July 21, 2011 at 12:51 pm , by Jennifer Castoro
If only all blended families could resemble The Brady Bunch: a life of zany hijinks and good-natured ribbing where the biggest problems involve the race for class president and who stole Cindy’s Kitty Karry-All doll. In real life, creating a new family from the parts of an old one is much more complicated. When Lisa, a 39-year old mother of two teen girls from a previous marriage, wed John, a successful 52-year-old businessman with no kids of his own, one child adjusted quickly while the other outright revolted.
Lisa’s turn Her 16-year-old daughter, Ali, is making their lives hell. She’s disrespectful, defiant and ignores the rules of the house. Ali was just 5 when Lisa and her ex-husband, Ken, split up, and she’s never been able to adjust. And Ken isn’t helping, either: He’s asked Ali to live with him full-time and promised her no curfew and a car, though he’s completely unreliable when it comes to seeing the girls or dropping them off. Lisa tried to make her first marriage work for years but eventually gave up, and she’s tried hard to do everything right in her new marriage, too, including taking it slow when introducing John into her girls’ lives. In fact, she’s always tried too hard in everything – she’s constantly told she’s too nice. The situation with Ali really came to a head when she shoved Lisa after an argument, John grabbed Ali’s arm, and Ali reacted by calling the police.
John’s turn Ali has been a headache from day one. John has tried and tried to love her like he loves her mom and sister, but the kid won’t give an inch. She blames John for her parents’ divorce, even though John and Lisa hadn’t even met until three years later, and it kills him to see how hard Lisa tries to make it work. They’ve taken away Ali’s privileges, grounded her and bent over backwards to please her and nothing’s worked. He can’t tolerate Ken – the man is always messing up their plans and is horribly irresponsible – and he can’t stand how Lisa lets her ex walk all over her. The stunt with the police put him over the edge. He doesn’t mean to take his anger at Ali out on his wife, but he can’t take much more if this situation doesn’t change.
The counselor’s turn This teen terror hijacked their marriage. Lisa’s guilt over her divorce, plus the fact that she really is too nice, made her an overly permissive parent. And John took Ali’s behavior personally: She baited him in ways she’d never dare with a biological parent, and he reacted as she wanted him to. He’d also been transferring some of his rage at Ken onto her. The situation was so bad that Lisa agreed to let Ali move in with Ken. It lasted all of three months, when Ali realized that while it was true that she had no curfew and few rules, she didn’t have an attentive, involved parent, either. She moved back in and agreed to join John and Lisa in counseling, where they worked out new house rules that everyone agreed on. Ali also opened up about her feelings of confusion and vulnerability, which let John see her as a real person instead of just a hostile teenager. John and Ali now spend time alone together, and he and Lisa go for dates, too. The situation has gradually improved, and Ali has even admitted to loving John and knowing that he loves her, too, which Lisa says is a huge breakthrough.
Have you faced a similar situation with your child or step-child? How did you fix it?
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