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Monday, February 13, 2006

Two Worlds Collide: A lesson in step-parenting

"You know better!"

The words are out of my mouth before I think it through. I register the shock on my step-son's face and only then realize, truly, fully realize, that he doesn't.

Let's back up a bit. Brandon lost video game privileges over at his mom's place, because he'd refused to get off his game in time to go to school. *sigh*

What was he doing on the game in the first place? Just turn off the game and tell him to get ready! Are just a few of the words I didn't let slip out of my mouth when I'd heard. I had to bite my tongue (almost literally), but I didn't say it. There's just no use to it and I've come to terms with that, sort of. After all, I still haven't been able to convince the woman that "shithead" is not an appropriate nickname for a child. Nor that for disciplinary measures to work you can't just tell the child what you're going to do...you have to actually do it.

But that's neither here nor there. My husband chose not to uphold the decision for punishment completely, allowing Brandon the privilege to play his video games during their weekend together at our home if he behaved himself. To say the least, he didn't.

Now, the next day, he was repentant and asked his father if he could have the privilege back. Mark left that up to me.

So, what did Brandon do...? He turned on his puppy dog face, pushed out his pouty lip, and tried to manipulate me. Sure, it's cute and developmentally appropriate for a two year...the thing is, he's nine!

"You don't do that, Brandon! You don't try to manipulate people like that! Now, you definitely DON'T get to play any games! You know better!"

Shock...pain...tears. The sudden realization that, no, he doesn't know better. His mother does it to anyone who'll fall for it. He does it to her habitually. Sure, he doesn't get away with that at our house, but she has the advantage of quantity over quality. HE DOESN'T KNOW BETTER.

*sigh* Luckily for me, I learned rather early on in this parenting gig that saving face is not nearly as important as teaching appropriate behavior. So, I apologized and explained, within the realm of his ability to understand, why I got so upset and why what he did was wrong and why he will not get away with it at our house and I even recommended he not do that to his mother. Then, of course, he asked if this meant he could play his video games....no.

Being a step-parent is never easy. Nor is being a step-child. When two radically different households are involved we get more than our share of trouble. Maybe someday I'll learn how to bridge that gap. Maybe someday my husband and I will be able to teach Brandon the things he needs to know and appreciate so that he doesn't follow the same path as his older brother. Right now, I've just got to accept that Brandon really doesn't know what I think he should. The only way for that to change is for his father and I to teach him...without alienating him first. And, I also have to accept that as hard as this is for us, it's even more difficult for Brandon who has to live and try to function in these two radically different environments where, sadly, he doesn't always understand the rules.


At 2/15/2006 1:14 PM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

Never worked for me. What happened was my children got old enough that they learned to remember one question in their minds before they did something at their father's house, "Would I do this at home". Things are calmer now only because Aubrey is the only one who has visitation and she's 11. My 16 year old has basically decided she wants very little to do with her father and it appears to be mutual. Same as it is with my older two. It's all fun and games and disneyland dad time until they do something he disagrees with, then? They are out of his life.

Sad thing is Aubrey doesnt seem to realize that it will probably happen to her as well unless a miracle happens and he changes. Trying to talk with him doesn't work though at least we are civil now, mainly because I've learned thru the 20 years we've known each other he's not going to change so I have to just do what I can do to make my childrens life the best possible. Early on in the divorce it was horrible and that just made it even harder on the kids, then for the sake of peace I took more crap than I should have. Realizing at least I wasn't married to him anymore was my solace until I grew more of a backbone and said I'm the custodial parent this is the way it will be, I'd love for to work with me because it's better for the kids but this isn't open for negotiation. (He would constantly try to mess with visitation times, anything he could to be disruptive). Now? it's not ideal but at least it's more peaceful.

At 2/15/2006 2:23 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

See, we have some difficulties in that: 1) Mark and Kim were never married, their relationship was rather short (less than five months before she kicked him out of her life, while she was pregnant, because he couldn't stand her older son's uncontrolled behavior). 2) Mark has NO LEGAL RIGHTS to see Brandon. To change that we'd have to go through a lot of costly court battles. So instead we have to play nice, which means don't criticize. 3) While Mark no longer likes her, he still loves her, mostly because she gave him Brandon. It's difficult to see the extent of both Kim's and Brandon's behavior.

Of course another possibility is that I'm a vindictive bitch who just can't get over the fact that she tried to put her hands down my husband's pants AFTER we were married.

Nope. Habitually calling a child "shithead" definitely tops that.

At 2/15/2006 2:25 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Sorry, I'm just not in a good mood. Brandon's family is going through another of their "he's just too much of an inconvience" phases and so Brandon's going to be coming over here after school once my boys are well.

It's not that I mind Brandon coming over...it's that I mind Brandon crying because he understands just enough to know that he's not wanted over there right now.

At 2/15/2006 2:26 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Oh, and my next post will also indicate why I'm in a bit of a pissy mood. You'll see, you always check!

At 2/15/2006 3:08 PM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

Stephanie, another cool thing about blogging is the ability to vent. I was lucky in that I am the custodial parent though he tried to get joint custody and has threatened me with court over and over again till the point it didn't work as a threat anymore. It's hard enough even under the best circumstances to blend a family and when the other parent isn't thinking of the child makes it even harder.

My husband has had a few moments of major frustration in becoming a step-parent. Part of it was my fault because having been a single parent I wasn't ready to let him come in and change things around. Thankfully we managed to work that out and he has a good relationship with all five. Sometimes it gets rough because we have different ideas on parenting, partly I think because he came into my family ready made and we will never have children together and mine are all he has. That and the differences in our background. He's puerto rican and was raised by his mother, he's only seen his father perhaps four times and one of those was as an adult as well as major differences in discipline. He is alot stricter than I am and sometimes that causes some friction.

I was a step-parent too, in my very first marriage. My step-son is the one who died at age five in his sleep from a grand mal seizure. We had custody of him but not his sister who was a year younger. So I've walked in both shoes and I gotta tell ya being a mom is alot easier than being a step-mom if the mother wants to make things difficult.

Thankfully he will get older and because of the relationship with you and your husband chances are he will be fine. You just have to hang in there, and allow yourself to have pissy moods, it's a part of life. Always being happy would mean you really didn't have a chance to enjoy the difference when it is a good day. (yeah okay justification...but it works for me sometimes) :-)

At 2/16/2006 1:07 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

What you say definitely makes sense. I'm just trying to figure out the balance of maintaining order in my own home, when he's not used to order being maintained at all over at his Mom's. The most threatening act of discipline she actually acts upon is...calling dad. It's sad and frustrating and I just really hopes he can see his way clear when he has to.

At 2/18/2006 11:26 AM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

The up side is in the end he will start following the rules from your house because it gives him order, security and consistency. Kids need consistency and despite the fact that many of them rebel against it, the knowledge that no matter what this will be the response ends up giving them the tools they need as they grow.

It might cause some temporary problems for the mom which could very well be happening right now since it's natural he would continue to test limits with her to see what happens. Sometimes I think kids do this without even thinking about it in the process of growing and learning.

In his mind he will figure out gee when I do this I know Stephanie will do ____________________ but with mom? I don't know what will happen except what she threatens usually doesn't happen.

However five years ago if you would have asked me? I would have felt that I was doomed and that there would always be this constant battle between what he let them do and what I would let them do. Being mad at them when they would come home and tell me about things he let them do that they would have never ever ever done in my home. I did the same "you know better". I wasn't being fair because I was expecting them to stand up and behave better than the adult who was supposed to be a "parent". They weren't old enough to really know better at that point.

I just kept trying to reinforce my rules and encourage them, then it got to the point where they would come home and tell me things they "could" have done but didn't.


At 2/18/2006 11:36 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

That's very encouraging, thank you. My hope is that if there is anyone reading this, other than you :-), that they might be able to take that into consideration...that kids only know what they're taught.

Consistency is my concern. Kids need that, but Brandon's not getting that. I do hope he appreciates it over at our house, but we'll see. On the bright side, he's back this weekend and when he did something that lost him a priviledge he didn't freak out nearly as much. He still tried to argue his way out (I didn't know I couldn't do that even though Daddy told me three times...), but he accepted the loss with relative grace.

At 2/19/2006 10:21 PM, Blogger Lisa Renee said...

That's progress, and you will go two steps forward, one step back...

It's obvious to me how much you and your husband love him so I have every confidence you'll end up with the same result as I did.

I know it's hard to feel that way at times. My dad tried to tell me everything was going to be okay when I was about ready to pull my hair out. (He was right)


At 2/19/2006 10:33 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

I'll take your word for it.

I take courage from the fact that he's taken to our family motto, so to speak: Strong, Smart and Most of All Moral.

He's also learning the Lord's Prayer. Both of which are facets of life he just doesn't get over at his mom's. We've given him several Bibles, parts of Bibles and Books of Mormon (a main religious text of Latter-Day Saints, which we sort of are) and they've all been quickly "misplaced."


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