Distancing Yourself from Stepchildren
It could be the seemingly ubiquitous, “You’re not my real dad/mom!” from an angry child, or it could be the sullen silence and obstinate glare of the teenager. It could be the slamming of a door or the ever-threatening, “I’ll just go live with Mom/Dad!” Or it could simply be that you’re tired of fighting, tired of living with the anxiety of knowing that you’re one interaction away from yet another blow-up and yet not able to know or even begin to guess what might cause it.
Whatever the reason, you’ve had it with your stepchildren, and you’re wondering, “Is this worth it? I know I married him/her, and I knew in my head that the kids were part of the deal…but I never imagined it could be like this.” If you’re feeling this way, please know there is good news, and there is better news: first, the good news is that you’re not alone! And second, the even better news is that it doesn’t have to be like this and it won’t be this way forever!
Now, you may be thinking, “This is either a giant fat lie, and I hate this guy,” or maybe you’re just thinking, “This sounds too good to be true,” but either way, I appreciate you giving me a chance to explain. We’ll take the good news first. In almost every blended family, almost every stepparent I’ve ever spoken with has felt this way at some point. They’ve been frustrated with their stepkids over issues of disrespect, or not cleaning their rooms, or chronically being late to get out the door in the morning. They’ve been annoyed with their spouses for not coming to their defense when the disrespect occurs; or for not addressing the issue of the always dirty bedrooms or the ever-present frustration of being five minutes late for school.
At some point, just about every stepparent has had a moment when they wanted to throw up their hands and say, “I’m done!” and then go veg out in front of the TV with ice cream or pizza or whatever their snack food of choice may be. Or they’re ready to walk out the door and only come back when they have to. Whatever the specific cause or trigger or situation was, almost every stepparent has been there; so, be encouraged because it’s OK to feel this way sometimes! The real question is: what do you do when you feel this way? Before we answer that, though let’s look at the even better news.
Despite how it may feel, despite the anger, frustration, hurt, resentment, disrespect, or whatever other negative emotions pop up when you think of your specific situation with your stepchildren, just remember that it doesn’t have to be like this and it won’t be this way forever! Two of the best authorities on this matter are Lori and David Sims, creators of the Nacho Kids parenting method (https://nachokids.com/). I’ve had the privilege of interviewing on their podcast and of having them on my show, and they consistently share loads of wisdom in terms of dealing with high stress situations involving stepchildren.
Lori and David shared on my show the story of just how close they were to divorce, mainly because of frustration involving each other’s kids and parenting styles. These are two of the biggest causes of stress in blended families, and so in order to fully appreciate the truth that it doesn’t have to be like this, we need to remember the first truth that you’re not alone in feeling that stressed out! Now, time to answer the question we asked earlier: how do you respond when what you really want to do is throw up your hands and say, “I’m done!” before walking out the door (which is not the right way to respond, by the way!)?
The first thing you need to do is to identify the specific actions or situations that are causing the stress for you from your stepchildren. Is it when you or they get home? Is it a situation in the house, such as dirty dishes left in the sink or laundry all over the floor? Is it a continual low-level of disrespect in actions or words? See, before we can solve a problem, we must first identify what it is, and we must do so with as much precision as possible.
Second, once you know what the problem is, take steps to minimize your interactions with the children in ways that lead to the triggering situations. Lori shares a story about how she got very frustrated when she would cook dinner because no matter what she cooked, David’s children would complain. So she would either not cook and let David handle that, or they would allow the children to think that David had done the cooking (in which case their response was always more positive, even if Lori really had made the meal). The key here was for her to simply take a step back from the stress-inducing situations for a time and allow some healing to take place. And, always remember that kids also change as they get older; it won’t be like this forever because either the situation will change or the kids will grow up. The real question is whether your blended family will still be together or if you’re going to allow children to be the downfall of an adult relationship.
Third, after a period of time that has allowed you as the adult to heal–whether by talking with your spouse, a coach, a counselor, a therapist, a pastor, or some combination of the above–slowly begin to re-engage in the previously stress-inducing situations, but only up to the point where they might arise again. That is, if you cooking dinner would cause an argument or disagreement, continue to not do that while also seeking to build a relationship in other areas with the stepchild, always at their pace of comfort. In doing this, you’re both avoiding the immediate trigger and helping lay the groundwork for it to not be so common in the future.
Will this solve every single problem of stepchildren-caused frustration in every blended family? I wish!!! No, it may not solve every problem, but I do believe it will give you a framework for beginning to identify and address the biggest frustrations. But, do me a favor and DON’T STOP THERE! Continue learning more about building stepparent-stepchild relationships by reading books and helpful articles, by listening to helpful podcasts, by hiring a coach or counselor or speaking with a pastor who has experience working specifically with blended families.
One of my favorite quotes from my favorite book, The Lord of the Rings, is when the character of Samwise is quoting his father, commonly called the Gaffer, when he says, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” So, remember that if you’re in a blended family, there’s always hope! Even when you feel frustrated and bitter, even if you feel like you’re having the same fights or arguments, there is always the hope and chance that things will get better. So, keep moving forward, keep building brick by brick with your spouse, and keep exploring new ways to make your family stronger than ever before!
For more info on the Nacho Method, check out Lori and David’s website linked above!