12/27/2020 0 Comments
I’m in a tricky situation with my bio son and one of my stepsons. My teenage stepson (SS13) came to live with us because him and high-conflict biomom (HCBM) and new stepdad just couldn’t get along.
Since moving in with us, we’ve managed to get SS13 talking to a counselor and husband and I are working with him too to work on our parenting. SS13 has quite a bit of hurt and trauma from years of verbal and sometimes physical abuse from HCBM and he is making progress since seeing the counselor.
However, he lashes out frequently at my bioson (BS8), calling him stupid and other bad names, ridiculing his actually very good ideas, showing jealousy when I’m attentive to BS8 by saying he’s such a baby because he needs a hug or help with schoolwork, etc. BS8 and him generally get along pretty well but BS8 told me that he feels there is a double standard in our house because I discipline him when he’s rude, uses bad language, or isn’t following rules. Meanwhile, my husband generally gives warning after warning but rarely gives SS13 consequences so things aren’t changing.
I’ve told my husband that I’m not comfortable disciplining SS13 and it’s his job as bio dad to take responsibility for his discipline. He does well at times but is very inconsistent as he and I have different standards as to what type of behavior is acceptable (for him, swearing and name calling is what he grew up with and is family banter for him).
I can see the effect the ridiculing and bullying is having on BS8 as he’s been starting to talk about feeling invisible and not important and wanting to hurt himself. He’s got a huge personality so for him to say that is pretty shocking.
I know SS13 is hurting too from all the trauma done to him by HCBM and I want to help him heal but I feel that my first priority is to BS8 and by trying to help SS13 is hurting BS8. SS13 is also developing a bond with me as I listen to him and do things for him that show I care (which he tells me his mom doesn’t even do) so I genuinely wish he could stay with us permanently sometimes, until I’m having to deal with all the emotional fallout when BS8 is telling me that he’s hurting because of the things SS13 says to him. SS13 has two bio parents who are primarily responsible for his well being so I shouldn’t have to feel bad because my instinct is to do whatever it takes to protect BS8 and provide him with a safe environment, free from damaging influences. Why do I feel like I’m being selfish in wanting SS13 to return to his mom’s in order to protect BS8?
- Feeling torn
Dear Feeling torn,
I can tell you want to do what’s right for your whole family – which includes your stepson. But if your husband isn’t on board, you can’t make up for two parents who do things differently than you do.
You CAN be a light and positive influence for your stepson… but not if you are worn-out and resentful. You are worried that it’s selfish for you to want to protect your own son and send your stepson away, so I’m going to assume two things: 1) you think that your way of parenting is better than your husbands, and 2) you believe that putting your own needs or your son’s needs first is selfish.
I’m going to challenge those beliefs a little bit.
1) I see that you want to do what’s right for your whole family (son and stepson included) but others aren’t on board (your partner and biomom). You think that your way is the right way, and that the absent parenting will lead to a future of doom and gloom for your stepson. You don’t want that, so you’re trying to force your way for fear of a bad outcome – that’s love, isn’t it? It’s commendable that you don’t want your stepson to be in harms way – but what if you’re wrong? What if these absent parents are exactly what your stepson needs to become the person he is meant to be? (Sure, that may be unlikely, but just what if?) As a stepmom, you can’t make up for two absent parents, or enforce your way when others are inconsistent. It may backfire, and they will see you as the problem. You may become resentful because you're always swimming up-stream, against their current. It could be helpful to learn to de-tatch from your husband and biomom’s parenting style (at least in the short term). Allow your partner to parent his way, make his own mistakes, and maybe he will see that what he’s doing isn’t working (or maybe he won’t, that’s not yours to control). Your partners parenting isn’t yours to control. You can and should let your opinions be known, but let go of the outcome and expectation that he will do as you say.
2) This whole problem isn’t yours to fix – you can only focus on your part, and putting your own needs first is key. When you tend to your own needs, give yourself the love, acceptance and gratitude that you deserve, you can show up as a lighthouse for others. That doesn’t mean everyone will do what you say or what you do, but you will shine your positive example. Putting your son and his needs first is also important. You can create healthy boundaries and house rules of what is and isn’t allowed. You can create a safe space for your son to grow up in, and that’s not selfish at all. Your son is your priority. It’s important to do this gently, with love – and not aggressively or reactively. That’s why it’s important to dominate your character. Understand yourself, where do your reactions come from? Where do your fears come from? Where are you being rational, and where are you reacting from a past wound? How can you lean into safety (everything will be okay, I don’t need to control this), and shift from fear to love? Remember to practice self-love first, then love for others (you can’t fill from an empty cup). If you need help understanding and dominating your reactions, check out my free workbook or book a free discovery call to see if coaching may be a good fit. Also feel free to check out some of my other blogs on things such as emotionally draining stepkids, guilty parent syndrome and detachment.
When you start with the base of self-love, the worries about being selfish disappear because you know that when you follow your heart (instead of reacting to fears), everyone will benefit in the long term. When you shift your focus from controlling other’s to controlling yourself and shifting your own fear-based reactions to love-based actions, you feel aligned with the universe and things tend to flow and fall into place.
That's my perspective, take what serves you and leave the rest <3