Monday, June 20, 2011

You're Not My Daddy

My daughter, my 9 year old, just did the unthinkable. She told her step-father, on father's day, that he is not her real dad. Actually, in our Sunday School class, she told someone else that he doesn't have the authority to allow them to punish her because he's not her real dad. But still....we all know that he is not her real dad, did she really need to point it out on Father's day?

She has been through a lot, this I understand. She has been hurt a lot over the last year, but I never expected to hear these words come from her mouth. She has always called him "Daddy." And now, she points this out. Needless to say, I confronted her in the bathroom and I told her that I expect her to show him the same respect she would show any adult and that does not include putting him down in front of others. But how can they mend such a broken relationship? I don't know...

A child who challenges a step-parent by saying he or she is not the child's "real" parent is a common situation. I have even been blames for breaking up my father's second marriage for these same words (well the female version "you're not my mom.") Some occasions are serious; some aren't.

Step-families are always emotionally complicated for all involved. It is my understanding that my daughter is not far away from the age of, shall we say, spreading her own wings and bucking authority. This could be behind her outburst.

It could have been that she was just trying to push his buttons. She had been reprimanded several times over the previous few days for disrespecting him. Now, here he was putting her in an uncomfortable spot of picking about letting someone else discipline her. It could very well be that she hoped he'd get so caught up in emotion and guilt that he'd back off.

Most of the advice that I see says to ride it out. Show love and patience, but also boundaries. Let her know that she cannot trash her step-father, but she is likely lashing out and trying to prevent herself from being hurt, you know, that whole "I'm gonna hurt them before they can hurt me" thing.

Some of the best, most in depth advice that I found said:

•When a stepparent and stepchild are at odds, the biological parent should step up to the primary authority position while the stepparent steps back. The biological parent, who by nature has a stronger voice of authority, should take over the mojority of discipline. This dynamic gives the stepparent and stepchild a chance to heal.

•A callous attitude by the stepparent only feeds the child's defenses and toughens her outer shell. Try not to take her behavior personally, and instead approach the child with compassion. Be sensitive to the hurt that lies beneath her angry words. Give permission for appropriate expressions of grief and/or hurt, as opposed to angry, defiant ones, and show her you can empathize with her sadness. Finally, if you have anything to apologize for as the stepparent, humbly do so. Humility tends to soften hardened hearts.

•Understand her pain, but make your expectations clear. Sympathize, but set boundaries on her behavior, and be sure she knows those boundaries.

•Let the child set the pace. Wise stepparents follow the child's pace in sharing affection. This is especially important when trying to heal and reconnect with a stepchild. Look for little opportunities to laugh together or share an activity, but don't push yourself on her. If she wants to be cordial but distant, allow it. If she offers a smile, respond with a warm, loving smile of your own.

1 comment:

  1. Tough situation no matter how you look at it! I don't envy you being in that situation.