3 Simple Choices to End the Competition with Your Step-Kids
We all know how manipulative kids can be when things aren't going their way. They seem to know all the right words to use, how to masterfully apply pressure and top it all off with a guilt trip that can leave a parent paralyzed and prone to caving in. They know how to push our buttons!
Children living in step family dynamics quickly discover how to push their step-parent's buttons too - how to manipulate, interfere and even sabotage relationships. It's amazing just how easily kids can instigate trouble to get what they want.
And the result will inevitably lead to conflict between the adults. Disagreements around the kids' motives and what boundaries need to be put in place are common for step-couples. Let's explore what you can do to prevent disconnection, resentment and isolation in your step family?
Remove yourself from the Rivalry
When kids insert themselves into a step-parent's line of happiness and are poised to launch an attack, step-parents often jump straight to defense mode. Then the power plays begin and soon a competitive crusade erupts between step-child and step-parent. Rivalries are not productive or healthy and they will drive disconnection in your step family.
Often a child's misguided motive is simply to push their step parent's buttons to get a reaction. If they can get you to take the bait and participate in the rivalry they've accomplished something.
If they manage to take you down to their level of immaturity to create some destructive drama, then they win. When this happens, struggles for control may end up pitting you and your partner against each other — another win for them.
Once a competitive cycle sets in, kids can effortlessly push a step-parent's buttons and cause trouble - and they usually end up getting what they want. If this cycle continues, a battle field of painful interactions, hurt feelings and resentments will be the outcome.
Refuse to compete with your step-child.
Your best strategy is to simply withdrawal from the competition and take the high road of maturity and wisdom. You can choose not to engage and instead, learn how to work with your partner to use healthy strategies that will set everyone up to be winners. (I'll say more about that next week)
Here are three things you can start doing today to survive and thrive in these challenging dynamics.
1. Let Go of Labels
It's understandable why a step-parent might develop negative beliefs about their step-children — especially if they've ended up as the 'loser' in the competition too many times. We've heard these statements, and many more like them from exasperated step-parents:
- "This kid is a spoiled brat and always has to have their way"
- "He's just acting out so he can sabotage things"
- "I totally see how she's manipulating, but my partner falls for it every time"
When a step parent dwells on negative thoughts and assigns labels to a step child, they are actually becoming part of the problem. Every time you vocalize these limiting beliefs, or even think this way, you're causing damage to the bonding process with your step-child and putting up walls between you.
A helpful strategy is to replace negative thoughts with new perspectives. Don't allow yourself to fume when your step-child kicks off with those frustrating behaviors. Instead, choose to look at things from a different vantage point. Be determined to build a bridge of connection with your step-kids rather than allowing walls to form and damage your relationship - let go of toxic labels!
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2. Put on Thick Skin
Being a step-parent is not an easy job. Confused and hurting step-kids can take out all their frustrations on the one person who's trying really hard to connect with them — their step parent.
One step-mom used the word "torturous" when she described what it was like to be around her 12 year old step-daughter! A defeated step-dad told us his step-child can be accepting and pleasant one day, then turns on him and exclaims that she hates him the next day.
One of the biggest challenges a step-parent faces is learning how to let the rejection and insults bounce off - you've got to have thick skin to survive. Of course it's natural for step-parents to feel hurt, and they need to process their own pain with someone they trust. But it's crucial that step-parents step back and take a look at the whole picture, rather than getting stuck in the day-to-day battles.
It's most likely that if you'd been involved in this child's life in any other capacity - such as a fun teacher or an encouraging soccer coach - that they'd accept you and even offer you gratitude and warmth. They'd have a chance to clearly see how amazing you truly are.
But as a step-parent, you've entered their life as a perceived threat. You're extracting attention, love and time from the person that means everything to them — their parent. Because of this, most kids are unable to relate to a new step-parent as the person they truly are - their viewpoint is tainted, their posture will be guarded and malicious behavior is often the result.
They key to your survival is to not take things personally. It's really not about you, it's about the difficult dynamics you've entered into. Do your best to be light hearted and don't take hurtful things too seriously.
3. Choose a New Lens
Simply decide to see your step-child through eyes of compassion, rather than judgement. As adults, we know that kids are in the early stages of human development. They don't have it all together yet…far from it!
Because kids haven't yet mastered things like self-control and effective communication, they have two strikes against them: First, they aren't usually able to identify and articulate what's really going on inside. They tend to react to emotions, such as fear and anger, rather than responding in a rational way. Second, they don't have the capacity to communicate and clearly define their needs.
Let's face it. Being honest about troubling emotions and clearly expressing them to someone else is no easy task. These things are challenging for most adults, so we can't expect kids to have the ability to openly share their feelings and effectively dialog every time a negative emotion hits.
Keep your expectations realistic. Most often, kids are really hurting and desperately trying to get what they need in order to be okay.
When you feel yourself becoming frustrated with how your step-child is acting, choose to look at them through the lens of compassion and allow your heart to soften. Kids aren't the enemy here. Those unwanted behaviors are the result of some difficult dynamics they're facing and learning to navigate through - they're job isn't easy either.
Persevere with a New Perspective
Don't forget to open up your perspective. Remember that it takes time for kids to work through their emotions and accept that you are someone they can trust. You'll be amazed at how a few short years can change a child's attitude toward their step-parent.
But in the meantime, keep building bridges of connection - you can do it! Hang in there and focus on sending you step-kids meaningful messages such as… "I'm on your side" and "I'm someone you can always count on". Patiently persevere and continue to be the amazing person you truly are and eventually, the war will end and your family will emerge victoriously!
QUESTION: What can you do to build a bridge of connection with your step -kids? Leave a comment below…