When my husband and I got married almost 10 years ago, he brought his two children with him, of whom he had full custody. Their own mother left them all. They consider me their mother because I have filled that role and she has chosen not to.
For all these years, both of his children have lied, defied, disobeyed, had outbursts and have hurt the younger children we had together. The teenage son still has so much anger and resentment toward the situation of his mom leaving when he was little, me for being in that role and the children I have borne.
He is so disrespectful and hurtful, saying he can’t wait to get far away from us. But then he blames us for whatever lack of relationship he has with us all. He’s told me that he can’t change and that I should just focus on teaching my sons because he doesn’t want what I’m trying to teach. I try to love and reach out but am continually rejected, being the one he wants to hurt.
In addition to being worried for the teenage son, I’m also concerned with how to help our other children and stay close to my husband. There is emotional weight and damage that my children, myself and my husband all carry as a result. It’s draining.
I want to make my home a haven and am struggling every day, feeling beaten down. How do you help someone (the teenage son) who doesn’t want your help at all? And how do you help the rest of the family feel peace and comfort amidst the contention and uncertainty he brings into the home?
Blending families isn’t easy under favorable conditions. However, when you throw in parental abandonment, it sets everyone up for a more difficult experience. The loss experienced by these two children whose mother wanted nothing to do with them cannot be fully measured.
The grief that accompanies such a loss reverberates through the years while you and their father work to support them. I’m certain you understand the profound pain these children must be experiencing.
Losing their mother to abandonment can often feel more confusing and painful than losing her to death. Knowing that she’s still alive but doesn’t want anything to do with them affects the way they see themselves. It diminishes their sense of self and their importance to others.
This can produce behavior that sends mixed signals of “please come here” and “go away.” This attachment distress isn’t easy to heal when a child is rejected by a parent.
I hope you’re not doing this alone. You didn’t mention your husband’s involvement in working with his children’s emotional struggles. Is this something that has been delegated to you? If so, that will explain much of your challenge.
If your husband hasn’t been an active part of his children’s transition from losing their mother to gaining a stepmother and half-siblings, then this will most likely be part of their grief. It’s one thing to lose their mother, but it’s another trauma to go through that loss without the emotional support from their father. Outsourcing that responsibility to a stepmother doesn’t work, regardless of how loving and compassionate you are.
If your husband is not involved, then I recommend you make a strong effort to let him know how important he is in their healing. It’s not too late for him to become a significant influence in his children’s lives. He may need some help learning how to become involved at this stage of their lives. They may feel resistant and resentful if he’s not been involved and suddenly shows an interest. Family therapy can be effective if everyone is willing to attend together.
If he has been involved in helping his children cope with the loss of their mother and the subsequent transitions, what has his role been in that process? Has he taken the lead? Has he just listened and observed? If he’s been in the lead and the children still resist and struggle, then continue to show understanding and compassion to those older children while having boundaries and expectations in place for the benefit of the family.
Dr. Haim Ginott taught that we should be “permissive with emotions and strict with behavior” when working with our children.
You can still expect him to be appropriate and respectful while living in the home, even though he may have no interest in anything else you have to teach him. I recommend reading “The Anatomy of Peace” as a way for you and your husband to better understand how you can pull off this delicate balance of providing structure while maintaining a compassionate awareness of what these kids have been through.
Even though it’s not their fault for what has happened to them, it is their responsibility to be a contributing member of the family and working to make the family a safe and respectful place for all.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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