While it is typical to experience push back and friction within a blended family, I draw the line at abusive behavior. When your stepchild’s “bad day” turns into a continuous pattern, I call it a “lifestyle.”
In Part One, I broke my silence about standing up to my stepson’s abusive behavior.
In this second part, I share five things to consider if you are a stepparent dealing with abusive behavior from your stepchild(ren), in hopes that you, too, stand up and get help.*
I am sharing these items because I love you and want you to live in freedom.
I want you to live.
I grew up in a household where there was abuse and control. I have intentionally put the work in my life to face and deal with the impact on my life. We get to choose transformation, and we must show up for ourselves to make it happen.
I think it is love and grace to hold youth and anyone to rise up beyond their pain instead of sending any message that justifies them acting it out on anyone, including stepparents.
Here are five considerations:
1) Reach Out
While my husband and I actively reached out to friends, teachers, community, and church to support our son for his porn addiction and we looked into parenting resources to improve parenting, I did not reach out for what was going on with the abusive behavior for a while.
Your marriage and family needs support. You need support for you beyond your parenting and spouse roles.
I wish I could tell you that when you reach out it goes smoothly. As you can expect, I had mixed responses when I opened up about what was happening.
Some people will not empathize with you for a range of reasons. I have found that it is usually because of their own unresolved parenting issues, with their children or their parents/stepparents.
It might sound hard to believe: It is not personal.
People who do not confront their own issues cannot effectively support you when you choose to face your own. All they can do is show you how to live in denial and enable toxic behavior because chances are this is what they are doing in some area of their lives.
Note: The name of the blog is Race and Grace, not Race and Foolishness. Please be mindful of listening to people who live in denial of their own parent and child issues. Grace does not mean you perpetually endanger yourself and your family because of some hokey twisted beliefs about God. You can love and keep your heart open without allowing yourself to be a dumping ground for anyone’s pain.
You are gracious and have been gracious. I want you to extend some love and grace for yourself, too. If anyone tries to emotionally manipulate you for choosing to stand against abusive behavior, keep standing (And tell them to kick rocks.)
You are not obligated to have your joy and peace up in the balance because of someone else’s choices. Misery really does love company. No need to feel guilty for refraining from joining people who want others to feel miserable with them.
I am doing for you what my two friends did for me that night I began to feel faint. You have permission to stand for yourself. It does not make you a bad parent, either. Speak up and stand for yourself.
I am thankful for the small group of women across race and ethnicity who have stood by me and supported me.
Get the mind, body, and spirit support you need for you.
2) Get Out of Agreement
If you recognize abusive behavior and do or say nothing, then you put yourself in agreement to the behavior. If you accept the treatment, then you are in an invisible contract with the individuals who are demonstrating abusive behavior. Nevertheless, it does not make this abusive behavior right or acceptable.
By standing up and resisting the behavior, you get out of agreement with this social contract between you and all parties involved.
Secondly, when you ignore the abusive behavior, your stepchildren receive a message that it is not only acceptable to treat people poorly, but it reinforces the unhealthy way that they are dealing with their own internal pain. They actively learn and develop a lifestyle pattern that does not serve them well long-term.
What are you teaching with your life by ignoring abusive behavior?
Please consider seeking help individually, as a married couple, and as a family, from a professional skilled in this area and will not be another enabler of problematic behavior (it happens).
Your stepchildren have biological parent(s).
If the biological parents are not invested in changing the dynamic to a healthy one, I encourage you read about strategies/seek guidance about stepparent disengagement, where you no longer engage in parenting role as a stepparent and leave this work to the biological parents.
It could be worth exploring if the biological parents are encouraging antagonist behavior directly or indirectly through highly permissive parenting. If your partner struggles with denial about the abusive behavior because of parent guilt (or some other reason), then this could be a viable choice, especially if s/he is unwilling to seek the aforementioned professional help.
Regardless of what your spouse or stepchild does, again, I encourage you to seek professional help to explore options for your peace of mind and safety.
You can love without being entangled in the drama of family system. Unless the biological parents decide to invest in confronting and working their personal and relational issues, regardless of their intentions, they might continue to position you as an outsider to this family system.
3) Stay Safe
You are not obligated to remain in an unsafe situation. Herein lies another important reason to reach out. You need to explore options for remaining physically safe.
If violence ensues, call the police. You and the rest of your family do not deserve to be danger. Currently, I would not think twice to call the police.
Do not treat the situation as some adolescent phase. Abusive behavior extends beyond the scope of typical youth behavior. As I have reminded different people, abusive behavior is not something that people magically grow out of-it needs to be addressed.
Do not, I repeat, do not accept when people attempt to downplay abusive behavior. If it is unacceptable when they are 25, 35, and 45, it is unacceptable at 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18—you name it. Your stepchildren get to choose if they want to stay in this pattern or transform their lives, too.
4) Expand Your Vision of Family
My vision of family has expanded. There are approximately 7 billion people in this world. All of us share the same origin and common thread of humanity. With this said, my family is not bound by the typical Western conventions of family. As a result, I have experienced such freedom I have not experienced in my life.
I do not feel obligated to participate in toxicity in any relational dynamic.
I do not go looking and seeking out people who commit to recreating toxic patterns and dynamics. I no longer feel obligated to force myself to spend time with people who choose to cause hurt or do not want to heal for the sake of “spending time.” I send love and wish them the best right from where I am.
Family is what you make it. God- the Universe is so abundant that the people who accept, love, and appreciate you and the love you have to give extend beyond your “family.” I know this for a truth because I continue to experience it.
I do not miss any toxic behavior. I have tremendous peace for choosing to treat my life as sacred.
When abusive behavior is at play, you can forgive, and you get to choose if you want to reconcile the relationship. You are under no obligation to be in close-knit relationships with people who engaged in abusive behavior or enabled it. And you can be happy with your decision, too, with lots of love for them, if you choose to.
5) Seek the Lessons
The situation you are in is an invitation. It is an invitation to expand your seeing, thinking—your life. Your stepchildren are gifts to you and this world. They have presented you with an opportunity to stretch and grow in love more than you ever thought that you would.
I ask that you honor your feelings with honesty, so you can process them to heal. Next, I suggest seeking to forgive anyone and everyone who has prompted pain in your life from your blended family experience. Forgiveness frees you and heals you. It does not remove justice or consequences to actions. It does not mean that you must remain in any relationship or connection. You have every right and sense to choose who/how relationships work in your life.
You can empathize with the pain and experiences of those who engage in abusive behavior without justifying their actions. It helps you to see the humanity of everyone involved.
My stepson’s behavior invited me to explore my “inner abuser.” That is, what were the ways that I have abused myself in my life. It invited me to look for any way I have been an abuser or enabler to others in throughout my life. By exploring these areas, I expanded and strengthened my spiritual awareness and beliefs about love.
As a result of this experience, I gained new levels of freedom. I am grateful.
Furthermore, you can explore how your engagement in this dynamic reflects a possible role you have occupied within your family growing up. I have never been in a romantic relationship where I was emotionally or physically abused, for I endeavored to live free of such drama. I did not play about red-flags from men. I thought I was doing quite well.
To have it return through my stepson prompted me to take a step back and dig even deeper into my personal evolution. I was drawn back into the same dynamic from my upbringing, with different family players in my husband and stepson. My role had not changed. This realization invited me into another level of personal and spiritual development.
It allowed me to get even more radical with releasing myself from familial emotional attachments and roles I had played that do not reflect who I am. I am grateful for the transformation that came when I responded to the invitation.
This situation you are in, as painful as it is, invites you to rise to lead more powerfully from the truth of who you are.
If you can extract the lessons no matter what you go through, you will come out on top because you have become wiser from the experience. You get to choose if a situation will transform you for good.
No matter what roles you have in a family or social structure, you have your own journey. You get to choose how you want to live, no matter what choices your family makes.
Closing: Live Your Life
I want you to know that you are not the only one who has gone through something similar.
You are not alone. You deserve to live a life with happiness, peace, and joy. Cultivate it for yourself. Choose life-an abundant life and refuse to get along and play along to your own physical or mental detriment.
As a stepparent, you might walk a tight rope of darned if you do, and darned if you don’t. So, live your life, darn it.
Herein lies radical freedom.
If your stepchildren are emotionally or physically abusing you, and the biological parents involved seem to enable their behavior, my heart feels for you. Nightmare does not come close to what you are living through right now.
You get to choose how you want to live your life. No one provides your happiness, peace, and joy, unless you give her/him authority to do so.
Your stepchildren do not owe you anything. They do not have to be in a close relationship with you. That’s the truth.
You do not need your stepchildren to like you in order to be happy. That’s the truth.
You do not have to do anything if it does not align with your principles. That’s the truth.
Above all, I want you to know that wherever you are right now, you are so loved.
You are loved by God. And I have much love and a sea of empathy for what you are walking through right now. I know you have tried your best, and I thank you for your heart and efforts to make this world shine brighter. You were not placed here to be an object of anyone’s pain.
Please take care of you because you are necessary to this world.
*This post is the expressed opinion of the author. It is not a substitute for professional mental or legal support. If you feel you are in an abusive blended family dynamic or if you have concerns, please seek professional help.