Those carefully cultivated relationships with your lover’s children seem to disappear in a showdown of wills. You might even forget why you ever liked them in the first place – that line about sticks and stones, we know, is for people without a heart.
Whether they’re 3 years old or 16, the mean words damage. When kids get angry, the last thing on their mind is searching for the ideal way to share feelings. More often, things come out wrong and you end up hurt, angry and wondering, “What have I signed up for!?”
Be assured: you are not alone.
Parents of all shapes and sizes feel these things. We say the wrong things, too. Since the heat of the moment doesn’t lend inspiration, here are some positive responses to the meanest things step-kids throw atcha. (MUCH LOVE to our family counselor, James T. Kirsch, M.S., LPC, NCC, Board Certified Clinical Psychotherapist, who helps my family is so many ways … including the responses in this article.)
“You’re not my real mom/dad.”
What they’re really saying: “I am upset with you for some reason.” When kids are upset with stepparents, this is a keen way to manipulate the situation. (It hurts!) It might even be a statement that begs: “Please try to understand me.”
Best way to respond: “While I understand I am not your real mom/dad, I still care about you. I need some help understanding how you feel.” Now you can explore the true feelings and thoughts behind the words before you say something you’ll regret later. (Trust me – been there.) By responding in a tactful way, both you and your child avoid being manipulated by the hurtful statement.
“I wish I lived with my mom/dad.” (When you have primary placement or custody.)
What they’re really saying: A multitude of things. Sometimes they are honestly missing the other parent – usually the one they see the least. The research on divorce-related placement proves the healthiest arrangement is one where the child sees both parents as equally as possible. This statement could also mean something deeper – a message about things they feel you are not understanding related to placement/custody. Careful: this has potential to be manipulative and designed to hurt you because they do not like something you said or asked them to do.
Best way to respond: Again, explore. Sit down, distraction free, and focus on the child. Get real about their perception, feelings and thoughts.
“My mom/dad says you’re judgmental … mean … insert negative adjective of choice.”
What they’re really saying: Depending on the stability and mental health of the birth parent, the reality is – they probably said it. Figure out if it was designed by the child to hurt you, or just something being innocently repeated.
Best way to respond: If innocently repeated, don’t take offense and move forward in the normal flow of the conversation. If it was designed to be hurtful, then again, explore the true feelings and thoughts behind it, while not necessarily giving too much energy or focus to the statement itself.
“I hate you!”
What they’re really saying: Children seldom – if ever – mean this. In some ways, it can be a testimony that you are doing a good job and actually parenting your child. It’s simply a childish reply when you make a request they don’t like or enforce the rules. It becomes more serious when said with neither of these two things being the case.
Best way to respond: “I still love you no matter how you feel right now.” Don’t focus on the actual words – but explore why they said it. Figure out if the statement was designed to be manipulative or to communicate deeper emotional meaning to you.
Best intentions still gone bad?
Hang in there. We all have those hair-raising days when the nice things we meant to say never show up. My advice: Sleep on it. Put some space between the hurtful situation and come together later with a clear head. At the end of the day, this is your family, whether it’s made up of step-kids, birth children or a mix.
Here is where you’ll uncover the best and the worst. Here is where there is anger and forgiveness.
Here is where you love.