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George Beshara   
Wednesday, 10 September 2008

George BesharaLife coach and author George Beshara helps out a stepmom who is challenged by her partner's son, a woman whose son is struggling to adjust to living with his grandmother and mother whose children want her, and only her, at bedtime.

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> Stepson challenges my authority
>My son's unhappy to be living with Granny
> Kids don't want Daddy to put them to bed

Stepson challenges my authority

Q: I am in a relationship with a man who has been divorced for eight years and has a 14 year old son from his previous marriage.  Our relationship is serious and we have been together for around 4 years.  I love his son dearly and in general feel that he is good.  I have found that he is also very intelligent, albeit lazy (as most 14 year olds are, I would imagine). The problem I have is this:  I feel like I am being undermined by his mother and although I am in all respects his parent and step mom, I feel that whatever happens in our house he discusses with his mother who then passes a running commentary – which makes him feel that he can argue with me about the rules and values we have in our house. For example, he is not doing really well in Afrikaans, so I have been trying to help him with improving it, since I am fluent in it.  He is quite argumentative and keeps saying that he will not use it later on in life and feels that it is a waste of time. find it very difficult to be positive with him and help him with his homework when faced with this.

As mentioned before, he is a relatively good child – not nearly as angelic as his father seems to think – but I find it difficult to just believe that he never does wrong and have often found him lying about silly things, or purposely doing something that he shouldn’t be doing. When taken to task he argues the technicality – “well, technically you didn’t say that I couldn’t play Nintendo in bed, you just said it is bedtime,” and then I feel frustrated and annoyed with him.  I really don’t know what to do, as I don’t want to seem petty… I guess my programming (how my mother treated me) causes me to react and treat him a certain way – I’m not saying that what my mother did was wrong – I love her dearly and I turned out just fine.  He was an only child and I feel that he tends to take things for granted – before me, his father gave him pretty much what he wanted and let him do as he pleased. I have instituted chores, which we all share; bedtime at 8:30 and I give him the responsibility for certain things, and if he wants something significant, I ask him what he is prepared to contribute to the price; and he has to investigate all the detail behind what he wants.  Although his father was not like this before, we agree on these ideals in parenting and raising our son.

I just feel like there must be another way, other than always being suspicious, annoyed, critical and feeling self-righteous when he does do the things that I suspect him of – I don’t want to be like this… I read somewhere that if you suspect people of evil, you will be proven right and if you suspect them of good, you will be proven right too.  I want to see only the good, trust him more and be someone of integrity that he can love and trust.  I feel like he reacts the way he does because I treat him a certain way and I want to be someone that he can respect and trust.

I guess I want to be able to relate to him better.  

One last question – When there is a party, or when they go to the mall in the evenings, what is a good curfew time for a boy of 14?  

A: Parenting is already challenging when two parents are involved especially if parents have different parenting styles. So when three parents are involved and in addition, there are some unresolved issues among these parents, then the messages the children receive can certainly become confusing.

Obviously if the three parents can sit down, discuss the problem, really communicate, be mature and reach some sort of consensus about some of the parenting values and rules that the three of them are willing to encourage and enforce, than life would be easier for everybody, and especially the children.

Unfortunately, this does not frequently happen, even though it is in the best interest of the children.

When looking at your situation, there are several things to consider:

1) The influence of your stepson’s natural mother, if in fact she is creating the problem.

First, I don’t think you can be sure of the negative influence you have described, unless you or the father, have discussed the problem with her. You may well discover, as a result of that frank discussion that your stepson’s mother, is not quite as guilty as you think she is. Your stepson may be simply behaving as a typical rebellious teenager when he continually argues with you.

If on the other hand, the mother is creating the problem the way you think she is, then it will be important to make her realise the impact her behaviour has on her son. May be she will then relent.

2) The fact that your stepson is really entering his teenage years.

Your step son, like other teenagers, wants to make more decisions about his life. He believes that he is now getting old enough to know best what he needs. Unfortunately, teenagers can often become selfish, self-absorbed and thoughtless and they also not very helpful around the house. That type of behaviour will not disappear overnight, and will require continued patience on your part. That’s why self-management and stress management is an important part of effective parenting.

You have to learn to take some of your stepson’s behaviour in stride. That doesn’t mean that you give in, since it is very important that you assert yourself by continuing to argue when a situation warrants it. But you need to learn to not let these interminable discussions affect you too much emotionally. You have to learn to laugh them off. May be you need to remember how you were at that age.

3) Your step son was ten years old by the time you came into his life and according to psychological research, children already develop the great majority of their value system by age 8. So changing your stepson’s values is not an easy task.

Here some additional facts. From age 6 to 10 your step son was raised by his father whose parenting style seems to have been permissive. That is what he has been used to.  You entered his life at age 10 and from your step son’s perspective you probably make too many demands on him, and are very controlling. Consequently he probably feels frustrated with you. His defence mechanism is to argue, manipulate, rebel, be sarcastic, find loopholes in your rules and bend them if he can get away with it.

Nevertheless, if you are enforcing discipline, teaching him to be persistent in doing things he does not like, forcing him to take responsibility, you are doing him a great service. You are in fact equipping him for life and you cannot stop doing that even if he continues to fight you. Again you have to learn to take his behaviour in stride and learn to laugh it off.

4) Both you and your stepson have a strong need to be respected, loved and appreciated.

Now that is very important and there are a number of things you can do to help create an environment which is conducive for these types of win-win relationships.

You can learn to become more aware of your step son’s strengths and make a sincere effort to frequently compliment him on the little things that he does well.

You can take a sincere interest in the things that your step son is interested in.

You can surprise your step son from time to time, with a special treat, an unexpected gift, a special meal or a special outing.

You can make it a point to know his friends.

You can plan different activities that you all enjoy doing together as a family.

You can review some of the rules and after determining the ones which are not negotiable, take the time to discuss the others and make the changes that would make everybody happy. In other words get him involved in the decision-making process.

You can do exactly the same thing when it comes to chores. Review, negotiate and get him involved in the decisions.

You can also tease him about girls (and see him blush)!

Expected Reaction

One would hope that by making such efforts, your step son will respond in kind and it is quite possible that he will right away, provided he has also been wanting to have a win-win relationship with you.

But, if he is not really interested in developing that type of relationship with you, if he is still upset for example that you are replacing in some way his mother, it will certainly take a lot more time, to see some results.

If this is the case, don’t despair. Assert yourself, but also remember to take things in stride and learn to laugh. Remember that your situation is still pretty good when compared to other parents who have to deal with drug issues, pregnancies, bullying, trouble with the law, depression, suicide attempt, and many other little problems that can be the gift of parenting in the 21st century.

On your final question of curfew time, the consensus after I consulted 5 parents was 11 PM. But that really will also depend on safety factors in the community you live in, and on friends he hangs around with. Why not get in touch with the parents of some of these friends and discuss together what would be reasonable for all of them?

Finally, when it comes to parenting, I don’t know if you have seen the movie STEP MOM with Julia Roberts, Susan Sheridan and Ted Harris, that came out a few years ago, but if you have not, I think you will enjoy it.

My son's unhappy to be living with Granny

Q: I have a 3 year old who from the beginning of this year who has been living with my mother.  My mother lives in Durban and I live in Johannesburg.  I don't really get enough time to see my child because of financial reasons.
Before he went to Durban he was living with both his dad and myself until I decided to move out.  
He constantly asks about me and his dad and when he will be coming home.  He sometimes cries and asks for us and my mom and I are both getting worried.
Do you know how long it may take him to settle down?  He is living condition is better with my mom as it is stable and he is not taken back and forth to his dad or mom.  He goes to crèche but is sometimes very naughty and my mother doesn't know how to handle it as she feels sorry for him be cause of the situation he has been put through and she thinks hitting him will be abuse.
Please help
I really need your expertise.  I have gone to visit him and when I tell him that I will be leaving he cries.  I can't take care of him financially and that's why he stays with my mom.  I want the best for him.

A: First, I am truly very sorry about your situation. Having financial problems and as a result being separated from your son, is certainly very difficult not only for him, but also for you and for your mother. And since relocating your son is also the result of a separation – this must be a very stressful time for you.

Let’s look at your son’s situation first. At that age, he certainly is still very attached to you and probably somewhat less to his father. He suddenly finds himself in a new environment away from both of you. It’s a big shock and even though he may understand that you still care for him and that you still love him, it does not change the fact that he still needs you and wants you around.

The good thing is that he is in a protected environment, that he is loved and cared for by his grandmother and that you both probably have a similar parenting style. The good thing also is that, at that age, he can adapt fairly quickly, even though it may not be as quickly as you may want.

I think it’s important for you to be in contact with him as much as possible. Regular phone calls, visits and letters that your mother can read to him are all important and although they may be reminders to him that you are not here with him, they are also proof that you care and that you think of him.

Visits and contact from his father are also important and your son should not be denied the opportunity to see his father unless of course, there are other reasons that make such visits or contact undesirable.

You son probably feels very lonely, even though his grandmother is around. In these circumstances, a pet such as fish or a bird or if even better if possible a dog that he can help take care of, and feel close to, could be a very good idea. A pet, especially a dog will help him feel loved during the period of adjustment. But if is too much for your mother to also have to take care of a dog, perhaps it is possible for her to befriend a neighbour who has a dog so that your son can play with him regularly. It would be also very good if your son is given the opportunity to run, to exercise, and to be physically active in a positive way. In addition, it would be good that your mother institutes a simple reward system that he understands and which encourages good behavior. If he eats his food without too much fuss, he gets one token. If he behaves well at the Crèche, he gets a token. Each time he accumulates five tokens he gets a special treat.

Finally, you son also needs to learn to calm down and relax. For this purpose, playing relaxing music, half-an hour before going to bed, and developing the habit of drifting to sleep with calming classical music or deep relaxation type of music, can be very helpful.

When it comes to his behavior at the Crèche, your son needs to be talked to, again and again. Your mother is right. This is the time to be tolerant and patient and to understand that until he settles down, and he accepts the situation, he will continue to feel frustrated and to misbehave. However, if the problem persists, your son should be examined by a medical doctor to see if there anything that can be done to help him calm down.

Your mother should also consult the medical doctor and so should you, since neither of you are probably sleeping very well with all that stress and all that worry about the situation.

Both your mother and you may also be able to get some help at your place of worship.

Finally, there may also be other families in the community who are going through or have gone through the same type of situation and their hands on advice could be valuable.

Kids don't want Daddy to put them to bed

Q: I am currently experiencing a bit of a parenting challenge!  My two children (Matthew age four and a half, Sophie who has just turned three) are very "mummy focussed" at the moment.  I am their primary care-giver, because my husband works full-time and I run a small business from home.  The problem manifests itself with them both refusing to be bathed/dried/fed/tucked in by daddy - it has to be me.  This obviously makes bed-time difficult because either I have to do everything (even though I have been with them all day and would love a break, and my husband hasn't seen them all day and would love to help). or we have tears and drama from whomever daddy is tending to. 

This is definitely a manipulation of the situation, but I am not sure how to deal with it.  They are sensing that they have the power to upset daddy, and also that I really would prefer to be less involved at this time of day.  Do you have any strategies we could use in this situation?

A: Yours is a problem that can be resolved fairly quickly but it will still need, during the resolution period some Tylenol, or Aspirin or whatever you and especially your husband take when you have a headache.

It’s actually very simple. You will have to disappear every night an hour before bathing, and sleeping time, and leave both children entirely under their father’s care. That does not mean, being in another room, it really literally mean getting out of the house and making sure your children see you leave.

They will cry and they will make life very difficult for your husband the first night, and the second and the third. But by the end of a week (or two) they should settle down into the new routine and the problem will have been resolved once and for all.

What can your husband do to maintain his sanity in the house during that time?

He can try to cover the crying noises with calming music which would actually benefit your children. Deep relaxation music at bed time is also likely to be helpful.

He can grab their attention by reading them stories they enjoy and he can also bribe them with a special treat for the next day if they behave well. But most importantly, he must try to remain calm and patient, smile at them, and not let them realise that they are getting to him.

He can finally put ear plugs or a head set to cut down on the noise, if the crying gets out of hand.

Once they have adjusted to their father taking care of them, you can stay home, and from time to time, you can participate if you want, in taking care of them with your husband in the evening.  But it must be on your own terms and not your children’s.

George Beshara is the founder of Managing My Life Publishing and Training Inc. and the author or co-author of nine Managing My Life programs. For more information visit
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