Your kids and stepkids are challenging you! And you’d better be up for that challenge if you know what’s good for you. Fail at this and you’ll be fighting to regain ground the rest of your life.
“You are NOT my mom! You can’t tell me what to do! And I don’t have to listen to you!“
This is simply your loving stepchild’s way of saying, “Excuse me please, could you kindly straighten out for me the question of authority and respect in this new family situation? Thank you very much.” (Yes, it really does mean that!)
When they give you The Look, or refuse to acknowledge you, or talk down to you, they are tossing out a challenge and a question that says, “Just exactly where do you and I stand in this new household?” And your first answer will stand for a long time.
If you fail to answer correctly, you’ll have more than double the work to re-inform them.
What is the right answer? Well, it’s a careful balance of love, respect for them, and an insistence for respect from them. If you answer too softly (“Oh, OK, sorry to have upset you, dear.“) you’ll be telling them that you are fair game for all sorts of attacks.
Yet if you go too far the other way (“Hey kid! You better watch your mouth! I’m …”) then you’ll tell them you’re so intimidated by them you have to attack to defend yourself.
The best way to answer is somewhere in between. It depends on the age of the child, what else they’ve been through before you, your spouse’s position on supporting you, and your own self-confidence. A good answer may be, “I know I’m not your mother, and I don’t intend to try to be. But because your dad has invited me into your family, I do deserve respect, at least for his sake.“
The first encounters are not set in granite. You can improve your position with your stepkids. But it takes some special approaches involving their biological parent, you, and teamwork for the whole family.
If you’re already dealing with the results of a mis-handled first challenge, I can help you rebuild and establish a firmer footing with your new family. But the longer you wait, the harder it is to correct. Get help soon!
STEPcoach Bob Collins