Live, Love, Blend: You Blew It?!
How to fix it – Quick!
Every once in a while, step-parents screw it up… big time. Parenting children that you haven’t raised can be tricky. Heck, parenting your own children can be tricky!
Add in factors like a biological parent whispering hateful attacks into one ear while you are trying to speak love into the other. Or a teen who’s grown up with a lifetime of poor communication skills, now living with a step-parent (like me) who talks all the time and gets suspicious of silence. Sound like a recipe for disaster? Often it is! But it doesn’t have to be.
I’ll give you an example of how I really blew it this summer. And then the one easy way to do massive damage control.
Our oldest son, my step-son, came home from college for the summer. From day one I started us off on the wrong foot. My attitude was not one of welcome. I was irritated at the way he took over my bio-son’s bedroom, even removed clothing from drawers and settled himself in as if he were entitled to the space. (Not sure why I didn’t think he was entitled to the space. We’d already agreed that he would use that room). I was frustrated that he rarely came out of the room or communicated with the family other than to ask for food. (But I never talked to him about it). I was super annoyed when his dad would bend over backwards to cook his favorite meal when I thought he could have easily made himself dinner before his dad and I got home from a long day at work (as if I’ve never made a special dinner for the kids). You get the idea. I had a chip on my shoulder and no matter what this boy did, no matter how hard he worked at his summer job, or how many times he ran to pick up a sibling when his dad & I were busy, I had decided that he was acting entitled, uncommunicative, even spoiled.
Now to give me just a little credit; there was definitely some “I’m over 18 and shouldn’t have to do chores or tell you anything” attitude going on. So please don’t think I completely transformed into an evil step-monster. I think we just got out of step, and the lack of communication plus our own attitudes were causing the standoff to escalate.
Then the night before he was due to go back to college the trouble that had been brewing all summer boiled over. I won’t wear you out with all the hairy details, but just understand that due to yet another miscommunication, I thought he’d gone to say goodbye to friends and other family, and he thought our whole family ditched him because we didn’t care that it was his last night in town. He responded by acting out and scaring the crap out of his dad and me. Here’s where the important part comes in. When he walked in the door I finally did something right… I wrapped my arms around this man-boy and said “I’m sorry.” We both cried it out and I apologized for not understanding what he needed. And for not taking the time and effort to figure it out.
Our kids and/or step-kids are not the same people we were at their age. That was a powerful lesson for me. At 19 I was fiercely independent and wanted only to get away from my parents. That’s not the case with this boy. Although he is learning to spread his wings, he still desires our input and approval.
So fellow mistake-makers (please tell me I’m not the only one), what do we do now? Take a breath, forgive ourselves and each other, and do better tomorrow. This blended family thing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Sometimes we just have to make adjustments and work a little harder to get back to a comfortable pace. And… I think I’ll send a little surprise care package to a certain college student who may still need some extra reassurance that he’s loved and valued.
How about you? Ever blown it really bad with your family? What did you to fix it?