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New Stepfather Having Trouble with Stepson

dhicks01's picture

Hi, I'm not a typical web forum poster anywhere so please excuse my lack of net etiquette and use of the abbreviations I have seen.

Some background: This is a second marriage for both of us and we both have kids from the previous. Two daughters (10 and 12) for me that I have roughly 40% of the time, lots of weekends, weeks off from school, and most of the summer. A son (5) for her that lives with us about 80% of the time with a semi-involved father (not quite every other weekend and only part of the weekend) I was married for 14 years out of an 18 year relationship, she for less than a year out of an 2 year on again/off again relationship. We dated for a little over a year before getting married and have lived together for about a year now.

My feelings about my stepson are so mixed, I honestly don't know how I feel. I don’t know if I love him or even like him most of the time, since I have come to feel anger and resentment most of the time, but I do care for him and have good feelings about him as well. There’s just no consistency to my feelings even within a very short period.

I realize how silly it seems to have anger towards a 5 year old, and having had two children of my own I do understand phases of growth and the difficulties that accompany them, but my experience with him is so incredibly different from that with my own children that I feel like I am lost most of the time and being consumed by the anger I feel.

His behavior is simply defined by his refusal to listen, to me, to his mother, to his grandparents, to anyone. He does whatever he wants and has full expectation of getting what he wants with zero consequence. Part of this is his age and part is his learned behavior from his mother overcompensating as a single mom for several years. I don’t blame her, I know how hard parenting can be and I didn’t have to do it alone at these young ages so I’m sure I would have given in more from exhaustion too.

But it continues now with the circumstances being very different. My wife seems to have a block when it comes to discipline. There are threats of punishments like time outs and toys being taken away, but they are just that, threats that are never followed up on and he is a very smart child and clearly knows that there will be no consequence for his actions so he continues – usually seconds after that threat is made.

I have attempted to discipline with timeouts and such, the same techniques I used with my own children as I don’t believe in yelling or any corporal punishment, but when I have done this in her presence she looks at me as if I have knocked him across the room and is angry with me.

I realize that I will never get my wife to fully understand my feelings when it comes to her son. She will naturally side with him, but I cannot stop being angry over her lack of discipline and inability to see how this behavior is harmful to us and ultimately to him too and needs to be corrected.

The end result is that I am now becoming angry at the very sound of his voice when comes home from school. He is having issues with me in that my presence takes focus away from him from his mother, and as a result he tells me (in many variations) to go away because he wants his mom to himself. Something I also understand the psychology of, but I’m still a flawed human and being told to go away, die, move out, etc. on a near daily basis takes its toll emotionally.

I am also resentful of the weekends he is here when my daughters visit. They get along very well, and both girls have taken a more maternal approach to him due to the big age difference so it works for them, but I cherish what little time I have with them and feel constrained when I am balancing all three of them at the same time, due to him wanting them to play with him all day long and not do the activities they like to do with me. I end up looking at my custody calendar with longing for the weekends I get them alone.

Right now, I am typing this while all three children are upstairs (my wife works weekends) and I feel like a guest in my own home (they moved into my house) with no choice but to let him rule the roost despite several conversations and fights with my wife over this issue. I am resenting his presence here and finding myself wishing to avoid him altogether. This is not how I want things to be. I have spent a great deal of time with him and have tried very hard to be a good part of his life. I am outwardly patient and calm with him – even when he tells me in so many words to go to hell.

I’m new at this, just a year or so, but it feels like I’m drowning sometimes and I am definitely unhappy in this life that I’ve admittedly made for myself.

I apologize if this post rambled some, I have a lot on my mind. Smile

Any advice or shared experiences are welcome. Thank you.

theoldredhen's picture

Yo Dhicks,

You seem like a very thoughtful, articulate young man and are dedicated to resolving your steparenting issues. Good for you, since that's half the battle. Many of us here on ST have felt the building resentment that you're experiencing with your SS. When an ill-behaved, manipulative child is allowed to 'rule the roost', the result is always step hell.

Clearly, your wife is unprepared to discipline her child and does not welcome your input. Overly defensive parents seldom change; rather, they begin to build up some serious resentments of their own.

At this point, I believe that the only resolution to your problem is to engage in counselling with an expert in blended family dynamics. Who knows, perhaps your wife may have issues with YOUR children? Don't let growing resentments, stress and lack of communication destroy your relationship. Trust me, therapy works.

lieutenant_dad's picture

You've made a good observation in realizing that your wife (DW) is a big part of the problem. In fact, she is the biggest part. It is HER job to raise a respectful, caring human being, and she's failing miserably either due to her own guilt or lack of parenting skills, or both.

My first suggestion would be to talk to your DW about hiring a sitter on weekends she works and your kids are over. You can explain it that your kids and you enjoy certain activities that are inappropriate for a young child, and you'd like to take an afternoon or full day with them to go do something you all enjoy. My guess is that when you girls aren't there, your DW takes her DS (darling son) to do things he likes, and you'd like the same freedom.

Ultimately, it isn't your responsibility to babysit while she works, especially if she is giving you responsibility without authority. It wouldn't be acceptable with any other adult. No teacher is going to let a child run amok in their classroom because BM (bio mom) or BD (bio dad, sometimes bio daughter) is guilty parenting. If the child acts unruly, deliver consequences. If you aren't allowed to deliver consequences, then you won't take responsibility for him. It's that simple.

You relationship with your BDs should not be sullied due to SS (stepson). If DW can't and won't control him, and won't let you, then you stop caring for him. Leave it up to your wife. He leaves toys out in an area he shouldn't? Tell her to handle it. If they stay there with no one doing anything, bag them up and put them in the garage when DW can get them out for her son. Doesn't brush his teeth? Her job to pay his dental bills, and don't let her skip on paying her portion of household expenses because of things she could have prevented.

Do the things you need and want to do with your kids. Let her figure out her kid situation. If she doesn't want to, ask yourself if this relationship is worth it. If she is unwilling to work with you either by doing everything so you don't have to worry about it or giving you some authority, then it spells disaster for many things in your relationship with her, her son, and your girls. Counseling may be good, too, to help you two learn to communicate and work effectively as a blended family. However, if she won't bend at all, you're stuck with the status quo until you leave.

theoldredhen's picture

Very well said, lieutenant_dad! Responsibility without authority is an unreasonable expectation, as we all know too well.

oneoffour's picture

I would approach the situation like this. She is asking you to babysit her son on the weekends she is working. You are in charge. Therefore you rule. If she has a problem with it she can change her shifts to something that allows her to be at home. Otherwise she makes other arrangements for the weekends.

When she gives you the Death Stare simply tell her that as long as she expects you to support her financially and share your life with you she can accept that her son needs a good male role model to follow and she has chosen you. Although you may seem a little tough she will appreciate it in future. Boys are different to girls. And raising her son without limits or boundaries will make a difference once testosterone kicks in in about 8 yrs time.

You do not hate the boy but this is a house of 5 not one little Crown Prince and his minions. When he tells you to go away look at him and say " No, this is my home. Mommy and I pay the bills not you. Do not be rude again." If Mommy says "Don't be mean ... " you are not being mean, just making it clear he is part of the picture and not the artist.

He is 5. He is being a sh1thead. Time to knock it on the head. If mommy isn't there you re in charge. What will she do if you discipline him as you see fit? Ground you? Get angry? So what? The boy has still be disciplined. Then she better find another way to get the income she likes because your days of babysitting are over.

blueskies4me's picture


You no longer will mind your wife’s arrogant and rude son.

Your wife will not mind your daughters for you.

I would not stay, myself, if my stepbrat told me to die!

Goodluck's picture

My comment is not negative it is positive because step parents should not Butt into the parents role to correction and discipline.

The sooner step parents realize--- HEY ya know, it IS ok to let bio mom/bio dad parent and raise their own kids. It is ok if I am feeling awkward about their parenting style or lack thereof. It is ok for me to say "I made a mistake" and move on.

It is OK for me to shake my head. IT IS ok for me to listen and not try to play daddy OR mommy because this little person is not my bio child.

MY role as step parent is to be the spouse to my beloved. I am NOT a stand in mom or dad. If my spouse needs help, of course I will help but I can not try replace bio dad (or mom) because of that inherent bond they have ....It is OK for me NOT to help too. I am not a doormat.

When women say OH I am a single mom, dad is a deadbeat, d bag, wants nothing to do with the kid, he left us BS....really look into that. Make sure he is not paying Child support because if he IS a true absentee parent she would not be getting a monthly check.

IF dad is really not around that is very sad for the child. But reallyyyyyy try to find bio dad I bet he tells you a different story. Give him a chance after he vents. At first he may really sound like the ass she told you he was....BUTTTTT that could be because he is hurt. He may not be so bad after all. Raise your eyebrows just a tad when you hear "he abused me"...get facts from charges she files with the court. If there are none. ????..hmmmmm

Hang in there...MOM has to follow thru with being a parent. IF not, this will not be a good marriage. Sorry. DO NOT ADOPT any child no matter how much SHE tells you it would mean to her AND it would really prove your love for her and her child. Single mom's are different than widow's.

dhicks01's picture

Hi All,

Thank you very much for sharing your advice and experiences with me.

Some things I should clarify based on your feedback (which I appreciated):

My wife does offer to hire a babysitter for weekends I am alone with SS. I have asked for this a few times when I want to do something for me and it has happened. It does not happen with regularity but to be fair I have not asked for it to be - specifically to her. Partially I don't to avoid conflict, which is my own personal issue, and partially because I want things to be better.

I realize, intellectually at least, that I am still clinging to my desire for my old intact family and am likely trying to recreate that by rejecting the notion of babysitters etc. I can do it all I'm Superman! Resentful Superman, but still Superman. Smile

However, he is an only child and her desire for him to have siblings is strong and since my girls are so nice to him he worships them and she wants him to spend time with them and so has never offered a babysitter when they are here. And I have never asked. Again, it feels strange to me, because all my training so to speak is with my former nuclear family.

The other part of all of this is that I really really do want him to be happy in his home and like me. Selfish of course, but again, human.

Also, someone brought up money - luckily this is not an issue for us. We have separate finances and his dad does indeed pay child support. What he does not give is actual parenting or enough time.

And to touch on another point - when he is with me alone or with my children (sans wife) I do discipline him as I see fit. But he is very smart and has caught on to the notion that once mom gets home he no longer has to listen to me.

I truly love my wife, and I want this all to work. But many of you are absolutely correct in that she does not see his bad behavior and when she does she does almost nothing to correct it.

I am going to ask her to go to couples counseling with me and I hope that with a third party we can discuss all of this calmly. I am not good at that myself. I get defensive and I get angry and I get mean when at the end of my rope. Not to him mind you, I have and I'm reasonably proud to say, never spoken angrily to him or said anything inappropriate even when pushed.

I appreciate all of this feedback and welcome more. Thank you!

theoldredhen's picture

Hey Hon,

I'm so glad to hear that you've decided to engage a counsellor to act as an objective third party (and referee, let's face it), to aid in resolving your differences with your wife! When discussing one's children, it's virtually impossible to be objective; biology will always interfere with even the most glaring facts and faults.

My granddaughter is nearly 10 years old and expresses the same tolerance and maternal attitude towards my 5-year-old step-grandson that your daughters present to your stepson. Despite good parenting, my step grandson suffers from ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), that can often make him difficult to endure. I love the boy; he's a handsome little charmer with some excellent qualities but he can be a handful.

Instead of resenting my SGS's naughty behaviour, my DGD encourages him, plays with him endlessly and comforts him when he gets frustrated. She's a thoroughly nice child and it sounds like your little girls are much the same. I'll bet that it aggravates the dickens out of you to watch your children spoil the princeling, on your parenting time, while they're yielding to his autocratic demands and ignoring you, yes? Only a saint would feel otherwise.

It's a testament to your maturity, that you've managed to keep your cool where your SS is concerned. However, withholding righteous anger for too long can be damaging to your health and, certainly, to your relationship with your wife and SS. Things need to change in Chez dhicks and you seem to be on the right track to help make that happen.

Please, keep in touch as we've been there, done that, and are all here to help.

SugarSpice's picture

counseling should be a help for you and bravo for coming here to get second opinions.

there is indeed a gender consideration with step children.

for instance, the issues with women and their step daughters is similar to a man and his stepsons. you wife must support you with her children, and you must with yours.

i can see there will be issues for your daughters and your wife once they hit their teens.

your ss may be a very bratty young man of 5, but he needs boundaries from his mother. you cannot provide that. he is being emotionally abusive to you and his mother is failing to be a good parent, and thereby failing to be a good wife to you.

SAM_VUIN's picture

Hey, let me just add I feel your pain! Our situations are very similar - my new wife (married in June) was divorced from an alcoholic and her father-role expectations of me have increased substantially since our marriage. She keeps saying I need to "pour into her kids" - basically so I can be little short of a replacement to their loser father who continues to appreciate Coors Light more than his own kids. (Sorry, very little empathy from me for that loser.)

Her children (like yours) also grew up in a less disciplined environment than mine so I'm constantly (I mean several times a day) being the "dick" who is asking for simple things like not leaving trash on the counters, clean up pee from the toilet seat, shoes in the hallway,etc. - all simple things that kids should have learned by age 9 or 12. My wife agrees they should do better but admits that she simply didn't focus on the "small things" when she was living on her own and dealing with a deadbeat ex-husband.

I told my wife last week that my "pouring into her kids" is admittedly out-of-balance and to "fix it" I need for her to step up to the plate when it comes to enforcing house rules - otherwise it seems I'm constantly badgering with too little positive input. She seems open to this which is great although I think her kids see what's going on... again, I'm the dick because they realize I'm the one with the "strict" rules.

Sorry - didn't mean to hijack your thread with my own concerns - but did want you to know there are other dads who understand and recognize you are trying to be a stand-up guy! I do agree with the feedback received thus far - it seems wifey needs to step up her game and you need to recognize a step-dad is not the same as a bio-dad so don't try to fill his shoes entirely. Children of divorce get short-changed (we all know that) and it's just a sad reality and a big reason why parents should try stay together in the first place - I'm guessing that's a familiar thought for you.

Oh, and wife and her kids also moved into my home of 13 learning that was not the best arrangement to form a blended family.

ChiefGrownup's picture

You have to look into the future and picture what kind of young man this boy will be if she does not change her parenting. At 5, he is already causing you great stress, anger, anxiety, resentment. These things are real. Very real. When you become a stepparent you are so shocked at how many palpable mental problems a rotten child (poorly parented one) can cause that you simply don't believe it. Then you internalize it by blaming yourself: he's just a little kid, I can't take this personally, I've got to do better, I'm bigger than fault my fault my fault.

But the cold hard truth is living with someone who projects hostility at you constantly does. actually. take. a. toll. on. your. mental. health.

It really, really does. Doesn't matter that it's a kid. So you have my permission to stop blaming yourself for not being able to "take it" like you think you should.

You shouldn't. "Taking it" is very bad for you. You will end up clinically depressed.

So now let's reconsider that his is just 5. And undoubtedly cute and delightful at times. Well, think of how much damage a cute and delightful little one has already done to you and then picture a snarly, hulking 16 year old who has never been called to be accountable for his actions. This is to say this situation will only get worse unless she changes her parenting.

You have a right to a decent life even if you are married to someone who "parents differently than you do." I hope in counseling you are able to tell your wife you deserve a home wherein you are not under attack constantly. A home where you have some confidence a child is being raised to launch properly and on time. A home where your parenting of your part-time daughters is treated with at least as much consideration as hers with her nearly full-time son.

These indulgent parents really need to be called to reality by all the other adults in the world. They really do. You love her. Now speak up for yourself. Her right to warped parenting is NOT more sacred than your sanity.

dhicks01's picture

Hi All,

I wanted to say thank you for the continued feedback, it was all very helpful. An update:

I talked to my wife about these issues and some changes have been made, but I am still in a bit of a wait and see mode on whether they will stick and what new challenges they may present.

She has agreed to take on the primary responsibilities for her son, and she has made good on that so far, but not without some passive comments and resentment. She has reluctantly agreed that it is her responsibility and that it is best for our marriage but she also admits that she came into this relationship with the expectation of a partner that would raise her son with her, but given our differences in parenting style and her overprotective nature that is not possible. Maybe someday, but not right off the bat.

She also has listened to me when I have said that her son's disrespect of me and constant back talk and rude greetings every time I enter a room needs to stop and that it hurts me and hurts my relationship with both him and her. She says she will work to curb this, but this is the area I am least sure of. She has spent several years thinking only of him and I sometimes don't believe she knows how to be in a marriage. Kids cannot always come first for every little want or desire.

We started couples counseling as well this week and both like the therapist very much.

I am hopeful but also still very sad. I miss my daughters terribly and still long for my old life. I know that I have not fully embraced this new one because of it but I am trying.

I'm hoping therapy helps us and that I can continue to be direct with her and take care of myself too. That is not my strong suit by any means. I don't like conflict and I feel more at ease when others around me are happy so I'm always trying to facilitate that.

I appreciate this forum, it's been a good outlet and good source of advice and camaraderie.