Tag Archives: step-parenting

If I were queen

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.

The wicked stepmother, part 1

There was an elephant in the room, and ignoring it wasn't going to make it go away.

Frizz, my (future) stepson, milled around the kitchen putting his lunch together for the school day. We were both moving around each other, doing our best not to disturb the other in the dance we did every morning. He moved like I wasn’t even there. I just tried to stay out of his way. Neither one of us spoke more than an obligatory “good morning” greeting to each other. And even though I wished him a good day before he left, he said nothing back as he rushed out the door for school.

I wasn’t sure how to act around this teenage kid. First and foremost, I was sensitive to his place in the house. He had lived here all his life, most of it with his mom and dad together under the same roof. Me, I was the intruder, the one who took his mother’s place in the house – even when I made every effort not to take his mother’s role in his life. He already had a mom. And I was hoping to take on the part of “friend” rather than parent.

But I didn’t even know how to talk with him, and he felt more like a stranger than someone I had gotten to know over the past 3 years.

I genuinely liked the kid. He was smart and slow to anger. When my 10-year-old Taz was bouncing off the walls and both Mr. W and I were ready to throttle him, Frizz would just look at him and calmly say “Chill out, dude.” It was way more effective than anything I could ever say.

But there were things about this teenager that drove me nuts. He had no concept that after 11pm he should move around a bit more quietly. Flushing toilets seemed a foreign concept to him. His favorite music was a pounding beat with no melody whatsoever played at ear-splitting volumes and on a loop. Random moments of jumping jacks weren’t uncommon from his second story room. His videogaming slowed down the rest of our Internet usage. He claimed we were (and I quote) “robbing him of his childhood” by expecting him to do chores and help out around the house. He slept in on weekends till the afternoon after staying up till the early hours of the morning….

And then there was his habit of blatantly ignoring all of us.

“I just don’t feel like talking,” Frizz eventually explained to his dad when Mr. W tried to get a response out of him repeatedly, only to be met with silence. It was infuriating, his silent way of giving us the finger just because he knew it would piss us off. He didn’t talk back (unlike my 13-year-old daughter DQ was famous for) or say anything that could be held against him. He just didn’t speak when spoken to.

I was concerned over my growing feelings of resentment coming out of the lacking relationship Frizz and I shared. I took all his teenageness personally, as if it were a direct attack on me. And I worried that neither one of us would be able to move past this awkward phase we were stuck in. I longed to be able to joke around with him the way I could with my own kids. And I was jealous that I never got to see the funny, insightful, sarcastic kid that Mr. W kept bragging about in Frizz.

I had always hoped that I could be that cool stepmom, like the awesome non-judgy stepmom in the movie Juno, or something reminiscent of Kim Rosenthal-Doonesbury, that hip young thing Mike Doonesbury married in the infamous comic strip.

I wanted to be the one Frizz would go to for dating advice since no teen can actually talk to their parents about the opposite sex. I was hoping we could have regular hangout time when we could talk about how teenage years suck and share some of our favorite MP3s. Being more than a decade younger than Mr. W, I was hoping Frizz would find me a welcome addition to the household.

What the heck was I smoking?

To be fair, I had no idea what the kid thought of me. Most of my energy was spent trying to not piss him off or step on his toes, and the rest was spent resenting the fact that we weren’t bosom buddies and I couldn’t joke around with him the same way I could with my own kids. However, I didn’t know him. And he didn’t know me. Never once did he express dislike for me, but he also never expressed any kind of feeling about me whatsoever. Overwhelming every emotion I had involving this kid, the biggest was a hope that we could overcome this sense of distance.

Something needed to change.

To be continued…