Archive | November, 2010

“My teenage stepdaughter loved me yesterday and hates me today. What happened?”

17 Nov

Teenagers: they love you one moment and hate you the next.

I have a friend who is an unmarried BioStep like me.  She recently asked me for some advice on how to deal with her 13-year old stepdaughter and said that I could share our conversation with you.  Our conversation is timely since almost everyone I know with tweens and teenagers is pulling their hair out dealing with behaviors and bad attitudes.  Is it because they’re stepchildren?  Is it because we are truly “wicked stepmothers”?  After reading the question and answer, if you’ve got some additional advice, please chime in and comment.     

Question:  What do you do when your stepdaughter hates you and thinks you are a bitch and too critical on everyone? She went from loving me a month ago to hating me in a heartbeat…telling her dad that I am way too critical on him and that she hates it and me!  Part of me doesn’t care what she thinks, but now when we are in the same place it is ice cold and she gives glares that could kill. I already told DH that I need his support in dealing with behavior.  I’m disgusted at how she acts towards him when I am around, but of course he won’t do anything about it! 

Answer:  So what do you do when your teenage stepdaughter hates you?  That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?  When you’re a stepparent it’s easy to attribute bad behavior to being a stepchild, or being a child of divorce.  The truth is that many of the behaviors that our stepchildren exhibit are age-appropriate and aren’t solely directed at us.  So the first thing to remember is that your stepdaughter is 13. It’s her “job” to love you one moment and hate you the next. And not just you, but EVERYONE.   Her angst towards you however is compounded by the fact that she probably has some loyalty issues to her mom which makes you an easy target.   I’ve got a three-step strategy that I’ve used in difficult relationships in my life that seems to make things manageable.  Take a look:

1.  I have found is that the best way to deal with an SD who hates you is to kill her with kindness. It’s hard to mean to someone who’s always nice to you and expects nothing in return.  It may take a few weeks or a few years to come around.  Worst case scenario is that she never comes around at all. But you can rest knowing that you did your best and treated her with kindness despite her behavior towards you.  I just keep reminding myself: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

2.  DH and you have to show her that you have a strong relationship and DH has to be willing to be the one to tell her to stop acting disrespectful to you, the woman that he chooses to spend his life with. This is what I’ve found to be the biggest challenge in most stepfamilies—the dad “chickens out” and gives his children free rein to act completely inappropriately towards his wife.   Your relationship with DH will only survive if you both make it a priority and if he explains to your stepdaughter what is acceptable and what isn’t. She doesn’t have to like you, but she does need to treat you with respect and/or give you the same common courtesy that she would give to a stranger.

3. Now, here’s the hard part. You have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if any of her criticisms are deserved. When my best friend was getting a divorce (and I was still married) a wiser, older friend of ours asked her “What is your part in the demise of your marriage?” I’ve applied that to every troubled relationship I’ve had since I heard that.  Try to be more mindful of the behaviors that she takes issue with.  For instance, are you too critical of DH?  If your stepdaughter is suddenly critical of you, is it completely out of the blue, or is there an issue or behavior that you could work on?

Teenagers are a crazy bunch.  A dear friend who has a blended family of 8 recommended a book that I found very helpful called, “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind” by Michael Bradley.  My copy is dog-eared, underlined and highlighted to the max.  It gives some great explanations as to why teenagers act the way they do and strategies to deal with them without engaging in WWIII.  Chapter 1 “The Adolescent Brain” was an eye opener for me and it sets the stage for the rest of the book.  I highly recommend this book if you’ve got teenagers in your life.

Relationships are hard work.  Relationships with your stepchildren are a lot of hard work.  Sometimes that hard work pays off and sometimes, even 20 years later, you’re still on the outside enduring the cold shoulder.  Remember that her behaviors are age-appropriate, albeit unacceptable, and aren’t necessarily directed at you because you’ve suddenly become “the wicked stepmother”. Live your life with integrity and honesty, treat her with kindness and firmness, and don’t let her mood swings affect your relationship with DH. Most importantly, give her time.  After all, she IS a teenager, next week she may love you and hate her brother instead.

A Tale of Two Mommies

2 Nov

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I think there are several different ways to make a stepfamily.  DH and I are not married, but you wouldn’t know it if we didn’t tell you.  In fact most of our friends are surprised to find out that we’re not.  Regardless of the lack of legal documentation, we consider ourselves a stepfamily.  My two oldest children enthusiastically embrace to DH as their stepdad.

Regardless of your views on homosexuality or same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian stepfamilies are also included under the umbrella of stepfamilies.  Because same-sex marriages are not recognized by most states it’s hard to get an accurate count of the number of gay and lesbian stepfamilies there are in the US, but they fall in the estimated number of families created by co-habitation.

Tina and Lisa

I recently reconnected with a friend via Facebook.  Lisa and I did cheer and theater together in high school so I was thrilled to find her. But I was even more thrilled to learn that she had found the love of her life in her partner Tina, after a very difficult marriage.

I know several lesbian couples, but Lisa and Tina are the only gay couple that I know with such a huge blended family.  When I asked Lisa if they would be willing to be interviewed, she quickly said “yes!” and I was lucky enough to pin them down for a chat before they left on a 3-week European cruise.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a stephousehold with two moms?  Read on!

How long have you been a couple?
We have been together for 4 years. In fact, we just celebrated our anniversary in Santa Barbara in September.
How many children did you each bring into the relationship?
We each brought three children to the relationship. We call it the “modern-day Brady Bunch”.  Lisa brought two girls whose ages are 19 and 17, and one boy, 12. Tina brought three girls ages 24, 19 and 14.  Lisa’s children are from her former marriage.  Tina’s two oldest children are biologically hers and her youngest is biologically her ex-partner’s. We also have 2 dogs together!

A "modern day Brady Brunch", Lisa and Tina both bring 3 children to the relationship ages 24 to 12.

 

What do your custody arrangements look like?  Do you have to do a big “kid shift” every other weekend?
With six children between the two of us, you’d think it would get confusing, but it’s really pretty simple. Tina’s two older girls are now over 18, but she was the primary custodian for both, and her ex-partner is the primary custodian for her youngest daughter.  My ex-husband is deceased, so I have full custody of my three children.

Was it easy to blend your families?
There were a few bumps in the road in the beginning. Our girls did competitive cheer together, (in fact, that’s how we met) so they were best friends first. Becoming sisters though, was a little bit of a transition.

Tina and I are friends with Tina’s ex. She’s a great person, and we all try to work together for the kids. In our experience, it’s very common in the lesbian world for ex-partners to remain friends. In fact, I think it’s even more so than in the straight world.  A couple of weeks ago we moved my 19-year old into her dorm at college and it was the three of us putting her room together.

I’ve always personally thought that there would be great advantages to having two moms in the household since traditionally women do much of the child-rearing.  What advantages and disadvantages of being raised in lesbian household?

Really and truly it’s just about two parents (either gay or straight) showing love and respect to their children and to each other. I think for us personally, we tend to just pick up when the other one needs it. We seem to know when to step in and take over for one other without even saying. We just seem to know when one of us needs the other to be stronger. Call it women’s intuition? I don’t know, but it’s wonderful.

I don’t really see that we have any real disadvantages. We joke around a lot about who got the “lesbian gene” and who didn’t when something breaks, but the truth is we both try to fix it until one of us gets it. It all works for us. Tina loves to cook and I love to clean. Tina doesn’t mind laundry and I don’t mind gardening. Tina’s good at math homework and I’m good at school projects. Tina’s great at sports and I’m great at rhinestoning everything (and I mean, everything).

Being in a stepfamily has many of the same challenges whether you’re gay or straight. Do you think there are unique challenges to lesbian stepfamilies? How do you overcome them?

The most challenging part of any stepfamily is everyone trying to find their place. Where do they belong? Where are their boundaries? Tina and I have different boundaries with each other’s kids than we do with our own. For example there are some things that only I can say to one of my girls that she just doesn’t feel is her place to say and vice versa. Each child has a different place with both of us mainly because of their ages. Tina’s oldest was grown when we got together so I don’t really have a “parent” role with her but we have a great relationship. As far as my son is concerned we co-parent him together (he’s the youngest and the only boy). Each one of the kids in-between fall into categories according to their age. It took us a while to figure out how everyone fit together and where everyone’s place was and that was probably our biggest challenge.

If you could be the spokeswomen for lesbian stepfamilies in America, what would you want the world to know?

We would want the world to know we define “normal”. We are just like any other family. We deal with the same challenges every day that most families do. One of us works outside the home, one of us stays home with the kids. We have dinner at night together and do homework together. We go to baseball, football and volleyball games and to cheer competitions. We laugh, we cry, but most of all we love all six of our kids. We both truly love each other’s as if they were our own. I think the love and respect we show each other is the best thing that we do as parents.

Some people would like to think that lesbian households are not normal.  Let me tell you, my life is so normal now compared to what it used to be. My relationship with my husband was very dysfunctional and my children were raised in a home that the whole world saw as “normal”.  That was the farthest thing from the truth. Our family is what a family should be and I thank God that my children are now a part of a loving, safe home.