(read part one HERE)
I never thought it was possible to be utterly petrified of a teenager. Not me. I’m the one who has volunteered for years at a summer camp run completely by teens, and a host for our annual pancake breakfast at my kitchen table. I think the teenage years are when a person is their most imaginative, unencumbered by the “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts” we adults are plagued with when it comes to stepping out on a limb and trying something new and untested. I appreciate the bravery teenagers possess – most likely a byproduct of being mercilessly judged by their peers day in and day out for every single action. And I admire the expressions of teens – either through their words, style, or actions – in their never-ending quest to make a mark on this world (before the “man” puts his thumb on them and has them believing they’re nobody special).
So why was I so terrified to share living space with Frizz? After all, he’s only a teenager, right?
I originally thought this problem would fade with time. This was an adjustment for all of us, and sometimes the best remedy is putting a little space between “new” and “familiar”. But each day that passed cemented the awkwardness into our relationship. Every morning that was met with either grunts or (worse) silence endangered these interactions to become the norm. And while every new experience requires an adjustment period, this was lasting for way too long.
So I did the next best thing – a Google search for an answer.
Can I just tell you that it is super hard to find quality advice regarding “step” relationships? I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but it was hidden by layers of “bad” advice. I was either viewing stories of wicked stepmothers, rotten stepchildren, or rules that were completely one-sided. If I was having this much trouble knowing how to interact with my stepson, I could only imagine what was going on with him. Here was this only-child who was now forced to share his father, his home, his bathroom, and his living space with three more people. I wanted to find something that acknowledged all of that and gave me tips for how to change things in a positive way. But more importantly, I wanted to know how to get past the feelings of resentment that had been growing steadily inside of me over his reaction to our presence, as well as his normal teenage tendencies. So I did the thing I should have been doing right from the beginning.
There’s a funny thing about prayer (or, if you’re not a praying person, meditation or simply thinking positive thoughts) when you focus your prayers on someone else’s well being rather than your own. Instead of praying that Frizz stop being such an ingrate, I focused on the positive. I prayed that he would have a good day. I prayed that I could understand him more. And daily I would ask for help in our relationship, even enlisting those around me to offer their own prayers as well.
As a result, I found my thoughts towards Frizz shift into something more positive. When Frizz remained silent after any of us spoke to him, my first reaction wasn’t to be offended. Instead, I would joke about the situation – sometimes eliciting a secret smile from him that he thought no one could see. Soon, he and I were making eye contact over the dinner table whenever a wisecrack or joke was made. And eventually, he and I were speaking actual words in the morning as we moved around each other preparing for our days. He became my biggest fan when I experimented (and succeeded!) in making my own homemade Kombucha, and both of us would happily drink a daily glass of the fermented liquid no one else in the family dared to try. And I found out that I really didn’t mind his loud bass all that much – as long as I wasn’t trying to nap or think.
It was weeks before I came to a new realization – I could not remember the last time Frizz had ignored his father or me. Over the past several weeks he’d been making it a point to come hang out with us for a little while instead of locking himself in his room like usual. There was one night when he tended the fire to keep us all warm in the living room. On another night he got into a Nerf gun war with the Taz, spraying bullets and laughter all over the house.
And the resentful feelings I had been suffering from for months faded away.
I’ve come to realize that the relationship with a stepson is never going to be like the relationship a parent shares with the child they’ve raised from birth. For most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it requires a lot more work. There’s a history with Frizz that I wasn’t a part of, the history that shaped him into the person he is. I don’t know that boy from the past. But what I do know is the Frizz of today, and maybe even who Frizz will be tomorrow.
And that’s turning out to be kind of awesome.
Dear Wine Country Mom,
Thank you so much for writing this. My mother forwarded your blog to me. I have a situation very similar to this. My son will simply not talk to my girlfriend. We have been together for over 2 years and we have lived together for a year. I really have had to impose a rule that he just says hello and goodbye when he comes on the days that I have him. It is really frustrating and I believe it is really hurtful to my girlfriend. I feel trapped in the middle. It is really threatening our relationship which is pretty darn good. I sent this along to her in hopes that it provides her some sort of comfort, maybe even hope.