A Healthy Stepmother . . . takes a second look.

Don’t you ever wonder why some teenagers are so angry? Don’t you hear stories of teens and young adults doing the most destructive things and wonder why? The damage they do to their own lives is pretty dramatic in some cases? On a blog, I read of one stepmother who was subject to actual physical violence, in another case the stepkids neglected their relationship with their dad, and in others the teen was angry with everyone in both houses.

Today, I heard a story of a teenager that I know. I was saddened to hear of his tough time. Sam graduated from high school a few years ago. He went to community college, worked a full-time job, and lived at home since he couldn’t afford to move out. At first, this arrangement was okay and then things deteriorated. His mom and dad had gone through a violent divorce many years earlier and it was still active since there were now grandchildren involved. Sam’s mom was having a lot of trouble coping. Her ex-husband was giving her a hard time and her other children were struggling. Sam was a sensitive young man and he internalized his mom’s problems. He didn’t like to see her struggle.

He was caught in a fundamental loyalty bind. It was the natural time for him to make his own life, but he was torn about leaving his mother. He knew she needed him around. Eventually, the pressure from all the conflict won out and he moved in with a bunch of his friends. He quit school and worked so he had enough money to live on his own.

While I was listening to Sam’s story, I could see the motivations of other teens I have known. What better strategy to make space for yourself than to be so prickly and uncomfortable that everyone around you would rather leave you alone. Sam used his own quieter and more introverted strategy to fade away into the woodwork.

I can relate. If I had been a boy, I might have gotten mad and stomped out like my brother did.  My brother pretty much did what he pleased and my mom didn’t have the heart to give him an ultimatum. She felt guilty for the divorce so she put up with his behavior. I played it the other way, I was like Sam. I took care of my mom emotionally, mostly by being around and making sure she didn’t feel alone.

As I processed all the ramifications of Sam’s story, I found myself softening toward all the kids I’ve known who have done stupid and angry and mean things to one another, to their parents, and to the extended family. If I could give a parent advice, I’d say, “It’s really important for your child’s health and well-being that you take care of your own emotional issues and cope with difficulties in ways that don’t involve your child being your emotional care-taker. I’d urge parents to find friends and not use their kids as friends, practice good boundaries, and tell your child that it’s not his or her job to take care of you. Tell him that sometimes you have sad or angry days but that you are doing what you need to do about it and he doesn’t need to do a single thing to fix it.

And, stepmothers. Have patience and take heart. Don’t try to fix anything. It’s not your fault your stepchild is struggling, this is between your stepchild and his or her parent(s). Support your husband in having good boundaries, use those good boundaries in your home, and wait. See the last post, A Healthy Stepmother . . . resists name-calling for what to do when you’re fuming and blaming.

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