…just little things taking and using things that belong to me (or other members of our household). It’s an issue of trust (or the lack of it with him!)
I had a cloth for cleaning my glasses and he took that (wanted to clean his trumpet with it!) he never asked if it was ok or if he could use it or have it.

I had purchased some chocolate truffles for my husband and he didn’t care for them at the time so I put them in a kitchen drawer for him for a later date…they disappeared the next day…My stepson took them and didn’t ASK and they don’t have permission to just “take food” from the kitchen either.

This morning I found one of my combs in the kids bathroom …when my husband questioned one of his daughters she said no that’s not mine it’s my stepson’s (and it wasn’t his comb, but mine that he confiscated)…again he didn’t ask if he could have it.

I do a lot of sewing and was missing a seam ripper for over a month and was looking and looking for it and couldn’t find it…it was driving me nuts wondering what had happened to it….here it was in HIS room – (why I have no idea).

I’m so tired of trying to find things and to find out that he took it! Then when confronted he lies about it…Oh I got that from a friend at school
We can’t trust him (or don’t) as he proves over and over he isn’t trustworthy and when talked to he get’s angry and defensive – or blames others.

I have asked his dad to send him to live with his mom and he won’t do that…so I resort to being unhappy, in tears nearly every day because I am worn out emotionally from all the lying, stealing, dishonesty. He was diagnosed ADHD and was given medication. Come to find out he was throwing out the pills after my husband handed it to him. This has gone on for weeks and many days I suspected that he wasn’t taking it and here he’d lie about it…oh I took it. I’m tired of the deception. I don’t enjoy being around him anymore. Last night I stayed at work until 8:00 so I didn’t have to deal with him (I’m too stressed) and I told my husband that I’m going to stay in a hotel this weekend…. I’m simply worn out and tired of it. I can’t live in a house where there’s deception, dishonor and dishonesty.

I grew up in a home of TOTAL respect for authority, my mom, adults etc. and he simply doesn’t have any respect. We went through counseling and he said I was way too involved emotionally in the kids and raising them and I needed to step away. It’s my husband’s job and his ex-wifes job to raise them. She basically has nothing to do with the kids. She sees them maybe every other month and went 2 years with no contact at all.

What do you suggest that we do? I told my husband if he is taking little things…just wait a few years…..he’ll be taking money, the car without permission …who knows what he’ll take…it’s like there isn’t a conscience. When given a consequence he gets angry instead of showing remorse like my stepdaughters do.
Thanks for your ministry.

Dear Stepmom:

What a tough time you’re having right now. I am so sorry that you’re feeling so emotionally depleted. I would like to offer you a few things to think about.

Find something good to focus on. Right now. Right away. Whether it’s how much you love your husband’s laugh or your favorite funny movie or your best friend. I don’t care what it is but the only way your brain will be able to come up with creative solutions to your issues is if your body is not under siege from the stress hormones you are pumping it full of right now. (Cortisol and adrenaline.) Have an arsenal of positive actions you can take that make you FEEL GOOD. It’s the only way to help yourself get light enough to float on up out of the muck.

Consider your therapist’s counsel. Your therapist was correct. Most stepmothers take on far too much responsibility for the children they live with full- or part-time, especially in the early days of stepfamily life. You didn’t mention how long you’ve been together, but my guess is somewhere between 2 to 5 years because what you’re describing often comes during that time in stepfamily development. Problems also flare up when kids turn into teenagers.

But at the end of the day, your husband’s kids are his kids. He does need to step up and take responsibility for them. But as women we find this incredibly difficult. We’re supposed to be the female head of the household. We’re supposed to be the ones in charge of the kids. Stepmothers come to the table with these expectations, but the fact is our stepchildren are not ours.

There are times when stepmothers do become more equal parenting partners with the biological parent: If you have full-custody for instance, or if Dad refuses to parent his children. However, research tells us that stepmothers do best parenting from the back seat with Dad’s full support of her authority. We also know that stepmothers who spend time bonding with their stepchildren in the early days of stepfamily life and who have Dad’s support, are the ones who end up moving into a more equal parenting role because the kids and Dad all accept it more readily.

I have a few questions for you: Have he household rules been made clear to all the kids? What are the consequences for breaking the rules? How does DAD enforce them. Not you. This child needs discipline (not punishment, there’s a difference). And he needs it from his Dad. Divorced Dads often feel guilty about having rules and discipline in place, but kids need them. It’s critical to their development.

And: What would happen if you backed off a bit and let Dad parent his kids?

Understand your stepson’s motivations. Your email is full of anger at your stepson and rightly so. But if you choose to continue to feel such resentment toward him, you’ll never be able to build a bridge that can help him turn his behavior around now before it gets any worse. My advice is to turn on your curiosity about why your stepson is stealing things and lying about it. Turn on your compassion for him. Sit down today and write a paragraph as though you are him. Write about what you think his life has been like for the past five years or ten years.

Children tend to act out when they are hurting or afraid because they don’t have the words or the emotional maturity to tell us what’s really going on. Our brains don’t fully develop until we’re in our 20s so it could very well be that your stepson is stealing things from you and his father because his mother is not there for him and he is heartbroken about her abandonment. That would be my guess, not knowing the full story. Children are always loyal to their mothers whether they are fully present, drug addicts, in jail, or have left them to start another family or move to another state. And because he can’t hate his mother without hurting himself even more, he has made you and his father his emotional targets for now. It could also be that he’s stealing from you because if he makes you leave maybe his mother will come back.

In your case, instead of focusing on what he’s doing wrong, I would ask you to start focusing on this boy’s pain. How can help him deal with his heartbreak and fear? How can you guide him? It’s a lot to ask, my dear stepmom. And even if you decide to work on coming at this boy with compassion, it doesn’t guarantee that he will ever thank you for your efforts. This is why your focus also needs to be on your own personal growth.

Define what you’re getting out of this. Personal growth is one of the top things women cite as a benefit of stepfamily life, especially women who have really tough stepkids or ex-wives. But here’s my take: You chose this man and this family for a reason. What is that reason? Why are you with them? What are you learning? How is your soul growing? Right now personal growth can be something you cling to. Later on it can become something you’re proud of.

My heart is with you and your family, Dear Stepmom.

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2 responses

5 05 2010
Your Questions Answered: Modeling a Healthy Relationship « Becoming A Stepmom

[…] response to the needy stepdaughter here. Also, because your stepchildren’s mother is absent, read this post, too, where I speak more about what might be happening with your stepchildren because Mom is absent much […]

21 08 2011
StepmomInSameSituation

Oh, my goodness! It’s like I’m reading a portion of my current life with my stepson. Unlike A Stepmom, I only have one stepson (thank God!), but he is driving me up the wall! He too would come in to our room, take my things, and use them. I also come from a place where respect is number 1, but this doesn’t seem to ring true with my husband. Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on our relationship because of the day he disciplines (or lack of) his son. And of course, I don’t want to come down on the kid because I’m already “the evil stepmother” in his eyes to make matters worse. It seems at least A Stepmom might have some hope to fix this problem. I, on the other hand, don’t feel so hopeful (sometimes) since this has come to affect my husband’s and my relationship I feel resentful and angry a lot of times and just the mere sight of his son makes me not want to speak with him. I told my husband we need to go to counseling to get advice on how to solve our problems, but he doesn’t want to go. I am very desolate and many times I don’t feel like neither of them respect me.

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