Keeping It Constructive.

I don’t often write just because I need to unload, but this is going to be one of those times. I have nothing insightful to share here… just a circumstance I’m trying to figure out in print, because mapping it out in my brain so far hasn’t done a damn thing to help.

We all have ways that we’re crappy parents. Normally, knowing that I struggle in certain departments of parenting doesn’t bother me. I figure that if we at least know about the ways we’re crappy, we’re not that bad off. At least we’re in a position to eventually fix it… you know, when we figure out how.

One of the ways I know I’m bad is feeling so often like I need to vent about Mary. It’s not one of those things I’m okay with. I’m constantly checking myself about it and trying to figure out how to knock it the hell off without driving myself to insanity in the process of keeping so much pent up frustration to myself.

When Spencer comes home and there’s a minute away from the kids, or a friend calls with lamentations about some way their younger kid drives them crazy, I have no problem rattling off to them all the ways Matthew puts me through the wringer. Maybe their should be, but there is no guilt. It feels good – constructive even – to get it off my chest. It doesn’t feel that way with Mary. I guess she’s just at a more complicated age.

I won’t try to over analyze it, but her self esteem is obliviously in a fragile state of growth. She, herself, is pretty thick skinned. But no twelve year old is a rock of self-assurance. I have to be so careful about the things I chose to come to her directly about. I don’t want the only council she hears from me to be about stuff she needs to work on, you know? I know from being that age, that it’s going to feel that way to her, no matter what. I don’t want to add to that unless it’s necessary.

But at this age, talking about her to other people feels wrong too. It doesn’t feel like harmlessly discussing parenting issues the way it does when I talk about the younger kids. She’s old enough now that it just feels like talking behind another person’s back. On the few occasions she’s overheard me only jokingly chiming in with another parent about what a difficult age hers can be, it’s hurt her feelings.

Nothing sucks worse than hurting your kid’s feelings. Nothing.

So I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. But then it gets a little more complicated than that.

She’s at that age… the age we’ve all been through… where jealousy is rampant. There is a viciously competitive spirit growing inside of her and guiding it toward constructive outlets has been no simple task lately. The only things coming out of her mouth about anyone — especially her friends, are awful. What starts as a perfectly nice conversation between the two of us during the day about someone, almost without fail, morphs into a list ten feet long about all the ways that person is positively nasty and intolerable.

I’m not talking about a few complaints. I’m not even talking about one, specific person. I’m talking about the fact that a conversation about anyone will eventually (if it’s allowed to) turn into her working herself up to a boiling point. Everything that makes a friend of hers happy is viewed as selfishly snatching credit away from her. The people who are close to her just can’t win. Every perfectly nice thing they do or think or say to her is fuel for a rant as soon as they leave.

I try to tell her that these feelings are normal (though unacceptable) and then encourage her to really think about why a good thing happening to her friend is so terrible. It always ends in her being viciously angry with me for not knowing or understanding anything.

Nothing is more infuriating to her than when I don’t jump into cutting her friends down with her. Then, she’ll start using things her friends said to her in confidence against them, assuring me that I don’t know how awful they really are. The worst part is feeling so badly for the people she’s cutting down. I want to teach her how to control her jealousy-driven behavior, but I don’t know how to do that without making her feel further self-conscious.

I have to tread so lightly here. Because everything I do seems to make the problem worse, I’ve even tried to simply lend an ear and try to understand. But doing that does not feel right. I know I’m only advocating a poisonous habit of being vicious and catty, which will only hurt her down the road. But even when I assure her first that feeling competitive is totally normal, the conversation ends in her feeling like I think she’s a rotten person. And that’s not true.



Here I go probably overanalyzing things again, but maybe there’s a connection. I told Spencer a few months ago that I want us to really be conscious of the example we set for Mary by not talking about people behind their back. If we want to discuss something that gets under out skin about someone who isn’t around, that we need to do it in a way that isn’t unnecessarily vicious. Also, we need to really go out of our way to show her that when good things happen for other people in our own lives, that it feels good to celebrate in their successes or dumb good fortune with them.

I’m no child psychologist, but I know that a faltering self-esteem is usually at the root of jealous behavior – which is why cattiness thrives like wildfire in those awkward middle school years. And I can’t think of anything worse for a kid’s self-esteem than feeling like all their parent does is complain about them.

Even when I know Mary can’t hear it, there’s a guilt that tugs away at me when I finally open up to someone about all of the ways that raising her can be so difficult and confusing. I know that I’m not really complaining about her, but rather, trying to decode her behavior. Nonetheless. It starts to feel good… like maybe this person I’m talking to will understand and be able to offer me a fresh perspective… but something doesn’t let me finish. I always wind up wrapping it up and tucking it back inside of my frazzled, overworked brain to figure out in solitude. Which feels impossible.

It can be so alienating… to not have many mom-friends who are raising a stepchild, much less one just fifteen years younger than they. It gets tough to shoulder such an unforgiving weight of responsibility without help or advice from people who know what it’s like. There are just so many confusing emotions that I want to share — which I can’t help feeling like it isn’t that far off from what she’s experiencing.

Maybe I’m just trying hard to relate. Or maybe all it boils down to for the both of us, is a fighting need to talk, even if what you have to say isn’t always perfectly constructive.


4 thoughts on “Keeping It Constructive.

  1. Alicia,
    This is not a step-parent/step-child thing. You are on the right track. Keep setting a good, positive example and don’t encourage the negativity. Men and boys really dislike women and girls jealousy. Keep doing what you’re doing.

    • Ugh, I just went back over and read this again. The whole thing is not well constructed and came out a little confusing.

      I don’t think being torn about how to handle it is a step-parent issue. I just mean that, because our stepfamily dynamic is unique and can sometimes be a little alienating for me, it feels good to talk about my experiences with her to other people. But a lot of times (just like with the other kids) those feelings can come out in the form of complaints. That part is hard for me, because I’m trying so hard to set an example for her about how to respect the boundaries and privacy of friends/family by not cutting them down to other people as soon as their back is turned. Sometimes I feel like a hypocrite because, even though I’d never ‘cut her down’, I don’t always paint a super positive image of her to other people.

      I appreciate the feedback. I plan to not budge on the banning of trash-talk at home. I noticed that she goes straight to the ‘you just don’t understand me, that’s why I can’t talk to you’ thing whenever I try to discourage negative behavior. It gets to me, she knows that, and she’s started using it to her advantage.

  2. Hi! Just catching up a bit. This post is so interesting to me because I don’t know if its more relevant to working with the Girl Scouts or talking to my stepson.
    Sometimes I can’t believe some if the mean-ness that I overhear when the girls are off in the corner gossiping and I wonder was I ever that negative about people when I was 12 and 13. It’s tough to relate to the parents too because I don’t have an almost teenage girl in the house. I feel we don’t have enough parents that get that involved with how their girls are developing in that way. I want to help the girls be the best people they can be but that’s only for a few hours a month.
    On the stepparent side, lately I feel like all I say to Matt is criticism and I feel like he doesn’t take what I say seriously. I’m glad both his parents are still strongly in his life but I also think it makes me not so relevant. Don’t know if I’m just a joke to this 16 year old boy and he just shrugs off the things I say. I hate that sometimes I have to call his dad to get him to do what he’s supposed to. So frustrating! His dad and I have been trying to figure out how to stop him from feeling entitled to things and I have tons of input but most of the time his dad doesn’t put things to practice. Then I have his mom telling me that she’d like me to be more pushy in helping with schoolwork… Aaah! Is it horrible that I can’t wait until he graduates from high school?

    • Becky, I think outside influences from people who aren’t in the thick of raising these girls are SO important for their well-being. You are a fresh, positive perspective for them. Sometimes, even when I try very hard not to, all I see when I watch Mary interact with her friends is the way she’s slouching, or that she forgot to wear her gloves again, or that she used the word “tooken” instead of “taken”. You (as in people who aren’t so caught up in raising them) see a funny, bright, sociable kid who comes up with great ideas. Those few hours a week or a month that awesome people like you spend with these girls make a BIG difference.

      (I’m gonna have to make I blog post out of this response, I can already tell… lol)

      I would never wish this situation on Mary. I hate watching her go through the hurt that comes with not seeing her real mom. But I’ll never deny that Mary’s mom being so absent makes my job immeasurably easier. I have always, always facilitated Mary’s mom having a relationship with her – more so than literally anyone else involved. But I know that I would not be so relevant in Mary’s life if it were any other way. She’s even said that.

      I went into this very submissively. I came in and made it clear that I was not here to replace anyone and that I’d follow everyone else’s lead with how we want this to work. So transitioning from admittedly not being the one in charge to absolutely being the one in charge (even more than her dad because I’m the stay-at-home parent) was very tricky. But I can see now that Mary needed that. There’s no question to me.

      And if I hadn’t been forced into that position of authority with her, I never would have assumed it. And she would have suffered for it.

      Kids want to respect their parents. After everything I’ve watched Mary go through — the ups and the downs — I see that she always did so much better when I refused to back down. (Better meaning happier – not necessarily more obedient, lol. Although being happier generally lead to being ultimately more obedient.) I think kids are a lot like puppies in that way. I don’t think they wake up saying “I want to take advantage of my parents today!” but if there’s any gaps in your consistency with them, they’ll naturally milk it for all it’s worth without even realizing it’s what they’re doing.

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