[Solved] How do I relinquish control?
My name is Nicky and I wrote the content for the Step Dad Personal Stories section of this site.
I have lots of experience when it comes to step family life - I am a step daughter, a step mum and one half of a step parenting partnership.
Despite everything I've learned and every effort that I've made I really struggle with not being in control when it comes to my step sons (well one of them, the other one is older and has left home now). I find myself saying "if he was my son, I wouldn't let him get away with this or that". I find it hard to 'let things go' and I stew over certain situations and issues when they crop up. Deep down it's because I care and want to give him the best opportunity to flourish and do well in life but on the surface I stew over things when I'm not in control.
I appreciate that wanting to be in control is a bit of a personality flaw but it is something I battle with everyday and often seems to manifest itself in my relationship with my step son. It can have an impact on my relationship with my husband and results in us dancing around on egg shells! Thankfully we are both really good at talking things through plus, he knows what I'm like, which is a bonus as far as I'm concerned - problems rarely escalate.
I am very fond of my step son and would love to see him do well in life, in spite of me, but above all else, I would love to learn how to relinquish the need to be in control but at the same time still be able to nurture him - how do I find the balance?
If anyone has any thoughts or advice on the subject (apart from thinking that I'm a complete control freak!) I would love to hear from you.
I think you're being a little hard on yourself! I can completely relate to needing to be in control and it can be tough sometimes to suppress it, but I think self awareness is key....if you realise that you can be controlling, it's the first step to doing something about it it.
I remember reading a blog about a Mum that accidentally recorded herself chastising her children, she thought she had been calm and nice until she watched the video and realised how harsh she sounded!
She decided to use the rubber band method to try and instigate change; using three bands as a reminder to praise her children throughout the day. Basically, she started each morning with three rubber bands on your right wrist, every time she praised her child, she could move a rubber band over to her left wrist, with the goal of ending the day with all three moved to the opposite arm.
Sometimes it can be coming down on the kids when they don't listen and taking for granted the times that they do. The rubber bands serve as a physical reminder to find moments when the children should be praised.
She says it was like a game, each time she had a kind word to say to her kids she was one step closer to achieving an opposite wrist lined with bands. She figured that if she could reduce the rubber band method to listening behaviour only, as that's where she was falling short, it was worth a try... The results for her were fantastic! She explains the reasons why it worked so well.....
It switched her perspective entirely, she realised her mum radar was set to finding the bad rather than the good and was overlooking all the good things her kids did everyday. When she started looking for opportunities to praise, she found it easy to find three things!
She said that she had been so busy focussing on getting them to listen to every little thing, that she was taking for granted the positive behaviours her kids were doing and forgetting she also needed to listen to them.... When the rubber bands incentivised her to find the good it made her look differently at how her children were acting and she began to see them in a totally different light.
I know this method can also be used to help with anxiety, so I see no reason why it can't also be adapted to try and control other behaviours....it's such a simple method, but I can see how it might help to train ourselves to behave differently....
All the best
What a great idea!
It is so easy to get into a negative spiral and be overly critical. I think that it is much harder to manage your expectations when it comes to your step kids because you don't have that natural, unconditional love that you have for your own kids. It's almost as if they have more to do to live up to your expectations or 'win you over'.
That may sound mean but it's not, it's actually realistic and honest - I am very fond of my step kids, They have been part of my life for over 13 years and I feel very protective towards them, but I do find them a challenge, particularly the one who still lives with us. He is 19 years old and although he looks that age physically, mentally he is not quite there yet, which again challenges my expectations of him - hence the 'out of control' feeling.
Although we have not had him formally assessed, we do think that perhaps he is somewhere in the autistic or ADHD spectrum because he fits the symptoms of these conditions in many ways, particularly ADHD. I would say that he is only on the fringes of the spectrum but it is challenging none-the-less.
Like the mum in the blog you read, I find myself focusing on trying to get him to listen to me, follow my instructions and take my advice over the smallest of issues - it invariably falls on deaf ears, which makes me frustrated because he doesn't understand that I'm trying to help him. It is a real achievement when he does remember to do things, or he does listen and I do praise or thank him when he does but you're right - I could focus on that a lot more than I do.
Like the mum in the blog says, it's about altering your perspective. I do get very anxious and like I said before, I tend to stew over things which isn't healthy. I try and take time out, go for walks, pursue hobbies and things like that to help me relax. He is only with us every other week, so I do get a bit of a breather but he has said on a few occasions that he would like to stay with us full time once he is 20 and existing maintenance agreements are done with (he's still in full time education). If I'm honest, I'm not sure how I would manage if he did, but I'm sure I'll cross that bridge when it comes to it, if it comes to fruition - he says lots of things off the cuff which don't come to anything. Our main focus is to nurture him, help him to mature and hopefully become more self-sufficient.
Definitely going to focus on switching my perspective - not sure about the rubber bands, especially as I'm not dealing with a young child whom I spend all my time with but there are other things I could try in the same context.
Thank you for your response and advice - much appreciated!
I have a situation where my stepson lives with us full time and visits his Dad every other weekend, he looks up to me, and I have been in his life for 6 years so almost half of his life, he has a good relationship with his Dad, which has improved since I have been around as I feel that I calm the issues between my wife and his Dad as I have been on the other side of things.
I do have issues with my stepson, and he won't listen to me and it frustrates me, my wife has a very high tollerence towards him, but mine is becoming less and less Lol
I guess he is just being a normal 13 year old, and pushing to see how far he can go, but where as my wife seems ok with it, I find the way he behaves dissrespectful, we do fall out over it as she feels I'm always telling him of, but I do feel that he needs that strong hand to keep him on track.
He is a good child in general, but can just be cheeky and rude, and If I pick him up on it, he just sulks and goes into a strop.
I do feel a lot of the time he is just acting up becuase he knows that he can as his mum won't agree with me telling him off so he doesn't really need to stop, last year my wife had to go on a weeks residential training so it was just the 2 of us and he was really good and we had a really good week, then my wife came home and it was back to normal.
I don't really know the answer If I'm honest, but I do think as you say it's normal as they aren't your child and you haven't been there from the start.
The problem is when we try to control things we end up trying to micro manage things. When you are micromanaging you loose sight of the bigger picture. You have defined the big picture in your first post:
Our main focus is to nurture him, help him to mature and hopefully become more self-sufficient.
Micromanagement is the opposite of nurturing. Nurturing we give boundaries and guidance but it is for the individual to decide to follow these, or not and face the consequence. Micromanagement is about giving the individual little or no control over what they do or how they do it.
Maturity comes with time, responsibility and making mistakes. Micromanagement denies at least two of these conditions. Just from a lot of observation there can be a huge disconnect between maturity and age when autism or ADHD are involved. Maturity can come but usually later in life than normal.
Self-sufficient is a skill we learn from being confident in ourselves and our own decision making. It also comes from making mistakes and learning how to correct them.
One of the biggest arguments I had with my dad was when he asked why I bother to ask his advice if I wasn't going to take it. I explained to him that there were two reasons I asked for advice, the first was to consider other options, the second though had to do with our differences and knowing what was right for him was not right for me. Try to remember if you are offering advice, then that is what it is, advice not instructions.
One of the things I love about your posts is your honesty.
I think that it is much harder to manage your expectations when it comes to your step kids because you don't have that natural, unconditional love that you have for your own kids. It's almost as if they have more to do to live up to your expectations or 'win you over'.
I like to think of this as the Christmas factor. You know that one day of the year when we invest so much time, money and ourselves into a few short hours on one day and have high expectations of how the day will be, and usually something goes wrong. It goes wrong because we fail to ask if our expectations are realistic and reasonable. My sister used to invite us over for Christmas each year, and each year it ended in people getting upset. So while the expectations may have been realistic, with the various personalities it was not reasonable.
With children and young people I always have high expectations, tempered with reasonability based on their personalities and abilities. I am as proud of our friends children's achievements as I am of my own daughter's achievements. I also make a point of telling them how proud I am of them and what they have achieved. I have also been firm when needed and necessary. Between the two I find they respond well.
Unfortunately I don't have advice on how to stop being controlling and trying to micromanage things. It might be counter intuitive and others may disagree, but consider taking a step back and forget your role as a step parent, and try to view yourself as a role model for your step son, showing him a different way of doing things. I didn't have step parents but I have been fortunate to have some great role models in my life and I have taken a lot of what they had to show me to define who I am as a parent. Far more so than my natural parents.
A lot easier said than done, but try not to take things personally. If there are elements of autism and ADHD going on a lot of it is not personal. From personal experience they will usually play up with those they feel safe with. While you say you believe he is on the fringes of the spectrum, if this is the case it is worth remembering that this is a neurological condition and will affect the way he views the world and reacts to various stimuli. It could also mean while you believe you are being clear if he has some underlying issues with processing information, especially verbal, it may not be so clear to him.
One more thing, stop putting yourself down because your a great step mum. Don't take my word for it, off the cuff remark or not...
he has said on a few occasions that he would like to stay with us full time
Have you seen the step dads section under the 'FAMILY' heading on the Dad.info site (there is loads of really helpful stuff on there)?
There is one particular article which you may be able to relate to and may be of some help to you.
From my experience children soon learn to play one parent off the other, particularly if they know or sense that the parents aren't in complete agreement with each other about where to draw the boundaries.
If you are able to create the right atmosphere in which to talk things through with you wife, perhaps when your stepson is with his Dad and you have a decent amount of time for a discussion without interruption, you and your wife could perhaps read the article together and/or talk through the difficulties you've been facing and come to some sort of agreement about what is acceptable in terms of your discipline with your step son. Reassure her that you want this conversation because you care about her son and want to do the best thing by him.
Once you agree the best way forward you will be able to rely on your wife's support to back you up at the appropriate time - if your stepson sees that you are both united in your approach towards him, it will make a lot of difference and he will listen to you more readily. If he is rude towards you and your wife tells him off, that will help build a better level of respect from him towards you. Your step son will soon learn what is acceptable and what isn't.
This article might be quite helpful too:
From your wife's point of view (and my own personal experience), she may feel guilty about putting her son through a marriage breakup and feel that by being a bit softer on him, letting him get away with stuff, it makes up for it in some way. She may also feel that she is competing with her ex husband in the child popularity stakes (good cop/bad cop scenario) and then unfortunately when you try and demonstrate some authority, she won't appreciate it.
I think that unless you have been in the situation, it is very hard to fully understand what being a step parent is like and of course, each step family is different in many many ways. I have found that the key to giving it the best chance to work, is to be open and honest with my husband - without good honest communication cracks will appear - don't bottle things up. Consistency in the way you both treat your stepson (and each other) is always key too, otherwise the goal posts move all over the place.
If you can approach this in a loving and patient way you will overcome the difficulties. Be prepared to listen too so that she doesn't feel that the conversation is loaded in your direction and I would say, be prepared to compromise, even if it doesn't sit comfortably with you - you can always revisit it later.
Obviously I don't fully know your situation but I hope that helps.