Uncommon Common Sense
Friday November 27th 2015

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A Probation Officer’s Four Suggestions Regarding Misbehaving Stepchildren

The Ques­tion:

My step­son is becom­ing very dis­obe­di­ent to his mother and me, espe­cially me, and I don’t know what to do.  His father left them when he was still in dia­pers, so he never knew him, but he tells me I’m not really his dad and that I can’t tell him what to do.  I mar­ried his mother about a year ago.  He’s 14 now and we think he needs a firm hand before he gets into seri­ous trou­ble.  Can you give us any advice?

The Answer:

This is a com­mon prob­lem.  You mar­ried his mother after he became a teenager and it is obvi­ous he sees you as an inter­loper.  It takes time to adjust to being a step-anything, be it par­ent or child, and the issue is com­pli­cated by the fact that he is at an age when he is just becom­ing a man, him­self.  Unless she had other rela­tion­ships in the interim, I assume he had most of his mother’s atten­tion until you came along.

A young male often has dif­fi­culty with the new man who is shar­ing his mother’s life.  It is a lot to ask, to expect him to wel­come you with­out ques­tion and bow to your direc­tives with­out some resent­ment.  That is, unless you and he had already devel­oped a good rela­tion­ship.  Hav­ing a good rela­tion­ship is a key and it will fall to you, as the adult, to be the most objec­tive, wise and patient.  It rarely works for a step­par­ent to come into a fam­ily guns-a-blazing, even though a step­par­ent has many of the rights and oblig­a­tions of a nat­ural par­ent.  Step­par­ents can dis­ci­pline, but I sug­gest you do only what is nec­es­sary.  Instead of con­cen­trat­ing on wield­ing a firm hand, try to fos­ter a good rela­tion­ship and instill the right val­ues, par­tic­u­larly by your exam­ple.  Mean­while, you might try the following:

First, and fore­most, you and your spouse absolutely must agree.  If you have dif­fer­ent agen­das or dif­fer­ent rules and con­flict­ing ways of han­dling prob­lems, your step­son will use it against both of you and it will affect not only your rela­tion­ship with him, but your rela­tion­ship with your spouse. He will think he has won, but every­one will lose because the sta­bil­ity of the fam­ily will be undermined.

Sec­ond — treat your step­son as your own.  In your home, you are a par­ent.  That means you love him , and you dis­ci­pline — rea­son­ably, of course.  It doesn’t mat­ter what he is allowed to do with his other nat­ural par­ent.  Love him uncon­di­tion­ally, treat him fairly, cut him slack when it’s appro­pri­ate and rein him in when he is on the wrong track.  It’s okay if he doesn’t like you all the time.  Most kids don’t like their par­ents all the time, and they don’t expect to.  You’re not his pal, you’re his par­ent, even if there is a “step” in front of it.

Remem­ber,  his par­ents’ divorce and your sub­se­quent mar­riage prob­a­bly has noth­ing to do with him, but chil­dren of divorce often think it does.  They may be angry and hurt, and they may feel guilty, so talk to him, or find some­one else who can.  Let him ask ques­tions, and answer them hon­estly, rein­forc­ing the fact that he is now, because the fam­ily has expanded,  loved by more peo­ple, not fewer.

Third – your rela­tion­ship must con­sist of more than your power over your step­son.  If that’s all it is, a power strug­gle is all it will ever be.  Chil­dren tend to obey not because they rec­og­nize power, but because they care for and respect their par­ents.  They can usu­ally tell when a par­ent is exert­ing power sim­ply to show mus­cle and be the dom­i­nant force, or when he or she sin­cerely cares about them and wants to pre­pare them to be suc­cess­ful and con­tent in life.

Don’t resort to merely order­ing him around, because that will only sep­a­rate you fur­ther and he will con­tinue to rebel.  You should, how­ever, give clear, firm direc­tives, with sound rea­sons why. Those direc­tives need to backed-up with appro­pri­ate sanc­tions.  You and his mother must also always act as a team, so agree before either of you takes action.

Fourth – Ask ques­tions, not only of him, but of your­self, too.  Stepchil­dren have real needs that are more impor­tant to them than yours are, to them.  Here are some sam­ple questions:

1.  How do you feel about your step­son and how do you show it?

2.  What is his place in the fam­ily since your arrival?  Does he feel like an outsider?

3.  How do you treat his mother?

4.  How has his rela­tion­ship with his mother changed since your mar­riage?  If it is worse, does he blame you?

If you can answer those ques­tions, you should be able to pin­point some of the prob­lems.  If you can’t answer them, that, in itself, might be part of the problem.

Ask your step­son for some input, if you think he would dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion.  If he does share his feel­ings with you, lis­ten to them because they are very real, to him.  Don’t com­pro­mise your own val­ues, but don’t put him down.  He sees things from a dif­fer­ent van­tage point.  Try to under­stand his view­point and make what­ever adjust­ments seem fit­ting.  It will make deal­ing with each other much eas­ier for you both and will hope­fully result in bet­ter behav­ior from him.


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One Response to “A Probation Officer’s Four Suggestions Regarding Misbehaving Stepchildren”

  1. Thanks for any other infor­ma­tive site. Where else may just I get that type of infor­ma­tion writ­ten in such a per­fect approach?
    I have a chal­lenge that I’m just now oper­at­ing on, and I’ve been on the look out for such info.

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