DAVID COLE­MAN

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - FRONT PAGE - WITH DAVIDCOLEMAN dcole­man@in­de­pen­dent.ie

?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.

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