Step Sibling Rivalry causing us to argue - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 12 Old 01-04-2011, 07:58 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I think I may need to do more than post on a forum but I am just not sure. Let me start off with giving a short bio before jumping to the issue at hand. I have been with DH for nearly five years. We both have seven year old girls. Mine is eight months older and we now have a six month old boy. We have always had some communication problems when it comes to raising the children. I tend to be a strict parent as I feel that I can have a lot more quality time with the kids if they behave well. I now work from home so I have the children the majority of the time.

 

Things have gotten worse since the birth of our son. The BM also had a son on the same day. So now our SD has two baby siblings. There have been issues at school and with friends that are getting better, but DH does not believe I treat her as well as my own daughter. The other day we got in to an argument because he wanted to implement rules before going to a theme park (GREAT IDEA!) I read the rules, which were different for each girl, and they seemed good until he started going over them. His rule for my daughter was, acknowledge when you are spoken to. As he began to explain it to her he told her that she often ignores SD (her sister) when she is asking her questions or pretends she doesn’t hear her and that she isn’t allowed to do this anymore. Before he finished I called him in to the room to tell him that I advise her all the time to ignore her (SD) if she is becoming frustrated or annoyed and that I thought that the acknowledge the first time rule was for us. He thinks advising them to ignore each-other is unfair since my BD is much more capable of doing so. Is it wrong to have them ignore each-other? When do I alter my discipline of my child to compensate for SD? I am concerned that my BD feels resentment towards her stepsister because the only time she gets in trouble is when it relates to her stepsister.

 

Side note: In all fairness my BD tends to be rather aloof in general and does tend to “not hear” when she is being spoken to. On the other hand my SD tends to be rather contrary and argumentative when it comes to interactions with children in general.

 

My husband and I are barely speaking right now. He feels I do not treat his daughter as well as I treat my own. I understand how he can feel that way since SD does seem to need more discipline, weather it is because she is more hyper I cant be sure. In the end I try to keep the same rules for both it just seems like my SD has a harder time following them even though she has lived with mainly us for nearly five years.

 

Any advice you can give would be GREATLY appreciated.

 

 

There seem to be many more issues at hand but I wanted to start with the most recent and get some advice.

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#2 of 12 Old 01-06-2011, 05:45 AM
 
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For one thing, even 7-y-o girls whose personalities are perfectly matched and who are the best of friends and dream of nothing more than being sisters so they could spend every minute together...will frequently snipe at each other over something abysmally trivial and then retaliate by ignoring each other or waging nasty verbal campaigns against each other until they're both hysterically crying and tattling on each other...until, inexplicably, they resume being the best of friends.  So, especially if these two girls have been put into a situation where they're being raised almost as twins, but they're not - nor did they choose each other, as friends - then both you and your husband need to make a daily effort to tolerate normal (irritating) "girly" behavior from them.

 

When DH and I married, our 3 boys from before were best friends.  But there's an age difference and, over the years, between the older ones entering puberty and going on to middle school - not to mention the realities of being in the same house all the time - they no longer seem like best friends in an eternal slumber party, but real brothers.  They definitely feel like family, but they have different friends, different interests, they don't always want each other in their rooms, sometimes they annoy each other.  With two kids who are the same age (and in the same grade?), I imagine there's even more of a parental hope for love, sisterhood and best-friendship...and more parental disappointment and heartache, if they don't latch onto each other as hoped.  But neither you nor your husband can make that happen, by trying to set rules or micromanage their interactions.  It sounds like he needs to understand that, more than you, perhaps.  Better to focus on doing enjoyable activities with them, to build a history of nice family times, than trying to force them to get along better when left to their own devices.  It may be that these 2 girls have personalities such that, if they simply met each other in class, they would never be friends.  However, it's still possible for them to feel like sisters some day.  Your siblings feel like family because of the history together, not because you'd necessarily be best friends with them, if you met them out in the world.  Frequent, short activities like board games or digging for bugs in the back yard or hiking at the park are arguably more important to that feeling of "quality family time" than exhausting, all-day events like amusement parks.  I'm not saying don't go to amusement parks!  Those are great memories.  But don't neglect the day-to-day stuff.

 

Certainly, when children are annoying each other - or one is being petulant and annoying the other - it is effective and reasonable to separate them, or allow the one who's annoyed to disengage.  If you're the one caring for the children most of the time, naturally you understand this better than your husband does.  So, try not to be angry with him, but instead to explain it to him...probably multiple times, as changing your attitudes about parenting is a process, not an event.  You might say, "If Girl1 is feeling irritated by Girl2, isn't it better to give her a way to go off by herself, than to force her to stay engaged with Girl2 until she turns on her and acts angry and mean?"  

 

But, you should teach your daughter to say something to explain herself.  Simply tuning someone out is just as rude as hanging up on someone.  She could say, "I don't like it when you (are so loud / say the same thing over and over / ask me so many questions...or whatever it is that turns her off), so I'm going to stop answering you now."  THAT way, if your SD intentionally persists in behavior that your daughter has clearly told her she doesn't like, it will be more obvious that it is your SD who needs to work on reading others' cues and socializing in ways that don't irritate people.  Advising your daughter to just stop talking to her makes it look - to an outside observer - like the main problem is your daughter being too rude and self-absorbed to acknowledge other people.

 

Kudos to you, on calling your husband into the next room to discuss this stuff, instead of disagreeing in front of the kids.   


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#3 of 12 Old 01-06-2011, 07:26 AM
 
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Jeanine said most of what I was going to say, only better! I just wanted to add that it's normal to get stuck with someone as a sibling, who you would never choose as a friend. In the long run, it's a good chance to learn how to get along with people in an intimate, can't just walk away, setting. Have you read "Siblings Without Rivalry"? It has helped me so much over the years, including with accepting that siblings don't have to like each other for there to be peace in the house!

 

I also second that your dd shouldn't be allowed to ignore her sister until she has communicated her point of view clearly. If she is stonewalling, that would be unacceptable in my house, as much as bugging or arguing. It's harder to see it as an aggressive move, but if you've ever had someone do it to you, it is very painful and insulting.


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#4 of 12 Old 01-06-2011, 05:50 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you so very much for your replies. I guess I never thought about it being rude to just ignore. I think we can easily modify that rule. biggrinbounce.gifI suppose BD may come across as self absorbed, she can appear very disengaged at times, I think she is very much in her own head a lot. We have ignored some of the day to day family stuff over the past few months with the baby being so young and all but I do try hard to keep them busy in different activities all day long one has gymnastics and the other acting. In the end it comes down to two kids with two VERY different personalities and all though they get along at times the endless bickering drives me and my husband insane. And because my BD is so laid back and casual and easy going about everything she rarely gets in trouble while my SD is inquisitive and high energy and loves to push the boundaries to see how far she can get so of course gets in more trouble. This leads my husband to believe I am harder on his than mine, which I don't see as the case because if the personalities were the other way around I would discipline the same way.

 

That is a hard case to make since its hypothetical. When they bicker, in the end, my BD usually "wins", if there can be any winner, because she is just as happy playing with the neighbors or reading a book or doing an art project. While my SD gets along mostly just with my BD and she depends on her for entertainment. I don't know how to keep a happy medium between behavior, ingrained personalities and constant togetherness.

 

I would love to read siblings without rivalry. I will see if I can download it on my nook. Does it address step families? I think there is a big difference in step families because there are OTHER parents involved as well. Sadly my ex has never been kind when referring to my SD to my BD. This has hurt their (the girls) relationship a lot. Also every other weekend they are away from each other and while my BD is glad for the time away from her sister it doesn't usually go the other way around and my SD often calls over the weekend to ask after her sister. I also know that my SD is hurt by that. All this to say that in step families/blended families there are outside influences that effect the family dynamic.

 

Thanks again for all of your advice.

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#5 of 12 Old 01-06-2011, 07:43 PM
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What family rules do you have that penalize a person for having an inquisitive, high energy temperament? I have a very high energy, persistent, inquisitive 5 year old DD and those temperament traits don't get her in trouble in our house.  I would be upset if my DH was trying to punish my DD for doing things that were an expression of her temperament. If your rules are more suited to a child who isn't high energy or persistent (pushes limits), maybe they aren't fair rules for your SD. It's really hard to tell without knowing what kind of rules you have. My DH and I do see value in these temperament traits. Even though they are annoying in small children they are invaluable in some career fields.

 

I think Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber would be helpful. The 'getting along' sometimes and the constant bickering sounds normal for two siblings who are close in age. My sister and I were only 16 months apart. Sometimes we were best friends and the next moment we probably sounded like we hated each other. The book's approach is about letting the siblings work out solutions to their conflicts instead of depending on parents to settle them. The parent shows sympathy to all parties instead of taking sides or making a value judgment about the situation and then leads the kids to discuss solutions and steps back. Another book that could be useful for you is Kids, Parents and Power Struggles by Mary Kurcinka. This book helps you deal with the emotions behind conflicts and also helps you identify everyone different temperament traits.

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What family rules do you have that penalize a person for having an inquisitive, high energy temperament? I have a very high energy, persistent, inquisitive 5 year old DD and those temperament traits don't get her in trouble in our house.  I would be upset if my DH was trying to punish my DD for doing things that were an expression of her temperament. If your rules are more suited to a child who isn't high energy or persistent (pushes limits), maybe they aren't fair rules for your SD. It's really hard to tell without knowing what kind of rules you have. My DH and I do see value in these temperament traits. Even though they are annoying in small children they are invaluable in some career fields.

 


You make a good point.  But people who are high energy, persistent and inquisitive also need to learn how to read others' cues, when they socialize.  I don't think anyone's talking about punishing the OP's SD.  The point is that her daughter shouldn't be punished, scolded or shamed, if HER temperament makes her feel exhausted, after a while, by her step-sister.  The OP's daughter should be taught to consider the SD's feelings and disengage from her in a way that's not completely rude and dismissive.  But the SD should be taught consideration as well, and not follow someone, insisting on endless chatter or demanding questions, if that person has expressed that they need a break from it and would like some quiet or alone-time.  

 

Both lessons (not flat-out ignoring people; and knowing when to calm down or to end a conversation) will serve the girls beyond their relationship with each other.  Kids at school will sometimes reject and hurt the feelings of the SD, if she never learns to read social cues and rein in (or redirect) her energy, at times.  And kids at school will eventually decide the daughter is a b*#%@ or a snob, if she doesn't learn to politely acknowledge people, even when she might prefer to be alone.     

 

For example, my 15-y-o twins are mildly Autistic and can happily drone on for an hour, describing scene-by-scene some movie or book they enjoy.  There's nothing "wrong" with that and they shouldn't be "punished"!  But if my 11-y-o can't bear to listen through to the end of their narrative, HE shouldn't be punished, or accused of poor character.  As parents, we have to:

#1- Provide the 11-y-o with some polite "out", when he no longer wants to participate in the conversation the way the twins want to conduct it; and

#2- Teach the twins what clues tell them when it's time to change the subject; allow the other person a turn in the conversation; or wrap it up and let the other person go on their way.

 

These are common - and important - life lessons for so many kids.  In this case, they're complicated by each parent's defensiveness of their own child.  Everyone wants their child to feel like home is the place they can "be themselves" and be appreciated, with all their quirks.  Here, each spouse has come to blame the other for messing up that dynamic, for their daughter...which serves as a major distraction from teaching both girls how to behave better.

 

But, in truth, the ideal of kids "fully and completely being themselves at home" only works perfectly in a household with no siblings and where any parent(s) in the home has a temperament perfectly-matched to the child's.  Even in intact families, kids must learn to interact with each other (and with their parents) considerately.  If the OP and her husband were both the bio-parents of BOTH girls, they'd feel equally concerned about both girls' perspectives and would be less likely to accuse each other of favoritism.  The spouses' only path out of conflict with each other is to commit that they will each focus on teaching their own daughter to be more considerate, and try to lessen their focus on the faults and quirks of the other person's daughter.  If they have the self-control to move their conflict to another room and not conduct it in front of the kids, then they're capable of doing this, even though it won't be easy.


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#7 of 12 Old 01-07-2011, 06:05 AM
 
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BTW, I understand shortening Bio-Mom to "BM" (practically...and also, sometimes, figuratively).  But it's generally frowned upon in this forum.  

 

Many members even get sensitive about using the term Bio-Mom without the derogatory abbreviation.  Personally, it seems sensible to me, as a way of distinguishing her from the Step-Mom (especially in cases where the Bio-Mom does far less of the mothering than the Step-Mom does).  But people seem to view "Bio-Mom" as a downgrading of her role or importance.  

 

Just a friendly heads-up.
 

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The BM... 


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#8 of 12 Old 01-13-2011, 08:27 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I appreciate the heads up on the abbreviation. I don't mean any disrespect so I will go with bio mom all though I think that in itself gives a bit more credit than due. My SD herself often just refers to her Bio Mom by first name and that is through no encouragement of ours or Bio Mom. A mom just means so much more, even bio mom and my SD understands that her bio mom is not mom material.

 

I don't think our rules serve to punish for being hyper, however, as Jeanine said, I believe that even young children have to be able to abide my certain rules, regardless of temperament. For instance, look both ways before you cross the street. This is a rule that my SD has a VERY hard time with because she is often so excited about what is next, where we are going and what we are going to do, she forgets to look. I feel strongly that there has to be discipline for that. Period. If I let her feel it is OK to be so excited that she forgets about safety than I am not teaching her properly as a parent should do. I also want to state that for all intent and purposes both children are mine (in my eyes and in both girls eyes). I only refer to one as SD in this forum to differentiate between the two girls.

 

I also agree that the blame and the dynamic from my husbands point of view is what is causing the strife. I have always felt I treated them equally. Perhaps the younger one (SD) gets in trouble a bit more, but as I said she tends to push boundaries and when she is with her mom for a weekend where there are no rules, or even if she is with her father for a long time without my presence, she ends up getting in trouble at school and having issues with other kids and parents. While she does get in trouble with me, USUALLY she is much better behaved in school and with friends when she is mostly with me, which is most of the time. I created behavior charts and rewards systems for BOTH girls and BOTH girls are with me more than any of their other parents so I can see the difference very quickly. On the other hand my husband will be quick to point out that I don't try hard enough to empathize with my SD whereas I feel he often over empathizes and provides her with excuses for her misconduct. I actually feel the school also provides her with excuses, labeling her as angry when I feel she is simply being petulant. I have never seen her act as she does while with her mom or at school, she just wouldn't do that with me. Period. We had to put her in anger management classes at the school (a condition to staying enrolled) and now instead of facing a behavior issue head on she often cops out and says she is just too angry. Maybe I am wrong and the teachers and guidance councilor are the experts after all. But regardless of how angry you are you cant throw things or be disrespectful or hurtful.

 

In the end I just don't know how to blend our blended family. In my husbands eyes I can do no right. Everything I have done just doesn't seem like good enough and he often says I am not a good mom to her. I feel deflated and honestly I am starting to resent her. I HATE that this is happening. Up until recently she was just like my little girl and could do no wrong. But now with my husband always angry at me for her behavior I cant make it go away. When we are by ourselves (SD, BD and baby and I) we are all good. But when he comes home the dynamic changes. I know she sees it because she plays in to it very well. Often asking him if she can do things (like drink or eat food upstairs) that are against the house rules. And when my husband says yes, before she goes along and does it, she is very happy to come to me with her food/drink in hand and say "daddy said I can bring this upstairs". I think it is counter productive and I wish we could just get on the same page.

 

Honestly this is just harder then I counted on. I know we can make it work with all of the kids and provide them with a HOME that they deserve. I just don't know exactly how to do it.

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#9 of 12 Old 01-13-2011, 11:21 AM
 
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Ok, so with the crossing the road thing, ummm, no punishment (which can't be interchanged with discipline) is necessary for that.  So you know she has difficulty calming herself down enough to do the right thing so plan for that.  You see a road coming up, "hey look, there's a road, let's hold hands" when you stop at the road, "ok guys, what do we do EVERY TIME we go to cross the street?" "That's right, LOOK BOTH WAYS!!"  Then go through a fun little, look left, look right, look left again and cross.  No punishment necessary, preparation and reinforcement only.  I have a high energy, inquisitive, among other things 7 yr. old girl.  There are things that you have to learn deal with, picking battles etc.  So avoid instances where punishment is necessary and have rules on important things.  DD questions all the time, has a high pitched squeal that could peel paint, jumps around, stomps her feet, sings loudly for no reason and the list goes on.  These things I don't take issue with.  Harming others, name calling, playing with things that are dangerous, etc are things that are assigned consequences. 

 

All I'm saying is maybe your dh has a point if you look at this from a different angle.

 

With that said, I have 4 children ranging from 13 to 4.  If we are going somewhere the rules are the same for everyone.  Even though dss doesn't need to be reminded to not scream in the store, the rule applies to him as well.  When they are presented they are presented as rules for EVERYONE.  So if "no ignoring" is a rule, I don't look at one child and say, "hey you have a habit of ignoring so and so and that isn't acceptable".  I just say, "alright so we have been having an issue with you guys ignoring each other, that needs to stop".  It is easier for a child to accept a rule if they know everyone else follows the rule.  So I would not have agreed to have dh hand out rules that were different for each child, he would have had to addressed it to everyone involved.  You breed resentment and sibling rivalry if you create seperate rules for seperate children.  That is very much like when we cross the street, my children are all held to the same standard, "if you start to cross without looking you will hold mommy's hand".  And yes, the 13 yr. old laughed once and pretended to start crossing, guess what, I held his hand across the road, then took him off and explained that though I KNOW he wouldn't actually cross when it's dangerous, he was setting a bad example for the littles so I had to make an example out of him. 

 

 

Just food for thought.  Please don't take offense, my intentions are to hopefully encourage you to look at other sides to this to try and see where your dh is coming from.


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#10 of 12 Old 01-13-2011, 11:28 AM
 
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Have you considered getting counseling as a family?  I know that counseling isn't a cure-all but from reading your initial post I get the vibe that perhaps you favor your bio daughter and your DH favors his bio daughter (which, IMO, is perfectly normal).  I think an impartial counselor could help your family work through these hurdles and neither you nor your DH would have to act as anyone's "bad guy".


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#11 of 12 Old 01-13-2011, 11:39 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hismineandours View Post

 

 

In the end I just don't know how to blend our blended family. In my husbands eyes I can do no right. Everything I have done just doesn't seem like good enough and he often says I am not a good mom to her. I feel deflated and honestly I am starting to resent her. I HATE that this is happening. Up until recently she was just like my little girl and could do no wrong. But now with my husband always angry at me for her behavior I cant make it go away. When we are by ourselves (SD, BD and baby and I) we are all good. But when he comes home the dynamic changes. I know she sees it because she plays in to it very well. Often asking him if she can do things (like drink or eat food upstairs) that are against the house rules. And when my husband says yes, before she goes along and does it, she is very happy to come to me with her food/drink in hand and say "daddy said I can bring this upstairs". I think it is counter productive and I wish we could just get on the same page.

 

Honestly this is just harder then I counted on. I know we can make it work with all of the kids and provide them with a HOME that they deserve. I just don't know exactly how to do it.



OK in cases like this, where a child knows a rule and daddy doesn't I do address this with daddy in front of the child.  "Honey, let's go see daddy.  Daddy, I made a rule that there is no food or drink allowed upstairs."  This gives daddy the opportunity to address the issue, "really, Oh well dd if there is a rule then daddy is sorry for giving you permission, I made a mistake, you can sit at the table with your food and drink". 

 

Now, if daddy knows the rule, then a conversation without the child would go something like this....

 

Honey, you know I made a rule against eating a drinking upstairs.  I made that rule because I am unwilling to take on the responsibility of vacuuming up the mess of crumbs up there.  I also don't want the responsibility of hauling the steam cleaner up the stairs to clean up any kool-aid that get spilled on the carpet.  So, if you want the girls to be allowed to eat and drink up there then you have to be willing to take on those responsibilities.  If you aren't willing to take on that responsibility then you cannot give them permission to eat and drink up there.  By the way, during the day, when you are not here, they will not be allowed to eat and drink up there because I am not willing to take on that responsibility.

 

I start by explaining my reasoning and the fact that I am not willing to do xyz to make that happen.  Then I give him the option to take on that responsibility. 

 

 

Honestly, I agree with the pper that you guys sound like a good case for a counselor to get involved in.  It's more than a blended family issue, it's a communication issue.  You need to learn to communicate with each other. 


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#12 of 12 Old 01-14-2011, 03:02 PM
 
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"When we are by ourselves (SD, BD and baby and I) we are all good..."

 

This is a very astute observation, and something to share with your DH posthaste. Not to blame him, but to make him understand that Dynamic A is going really well and your SD is getting loved and feeling happy, and that Dynamic B (when Daddy comes into the room and she tries to get him to allow things that you don't allow) is what needs fixing. 

 

In your shoes, I'd agree to ANY non-violent house rules that were 100% consistent so that no child was ever getting a differing message. Let him make the rules. Let him write them down. Let him, solo if he wishes, present them to the girls. Do whatever you have to do to get him invested in upholding the Rules of the House. Because really, the key here is to have kids that are treated the same and know that they can't get a different answer from Mom than they do from Dad. This a fundamental principle upon which domestic peace is built.  

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