Dos and Don'ts from One Who Knows
DON’T sink to their level. Stepchildren, especially older ones, can be blatantly and intentionally mean. Don’t forget that YOU are the grown-up. They may shout, “You’re not my mother!” Resist the temptation to tell them how glad you are about that. You’ll be amazed at the children’s capacity to hurt your feelings, and it’s very easy to lash out in response. Don’t do it. Take a deep breath, count to ten, go out for a walk, or whatever you have to do to avoid saying something that they’ll never be able to forgive you for. While their insults are a cry for help or a show of frustration, insults that you hurl at them will cut very deep and leave permanent scars.
DON’T take anything personally. They will insult you. They will defy you. They will ignore you. They will challenge your authority. It will feel very, very personal. It’s not. They are testing you, pushing their boundaries, and acting out frustrations. Grit your teeth and smile. It will pass, and you will be rewarded for weathering the storm gracefully.
DON’T think you have to say yes to everything. It’s a common mistake for new stepmoms to give in to whatever the kids want to avoid coming across as the heavy. Believe it or not, kids want structure and discipline, and they’ll ask and ask and wait to see where you draw the line. Say yes as often as possible within reason, but set limits and rules, and enforce them consistently. The kids will respect you more for it.
DON’T cut yourself off from your support system. You may be so busy or so stressed with family life that you stop seeing friends and participating in hobbies. Don’t forget that you need to get away and have time that’s just about you. If you aren’t balanced and relaxed, your tolerance for the frustrations at home will be much lower. Find a friend to vent your frustrations to, or an activity that takes your mind off your step-kids completely. Taking time away will ultimately make your relationships healthier.
DON’T expect your husband to be objective. While it’s important to maintain honest and constant communication with him, remember that these are his children you’re talking about. Don’t tattle to him every time they aggravate you, and don’t be overly critical of the children. That will only put him on the defensive. You aren’t forcing him to choose sides (and even if you tried, you would not prevail), you’re partnering with him to raise a happy, well-adjusted family.
DON’T ever say anything even remotely negative about the kids’ mother within earshot of the kids. Even if she really is the Wicked Witch of the West, she will always be the most important person in your step-children’s lives. No matter what she says about you or how she tries to bait you, it’s imperative that you convey nothing but respect and approval for her. It may seem like a thankless pursuit right now, but when the children are older, they’ll remember that you took the high road.
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