My stepson has ADHD and ODD so we have those diagnoses along with preteen issues. My husband and I have been really fighting lately because my stepson has really been challenging us. We parallel parent and are always having issues because his bad behavior that is allowed over there but not at our house. We tell him he’s old enough to know how to act but he chooses not to.
Any recommendations on working through this?
Powerless Parallel Parent
Dear Triple P,
This is not a simple question so let’s tease it apart a bit. There are many layers here and although I can’t possible cover all of them without knowing more about your situation, here’s a good starting point.
First, there’s the different rules between households, then there’s getting on the same page about rules and enforcing them with your partner, and then there’s the diagnosis and what you can do to best support your stepson, while maintaining your sanity and a happy, healthy marriage.
Different rules: I completely understand how frustrating it is when you can't enforce your rules in your own home. Having to give up your power in this way is hard. Big kudos to you for wanting what’s best for your stepson, sounds like you have good intentions and a big heart. It’s important to recognize that you can only do so much with parallel parenting. To a certain degree, you need to accept what happens in the other home, and that some of that will rub off on your household (unless there is abuse of any kind, that’s another issue). This is a hard reality to face, and you have the right to grieve this loss of control in your own home.
You can’t fix what you didn’t break: You can only be a positive influence in your stepson’s life. You can’t make up for it if biomom’s lack of structure or bad parenting is having a bad influence on your stepchild. You can only do so much damage control, be a positive example for your stepson, and lead with love.
Remember, this is hard for your stepson and he's not an adult: I can imagine that it is hard for your stepson to go between two households where there are completely different expectations. Now, I’m not saying be lenient and permissive, but try to be compassionate and understanding. Ask yourself - what are the non-negotiable rules at your home, and what are the other places where you can you be more lenient? Diagnosis aside, kids will be kids. Although they thrive on structure – they are naturally drawn to rebel and test limits. It’s normal for your stepson to prefer the lack of structure – but he doesn’t know what’s best for him. That’s were the resentment can kick in. You do your best to give him what he needs (maybe you're even the only one who does this), but you are not rewarded for that good intention. That’s where your relationship with your partner becomes very important.
Getting on the same page: Just like you need to accept what happens in biomom’s home, you need to accept your partner’s parenting style. You can’t try to enforce your will and way everywhere. No couple is 100% on the same page when it comes to parenting – that’s normal. But the stress of that is exacerbated when you’re a stepmom who feels powerless and taken for granted. You mention that you’re fighting lately, so I’m assuming it’s because of his lack of enforcement of rules. Like many stepmoms, you may feel powerless in your own home, and that your partner does not respect what you want or need. Your partner will likely not understand your struggle because, well, he is not a stepmom. The good news is that he doesn't have to understand your struggle in order to respect you and hear you out. You need to work together on good communication, and learn to give and take.
Do what's in your power: It is your responsibility to deal with any resent and feelings of powerlessness so that you can show up to your life as your best-self. It is then that you can communicate clearly with your partner, ask for what you need, negotiate and get on the same page in terms of rules and enforcing them. Be aware that your partner may experience ‘guilty dad syndrome’ and be going through his own issues related to parenting. Navigating this challenging situation isn’t easy and takes self-awareness and personal growth, but it’s possible and rewarding if you take on the challenge of surfing, rather than getting swept away, by the waves.
The diagnoses: You can talk to an expert and read books on what children with this diagnosis need. But remember that it’s not all up to you. You have good intentions and want to help, but without the other parents on board, you can only do so much. Be careful not to make this the focus of your life and burn yourself out by trying to help and step-up for other people who aren’t doing their part. You can’t fix it all, and sometimes when you step back, you leave space for others to step-up and take action.
Can’t let it go? If you find you can’t let go, and are questioning whether you are ‘overreacting’ but don’t know how to change that, and feel like you know better but don’t do better – check out my free workbook (in the free resource vault of my emails). I guide you to overcome triggers so that you can show up to these triggering situations with more ease so that you can live in peace, despite the chaos that may be happening around you.
Slow down, tune-in, take good care of yourself, and spread your love and light in your family and the world around you.