Stepson Is A Devil

Q: My boyfriend and I recently got our own place. I'm 20, we've been together for three years and have a 1-year-old daughter together. He has four other children. His little boy, who's 7 and lives with us, has the nastiest attitude towards me. Every time I tell him something, he answers back in the rudest way possible. Just yesterday, he told my daughter he was going to choke her to death. I heard him say it and yelled at him to never let me catch him saying that again. His dad also heard and just stayed quiet. I am very upset about this whole situation of his son living with us -- it's ruining my relationship with my boyfriend. What can I do? -- Vivian

Dr. Susan: Stepparenting issues are tricky under the best of circumstances. Married or not, you are now a stepmother and have to make a go of it or risk losing everything. First rule of stepparenting is that it's up to the biological parent to discipline his own children. This little boy definitely needs some loving limits placed on him, such as no surly language toward you. But first, try to see things from the boy's point of view. His siblings are with mommy, whom he misses, but he has to live with you, a woman who's busy with her new baby. And his dad very likely pays more attention to you and the baby than he does to his clearly distressed son.

What can you do? Have a talk with your boyfriend. If he wants this new family to work, he has to be both a more active father to his son and a more sensitive partner to you. It's totally unacceptable for his boy to threaten the baby. Doesn't your boyfriend know how that terrifies you? Tell him! Don't call the kid a brat or the devil incarnate. Just say how his actions and words make you feel: scared and at a loss. Even though your boyfriend's already the father of five, I'd suspect he doesn't have a lot of experience dealing with complex emotions.

Vivian, just telling the kid not to let you catch him saying horrid things doesn't mean he won't be feeling them. I'm aghast that your boyfriend is so uninvolved that he'd let a threat to his daughter sail right past him. Minor temper tantrums can be ignored, but rage-filled children are suffering inside. The kid needs compassion for his feelings of jealousy. He needs someone, preferably his dad, to spend private time with him. You may all wish you were one big happy family, but the boy wants to know his daddy cares about him a lot. What you can do is remind your boyfriend how important he is to his son's life, and plead with him to take your unhappiness seriously. Try a few sessions of family counseling. You might all learn some skills for interacting in this blended family that will save you years of pain down the road.

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