Feedback on the Parenthood Challenge

Here is a rather lengthy comment from Amanda, posted May 27, 2005:

So true… so true. My sister and I are 5 1/2 years apart. We were raised by basically the same person, my mother. She was five when my parents split… and I was 6 months old. We are/were very different people. We’ve each made our own choices.

Her life has been filled with drama and constant chaos. Mine has been on the straight and narrow path that I laid out for myself. Both of us have come to the point where we didn’t think we would be where we are today. She thought she wouldn’t live to see 30… and I thought I’d be a happy stat-at-home Mommy. Neither of us are content… even though we’ve exceeded our goals.

I’ve seen so many friends, family, and people that, as teenagers, strived to push the buttons of their parents… to do as they saw fit, not realize that the parents only wanted the best for them. There is no one answer for anyone. The only thing I can comfort you with, in regards to the 15 year old, is that all of the people that I have known that have gone through this… have come out better and understanding that they needed to clean up their act and that they were stupid at the time… Each of them had a different reason for finally cleaning up their lives.

My sister it was having her second child… and not having my Mom to catch her. She wasn’t able to support her and invite her into the house to help her out, again… because she herself was going through a second divorce and was trying to regain herself. For the first time my sister was forced to care for two children… and learn that she was the one they depended on. For another one of my male friends, it was finally being on his own… living how he thought he wanted to live… partying and drinking all the time and then realizing that he needed money… and that he had to show up on time, etc. That no one else bent over backwards for him, like his parents did.

This is longer than I intended. The only thing I really wanted to say is this… it sounds like you don’t like the 15 year old. Even though you add that you haven’t given up on him. Did you ever think that the 15 year old need your love as well? He sees you with his father… with your perfect son… his father’s starting anew… he may feel that he’s not worth the time since his father has this perfect family waiting in the wing. Maybe being more involved in the 15 year old’s life would be helpful. Not as a disciplinarian, but as a friend? Seems to me he needs to know that he’s as much a part of your family as your son is… he needs to know it.

Just my two cents. Hope I didn’t overstep.

My response: Thanks for taking the time to write, Amanda — I appreciate your having given me your two cents’ worth. 

My stepson and I have a love-hate relationship, even if sometimes I think the love is one way — from me to him.  Of course that is a reflection of my frustration over the situation.  We have been aware of the unsettling effect of his father’s having another family from the time I arrived, because our problems started back then.  It has been a puzzle to us, though, because his own mother had a second family years ahead of his Dad.

I have always been great with children, but I was sorely disappointed in how I failed to connect to him when  he was still a 10-year-old.  Children have a different way of expressing jealousy or disapproval, and sometimes they can be mean even when they do not intend to.  Alan and I have had our challenges between us — but we have weathered them well and have come to an agreement about approaching things.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say we have tried and continue to try to impress upon him how we want to do things together as a family.  We have tried to reiterate this message even before we had a son of our own.  And we have been honest enough to tell him that he gives us the sense that he is not willing to be a part of our family, but would rather just have it as him and his Dad.  We hope having a brother by me will change that, but it is really too early to tell.  His mother has had a difficult time in this regard as well which has forced her and her second family to do things without the 15 year old.

When his mother threw him out midterm of the first half of the schoolyear, we had him move in with us and my husband moved heaven and earth to transfer him to the high school in our zone.  I had my misgivings because I knew he wasn’t too happy having me around, but the son comes with the father, so as my husband would always tell him and tell me, this is a situation we must all learn to live with — he (the father) wants us all to get along.

It may not sound like it from the pieces I have written (because I write mostly about my frustrations as a stepmother), but I believe I’ve gone above and beyond what I thought I could possibly take as the recipient of his hostility.  At times when father and son are ready to come to blows, I had intervened.  When everyone played deaf and blind to his failings in school, I challenged them to come to terms with his possible ADD and adjust their expectations of the child.

During one of our more emotional exchanges as a family, I pulled him close and hugged him despite his struggling against it.  He pushed away as he continues to push away now — but I pulled him close.  If, with everything his father and I continue to do, he doesn’t see how we want to make this work, then I am at a loss for words or other alternatives to get the message across.

As for being a friend, I am trying.  Whereas before I would join in in their discussions in a disciplinary sense, these days I whisper calmly to him and try to tell him to try to be more reasonable.  As the posts reflect, I’ve stepped back and tried to hold it together instead of getting emotional about it.  One thing I’ve realized is he would rather have me “in the wings”, than dead center in his life.

And just as you and your sister made a turnaround, and just like my husband and I did in our youth, we continue to hope that he will do the same, not too late in his life.

Feedback: On Values

Daryll, who wrote this post had e-mailed me privately previously — here’s a direct take on what I wrote yesterday (below) on Values:

I know this is not what you need to here (sic). But a 15 year old for the most part is going to be irresponsible, ungrateful and generally a pain in the ass. This attitude crosses all ethnic boundaries. Kids in America are spoiled. I know I was a pain in the ass to my parents and didn’t appreciate my luxuries. But in time I grew out of it and slowly became a model “pinoy american”. Respectful of his parents but still independent enough to stand up for myself. Its easier said than done, but you need to pick your battles. The cereal thing is minor. Tatoos are next, that is minor as well despite the pinoy distaste for such things. Getting a girl pregnant and drugs are the major things. Anyway, I enjoy your blog which I discovered a couple of days ago. You’re an intelligent strong pinay who seems to have a good head on her shoulders. You’re probably a lot brighter than the people you work for but that is America for minorities. By the way I’m francophile as well. I’m headed to Rome and Paris this fall. Good Luck and I admire your writing skills and the way you can easily put your thoughts into words.

My response: Don’t worry about me, Daryll.. Not that I don’t want to hear it — a therapist made me realize that 2 years ago, when I found myself at my wits’ end and I sought an objective point of view.  To summarize, his brain is 15 years old only, and that doesn’t speak for much.  So most of the time I try to think like a 15 year old so I can better tolerate what he is doing.

I just hope that he becomes like you and he “grows out of it”.  Isn’t that what all parents hope for?  It just tears my heart to see him treating his Dad with such disrespect.  Of course I have my biases.. he is, after all, the second half of the be-all and end-all of the reason I’m here in New York.  (The other being Angel.)  We have gone through the motions of body mutilation, and we even helped him get his ear pierced despite his mother’s protestations two summers ago.  Tattoos?  He has been told he can do whatever he wants after 18 — so all he has to do is wait three years more.  Besides, his pain threshhold is VERY low, so we are not worried about that just yet.

Drugs and getting a girl pregnant are now a staple of every other conversation.  We have even been giving him condoms admonishing him to make sure he is careful.  Our policy about that is it’s okay to have fun if you do it responsibly.  He came into this world because of such a mishap, and his Dad has been firm in telling him while he had a choice to bring him into this world or not, he chose to bring his son and try to raise him.  However, the circumstances of his marraige contributed to its failure because he and the boy’s mother were not prepared for marraige.

My husband is very eloquent like me and like you, was spoiled rotten as a teen.  He was raised in a household of high academic standards but he had his failings.  One constant in his growing up years, though, was a profound respect for his parents.  This is one thing that is lacking in this young boy. 

I know the cereal’s petty — I wrote about it to make a point.  To me, it’s a closed issue.  The solution is just not to have any unopened boxes lying around until the last one is consumed.  You probabl heard your parents telling you how kids on the other side of the world don’t have the luxuries you were basking in — and as someone who’s seen those kids, it breaks my heart to see such waste and ungratefulness.  Then again, let me reiterate, I agree with you and you are right in saying that a 15 year old will always be a pain in the ass. 

The thing now is, do we let him be that way and just keep our fingers crossed that like you, he sees the light of day and turns around?  If he were my son, that’s a risk I’m not willing to take.  As he is the son of the man I love, I have no recourse but to step back butI  think I have a responsibility in helping him by trying to show him the way even he abhors hearing it from me.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write again, Daryll.  I am not even sure if I’ve written you back already but rest assured I meant to!  It is always nice to touch base with others who “converse” with me as they read the thoughts I write down here. 

My Francophilia is in the back of my head right now but it keeps me excited about another trip my husband and I are planning to the City of Lights to celebrate our 5th year anniversary in August.  I must start trying to learn French again.  Tacked on my cubicle wall is an  8×10 picture of Alan taken with the barren trees of Champs De Mars in the background.  I look forward to taking another picture in the same angle but with the trees all green when we return.  We might even venture a trip to Lyon, or maybe I’ll save that for next time when we can plan a trip to Lourdes.  I just want to go back to Paris!