My wife has a 14-year-old, son from a previous marriage who has recently come to live with us. In the past, he lived with his father and I had contact with him only on weekend visits or vacations. We weren’t especially close, but we managed to get along. However, his father has moved out of the province, and now that this teen lives with us, things have become quite tense. I know it can’t be easy for him missing his dad. I tried to step up to the plate by being involved and before this crazy pandemic, I tried to help him with homework, gave him rides and when he had to give up his afterschool job, let him earn money by doing chores around the house and in every way I could I’ve tried to fill the space left by his Dad. I know it isn’t the same, but he is sullen and unpleasant to be around. He doesn’t help out and since he’s moved in, life has become tense and depressing. My wife has been to one of your sessions and says if you have any suggestions, we would be willing to give them a try.
I do have some suggestions for you and your wife to consider and I have some thoughts which can help not only in the short term, but in the long term and not only with your step son but in all your relationships.
Most people believe that teaching children responsibility means making rules and assigning chores. This really is not a very satisfying or successful method and though it may seem to work for a few families, for most it is a daily grind of reminders and even yelling and punishment.
A better way to teach just about anything is by demonstration. Do the job yourself and remove from your life the exhausting and frustrating exercise of trying to get obstinate teens to help. Take satisfaction in having chores done quickly, in a timely fashion and exactly how you want.
Allow your satisfaction to be seen in your more relaxed mood around the house.
You are right, you are not the same as a dad for your stepson. Yes, he misses his father, but you can be a supportive friend If you are not stewing over chores undone. Being one step removed from a father can mean that you have less of the emotional hang ups which can be stumbling blocks for parents.
Your stepson can be responsible for his own laundry and other needs. If he wants help, ask what he is willing to do. Do not assign chores. Get his input. If he needs money, again get his input. What is he willing to do in exchange? In this way he can develop a sense that he has some things he can offer and some control.
Your wife will have better results I believe and is less likely to be received with resentment by her son if she assumes the parent role which really is hers.
This can be a tremendous learning opportunity for all of you and you can learn at your own pace while you are making adjustments as they are needed.
Making rules for other people can seem satisfying but when you make rules for others, you have to be prepared to monitor those others which is almost never satisfying.
This is a difficult time for parents to give and get support. Different groups are using different ways to do this and hopefully this lockdown situation will soon end. We are investigating ways to help. In the meantime, you can email me with parenting issues, and I will reply with suggestions.
- Helen Jones, APSGO ENEWS June 2020