Last week, my stepkids came back to us and were acting unusually obnoxious and out of control. They didn't listen... at all, were disrespectful, and there was a lot of yelling between the two of them at each other. Naturally, this was emotionally overwhelming and it was a great reminder of the things I have no control over, and what is needed when situations arise that I don't want or didn't expect.
As a stepparent, you've probably experienced emotional overwhelm due to your stepkids acting out in some way that you simply just do not like or accept. It may be a knee jerk reaction to get angry with them, your partner, or shut down because you have no idea how to "appropriately" respond.
This was a perfect reminder that I needed to take care of my own needs first. Chaos makes me crazy- or so I usually let it. Yes, there is a choice as to where you want to dedicate your energy. In the past, when the kids have acted this way, I usually get really angry and bitchy- not necessarily at them, but more so in general and take it out on everyone around me.. creating soooo much fuel for the fire. This time, I was certainly frustrated, but I chose to ponder what was actually needed here. Kids act out for a number of reasons- a lot of times it's because they are processing changes in their lives. Big emotions and unsure how to process or express them the way adults do.
First, I got very clear on what was bothering me. I shared specifics with my husband. Ladies, it does not help to sit and have a bitch sesh because you are frustrated or angry. It does not help to pull away from your partner in a time where you two need to partner together to decide how to handle consequences and how each of you need to meet your own needs as well. I think when it comes to discipline, stepparents are unsure what they can do, what's accepted, and are very concerned about how their stepkids will respond to them. Luckily, my stepkids have a bond of trust with me, and generally very much respect me as a parental figure. There are still some things I choose to stay out of when it comes to discipline, and let their biological parents make those decisions. It is a personal choice- it is not right or wrong for everyone.
Ultimately, taking care of myself looked like setting boundaries. It meant revisiting what behavior was acceptable in our household, and really thinking about what these kids needed, rather than "punishing" them because of their behavior. I think that's where parents, both bio and step, lose sight sometimes. We immediately react to behavior we don't like, from kids or our partners, rather than thinking about the possibilities about why they are acting this way, and what is really needed to meet the emotional needs. Of course, kids need consequences as well, like taking things away etc. I suggest refrain from yelling and any harsh punishments... that only scares them and drives a wedge between the parents and the kids because it tells the kids they cannot feel safe where they are to make mistakes or that their emotions are unacceptable. They are human in the same way we adults are!
There were moments where I needed to remove myself and go read, do yoga, and allow my husband to take the reigns. There were also moments that I allowed myself to talk with them and allow them to utilize the safe space to share what was going on inside. They may not really know and might express things that may logically not make sense to us, but it's important to encourage them to talk so they do not learn to shut down. We ended up taking away electronics for the rest of the week- and trust me, it was TOUGH. It was tough because we want them to have the opportunity to use the things they enjoy using, but also they become more needy and look for things to entertain themselves. We all know screen time is a controversial topic- we allow it with boundaries. That isn't the point here. After they had their electronics taken away, their attitudes began to shift- they "tried" to be on their best behavior. Of course, I wanted to give back the electronics because of it, but I am seeing the importance of follow through. Kids are incredibly smart. They know how to manipulate parents into thinking they learned something from their consequence even if they really didn't. Follow through actually teaches kids boundaries, even if it's tough. The silver lining with the removal of the electronics meant more conscious time spent together. By the end of the week, things had shifted. I think they learned something and I did as well. It was a good learning experience for my husband as well because it allowed him to be more emotionally connected with them instead of the typical knee jerk frustrated reaction.
Parenting is tough because humans can be tough- we all are. It's important to give everyone including the children, grace. Consequences and boundaries are VERY needed, as well as understanding what is needed and how to meet the emotional needs of everyone involved.