I was trying to describe my stepson to my counselor the other day in a way he could understand my frustration.
“Everything he does is an act of protest,” I told him, describing how Frizz hadn’t cut his hair in 9 months, played music at ear-splitting levels, preferred his falling-apart shoes over anything new his father bought him, and locked himself in his room rather than joining in with the family. But the counselor wasn’t understanding. Each level of defiance I shared was met with a murmur of approval, as if he were impressed with how Frizz chose to fight us.
“And then there’s his Wiki-education,” I complained. I told the counselor how Frizz spent time researching half-truths on the internet, treating the world like one big conspiracy theory while simultaneously contradicting actual proven facts, and sometimes even himself.
“Fish is dirty,” Frizz had told me one evening as I laid a beautifully cooked piece of salmon in front of him for dinner. Because his appetite is huge, I had given him the biggest portion. Instead of thanking me, he described all the studies he’d come across that said fish live in polluted water, therefore absorbing every bit of bacteria they swim in – bacteria we were now eating. He swore all this was true, even after we told him this particular fish was farmed and not wild, so it wasn’t anywhere near polluted water. The previous week his arguments had been against toothpaste because it contained fluoride and was poisoning us. And when he abandoned his perfectly cooked fish to search the fridge for something different to eat, I had to refrain from smothering the fish with toothpaste and shoving the damn thing down his throat.
Instead, I pointed out all the foods he was willing to eat that could also be considered dirty – like genetically modified foods or all the questionable ingredients that existed in the convenience food he scarfed down on a regular basis. I thought this might defuse the situation, secretly pleased he was now eating the salmon since making something else proved too difficult. Instead, he argued against every point I gave him because at 16 years old he knew way more than I ever could in my mere 34 years.
I added strangling to my list of things to refrain from.
However, I didn’t refrain from snapping, telling him off for acting like he was the only one who could be right in his routine game of one-sided debate. That was the reason I gave him, but inside it was because my feelings were hurt when he insulted my dinner.
It had been the first time I’d ever called him on his shit, and I told the counselor how I felt it showed progress in our comfort level with each other. I got a tiny bit of satisfaction when the counselor validated my hurt feelings and agreed that Frizz’ behavior was rude. But it was temporary because he didn’t agree with my definition of progress.
“How would you have handled that if Taz had acted that way?” he asked me.
“I would have taken his plate away and told him he didn’t have to eat it, but there was nothing else he could eat either,” I admitted.
“So why didn’t you do that with Frizz?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
And once again we were describing power struggles.
I recognize the lack of power in Frizz’ life. In 4 years, the kid’s parents have split up, his mom moved from this house and into the house of another man, his father started dating and ended up in a serious relationship with me, he went from an only child to sharing his house and status with two other kids, he gained a step-mom, and add to that the pains of growing into his teenage years and preparing for college.
The kid is going to grab at the reins every chance he gets. Hell, I would too.
And honestly, most of his actions of protest has been directed at his parents and not me. For the most part, Frizz and I have a mutual respect for each other and he’s generally kind to me. But the strength in his stubbornness scares the shit out of me, causing me to react defensively instead of proactively whenever he directs his protest at me. I can’t just be frank with him, blunt in my expectations like I can with my own kids, because it still feels like there’s a need to walk on eggshells around him.
I didn’t really want to talk about power struggles or how I could change my tactics to not be so passionate in my response. What I really wanted was for the counselor to help me learn how to force Frizz to conform and join the family. It was a very mature and realistic way of thinking. And I weakly kept tattling on all the ways Frizz was totally difficult.
Of course, it all lead back to power struggles.
Next session, Mr. W and I go in together to learn how to parent our blended family as a united front and avoid power struggles with the all the kids. Me? I’m holding my breath until then to keep from strongholding any child who doesn’t do it my way.