For years, I thought I didn’t like kids. It turns out I just didn’t like badly-behaved kids. But then again, who does? The kids’ parents, that’s who!
The biological bond enables parents to love, forgive and accept their children—even in the worst scenarios. Most stepparents aren’t capable of that, so they find themselves struggling with the fact that they don’t really like their stepkids.
The truth is, some kids aren’t likable.
And you certainly can’t be expected to love or even like a child just because you love his or her father. That’s an unrealistic expectation and it will always set you up for failure.
There are many reasons you might not like your stepkids, including:
- They disrespect you and/or their father;
- They’re strong-willed and suck the energy right out of you;
- They accept no responsibility, which increases your workload;
- They remind you of you at their ages—and you were a nightmare!
- Their mom has made your life miserable and they’re mini replicas of her;
- They are extremely needy/manipulative, consuming your partner’s time and energy;
- Their behavior is extreme and involves drug addiction, stealing and/or running away;
- They make false claims which could land you in prison (or warrant a visit from CPS);
- Their personalities clash with yours, you can’t relate and you have nothing in common.
Who’s Really to Blame?
Some kids are excused from doing chores or holding any responsibility in the household, causing more work for you. It’s hard to like a child (or anyone for that matter) who makes your life more difficult than it needs to be.
It’s easy to blame the child here, even though, in reality, his parent is the one letting him off the hook. The child believes he is just doing his job; trying to shirk off any sort of responsibility. Unfortunately, his parent isn’t doing his job: holding his child accountable for bad behavior of any sort and giving him, or her, the opportunity to take responsibility. So, who are you really upset with—your stepchild or your partner?
Why Biding Your Time Doesn’t Work
Regardless of why you dislike your stepchild, the negativity you feel can become all-consuming. You dread his arrival time and can’t wait for him to leave. You likely avoid eye contact with him or perhaps avoid him altogether. The dynamic of the house is completely different when he’s around and you can barely stand it. You’re marking off the days until he turns 18, but you also realize that’s no way to live. This isn’t working for anyone, because the child can probably sense your disdain and judgment. You’re miserable and your partner is hurt and resentful, because he sees it, too. At this rate, you may not make it until your stepchild is 18. Things need to change now.
It’s Not About Liking Him
I often tell my clients not to focus on trying to like someone they don’t, because that can be a nearly impossible task—and it’s usually not the crux of the problem anyway. A goal that’s more attainable and helpful in relieving the anxiety associated with disliking your stepchild is figuring out how to accept them into your life. When you dislike your stepchild, what you’re really experiencing is a resistance to him, his presence and his impact on your life.
This means that behind every action toward him and every interaction with him there is an underlying intention of “I wish you weren’t here.” Ouch. Once you learn to accept his presence, you become softer and gentler with him. Your kindness becomes genuine. Even if you still don’t like his behavior, you will like yourself more and your interactions with him will likely improve.
Here are some things you can do to try to improve your experience and maybe even start to cultivate good feelings toward your stepchild:
1. Create a vision for your life that includes your stepchild
Part of accepting your stepchild into your life is letting go of the fantasy that he is not a part of it and creating a new vision that includes him. It’s OK to experience a flood of emotions as you let go of your old vision. Release the emotions, mourn the old fantasy and feel the pain and hurt of things not turning out how you planned. Take your time and start rebuilding with a more accurate picture of how things are. If your original vision was one in which you were very close to your stepchild, this new vision might not include that. Envision how that will affect other areas of your life like vacations, holidays and your daily routine.
2. Address the behavior
Attempt to address the child’s behavior with your partner. Just be sure it’s the behavior you’re saying you dislike and not the child’s character. Instead of saying, “Suzy is so lazy, never putting her dishes in the sink!” try saying, “When Suzy leaves her dishes in the living room, it really stresses me out, because it’s one more mess I feel like I need to clean up. It would really help me feel calmer if she would clean them up. Would you help me enforce that?”
3. Don’t have regrets
If your stepchild were to die tomorrow, how would you feel about the way you treated him? Was it kind and gentle or was it full of resistance and resentment? Would you have regrets or would you be proud at how you handled the situation? This is your chance to change things while you still can. Seize the day so you can look back on your life and be proud that, regardless of what you were faced with, you showed up as your best self.
4. Find one endearing quality you can embrace
Even the utterly impossible person displays at least one decent character trait. Is there one positive thing you can say about your stepchild? Does he or she show humor, sensitivity, compassion or sweetness in any aspect of life or with anyone in it? Even if that trait is only displayed for a few minutes every other new moon, grab it and run with it. Focus on that endearing quality as if your life depends on it, focusing less on the traits you dislike.
5. Pretend you’re her
Usually, we only see things from our perspective: our hurts, our experiences, our judgments, our values and our opinions. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective can open a whole new world to you. Shake off your resentment toward your stepkid and gain some compassion by writing an essay about your stepchild’s life—from her perspective. How does she feel? What does her world look like? What are her experiences like? What would she say about you, her family or her daily routine? Pretend you’re her and do some journaling. See how it changes your perspective. See what insights you glean.
6. Avoid getting stuck in the past
Maybe your situation was awful a few years ago and you’re still reeling from those effects. If so, it’s time to move into the present. If your stepchild is better behaved now, accept that. Take it in, appreciate it and forgive him or her and everyone else involved for their past contributions to your misery. Until you are able to do that, you are the only one responsible for your suffering.
7. Spend more quality time with him
In order to cultivate good feelings toward your stepchild, you need to have more positive interactions than negative. Is there something you can do together that you both enjoy? This can be the smallest thing—from talking about music on the radio as you drive him home from school to walking the family dog or preparing a meal together. What does the child like to help you with? Doing this, over a long period of time, will create a bond between you.
8. Spend less time with him
If your stepchild engages in extreme behavior (such as being abusive, stealing or drug addiction), you will want to spend as little time as possible with him. Hopefully, at this stage, your partner is taking steps to protect the rest of the family. Disengage, focus less on him and focus more on enjoying life without him. This is just a survival mechanism. It is nearly impossible to find real peace when you are faced with this type of behavior. But you can continue to detach with love—wishing him the best in life without wanting him to be a part of yours.
So, although you might feel shame over disliking your stepchild, most people in your situation would feel the same way. But you are committed to your partner, which means your stepchild isn’t going anywhere. It will benefit you to learn to accept your situation while doing your part to change the things you have control over.
Often, a funny thing happens when we change. Others around us change. I’m not saying this guarantees that your nightmare stepchild will turn into an angel, but think about how differently you behave toward someone who is genuinely kind to you compared to someone who isn’t. Changing yourself—and your approach—will make a positive difference.
Jenna Korf is a Certified Stepfamily Foundation coach, an RCI Certified Relationship coach and co-author of the book, “Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and has been featured as a stepfamily expert on CNN.com, parenting.com and care.com. Jenna is also a Registered Nurse, a stepmom and a stepchild. To read more from Jenna or for one-on-one coaching visit her at StepmomHelp.com.