There's No Reset Button for Stepparenting: Tips for Resolving Conflict
As the great philosopher, Miley Cyrus once sang: “Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days.”
Okay, in all seriousness, it’s true. We all have those moments where we would give up anything we own for a rewind button or the ability to put our foot in or mouth and have it work.
We have those moments with our mothers, or sisters, our children, and even our husbands. No one is safe from an outburst. It could come at the worst of times, and it could come at the best of times.
But what happens when you have that outburst and say something that hurts your stepchild? Well, it’s no different from saying something hurtful to your biological child, your own mother, or even your husband. The problem is the relationship surrounding the situation.
The stepmother/stepchild relationship is tricky, and exceptionally sensitive. So any type of outburst, accusation, argument, etc., can leave you feeling emotionally desperate, defeated, and even in a slump.
Let me share my story with you. As in any stepfamily relationship, there are flying darts of advice, information, insults, relationships, and he-said/she-said all coming at your family, which can be likened to a dartboard.
So, my stepdaughter, who lives with us, has been feeling sick the last few days. We took her to the pediatrician today who advised us that we needed to keep a diary of my stepdaughter’s activities, eating habits, and the type of foods she is eating so we could determine what might be triggering some headaches she’d been having.
My husband called his ex-wife to let her know what the doctor said about their daughter, and he felt like she was tossing accusations at us. For example, she told him their daughter was not eating right at our house, she sometimes wasn’t eating at all, she was drinking too much soda at our house, and she never had lunch because we never gave her lunch money, and she, personally, would do without in order to give her kids lunch money. As in most stepfamily situations, everybody is usually on the defense, each parental side has a point of view, and each side doesn’t usually hold the other in the highest esteem.
Well, when he got home and told me what happened, I got so angry. I felt betrayed, like there had to be a reason my stepdaughter’s mother was saying these things. I saw how upset he was, I in turn got upset and I said, “Well you know, part of the problem is that she is telling her mother these things.” I then began citing examples of instances where she had made comments about certain things. My stepdaughter came in from the other room and defended herself. I in turn defended my point of view. This didn’t get us anywhere. She turned and stormed off to her room, and I of course sat down defeated, repeating the scenario in my head. Was I wrong? Was I right? Was I rude? Is she going to tattle on me to her mom? Is her mom going to be upset with me?
Needless to say, it wasn’t one of my finest moments in my stepmother journey, and I actually felt like a hypocrite in The Godly Stepmom neighborhood.
Now with your own bio kids, or other members of your bio family, usually, you can just say sorry and love on them. They naturally love you unconditionally. Everybody moves on. In stepfamilies, it can kind of feel like after so much progress, after so much careful work you put into growing this relationship, you just set yourself back to what you feel is irreparable territory.
So when this moment comes, and you feel like you have disgraced yourself, the only thing you can do is work toward progress. Families don’t give up on each other, no matter what. So work to repair and use your support system as well, because it’s not going to be easy.
- Imagine your stepchild is one of your own children. If you have biological children, imagine that this happened between you and your child. How would you feel? I, personally, would want to do anything possible to make sure they knew I loved them and I would desperately want to patch this mess up. You now have a child whose heart is hurt and you are the mother of the house, PERIOD. Do what you do best as a mother, as a woman: nurture.
- Say “Sorry!” The hardest word to say is “Sorry,” but it’s often the most necessary. I went to knock on her door, and she didn’t want me to come in. This is where it can get tricky. You don’t want to force yourself in there, but you are the adult, and you will definitely give him or her their alone time, but not before you say what’s on your heart.
- Explain in a calm manner why you snapped. Without sharing too much about the stresses of adult life, you can give a very simple explanation such as, “I try my best as a stepmother but don’t always feel like it’s my strongest point, so when things are said that hurt my feelings, it makes me sad and sometimes when people are hurt they don’t always do the right things or act the same way.” It’s important for kids to know that even adults make mistakes and get upset and sometimes have the wrong reactions. It’s when we own up to it and work to fix our errors that our kids can learn from our mistakes.
- You can communicate on their level. Don’t get into an all-out text-messaging debate, but go ahead and get their attention in their world. Shoot out a text that lets them know you are sorry and no matter what you love them.
- Have a family meeting. You don’t want to put your husband in the middle, but it’s important to talk as a family and establish that you are his wife and he loves you, and she or he is his child and he loves them. It’s then important to talk about what happened and how everyone is feeling. It’s really hard to sit at the table and look each other in the eye. It’s just plain awkward, but it also reaffirms family. My stepdaughter told my husband that he always takes my side. It’s ok for her to feel this way and to say this, because this presents a great opportunity to reaffirm everyone’s special place in your family. For example, he came up with this affirmation: The only sides in a family are the ones that make up our home.
- Give them space and their right to be mad at you. Your stepchild will be upset, and that’s okay. They need to be, so let them have the room they need. Time heals, and while this may take a while, they will get past this. Both of you will. But in the meantime, they will probably say what they are feeling, which is along the lines of: she doesn’t love me, you always take her side, I’m not her kid, I hate her. Any kid might use these points, including your stepkid. Key word: KID. At this point, you and your husband can step in to correct, and to maintain respect of all people involved, and now to move forward, you just go day by day reaffirming your love and support.
- Hugs. Now that you’ve hit that moment of impact, and you’ve said sorry, and family meetings have been held and feelings have been brought to light, take care of yourself. Go to your support team. Is it your friends on Facebook? A call to your mom? Maybe you just need to be held by your husband. You also need time to grieve over what’s happened and get to that safe place again.
- Special time is okay. After a few days, maybe it’s time to renew the relationship. Perhaps take a few hours to take your stepchild out for some one-on-one time. It might be uncomfortable, but it’s perseverance that will win out.
- The phone call. Lastly, and this could come in between any of these steps, but be ready for an unhappy phone call that may or may not come. Your stepchild’s mother has every right to defend her child, just as you would defend your biological child, so it’s not unusual that she might call about this incident. This could be a good adult conversation, or it may not be a very dignified call where everybody communicates and everyone sees flowers, rainbows, and peace, but it’s very important for you to keep your stance and commitment to going forward and not backward. The Bible says a soft answer turns away wrath, so as long as you keep your cool, you might be pleased with the results. Plan B: and there’s nothing wrong with this, let your husband field the calls. He wants to protect you, and sometimes you just need that tiny window of a break. He can carry that burden for just a small time, and you can find a way to help him carry that stress in other ways. That’s what a team does.
Don’t give up. This isn’t the first time and won’t be the last. It never feels good when it happens, but it’s possible to move forward with God’s help and hand over every situation.
Photo Credit: ekilby.