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How can I handle my SD8 who loves negative attention?
01-13-2012, 05:51 PM,
How can I handle my SD8 who loves negative attention?

Hi Cathryn,

I have 3 step children. My eldest is already off to college & i have a 16 & 8 year old at home with us full time. The youngest loves negative attention. So she constantly fights with me & yells at me & refuses to do her homework & my husband being a lay back kinda guy doesn't do much to change things. He says he wants us to teach the children about bettering themselves BUT he does nothing to help. My little one acts up throws tantrums & refuses to behave & he in return doesn't punish her no, he takes her out for ice cream & buys her toys because she promises to behave better. I don't know what to do. I talk to him about what he's doing & in return he gets mad at me for telling him the truth. I'm to the point that just seeing her makes me upset because she knows that anything i say doesn't mean anything. Please advise me on how to handle this situation.



Hi Louise,

I certainly can understand why you would feel frustrated and upset. This pattern is sadly fairly common with divorced dads. It may be common with any dad I just don’t hear about them. Having differently parenting styles, beliefs, tolerances and expectations is a huge source of relationship stress between stepmoms and the men they love.

First thing I would do is recommend a book I just remembered when I was rereading your letter. It is called, “1,2,3, Magic” it is by Dr. Tom Phelan. It is a no yelling approach to child rearing and it was very effective for us until the bio-mom told her son that he didn’t have to abide by anything we/I said. So, if your hubby is willing to try this approach, I believe you will have success.

If he is NOT willing, then you can still adopt it when interacting with her but you will also have to step back a bit from the parenting because kids can suss out weak links in the parenting boundaries so fast and you will want to be ready.

With that said, kids looking for negative often do so because they’ve been taught that it is the only way/best way to get attention. Given an alternative (postivie attention) they will often resist at first because they may feel like they are giving in but find that it is so nourishing they ca’t resist for long.

What I found was that sometimes I was so frustrated, hurt or angry, that I didn’t want to give my ss any positive attention. This feeling was a clue that I needed to step back, regain my own sense of well-being, power and goodness first so I could go back into the relationship feeling like the adult woman I was, not the frustrated, powerless, rejected nanny who I’d begun to feel like. Could it be that you need to step back a bit to give yourself some rejuvenation? Could it be that it would serve you to give your hubby the responsibility for his daughter’s upbringing (much easier said than done but worth the effort) and to put your attention on yourself and what you need?

Sometimes I used to get so angry because my husband wouldn’t enforce a rule or a consequence. He was too tired or often he felt we were going to have to pay for the consequences because his son has so many tantrums it was often seemingly easier to overlook things than to stand up for the consequences. This used to drive me nuts. Seemed wrong, unfair, short sighted, etc. etc.

Then one day, after hundreds of hours of stress and arguments between me and my husband, I just sort of ran out of emotional, mental gas for being the “Manners and good child rearing police” of the family. I was at the end of my rope (See my article by that title for some ways to support yourself if this is the case for you) and I decided that I was going to stop evaluating my husbnad’s every child rearing rule, chioce and move and focus on loving him and connecting with him. I decided to surrender what I thought was needed to help his son become a good person and trust his decisions (even when I didn’t understand or agree with him.) He was the father, I was his wife. I was tired of giving this child the power to come between us. It was a turning point in our marriage.

After I did this I learned that my attitudes and judgments of my husband’s choices were very very hurtful to my husband. I realized that he was feeling judged (which he was being judged) and that that hurt and shamed him and set off many unconscious emotional chain reactions and defensive strategies which all were triggered to help him less better...none of which had anything to do with what was really best for his son. My criticisms, advice and pressure had distracted him from the painful feelings his son’s bad behavior brought up and for some reason, it was easier for him to be angry with me, then to stand up to his son (or his ex) Go figure!!!!

Surrendering the Manners & child rearing police duties was one of the best things I did for me and for us. It gave me a chance to focus on what I needed and being lovingly connected to my husband and not arguing over his son was a huge need which I was able to meet once I let go of the bigger picture of his son’s upbringing.

I also realized that I got so involved with trying to help him raise his son, 
The right way” because I wanted to be included, feel involved, help make up for all his ex-wife didn’t do for/with him and be super-partner. Not sure if any of this makes sense to you but just sift and sort for whatever does fit for you and your situation.

It can become overwhelming. The skids behavior can become a disproportionately huge part of a relationship to the point where it is almost all we talk to our beloveds about. This is a clue that things need to shift and you do have the ability to make that shift, if you are willing to give it a try and it feels right for you.

There is a smommentary about ways to connect with your skids. Have you read it? There are lots of ways to connect, create rituals and positive traditions that may just appeal to her 8 year old (going on 18) psyche. You may want to check that one out, when you are feeling in the mood to be compassionate for her situation.

Over the years, I’ve learned that bad behavior is a call for love, only it is often to buried and touches so many of our wounds that we can’t see it because of the reactions it causes us. You are willing to learn. You have done so much to try to help her. Perhaps modeling a new way of being with her, as the adult, wise, strong, loving woman who no longer allows anyone to treat her badly self will give her a new role model. Before she realizes this, she will employ all her old tactics. It’s human nature to go back to survival strategies before trying something new.

Check out the reading stuff and see what you think.
I hope it will give you all kinds of new ideas for your situation.
Thanks for the question.

Sincerely, Cathryn

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