Calling all Step-moms. Strategies for blending a family!

Alicia - posted on 01/21/2015 ( 13 moms have responded )

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"Step-Kids are apart of the package." We've all heard it. We all know it. This simple phrase is more of a reminder of how unequipped our modern family tool boxes are, than offering any new or insightful information. Let's go ahead an agree we already accept the following principles. Yes. The step-kids are apart of the package. Yes. Step-kids are in a difficult position. Yes. Step-kids are 'just kids." Do we agree? Great.

I have two step-kids. SS is nearly 14 and SD is 10. To add to the level of difficulty, I also live in Norway. I am married to a Norwegian and his children are Norwegian (as is their bio Mom). English is a pretty common language (TV, Radio, Advertising and School). I also speak Norwegian. However, I speak standard Norwegian (think, the Queen's English), and the Step-kids speak a regional dialect (think backwater Louisiana). Same language, but VERY different. The 10 year-old speaks fluent English now. So she is easy to communicate with. The 14 year-old understands English but is a patriotic Norwegian and very proud of his dialect, and refuses to speak English and thinks my Norwegian sounds, "Posh" and "Elitist." So, communication with him is difficult.

They are good kids. We have them 50% of the time. They are kind hearted and good willed. They rarely do anything out of maliciousness. They simply don't have as many rules as I believe children need. (Maybe cultural? Maybe because I am a HS teacher I think they need more....who knows?). The children are rude. When I used to make dinner, they would comment, "NO!! I won't eat this. This is not Norwegian. American food makes you fat! IT tastes weird! It doesn't look like food. This smells gross." So I stopped making dinner. It really hurt my feelings. I tried making Norwegian food but, "It didn't taste right."

While the kids are good hearted, they are rude. They just don't know how hurtful they are. The oldest doesn't say "hello" and "goodbye." He answers me with no more than a few words. He often does his best to pretend like I don't exist. I used to try. I used to smile, "GOOD MORNING!" "How are you?" "Do you need a ride home?" "Can I help you?" ... "NO." followed by eye rolls, a grunt of some sort and right back to ignoring me. It is almost like he is mad at me for breaking the unspoken rule that we should, "Just pretend the other person isn't there." ....BUT he loves my parents when they come to visit. He adores my brothers and follows them on Instagram. ....It is me.

I was recently crushed by his rudeness. I have been working on putting together an artshow for the past 10 months. The goal is to sell my paintings so we can have enough money to take the kids to the US for 3 weeks this summer. I was at the gallery, looking at wall space. I asked my husband to come by and take a look at the walls to help with thinking how to hang the art. He brought his kids. The boy just rolled his eyes, sighed, "Can we got home yet?" every 30 seconds. I suggested they wait outside if they can't be patient. Nope. They stayed and complained... more groaning and complaining. Typical teenage stuff. I then said, "Look. I don't ask you for much. This is important for me. I need to see that you care and support me by being patient for 10 mins. Then we can go." He was totally taken back. I had never been so direct with him. He picked up his stuff and left. The 10 year-old followed. They went out into the city to go stand by the car. I was crushed. I was hurt. I had been pouring my heart out on canvas, putting my things up for sale, to pay for him to go to the US. He walked out on me. ......This outraged his father, he told his kids he was disappointed. ....that was it. I had to pester my husband to go talk to his kids. To tell them.... I give up so much. I give them so much. I try so hard..... In this barren, frozen wasteland, they are the only family I have, and they walked out on me. ........ He made the kids apologize. But now they resent me. They glare at me. They ignore me. They've asked their grandmother to take them to school in the morning.

..... I am simply at a loss. I care. I want to make things work. I want them to know that I am on their side. I want to get to know them. I want our home to peaceful, stable and warm. I don't want to BE their mother. I want them to respect me. I want them to live with us like a family. I want them to trust that I do have their best interest in mind. .... But I refuse to be treated poorly in the process. I refuse to be insulted for the food I make. I refuse to let them stay up past midnight on the weekends. I refuse to let them eat like they've never used a fork before. I refuse to let them insult me verbally or through gesture. I refuse to let them walk all over me...... and they seem to resent me for it.

.....I feel like withdrawing. I feel like giving up. I feel like I've tried. I've given the best parts I have to offer and they have rejected me. Right now, I've told my husband that the rest of the week they are here, I don't want to deal with them, because I can't find the energy to be kind. I need some strategies. What has worked with your family? What hasn't work? How would you handle this situation? I care about them. ....But for my own sanity, for the harmony of our house, right now, I really want to just resign to being just wife, not step-mom. ........ I love my husband. I love the life we have together. We've been living together for 3 years now. My whole life is here. I can't just leave him. I'd have to leave my job, my home and leave the country. I wouldn't legally be allowed to stay. .... I married him to be his wife. I would rather just be that for a while. ....these kids have broken my heart. I am so tired of giving ...and having them just toss my love and care out. ...It isn't personal. They have ALL their family from both mom and dad in a 5 mile radius. They don't need me. The boy makes it quite clear.

(BTW part of Norwegian culture is xenophobia. The 14 year-old is a hardcore, anti-immigration Norwegian. The 10 year-old loves new things, and new people. The girl and I get along fine, but she is beginning to follow her brother in seeing me as 'the thing that doesn't belong.').

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Raye - posted on 01/21/2015

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Alicia, also something that has helped me as a Step Parent is the Polish proverb:
"Not my circus, not my monkeys!"

When you find yourself getting sucked in to another person's circus, stop and ask yourself this:
1. Does this situation really involve me?
2. If the situation doesn't really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
3. What will it cost me to get involved? (time, money, stress, etc.)
4. Can I really bring something to the table that will help all parties get to a better resolution?
4a. What are the possible ways to correct what is going wrong?
4b. What is going right?
5. What will happen if I decline to participate in this situation?

Example) The kids don't like your food. You provided a nourishing meal that is not going to make them sick or die. If they don't want to eat it, so what. They will be served something different at their next meal (and they should not get snacks until their next meal if they don't at least TRY what's served them). You can't do anything at that moment to change their attitude, so don't let them draw you into their drama.

Example) The boy thinks your Norwegian sounds elitist. So what. It's an accepted language in that country, as well as English, so speak how you want. He's probably not going to be happy with however you speak, so that's his problem. You can try to smooth the waters by learning the dialect, but if that still doesn't help him warm up to you... not your circus.

I'm not telling you to disregard their feelings and just do whatever without considering the children, but sometimes you have to do your best and then let it go. Part of the oldest boy's attitude may be because he knows it gets to you. So you don't let it get to you. It's not your circus, not your monkeys. You can watch the show, and certainly decide whether you stay in that tent, but you cannot control what happens there. Learning which circus is yours can diminish your stress remarkably.

Julia - posted on 01/21/2015

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Is there a reason to resent you? Does he feel like your why his mom and dad are not together. He could resent you because he might think if you hadn't shown up, maybe things would be different. Or maybe they were the apple of there father's eye till you showed up and now they have to share. My advice is to over do the kindness. Fall off your horse and cry yourself to sleep when there constantly mean but get back up again. Don't give up. Even if they don't come around, you have to be the step mom you want them to remember. The behavior is pretty typical for teenagers. Just know your doing the right thing and when they grow old and wiser they will look back and say hey, there's a woman who was always there for me when I didn't deserve it. That's a legacy Id love to have.

Raye - posted on 01/21/2015

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Keeping with the circus analogy... You and your husband are the ringleaders. You plan the show, you set those plans in motion, but once the show starts it's out of your hands. You can't control if the elephant slips on a pile of crap and brings the whole tent crashing down. You just help pick up the pieces and care for any injuries. The kids will work it out, or they won't. But the show must go on.

Raye - posted on 01/21/2015

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Parenting is a hard job, for natural parents and for Steps. And it is okay to feel like you need time to process and reboot. I am a step-mom and my husband has custody of his two kids, 7 and 10. They are often overwhelming to me and I feel so badly that I don't always know what to do for them. But *so far* (fingers crossed) they like me and have not given me much of a hard time on purpose. They are typical kids... arguing, messy, total crying break-downs over the silliest stuff, and sometimes I do need to recompose myself to be better for them. It takes strength and patience.

There's not a lot that I know for sure would make things easier. It's all a "trial and error". Show them love. Don't let them use you as a door mat. Be consistent. Get on the same page with their dad so you stand united when dealing with the kids. All you can do is try, and know you've done your best. The rest is up to them to be receptive to your love and kindness, which you can't force them to be. I wish you luck.

Ev - posted on 01/21/2015

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How long have you known the kids? It is going to take time to get everyone used to this situation no matter what is going on. It can not happen over night as you are finding out. I am not a step mom but my kids have told me all the things that their step moms did not do with them. Maybe you just have not found the thing that fits for you and the boy to have a relationship.

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Alicia - posted on 01/21/2015

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Raye,

The proverb is powerful and useful. I think I invest a bit more than I should in some matters, and it will be a nice reminder from time to time. Not my circus, not my monkeys. This will be a sanity keeper, for sure. Watch the show, hang out in the tent. I like the entire analogy.

Your strategy is very similar to my own approach. Be on the same page as the husband, be consistent and show lots of love and forgive quickly. I a few hours ago I was in tears by the comments of people suggesting that I simply am not trying hard enough, or that I need to learn a new language, or that all of this is my fault for marrying a man with kids. I told my husband and simply laughed and said, "What? ...Nonsense. You are doing a great job. You are always there for them. You've been working your ass off for these kids. I am disappointed that they aren't seeing all the brilliant things you do." .... So... I guess I've hit a place of feeling uncertain- like I've been going at it all wrong.

So, Thanks for the perspective, the encouragement and the validation that yes, in fact, this is hard. Some days are harder than others. Sometimes, I just need to not let it be so personal. Thanks for that.

Alicia - posted on 01/21/2015

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I like the common interest idea. The reason why stated the "Kids are apart of the package" is because I find it unhelpful. I am not an idiot who thought, "Oh, once we are married the kids will vanish." I like his kids. They are nice people. I want to be a better Step-parent, and maybe, I want someone to say, "Hey, this is a hard job. You know what I found made it easier? X" Or "Sometimes, it is okay to feel like you need some time to process and reboot."

Common interests. I have gotten the girl interested in the arts, poetry, reading, writing. At 10 she does it in both English and Norwegian. She is possibly starting with Chinese soon as well. She is a brilliant linguist.

The Boy likes the outdoors, boats, cars, farming and technology. I attempted a project for use to grow a garden together. A literal cultivation of a relationship. His father built the garden beds. He was interested with his father helping.... and soon lost interest and everything died. I've tried an interest by helping him bring up his boat and wax it. I've tried to take an interest by signing up for Obedience lessons for the family dogs (which he loves). I've tried to get him involved in some technology stuff, musics editing on a mac, or making short films with his friends. ...Not interested.

Ev - posted on 01/21/2015

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It takes more than just going with the traditions of their homeland. You have to get to the heart of what the kids like to do and learn about that. Get involved. That is what they need from you.

Alicia - posted on 01/21/2015

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In our house the middle is that my husband is allowed to speak English to me without complaint. It can see that speaking the dialect would be helpful. The difficulty rests within the fact that these dialects do not have written forms. There isn't a textbook and there are a lot things that are simply not translatable. It is a rather tall order considering that if you travel 2 hours in any direction, Norwegians won't even understand the dialect. It is why they invented standard Norwegian and also why English is so popular. While, of course, it seems to make the most amount of sense, it will also take years to aquire and by that time, he'll be out of our house. :(

I am looking for strategies which reach out to a boy of 14. The reason why I mention the dialect is that simply "sitting down to talk" isn't possible. I need to SHOW not say. I often write him letters in Norwegian and English to remind him how important he is. As far as I know, he has put all of them in a shoe box. I understand that he is hurting. I want him to know that it is normal. That his Dad and I are here for him. I feel like a lot of assumptions were jumped to about "RESPECT." They are respected. Norwegian children get a lot of freedom to make their own choices, and our job as "parents" is to try to trust those judgements and choices. I just wonder what you might be considered an example of respect. I would think that when he says, "I don't want to eat America food. It is weird." So, despite wanting to share my culture and my skills, I respect those wishes and attempt Norwegian food. When he says "This is tastes weird." What he is saying is, "I want my Dad to cook a meal that comforts me from his hands." I respect that as well. So... What kind of examples can you give for "Showing Respect?"

As for meeting the middle, I do Norwegian stuff. We celebrate all holidays the Norwegian way, which also means American traditions and such are downplayed.

Ev - posted on 01/21/2015

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I have to agree with the ladies here too. While you do not want to be treated without respect, have you respected them? Those cliche phrases you posted at the top of the OP are true to the core. A kid's world is left undone when the parents split no matter the reasons. They may understand what is going on if of the age but do not understand it all. The world they have had is gone. Then later add in a new step parent and maybe some step siblings and it changes again. It takes time to get used to this. Also the culture they are from is not like America. There may be some basic similar things the cultures have in common but that is where it stops. YOu do need to come to their level and find an interest that you and those kids have in common and build on that. You need to reach out to them. I know you want to do the best for them and all but it takes work and patience. Do not force issues either. It won't help.

My kids have had two step moms. It did not work out well either time. And it was not all my kids either.

Raye - posted on 01/21/2015

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I know you're tired of giving and not seeing any respect returned for your effort. But kids will be kids and some take more patience than others. The oldest boy probably remembers the time better when his parents were together, and he may blame you for being in the way of that (even if that is not true). To him you are not only an outsider to the country, but an outsider to the family. He's hurting, even though he only shows it through misbehaving.

I'm not sure any "assimilating into the culture" could help, but Shawnn's idea of you learning the dialect certainly couldn't hurt. Have you prepared a meal, telling the kids their dad made it (or vice versa), to see their reactions. Maybe the food does taste different to them, or maybe it is the perception of it having been made by your hand. If you tried this experiment, at least you would know.

Do not let them walk all over you. Continue to command respect. You are not their mother, but you are the mother figure in that house. They may not see your good intentions right now, but later in life they should realize how much you were there for them. I was hateful to my natural mother through my teens and apologized to her for it in my twenties. The question is, can you wait that long for recognition? If you truly love your husband, and have feelings for the kids, then try to be strong and stick it out. You're probably doing a lot better than it feels like.

♫ Shawnn ♪♫♫ - posted on 01/21/2015

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What have you done to try to meet them in the middle? You married into an entirely different culture, and you are living in their country, with their customs.

You haven't really described any behaviour that is outside the norm for kids those ages. May I suggest that you learn to adopt the regional dialect for the area, and that you be more willing to converse in Norwegian in order to gain fluency in that dialect, and that you take into account their customs and cultures when criticizing behaviour.

Family counseling would be a good start.

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