I have to be honest. The best part about this blog is not only that it allows me to share my feelings, but it is also helping me grow. As a group, we women really need to reach out to one another and help. What works? What fails? What’s right? What’s wrong? Who cares? When to stick it out? When to call it quits? At least for me, this list of ongoing questions has paralyzed me for a long time. Longer than I’d like to admit actually. But one topic, the biggest topic for me in this situation, is beginning to unfold in an all new light.
I am personally pretty disciplined. I don’t get distracted too easily and am able to begin a project and see it through to the end without too many hiccups. Education? Check. Career? Check. Bills paid on time? Check. I’m far from perfect, but I was raised in a disciplined home, I turned out just fine, and I have STRONG feelings toward children who misbehave and the parents that let the, so naturally, in a parenting role, one of my biggest concerns HAS ALWAYS BEEN discipline.
But, ladies, let’s cut the crap. This is FAR from a NORMAL parenting role. Normal parents have the luxury of disciplining, **generally** in any way they see fit. Yes I call it a luxury because if you’ve ever stepped into this role with a THOUSAND EYES and accusatory opinions burning into you, you know this is different than any disciplining you’ve ever known before.
When I took over this role, my stepson was 3 years old, with a slew of issues. He has 2 half brothers, who he resided with basically full time. They are autistic, he learned these traits early on, it was terrifying, and difficult to undo…I will never forget one day, it was time for biomom to pick him up, my husband had just finished bathing him. There my stepson stood, buck naked in the tub, SCREAMING bloody murder and begging not to go. He did not stop screaming. My husband tried to calm him. He got him dressed. Tried to calm him again. He ran and hid under the kitchen table. He screamed and screamed and screamed. Not normal pouting or child tantrums, he screamed like someone was killing him. I was honestly frozen in shock.
He picked up all of these autistic traits, so much that my husband was becoming convinced (and terrified) that he was autistic. He could barely speak. 3.5 years old and could not form sentences. Then he would break down and scream when you didn’t know what he was saying. He hit EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. He was calling everyone a bitch. Slapping. Kicking. His behavior was TERRIBLE. My husband at the time was just trying to keep him clean and fed, and attempt to read to him and teach him. He did not get a ton of time with him and as hard as he tried to discipline him, the moment his visits were over, things went right back to bad.
Once I showed up, things changed some. Coming from a highly disciplined background, it was easy for me to swoop in and ‘take over’ in this area.It seemed like we would never undo all the issues he had as long as we had a biomom in the picture who didn’t care to work with us. We couldn’t keep any rules the same because they were all undone when he went back to her. He wasn’t even potty trained until he was 4 and living with us full time where we could FINALLY set a consistent environment for him. I didn’t even know where to start in trying to fix this. I remember the first time I was alone with my stepson. I took him to an apple orchard. It was fall, a beautiful chilly day. I could see it all over his face he had truly never had REAL discipline. I told him no. He was shocked. I simply expected that he behave at a certain standard. He was not to lay a hand on the other kids. If he screamed, it was clear, I didn’t put up with that and he stopped. Suddenly I was able to see something new, from a different set of eyes, if you will. I never took ‘no’ for an answer from him. He did not, and still does not, tell me no. Like all children he will push where he thinks he can get away with it. And because the situation was SO stressful and heavy, with his bioparents, he was getting away with it. It would be a cold day in hell before he hit me, and he knew it, so he tried a time or two, but that ceased years ago. The namecalling, the screaming? With others, he still dabbles where he can get away with it. With me? Nope. I remember he would look at me like he was confused, he pushed back a bit, with all these new ‘rules’, but then seemingly overnight he started behaving to my expected standard while in my care and amazingly, he clung to me.
And I mean clung.
I started therapy for myself alone not long after that day. My therapist was explaining security in children to me. I said, “I simply don’t understand. I’m harder on him that ANYONE else, but he is on me like white on rice. He NEVER lets me out of his sight. He follows me around, and he wouldn’t DARE attempt this swearing, kicking, screaming crap with me, I never EVER allow it.” She replied, “Of course, safety equals security for a child. If he sees people can’t get past you, he will know he is safe. If he sees you expect a certain standard, he will rise to it. Therefore, he will always want to be where there are boundaries, and where he feels most safe, which is with you.”
I took that advice and I ran with it.
And I mean ran.
Looking back on it, while it’s a true statement and one that SHOULD be valued and given a lot of stock, I took that statement SO seriously, that I spent the next 2 years (at least) attempting to rewire my husband. He has the syndrome of most biological parents, especially DADS put through HELL to get much deserved custody of their kids. This is the syndrome of the ‘rose colored glasses’. The boy could do no wrong, and my husband was much more concerned with loving him wholly, making him feel special and looking past any ‘flaws’ he had. Discipline was secondary. Always.
To me, this was unacceptable. You are after all doing your child a disservice by not disciplining them, and I will stand by THAT statement until the day that I take my last breath on earth. Children need boundaries and consequences. I don’t use drugs. I have never been to jail. I am no angel, but when it comes to upstanding citizens, I’m a damn good one, and I’m proud to categorize myself as a good role model. My husband’s past was a bit rocky, perhaps he didn’t feel confident enough to stand as that role model, but byGod I did, and I do.
In a year’s time, that child’s speech was PERFECT. And I mean perfect. HOURS devoted to phonics videos, practice and reading. The kid who couldn’t talk when I met him? He uses sentence structure you may find in a middle schooler. He reads at a ‘late’ first grade level (meaning he is a YEAR ahead of where most of his peers are). He says yes sir, yes ma’am, please and thank you and rudeness is FAR from tolerated in my home.
Many of you are in a position where you can’t discipline because you’re not given the authority, or you have a constantly undermining biomom undoing your work, or worse, an undermining husband. I didn’t wait for my ship to come in. If I was going to raise that child, I would discipline him as I felt was right, regardless of anyone else’s opinions. In general, I did a great job and had quite a hand in turning this kid around. He was headed nowhere FAST when I showed up, and there was nothing my husband could do about it. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding fathers not being ‘good enough’ is still very much alive. It took him having a ‘wife’ for things to get different.
We’ve been through a lot. Phew.
Anyway, this brings me to a very important point. First and foremost, read this loud and clear. I post this today as if I were giving advice to my very best friend in the world. If YOU are married to a man that does NOT support your efforts, is NOT working WITH you, does NOT make your marriage number 1, and has NO intention of changing that or even entertaining the IDEA that YOU become a person of authority in the home, YOU NEED TO HIT THE ROAD QUICKLY. And I mean quickly. Unless you’re in a rare position where you’ve both agreed you don’t want any of this responsibility or say in raising the child, you’re headed for trouble. And frankly, if you are in that position, you wouldn’t be reading my blogs. I don’t know a single childless stepmom who doesn’t want SOME authoritative role in their home and some PLACE as a parent….isn’t that the POINT of all this trouble?
So that being said, I will gladly share my experience. My husband and I never fight. Yep, that’s right ladies, the two of us, about all the normal marriage stuff? Never once. Here’s where it gets personal. Avert your eyes if it’s too much.
We have NEVER fought about money.
We have NEVER fought about sex.
We have NEVER fought about space, time with friends, or social events.
We HAVE FOUGHT DAILY about his son, my role, and what this is ‘supposed’ to look like. DAILY. When it comes to he and I? We quite literally have the perfect relationship. But when it comes to disciplining this child? We’ve been in constant battle since very early on in our marriage.
I’ve been too tough for too long. I’ve tried it all with my stepson. Yelling, time outs, calm eye to eye conversations, threatening (and implementing) loss of priviledges and even a little attempted reverse psychology. I’ve tried EVERY approach that I’ve learned from these years of individual and family therapy. And yet, we find, he still falls off…..and as of lately, he still sometimes chooses attention seeking, over the top behavior.
My husband, tends to favor the gentler (too gentle) approaches. We will ‘talk’ it out…He needs to know his ‘feelings’ or his ‘intent’. Or the kid will go so far that my husband will FINALLY (takes a while folks) raise his voice and his son will lose his priviledges. And all the while, the kid’s learned how to get right in between us and play us against each other. Only recently, and I mean VERY recently has something become clear as crystal to us. The child is not anyone but himself. He shares genes of 2 people. He is influenced daily by someone he shares no genes with (me). He also goes to school all day with TONS of people he is learning from. Mash all that up along with the fact that he is simply his own person, and you cannot FORCE a thing out of this child or any other child!
We’ve wanted for so long to impress our values upon him. We attend church every week. We eat dinner together every night. We want to teach good wholesome lessons and be a family of strong, responsible, kind and humble Christians. We can TEACH by example, but we can’t MAKE him do anything. Especially if he doesn’t learn to do the ‘right’ thing for the right reasons. He has frankly been told what to do too much. I’ve been on him too much, my husband’s been on him too little and it’s created the perfect storm.We’ve also let him become the center of all our concerns, and more damagingly, the center of our marriage.
His very worst fear is that he won’t be with us anymore. Everytime he gets in trouble, he tends to have some kind of regression and vocal fear about having to go back to live with biomom. The therapists say this is his way of testing to see how far he can go before we ‘kick him out’ which of course won’t happen but a 6 year old doesn’t know that. This week was a ROUGH week. My husband and I for once, literally put the swords we’ve held against each other down, and created one powerful, meaningful sword, TOGETHER. What if we let him be who he is supposed to be? What if instead of forcing him, OR looking the other way, we do this calmly and simply? We teach him to make the right choice on his own, without expecting him to do anything? And we do this AS HUSBAND AND WIFE, a UNIFIED FRONT, that CANNOT be taken down?
In therapy they’re called ‘well behaved robots’. Children with no real feelings or ideals, they simply follow the flow as they’re told. They stay out of trouble and they are often very successful, but emotionally, they are lacking. We don’t want this for him. So, we finally decided it was time we come together and get it done the right way. Raising children is an ongoing process. Sometimes it seems dark, scary, useless. Are they even LISTENING?!
Now I hear what you’re saying….great story and all but we are fighting with an unreasonable biomom who won’t help, who won’t work with us and who literally undoes everything we do out of spite. Yes. I hear you. I’ve been there. And yes it’s incredibly hard. But imagine something harder. Something far more damaging. She is expected not to be on your ‘team’ in many ways, isn’t she? What happens when the ONE who is SUPPOSED to be on YOUR team is not? A battle of power in your OWN HOME with your spouse? That makes any bioparent struggle look easy in my opinion.
I used to hear the key to making this work starts in your home, between you and your husband. If you two aren’t a team, it will never ever work. And I used to just roll my eyes. Of COURSE we’re a team. We’re MARRIED. We’re putting up with this crap day in and day out aren’t we?! WE are ONE!
But we weren’t.
And believe me, when the kid(s) see that, it’s over. It’s all over. They’re parents split once, so you are already at a disadvantage disciplining them. They also often understand in a strange way even if they’re young, that you don’t have any of your own kids. Who are YOU to tell them what to do?
And all their classmates moms? Are thinking the same.
And your neighbors? Might just be thinking the same.
Biomom? She’s DEFINITELY thinking the same. Try picking your stepson up after visitation and suddenly hearing that they don’t love you they only love their mommy (insert her first name that she forced down their throat a hundred times to make sure it was loud and clear WHO was mom, here).
And your in-laws? Thinking the same.
But what if you and your husband TRULY become a team? What if you do what you KNOW is right? The opinions of others slowly fades out.
Their classmate’s moms and your neighbors? Have troubles with their own kids.
Biomom? Might just find herself being called ONLY by her first name since she chose NOT to take the high road so long ago. (Check.) And your in-laws? Are not your spouse.
He and your relationship are paramount to making ANY home function in a healthy manner and CERTAINLY any discipline stick.
Had I written this blog 2 weeks ago, it would have been much different. It would have been abount how much I can’t stand these bratty kids with their lazy parents who don’t care enough to even correct them when they’re doing wrong.
But today, my perspective has changed. It starts with my husband and I. We need to come together, firmly keep the boundaries consistently enforced but perhaps open them up a bit so the kid can be a kid. I’ve come to realize that I have no right to judge any other mother, because I don’t know what their struggle looks like. Adversely, that means they don’t have a CLUE what we’re doing either, so their judgement is not welcome.
We ALWAYS stick to our guns when a punishment is laid down. It is addressed quickly, and when we say something, we MEAN it. There is no wiggle room when it comes to what mom and dad have said, because if we make a move, a request, or a command, we’ve chosen our battles such that it’s IMPORTANT and we stick to it. But the other stuff….we’ve learned to let go. If it won’t hurt him or others, damage his character, and doesn’t go strictly against what we believe in as a family…..it’s probably not that big of a deal…and should be treated as such.
My therapist used to use the idea of the child ‘smearing poop on the walls’ when we discussed his misbehavior. She had a client who’s child was doing this for attention. On top of all the other nonsense that comes with trying to discipline a strong willed child, this kid was actually smearing his own poop on the wall.
I have high expectations for my stepson. He is to be educated and keep his behind out of trouble. But today I wish to guide him toward that rather than force him. And he has yet to smear poop on the walls. All in all, I guess we’re doing okay 🙂