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Ask a Professional: I dislike my stepchild

Ask a Professional: I dislike my stepchild

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Community Manager
Linda-ROPro

Ask a Professional: I dislike my stepchild

We have a 15mo old and I am newly pregnant but sometimes as sad as it seems I feel like it would still be easier to do it by myself than to have to keep dealing with my husband's 14 year old son coming over for long periods of time. I DREAD when we have him. Me and my husband also have a lot of the same arguments. It’s such a hard situation and I always tell people if I could go back in time I would have never dated a man with a child. I am just not cut out for it. I also feel like it got worse when I had my own kids. Most just don’t understand and make sure you feel like a terrible person for your feelings.

 

Hi @Juelsrose,

I hope it’s okay we’ve combined a couple of your posts, so that it is easier for people reading this post to understand the situation.

Thanks for your bravery in sharing your experience. It can be really hard to talk about disliking a child - there’s so much expectation that somehow step-parents will automatically love their stepchildren, and it’s just not realistic. Of course, it does happen that way for some people, but for many more people it’s much more complicated.

It sounds like you’re not interested in having a closer relationship with your stepson, which is absolutely okay. Each relationship is different, and working towards a close relationship isn’t the best approach for everyone. You also don’t want things to continue as they are, because the current situation is distressing for you and impacting the whole family. With that in mind, my response is not aimed at getting you to be closer to your stepson, but more about navigating your emotions at the moment.

In particular, I wanted to acknowledge that feeling of dread you mention - it sounds even when your stepson is not there, you’re mentally and emotionally preparing for his presence. That must be exhausting!

When someone is in a complicated situation, there are often multiple factors contributing to how they are feeling. The things that I can notice which are creating distress for you at the moment are:

- Having someone else (stepson) present and involved in the life you have with your husband and child

- Your stepson’s behaviour, which can be frustrating and difficult for you

- Your husband’s response to the situation 

- Your feelings towards your stepson in general

It’s likely that all these things blend together for you, instead of being entirely separate in terms of how they make you feel. The reason that I have separated these out this way is that when dealing with stressful emotions (like anger, frustration, dread, etc) accurately identifying the cause of the emotions is an important part in tackling them. If everything is just tangled together into the ‘stepson’ issue, then this increases the chance that your frustration will increase, and it will feel less and less that things can get better. It can also lead to increased resentment, because it can feel like your stepson is responsible for everything, even the parts he cannot control.

Separating things out can provide a little space to acknowledge your feelings about your stepson, but also keeping things in perspective and recognise the complexity of the situation. 

It also provides the possibility of responding differently based on which aspect of the situation is bothering you most at a given time. 

The current situation is probably not what you pictured your life with your husband being like. Even in cases where a step-parent likes their stepchild, there can still be a strain from having someone other than their spouse and children so closely involved in their life. Feeling a sense of loss and distress when things aren’t how you wanted them is really normal and understandable. Acknowledging and making room for this sense of disappointment can be helpful in reaching a point of accepting the current situation as it is.

At the same time, if there are aspects of your step-son’s behaviour which are an issue, then it is reasonable to take more of a problem-solving approach, and work with your husband to address boundaries and consequences for that behaviour. 

If your husband’s response is contributing to your unhappiness with the situation, then this is actually something which needs to be addressed as a relationship issue between the two of you in order to really get better (instead of this being seen as an issue between you and your stepson, which will just increase your resentment of him). I know this is easier said than done and addressing these relationship issues can themselves take time, but identifying the issue is the first step. Sometimes reframing the situation this way can actually make your partner more willing to address it, as they feel less need to defend their child against criticism.

So this leaves your feelings toward step son in general. It’s possible that nothing will change how you feel about him. But, by tackling the other aspects contributing to your stress, you might find that these feelings are easier to bear. 

Many people do also find that there is value in finding common ground, even if you don’t want to build a close relationship with someone. Think about the approach you may take with a relative you find annoying. They might be present in your life due to time spent together with others, and perhaps you strongly disagree on things which are important to you, but have something you do have in common (liking the same sports team, or you both are happy to talk about the same TV show). Taking this approach of finding some safe topics can make time spent in their presence far less stressful for you both. I’m not seeking to trivialise the challenge, I know that a stepchild is present far more often and there is more at stake than a relative you only see at family functions. But thinking about it in this way can make it a little easier to take a step back from the constant struggle, and move towards something that looks a little more like ‘peaceful coexistence’.

If you’re finding this is ongoing and things just aren’t improving, then I would encourage you to consider seeing someone for individual counselling, to make sure you have a space where you can express how you are feeling and be heard without judgement, as well as work out what strategies would be most effective for you.

Thanks,

Linda

 

Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.

Casual scribe
Juelsrose

Re: Ask a Professional: I dislike my stepchild

Hi Linda!

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response with so much good advice. I have to say this is the first time I have felt heard as well as a person being able to give me constructive criticism and advice all in the same reply. So thank you! It is so helpful!

I just wonder why it got so bad for me once we had our daughter. In the past I never had this amount of a challenge being able to deal with him. We were able to co-exist and have some fun. As he got into his teenage years and once I had a daughter of my own I just started to feel like he was almost an intruder every time it was our weekend. Is this normal? It would be much easier on me if I could just let go and try to enjoy but these days it seems impossible no matter how hard I try. I also try not to make it known to stepson but I am sure he can feel my energy (as we know kids are smart). It’s such a hard situation. Nothing about it makes me feel good but I also can change how I feel.
Community Manager
Linda-ROPro

Re: Ask a Professional: I dislike my stepchild

I'm really pleased to hear that my response was helpful. 

It could be a number of things that made it harder once you had your daughter. Parenting your daughter would have taken a lot of emotional energy and this can make it harder to deal with stressful situations, and also both parents and step-parents find that the teenage years can be quite demanding and frustrating (so it makes sense you would find this a more challenging time with your stepson). 

I do want to acknowledge that it is a difficult situation, and encourage you to be gentle with yourself. You won't be perfect (no-one is) and there will be some days which are better than others. The important thing is that you are doing your best in a tough situation.

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