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MAYBE THE KID HAS A POINT

Without sounding too much like a bleeding heart, sappy, drama queen, attention seeking pain in the proverbial rear end…I feel compelled to give some perspectives from the other side of my life. The stepdaughter side. I have seen a pattern on this board over the past couple of years that I’ve been here of the problems being (*mainly*) between step mother and step daughter. It seems the majority of the (*major*) issues that come up center around one basic theme: Having a step daughter is a nightmare.

Now before anyone goes and feels accused and says they never called it a nightmare and starts telling me ‘you can’t generalize’ calm down and please just read on. I’m not trying to bash anyone, I wouldn't do that. We're all here because this stepmother (or father) business is VERY HARD and there's really not any right or wrong way to do it because every family is different, every kid is different, and what some of us find perfectly normal and acceptable is completely outrageous to others.

The reason for this post is because I've seen some things on this board (recently) that sadden me as a stepkid all over again. Things that sadden me for my SD, things that sadden me for kids who are out there – right now – at this very moment – being introduced to Mom or Dad's new BF or GF for the first time… and knowing what that feels like. Knowing what they are in for from here on out. It's not easy, you're a little kid…or an awkward pre-teen…or an angry and confused teenager…and here comes Mom or Dad with this new person and no matter how you feel on the inside, you have to be ‘polite’ … ‘respectful’… ‘understanding’…when maybe you don't even have the capacity for those things yet. At least not towards someone whom you have a natural instinct to rebel against.

And…incidentally, I **do** believe it's an instinct to rebel against this person. We've had plenty of discussions about ‘loyalty issues’ and how the kids react strangely in certain situations…I truly believe that there is an instinct, especially in kids who are a few years older, to decide that their loyalties lie in a specific area and guard it like a fortress.

We've all heard those famous words: “You're not my mother! You can't tell me what to do!” spat at us at one time or another, if not those exactly we've all had times when we've felt rejected, dismissed, hurt, even abused by our step kids at some point. We've become outraged, we've felt insulted, disappointed, questioned ourselves, blamed our spouses, we've held things back, we've blown up, in some cases even considered leaving our marriages …because of the effects of dealing with children we didn't create. But for a minute…just once in a while…imagine being the kid on the other side of it all.

One thing I have been telling my SD since she was around 4 years old is that…what stinks about being a kid is that you know when something in your life is ‘wrong’ or that there's something going on in your life that needs to be changed…but you're not old enough to **really** do anything about it. I'm not talking about things like finding someone to eat lunch with at school…I'm talking about bigger things…things like…Mommy and Daddy sitting you down and telling you that they are going to get a divorce, what that means, and, more importantly, the monsoon of confusing, painful, nightmarish events that follow.

On a daily basis we deal with the little things that our step kids do and we fume over too many sodas disappearing from the fridge, or tripping over wet towels in the bathroom, or the fact that the underpants we continue to buy and buy and buy keep making their way to the Bermuda Triangle by way of the other parents house. But all too often we forget that…while life SHOULD NOT revolve around the kids and they should not be treated as peers by the parents… in some ways and in some respects… it IS important to put the kids needs and feelings first even if you don't ‘like’ them or ‘get along’ with them or even if you consider them the worst thing that's ever happened to you. I know there are some of you out there who have been wronged to the point of no return by your skids, some who can't even imagine mustering any kind of compassion for the children in your situation after the things they've said or done to you…and in 99.9% of those cases I wholeheartedly understand and sympathize with you…but those cases are few and far between, and MOST of us are just dealing with kids we didn't plan on having and trying to adjust to a life that simply wasn't listed in the fairytale books…and for US…I'm writing this in the hopes that we can take a step back…step outside of our side of the story, and see it from the other side.

I know I'm not the only stepkid on this board. I know there are others whose step kid experience was far different from mine, and I know that I don't have the right to ‘preach’…which is why I chose to post in this particular forum…feel free to rebut…I know my perspective is not the only perspective. I will say, however, that there have been many, MANY times when a post has sparked a memory for me…that I have identified deeply with some of the things your Skids say and do. I used to respond to these posts but it seemed that when I did respond I was rebuffed with posts that seemed to accuse me of attacking the stepmother…as though anyone who said “maybe the kid has a point” was worm food…so I stopped giving that perspective. But that was a couple of years ago…I've achieved Carpal Tunnel status now with my virtual big mouth, and although the title doesn't come with any special privileges, heck it doesn't mean anything at all, except that I think you all know me much better now. I've been a stepmother for almost 8 years…and a skid for 25 years. Darnit, at this point I feel I have the right to say:

MAYBE THE KID HAS A POINT.

I know that for me, the hardest part of being a stepkid was knowing that no matter how I felt about things, I had to accept that my father loved a woman I hated, and a woman who hated me. The thing you have to always remember about your spouse's kids is one simple sentence. They didn't ask to be born. I know I never asked to be born. I didn't get into some line in Heaven or wherever and say “Hmmmm…..gimmie that family right there, that lady looks like she'd be really fun to p!ss off.” The fact of the matter is, these kids are, in fact, casualties of a bad marriage. (*note the fact that I didn't say ‘these kids are victims’.) It's like being a refugee after a war in your homeland…you have two options, stay and try your best to rebuild knowing it's never going to be the same…or leave and try to start a new life clinging to memories that are too painful to discuss. I don't think kids whose parents have divorced (or broken up after having never been married as is my SD’s case) should be coddled or babied or felt sorry for. I think that they need an extra firm hand in dealing with what's happened. They need counseling – no matter how well they **appear** to handle it, they need counseling. They need structure like a Mo’Fo. Structure is key, IMHO, without that, they have nothing. The family unit they depended on in formative years is dissolved. If the individual parents crumble out from under them as a result and allow them to founder…there's just nothing worse than that. What are they supposed to do? Figure out all of life's lessons for themselves? Remember, they didn't ask to be born…two people…under whatever circumstances…brought them into this world…and those two people, regardless of their love lives, have to forge on with rearing them.

For me, I had wonderful, smart, loving Bioparents who tried their very hardest to do the right things after their marriage broke up. Some things they did right, others they did wrong. They're human, they made mistakes, but they gave it 110% - both of them. Too many times I see parents who simply throw their hands up in exasperation and figure there's nothing they can do about {you name it…insert problem here} because they're divorced and they are not confident enough to look a child straight in the eye and say “I’M YOUR PARENT! WHAT I SAY GOES! IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU'RE HERE 100% OF THE TIME OR .001% OF THE TIME, I'M STILL YOUR (FATHER/MOTHER)!” I don't think they know kids need that…desperately need that.

The thing is, when your mom or dad moves out of the house and you go to their house/apartment whatever to ‘visit’…you don't wanna **VISIT** for pete’s sake…that's your Dad or Mom, you want them home! So what happens? One of two things…either you internalize and become depressed…or you act up. These are the only two things a child can do. Seriously…do you expect a child to sit you down and say in a mature, calm way “Father, I must talk to you. You see, it's this divorce….thing….it's got me so confused. I just simply don't know what to make of it all! One day we're a family and now…well, now I don't know what we are…or where I belong…or what to expect.” Well of course not. Kids have two lines of defense…crying or throwing fits. (or, in the case of older children…getting into hair raising shenanigans in the hopes that their parents will finally sit up and take notice of the fact that Disney parenting is **truly not** what they want) Do you really expect that a trip to the local amusement park every weekend will satisfy a child who's saying to you in kid speak: “Father, I must talk to you. You see, it's this divorce….thing….it's got me so confused. I just simply don't know what to make of it all! One day we're a family and now…well, now I don't know what we are…or where I belong…or what to expect.” Because in all honesty, all any of these kids really want is to know that Mom is Mom, and Dad is Dad, and they are still loved.

What all too many parents do is choke when it comes time to talk to their kids. Literally choke. They aren't equipped to have a talk with their kids. They're going through too much themselves, divorce proceedings, custody proceedings, probably finding a new place to live, possibly in a different city, adjusting to not being married anymore themselves. It's somewhat understandable…how do you explain things to your kids when you might not really understand what the [censored]’s going on for yourself? This is why counseling is so important…you have to get the lines of communication open and free flowing. If your kids (or you, for that matter) start to internalize, it's a long, hard, bumpy road back. I know, I never had any counseling when my parents broke up, and I have to say, IMHO, that was the one major mistake they made.

My parents **did** talk to us, though. For example, I can remember my father, as his new girlfriend was moving in, explaining to me that there were ‘all different kids of love’ and that just because he loved my SM, it didn't mean he loved his kids any less, it was just a ‘different kind’ of a love. He said that people don't have a supply that can ‘run out’, it's endless, and can be spread far and wide over as many people as you have in your life. What he didn't say was: Time and attention cannot. He also didn't explain jealousy, although perhaps he felt he actually **was** explaining that in saying what he did. I guess he should have slipped one more sentence in there: “There's no reason why anyone should be jealous or compete over attention or time.” But he didn't. I did manage to figure that out on my own…perhaps due in part to what he **did** say, but also due to the fact that competing with my SM for attention seemed silly to me. At least it looked awfully silly when she did it.

Let me back up for a minute and tell you my little theory: I believe that; in ‘intact’ families, as kids (especially girls) approach the pre-teen or teen years, they begin to do the ‘Gawd my parents are such **dorks**!’ thing and pull away from their parents. They don't want to be seen with you, they don't want you dropping them off at school, their friends might see you! They want a ride to the mall or movie theatre or whatever…but “could you just drop me off here and I'll walk the rest of the way, I'd just **die** if Vikky and Tammi saw you here! What are those shoes all about, anyway?!?! Can't you buy some **normal** clothes?!?!? It's just so **humiliating**!!” My father used to take great pleasure in yelling hello to my sister when she was about 12 when she was with her friends, she'd nearly keel over in shame… “Who's that guy?” “Uh…nobody…no one…I don't know him!” Dad would laugh, he knew it was just ‘that age’. But when she was 14, my parents divorced; and things changed.

I never felt that way about my Dad. I was too busy to think about ‘normal’ teen behaviors…I had to deal with ‘blended family issues’…although I never had heard of them. All I knew was there was this woman in the house who shot me dirty looks when I'd say “Dad, would you please pass the butter?” at the dinner table, as though I should not speak to him, and certainly not engage him in any activity that might require his hand to touch mine. Heaven forbid…he was only my Dad, had been for 12 years, but I guess dinner conversation was stepping on her territory. Thankfully for me, I knew this was silly. I didn't know all the deep, dark, stepmother feelings we all have like I know now, but I knew it was plain stupid for her to get p!ssed at me for speaking to my father…or for getting an orange out of the fridge, or for taking a shower, or for breathing.

Now, after having been here for a while, in Stepmother land, I know I probably reminded her of my mother. I probably was a living, breathing embodiment of the fact that my father had a long-standing previous relationship with another woman. She probably just didn't like me, plain and simple. It was perfectly ok for her children to speak at the dinner table, but not us. We got dirty looks. It was perfectly ok for her kids to hog the couch, drink all the soda, not do chores, cause huge fights in her marriage, constantly ask for money, but it wasn't ok for me to eat more than 2 pieces of toast in a 24 hour period. It wasn't ok for my sister to want to bake a cake. It wasn't ok for my brother to go into the garage to pump up a bike tire. It wasn't ok for us to sit near our father or ask his help on a school project or for his signature on a permission slip for a field trip. We were being ‘sneaky’.

When you throw a situation like that into what would normally be the years where a child would be ‘pulling away’, you create an atmosphere where it's absolutely NOT going to happen. The primary reason kids pull away, IMO, is that they feel their parents are smothering them, babying them, holding them back, imposing too many rules, or are in general just **always there**. The minute you do anything to take that feeling away the child is going to cling. How many times do you hear skids scream in exasperation: “I'm not a baby, you know!!” **NEVER**. But in intact families kids say that all the time. They tell their parents they're ready to do things “because I'm not a baby, you know, I'm **ten** years old!” and the parents laugh and say “Oh, yeah, **ten** is all grown up!” but on these boards, I see more and more and more posts about kids at that age who refuse to tie shoes, make a PBJ, go to bed without a 45 minute tuck in ritual, you name it. At that age they should be staring to push your limits, not asking to be babied.

In my stepmother experience, I went into it with this very theory. I went into it telling myself that – NO MATTER WHAT – my SD would have free and clear access to her father. (*Note that I didn't say she would be his priority. Note that I didn't say she would be in charge. Note that I didn't say I would be a doormat. Note that I didn't say she could crap all over me and dismiss me. Note that I didn't say I would be second to her.) I went into it with the attitude that this man has a daughter. He's not a free, able to make spur of the moment plans, unattached, single guy with no limit to the possibilities. He's someone's father. He's SOMEONE'S FATHER.

Being a Dad comes with great responsibility. Especially to a girl. Sure there's the financial part, but that's not at all what I mean. A girl looks to her dad as an example, a blueprint of masculine traits. What a ‘man’ should be, and she takes this information into the world and bases her choices for dates, boyfriends, and prospective husbands on it. She raises her sons, expecting they, too, to become ‘men’ and live up the expectations presented to her by her father…or father figure, if she's got a step dad. It's a very important job. When you take ‘Dad’ and only let her have access to him 4 out of every 30 days…(*OK, come on court systems, lets get a tad realistic here, ok?)…it's not enough. Not by a long shot. And if, for some reason, on those whopping 4 days, she has to feel compelled to ‘compete’ for his attention, or if she has to feel that she's no longer important to him, what kind of results do you think you get? BAD ONES, that's what.

I don't know about anyone else, but I sure as heck don't ever want to see my SD with some jerk that craps all over her and treats her like dirt and watch her sit back and accept it as ‘normal’. And yes, I know that there's the whole aspect of what Biomom presents to her as an image and how that effects her, as well, but I'm no part of that. All we can do in life is our very best and as long as I'm satisfied that **I** have done my very best, I can sleep at night, look myself in the mirror, and get on with things. So, I made a pact with myself that SD will have free and clear access to her father. If she has a clingy phase, she can have a clingy phase. You want to hang all over your father and act like a baby? Go ahead. No skin off my nose. Eventually she'll either snap out of it, or he will have his fill of it and stop it himself. It's happened. I've seen it. She's spent entire weekends up that poor man's rear end until finally he gets so tired of not being able to break away for a decent pee that he tells her, firmly but gently, “SD, **stop** hanging all over me, you're driving me bananas.”

There have been weekends where she's shut herself in her room for 48 hours emerging only to pee, eat, or grab the cordless to call her mother. You want to have a sulk-fest for yourself? Fine, have one. Eventually she'll either snap out of it, or my husband will bang on her door and demand that she stop acting like we beat her out in the back shed.

All of the ‘annoying’ things that happen around here are ‘normal’. Let me just break my arm patting myself on the back and say that, I really, really, really think that it was the **ACTUAL TALKS** I had with her when she was getting to know me that did the trick. I said all the things to her that I wish my SM had been capable of saying to me. I didn't pussyfoot around issues, I didn't make my husband say things I should be saying, I let her hear it from the horse's mouth. (*My husband did have talks of his own with her at my insistence. I think this helped as well, but in different ways) I told her…and this is more than once, this is several times over the course of the last 7.5 years…that I was not there to take her father away from her. That no matter what he would always be her father, she could always count on him, she could always talk to him, and I wasn't going to insist that I be in the room if she needed him. I told her that a wife's relationship is a different thing than a daughter's relationship, and that, yes, maybe I might need to talk to him alone from time to time, too, but that was something all husbands and wives must do, talk, work things out, plan, and compromise. That has nothing to do with his ability to be her father. That has nothing to do with his ability to be there for her when she needs him. He has plenty of love to go around, and if she was willing to let me, I had plenty, too, and she could have as much of mine as she wanted as well…including none if that was the level that made her comfortable, but she would always have the option of changing her mind. I told her I liked her very much, she was smart, fun to be around, pretty, and we loved when we got to spend time with her. I told her that she could call us when she missed us, she could talk to Daddy anytime she wanted, even if it wasn't ‘his day’ to have her. I also told her that she could do the same with Mumma. If she wanted to talk to her mother when she was at our place all she had to do was ask and we'd dial for her. I told her God only gives you 1 Mommy and 1 Daddy, and it doesn't matter what else happens, they are always your parents.

As I say, we had this same talk many times when she was younger, and when my husband and I finally got married 5 years into our relationship I had one more talk with her and told her nothing was going to change. We would have a nice ceremony, everyone would dress up and have their picture taken, and then Daddy and BOBS would go on vacation and then it would be right back to business as usual, just like nothing happened.

We had a family medallion ceremony at our wedding. We didn't tell SD we were doing it, we surprised her with it. She was shocked, she cried tears of joy, she felt so much better to be included, rather than feeling like there was this big promise between Hubby and I and she was an ‘outsider’. The JP made a lovely, relevant speech about how sometimes marriage comes with more than just vows to love and cherish a spouse, but with responsibility to family, and the creation of a family unit through those vows. It was moving, and SD understood that I actually **meant** the things I had been saying, they weren't just words.

I'm sure I'm coming off arrogant at this point, and to a certain extent I guess I am, but the reason I'm telling you all this is simply this: These kids didn't ask to be born. They don't exist simply to annoy us. They are caught in the crossfire (no pun intended) of a relationship between two adults who created them and then found they couldn't stay together for whatever reason…even if that reason is because one of them passed away…they still weren't born simply to ruin your marriage. And as a child, I always felt that my SM looked at me like I was a thorn in her side. I wanted to look her straight in the eye and say:

“Listen, lady, I didn't ask to be born. I didn't ask my parents to split up and I didn't ask to have my Dad fall in love with someone who sees me as a nuisance. I'd leave, but I'm (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17) years old and I can't yet. So why don't you just stop glaring at me and I'll stay out of your way and you stay out of mine.” But as a kid, you can't say those things. You'll get your mouth slapped. But it doesn't mean you don't feel them. It doesn't mean you're not human. We spend a lot of time on this board reassuring each other that it's OK not to ‘like’ your skids…and it is…but it's not OK to make them uncomfortable in their own home any more than it's OK for them to do it to you. It's not ok to get **visibly** irritated with a child because he/she looks like, acts like or reminds you of BM. Don't think they don't see it. Don't think they're feelings can't get hurt every bit as easily as yours. Don't think they don't wonder what the heck they ever did to deserve growls, stares, dirty looks, rolled eyes, aggravated sighs, and the like. Silently fuming isn't always as silent as you think. And honestly, all it does is make the situation far worse. Kids begin to think “OK, I can't do anything right so fine, she hates me, I'll just hate her back.” And they will. And **THAT'S** what prompts them to go running to the other parent with horror stories… “SM is so mean to me, she gives me dirty looks all the time, and all I did was ask for the butter.” MAYBE THE KID HAS A POINT.

I'm not trying to tell you that my step experience is an episode of the Brady Bunch, far from it, actually, and in the beginning my SD shot me dirty looks, ignored me when I spoke to her, dismissed me, refused to say hello, goodbye, please and thank you. But she was 3. I was 25. Through patience, carefully chosen words, smiles, and understanding of **HER** point of view, I managed to break down barriers, dispel myths, and build a relationship with her that I wouldn't trade now for anything. I do love my SD. She's a typical kid with typical kid behaviors that drive me nuts…if I find just one more sopping wet face cloth in the bathroom counter causing a flood I'm going to wring her neck…but I can do those things now, because I've earned it. **In her eyes** I've earned it, and I really wouldn't have it any other way.


This essay was written by Beenonbothsides (BOBS) on June 6, 2003. She is a regular contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.