?MY husband and myself have two children aged three and one. My husband also has a 10-year-old son from a previous relationship. My stepson comes to stay two weekends a month and it’s a nightmare. He throws unreal temper tantrums and is verbally abusive. The slightest thing can trigger these. He can hit or push our threeyear-old and be mean to him. I now dread when he comes to stay. When he’s not there, family life is wonderful. I feel we must be doing something wrong with him, as our three-year-old is better behaved. Can you help?
YOU are probably feeling pushed right to the edge by your stepson’s behaviour. It must feel like your whole household is disrupted by his visits and I could imagine it feels very stressful and upsetting for you. It may even be a source of real tension between you and your husband.
However, it is probably also extremely stressful and upsetting for your stepson to come and visit you too. Perhaps you might indulge me for a few moments as I try to show you what it might feel like to be him. The next few paragraphs are written as if I was him, so the first person narrative reflects what I imagine he might be thinking or feeling (even though he may not ever express it so clearly). If you could begin to see it from his perspective it might help create a dialogue that will lead to positive change.
“I have to go to my dad’s house this weekend. I always have mixed feelings about that. I mean, I do want to see him because he’s my dad, but I never get to see him on his own any more because it’s always him and his perfect little family. I’d much prefer it if
he’d take me off on my own so I’d actually get to spend time with just him, but he’s always distracted by the other two.
“They want me to call them my brother and sister, but really? Are they? Like, if they were properly my brother or sister then I’d be living with them all the time. I’d be living with my dad all the time. They get to live with him all the time, and I don’t, how is that even fair? There isn’t a hope that I’m ever going to accept them as a brother and sister. They have it all, so why should I play their happy families game, when I’m not happy about it?
“It was so much better before he got married and had other kids. At least then I used to just go visit him at the weekends and it was cool. We used to do loads of stuff. Now we don’t get to do anything. And the boy is so annoying. He just wants to be stuck into everything I do. Well he can just eff off.
“His wife is nice and all that, but she keeps trying to be my mum. I have a mum, thanks very much. I don’t need a stand-in one too. I also don’t want to be bossed around by her. I’m only coming to see my dad, so I’m only going to listen to him. Not that he even makes the decisions any more. Even if I ask him something directly he checks it with her.
“Most of the time I’m there I’d rather be on my own. I just get annoyed looking at them and listening to them. I think they resent me coming over. She does anyway. She’d rather I didn’t visit and then she’d also have him all to herself. It’s like they stole my dad and no matter what I do, I can’t get him back.
“They haven’t a clue. She says to me ,’I try to make things so nice for you when you come over and you throw straight back in my face.’ I told her ‘Don’t f**king bother, I never asked you to.’ She didn’t like that. I was glad. Took the selfrighteous look off her face.
“I wish my dad understood. I wish he’d make more time for me. I wish they realised how hard it is to be around their ‘perfect’ family and not feel properly part of it. If I thought they’d just get it, then it’d make it so much easier and so much better.”
Naturally I am paraphrasing things that your stepson might say. There is no guarantee that these actually are the issues that bother him, but I think they are quite likely to be representative.
Putting yourself into his shoes, in this way, might allow you to be more tolerant of him, and also be more understanding of him in ways that might lead you to change some of your approaches to him.
Even being able to talk, empathetically, with him about the kinds of things he might feel about coming to visit could really improve the situation for all of you.