Why is my stepson/stepdaughter so mean to me all of a sudden?
It can be very painful and disconcerting when your stepson or stepdaughter starts being mean to you. It’s especially hard when things were going well and you thought things were going well. It’s hard not to react negatively, but you know that if you do, things will start to get worse. Then not only will that relationship be affected, but also her relationship with her husband. Give yourself some space and consider some of these possibilities that might help you get to the bottom of your bad behavior:
• Has there been a recent change in the family? If you just moved in together or were recently married (or if there’s a change on the other side of the family, with the ex), then you need to give your stepson some slack and give him some time to adjust. We often expect too much of children, thinking that if life change is good (by our standards, anyway) they should “jump on board.” They might even be testing you, to see how you react when their behavior isn’t perfect.
• Have you entered a new phase of life? Teenagers and adolescents are going through great internal adjustments and emotional upheavals. Don’t take personally what may simply be a reflection of your inner state of mind. Many parents of a teenager have been shocked when a monster seems to take over the body of their little darling. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of simply approaching the child who is going through this difficult stage of life, fasten your seat belt for what could be a long drive!
• Consider if you have been asking too many questions, especially praying about what is going on in the “other home,” or waiting for your stepson or stepdaughter to share their innermost feelings with you. Keep in mind that they can be very sensitive to the slightest hint of judgment against their other parent. Give her some space and focus on listening to what is freely shared (even the smallest things).
• Any child who has gone through the divorce of their parents has a lot to process regarding the breakup of their main family. It stands as one of the defining events of their lives, and it is too much to hope that they can articulate what happens to them about it, or be willing to share it with you. And if there is conflict between your parents/step-parents, then you may assume that there is a lot of turmoil within them, which may very well manifest in cruel comments towards you as the “throwaway” parent.
• Take a look at the relationship between your stepchild and your spouse. Your stepson may not be getting the closeness or attention he feels he needs, and you may be the scapegoat. Instead of trying to be there all the time, your relationship with your stepson (and spouse!) may improve by giving the two of you some space to have your own time together. Then when you return to the scene, you are not seen as “on the road”. No matter how long you’re in the family picture, the parent/child relationship must also nurture itself.
• Be as nice as you can, without being bossy (perhaps you’re falling into the trap that many stepparents do, trying to be the super stepparent). Prepare yourself emotionally before you see them, so you can be relaxed and friendly, rather than controlling or expecting closeness. If he was mean to you last time, you can draw a clear line about expecting respectful behavior, but then let go of any grudges!
• Try to encourage. Write at least one positive thing every day this week about your stepson or stepdaughter, and let them know what you appreciate about them: name the virtue or characteristic you appreciate and describe the behavior you’ve observed. Notice the small positive interactions and build on them.
You will have to connect with your stepson on his terms, until enough trust is developed. Patience is needed: The process of building a successful stepfamily takes a long time, years in fact. And it takes maturity on your part. You’ll need to learn that delicate balance between “holding the line” so your stepson doesn’t get away with rude behavior and “letting go” while building a positive connection. Remember that they are watching to see if you will truly be there for them and accept them for who they are, while at the same time requiring the respect that they want for themselves.