Here's my story. I have been married for 2.5 years, and a significant part of DH's life for 6 years. We have 1.5 year old twins. DH is 11 years older than I, and he started early. He married the woman who he got pregnant because it was the right thing to do. They then had more kids because "having a more complete family" would fix an unhappy marriage. His kids are now 20, 18, and 15. I joined the picture too late to really take on a "parent" role.
The 18 year old (DSS) has always lived with DH because he has behavior issues that the mother did not want to deal with. The 20 year old (DSD) moved in with us when she was 16 because she wanted to live in a more stable household. She is now in college on the other side of the country. The youngest one still lives with their mother.
DSD and I do not have a mother/daughter relationship. We have a friend/friend relationship which is fine. She asks for advice here and there, and I help her out with little issues (and of course, I provide lots of $$!).
The problem is with DSS (actually, I suspect the real problem is DH). DSS and I don't exactly not get along, we basically ignore each other. I drive him to karate classes when DH is not home. We eat dinner together most nights. He has himself a "man-cave" in the basement. Until a few months ago, I would make a point of trying to include him in conversation at dinner. I would ask questions about school, friends, etc. It was never smooth, easy conversation, but it was something. But one night he was quite nasty (not uncommon, but usually we all just move on and start over the next day). He insisted that he does not want me to be interested in him or ask him any questions. So, for almost two months, I have avoided negative responses by simply not asking questions and not supplying input regarding anything pertaining to hiim. And he has never said anything to me without me saying something first, so we just don't talk beyond a basic "hi". I suppose that this is childish of me. I should just do as before and start over as if nothing happened. But I think something snapped inside me.
DH is frustrated (he always has been). He wishes I would play more of a parent role. (Here is where I think DH may be the problem.) On the other hand, he repeatedly insists that I am critical, judgemental, negative, etc. and that DSS is too fragile to deal with the real me. So, I have intentionally not stepped into a parent role. I'm not sure how to explain some of the weirdness of the situation, so let me try some examples. (By the way, I have never heard from anyone else that I am critical, judgemental, etc. And I don't hear it from DH unless we are discussing his kids.)
In the past, I have asked DSS questions like "How was school today?" DH later explains that when a question like this comes from me, it sounds condescending because we all know that my standards are high while at the same time we all know that DSS hates school. I find myself wondering if I am crazy. Maybe I have missed something about general perspectives on the world and the way it works? Then I wonder if DH is crazy. Maybe since he also has high standards, he feels guilty for DSS not living up to them?
Over the weekend, DSS had some friends over. I was smelling cigarette smoke all over the house. I jumped to the conclusion that it was the teenage boys smoking. DH was really mad at my assumption, declaring that I had no evidence. The next day, I discovered evidence and asked DH to talk to DSS. DH suggested that I be the one to talk to him. I said I would. He then insisted that I could not because I would come across as too critical and condescending. And he was really mad at me again. Some sort of guilty defense, perhaps?
DH has told me that I should learn something about things that DSS is interested in and try talking about them. I have asked him for suggestion on what DSS is interested in. I have also asked DSS what he is interested in. It seems that he is interested in video games, skateboarding, and paintball. I have little hope of becoming versed enough in any of these things to have a conversation. I could ask him to teach me, but he would see through that one.
It seems that DH is of no help to me in this situation. He seems unable to have a reasonable discussion if it involves his older children. He is so quick to become strangely defensive. So I am turning to you folks for suggestions. I have no intention of stepping in and trying to be a "mother". I don't even have desires of being "good friend". I would just like to have some sort of relationship (hopefully positive) rather than a lack of any relationship. I don't even know where to start.
Bleah. I'm tired, frustrated, confused, maybe even crazy. I fear that the lack of relationship with DSS is turning into unhappiness between DH and I.
Thanks in advance for any comments and/or suggestions!
Are there any signs that your SS may be depressed? What you describe seems troubling to me, aside from your relationship with him.
Is his mother involved in his life? Is she a good mother to him even though he lives primarily with you? Or, for practical purposes, is he lacking a mother? You and his dad busy with the new family you made while being VERY clear with him that you are not interested in being his mother?
(and entering a kids life when they are 12 isn't too late to play a mother role -- teens still need moms!)
I think there are some very significant flags throughout your post and that family counseling would be a good idea. It's not clear from your post if the members of your family (including you and your DH) even like each other. "On the other hand, he repeatedly insists that I am critical, judgemental, negative, etc. and that DSS is too fragile to deal with the real me," these are heavy words. If they are true, then you have some personal growth to do before you can healthy relationships with anybody, especially teenagers! If they aren't true, your Dh is really mean.
Either way, something is very wrong.
but everything has pros and cons
Your post hits home with me because my kids are similar ages. I am the bio mom and the kids live with me and my DH. The overall relationship is fine between DH and my kids, but there are bumps, hence my other post.
As a tip....the bio parent will always be defensive of their kids when someone else is criticizing them, even you. It kind of goes with the territory. Also, he loves them. You don't. That actually makes a big difference. He also has a lifelong (for them) history with them. Teenagers can be so difficult they even test the strongest bonds in a parent child relationship. It is no surprise that for a step parent it can be really tough.
Sounds like your DSS is kind of a sullen kid. You mentioned smoking and not liking school. Been there/done that as a teen myself. I also had a DSM that thought i was a huge disappointment. I can only imagine her saying to me "How was school?" when she knew that I hated school and wasn't doing well. I would have taken that as being condescending and as a jab at me. It appears that your DH and DSS feel the same way.
Marriage counseling sounds like a great idea for you and DH to come to some understandings and share your feelings with each other. As far as DSS you might not be able to have a relationship with him at this point in his life. Your DH is going to have to parent his child. He should not be allowed to be disrespectful and rude to you and DH should make sure of that. Sometimes when my kids have been in a really obstinate period in the life and I don't feel they would really listen to me if i tried to talk to them, I write them a letter or an email. They most likely will read it because they are curious what it says. Without the face to face they don't immediately put up a wall and they can "hear" you better. Also it gives them time for it to sink in.
You have to come to teenagers where they are at. Don't make it too long, especially for boys (they will lose interest) Something like "DSS, I know things have not always been smooth between us. You probably have some anger about your whole family situation. I know that I am not your mother, but I do care about you and I care about our family. I don't want to be your adversary. I would like for us to have a positive relationship. I hope we can both try for that. Thanks for reading. I just wanted to let you know how I feel. "
Don't "expect" anything in return. If you do, he will pick that up and might see the whole thing as a manipulative technique. Just let it sit as how you feel and if your actions reflect that....SOMEDAY he will come around. Things are not easy for him. His life has been altered and his family torn apart. He is 18 and his emotions (usually exhibited as anger with boys) are running high.
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