Part I Letter to a Friend
04 April 2014
It has been a long time since we had a heart-to-heart talk, and by now you must have figured that I have a very important reason for writing this letter. I need your advice on what I should do about my stepdaughter, Jessica. I had a fight with her last night after I confronted her for bullying a classmate. She told me that I am not her real mother and that I cannot tell her what to do. You know that I love Jessica like my own. I will do everything to make her happy. I just do not understand why she would say that to me especially now that her dad is away for work most of the week. He had to accept that high-paying job in another city so that we can have enough to spend for the needs of our growing family. I thought that we had each other to turn to, but she no longer opens up to me like she used to when she was little. I do not have a clue about what is bothering her. I do not think that she is jealous with her new sister. It seems to me that the older she gets, the farther she drifts away from me.
I would not have known about her classmate if the principal at her school had not asked to talk to me. She said that a mother, Mrs. Davenport, complained to her about Jessica and her gang harassing her daughter, Beth. According to Mrs. Davenport, it started when her daughter became friends with a boy named Jerome. At first I thought that it was not serious, and that the adults should not interfere. It is normal for kids to have crushes, to fight over silly things. However, when the principal described the problem in details, I was speechless. Jessica and her gang have been spreading rumors that Beth’s mother worked at a bar and had been a mistress of several men before she was finally able to get married, which of course, was not true. She added that Jessica posted on Facebook an edited picture of Beth in underwear for everyone to see, and called her a flirt. The principle told many more stories about Jessica, but at that time, my head has already stopped working. I was shocked. I told myself over and over again, “No, that was not my Jessica.”
At her age, Jessica is still a baby. She must have thought that she was in love, and that she can get Jerome to turn his attention to her by humiliating Beth. The things that Jessica and her friends have been doing are not appropriate for their age; they are very alarming. I know that to fully understand her situation, I should not merely focus at her infatuation with Jerome. I must know if anything bad happened to Jessica that made her behave that way. I must find out what it is that bothers her, or if someone is influencing her to do what she has been doing. I need to be aware if the problem is my parenting.
I love her so much, and I will not let her become a delinquent. Perhaps, I should ask her dad to talk a leave from work so that, together, we can pay more attention to Jessica and the situation she is going through. I will talk to the people in her regular environment—her close friends and teachers at school. They may be able to tell me if there is anything unusual about Jessica, or if Jessica told them of a problem that she could not tell me or her dad. Most of all, I would let her know that I love her and that I will always take her side no matter what. Maybe that way she would realize that she can trust me, that I am her mother after all. My friend, you have been through this before so I figured that you could give me ideas on what I should do.
Your best friend,
Part II Research
After many years of trying my best to become a good stepmom to Jessica, I realized that she has not learned to trust me completely. The even bigger problem is that, she is involved in a bullying situation in her school, and she refuses to talk to me about it. I felt disrespected when she said that I am not her real mother when my only intention was to show her the right way. I only have her best interest in mind, but she does not allow me to be a part of her life.
As per Harvey and Wenzel (2001), stepparents should not attempt to act as a substitute for a biological parent. Instead, they should aim to have a mutually acceptable relationship with their stepchild (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). It is likely that Jessica sensed my effort to become a mother to her but she thought that I planned to replace her real mom. Jessica’s biological mother died when she was six. About a year and a half later, her dad and I started dating. We waited for almost two years before we decided to get married. At first, Jessica seemed to take it lightly. She was such a sweet girl; it did not take long for me to love her.
I thought that telling me that I am not her real mother is a sign of disrespect. However, Lintermans (2010) suggests that there are many reasons why a stepchild would say that to a stepparent and most of them have nothing to do with respect. This could mean that I have done something to cause Jessica to feel that way about me and that what she said was not a question of respect but of how I played the role of a mother to her.
Research shows that the children living with a stepparent are more at risk of developing behavioral problems than the children living with two biological parents (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). Now I understand that I should not primarily blame myself for what is happening to Jessica. We were fine when she was younger, but I should look at the possibility that she is only beginning to feel the pressure of living with a stepfamily. The birth of her half-sister probably makes her feel that she is now an outsider. The new baby is the main reason her dad endured working far from home. Jessica is too young to understand on her own the complexity of our situation on her own. As a stepparent, however, I should have explained to her why her dad had to accept that job, and that even our family is never complete without her.
Jessica and her friends were reported to have been bullying a classmate. The Child Welfare Information Gateway (2014) defines bullying as an act of using force or influence to intimidate others. I learned from the principal that Jessica and her friends have been tormenting their classmate, Beth. A young adult like Jessica normally engages in a bullying behavior to gain attention and respect (Child Information Gateway, 2014) In some cases, the perpetrators are not aware that what they are doing is wrong or how it affects their victim (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014). Having mentioned that, I am starting to think that Jessica only wants to get noticed—by her dad, who she does not see very often. Jessica needs his love and attention. Maybe, she told me that I was not her real mother as a way of saying that she needs her dad.
Role of Parenting
In a study conducted by Dr. Claire Cartwright and her peers (2009), they found that more than a third of participants reported experiencing resentment towards their stepparents for taking a disciplinary role. They felt angry when their stepparents obliged them to follow their rules. After evaluating my past behavior and decisions, I realized that Jessica has several reasons for not liking me anymore. When she turned eleven, I thought that I needed to protect her from negative influences in her environment. I demanded that she should be home by seven o’clock, limited her TV time during school days, and reported to her dad about almost every instance that she was with her friends. I thought that by doing that, I was able to make her feel that she matters a lot to me.
Dr. Cartwright went further with her study by talking about a young girl who was close to her stepfather and spent a lot of time with him until she became a teenager (2009). At the interview, the girl admitted that she was grateful for the support given by her stepfather, but they began to have conflict over his attempts to discipline her as she reached her teenage years (Cartwright, Fansworth, & Mobley, 2009). This is the same situation Jessica and I have been going through. We liked each other very much before, but things changed between us when, from being a friend, I turned into a disciplinarian. Even when my intentions are good, my methods are simply not the type that Jessica would appreciate.
Dealing with the Issue
Harvey and Wenzel (2001) argue that if a stepparent decides to remain emotional about the situation, he or she may hold the child responsible for it. The stepparent may also blame it on his or her partner, or on other people (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). The key is to go deeper into the problem, and to carefully analyze each of the possible solutions with his or her partner (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). In this regard, I should not get emotionally affected by what Jessica told me. Talking to the people in her immediate circle can help me find the information I need to deal with the situation. Also, I should consult her father about the solution that will best work for Jessica and our family.
The quality of any relationship is dependent on the time and attention partners want to put into it (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). I understand that earning back Jessica’s respect will require my dedication. What we feel towards each other may signal a more intricate issue that we want to avoid (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). I need to make her feel safe about being honest at home. I may be able to get her to trust me if I show her that I have an open mind (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). In all these attempts to reach out to her, the presence of her dad is invaluable (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). If Jessica sees that her dad trusts me by getting involved in it, she may start to realize that she, too, can trust me.
Part III Solution
The paper is written from the perspective of a stepparent who is concerned about her child’s behavior. The problem discussed is not true for the author.
Most stepfamilies undergoing behavioral problems need education rather therapy. In many cases, simply being aware that what they are experiencing is typical is enough to give them hope of reconciliation (Harvey & Wenzel, 2001). Families need to learn about stepfamily dynamics in order to have a good grasp of what is going on. Online and offline information are given for free by many organizations focusing on stepfamily relationships (Cartwright, Fansworth, & Mobley, 2009). Families may also seek therapy and join support groups.
One particular agency that provides professional help to stepfamilies in different parts of the country is the National Stepfamily Resource Center, formerly known as the Stepfamily Association of America. It is a nonprofit organization that allows couples and children in stepfamilies access to research-based resources related to stepfamily issues and the professionals who work with them (NSRC, 2014). They also offer media consulting and products intended for stepfamilies. They provide a list of trained therapists who can provide families help with regard to their specific problem, as well as guidelines on how they can find professionals that meet the needs of their family (NSRC, 2014). The National Stepfamily Resource Center can make a great starting point for people who are dealing with a stepfamily problem for the first time.
Meanwhile, Strong Stepfamilies assumes that the stepfamily is different from a nuclear family; hence, they design customized approach to stepfamily concerns. Based in North Carolina, Strong Stepfamilies focuses at selecting the right tools and resources for helping stepparents and their children (Strong Stepfamilies, 2014). The founder of this institution has conducted independent research about stepfamilies with emphasis on the issues of a stepmother. Its mission is to get families to recover from the trauma, and to adjust within a newly blended family. Professionals at Strong Stepfamilies begins by evaluating where the conflict stems from, and then identifies if an individual, couple, or family counseling is necessary (Strong Stepfamilies, 2014). The institution also offers group counseling, where people with common stepfamily concerns are grouped together for sharing of ideas (Strong Stepfamilies, 2014).
I conclude that my relationship with Jessica is in jeopardy due to many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with respect. She could be feeling the pressure of being a stepchild, now that her dad and I have a baby together. She might also not like the idea of not seeing her dad as often as she used to. Also, I must change the way I treated her, and ask her dad to have time for her as much as he can. I am clueless about how I should deal with the solution, but I can find the information I need from the National Stepfamily Resource Center. In case, I realize that we need therapy, we will seek help from Strong Stepfamilies.
Cartwright, C., Farnsworth, V., & Mobley, V. (2009). Relationship with step-parents in the life stories of young adults of divorce. Family Matters 82: 30-37.
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2014). Chapter 6: Preventing child abuse and neglect. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/usermanuals/educator/educatorf.cfm.
Harvey, J.H., & Wenzel, A. (2001). A clinician’s guide to maintaining and enhancing close relationships. Routledge
Hetherington, E. M., & Kelly, J. (2002). For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered. New York: W. W. Norton.
Lintermans, G. (2010). The secrets to stepfamily success. New York: Gloria Lintermans.
NSRC (2014). About the NSRC: Who we are. Retrieved from http://www.stepfamilies.info/about.php.
Strong Stepfamilies (2014). About us. Retrieved from http://strongstepfamilies.com/about