Why forcing a child to hug his stepparent is a bad idea

Hug stepparentI’ve heard from more than a few clients that dad (and sometimes stepmom) forces the kids give their stepparent a hug when saying hello or goodnight. I cannot say this enough:

THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

I understand this is born from the best of intentions. Dad is hoping it will help the kids and his partner bond. Or maybe he just thinks it’s a nice thing to do, since he hugs his partner when he walks in the door. But I can tell you that this will backfire.

Making a rule about hugging teaches the child that he’s not in control of who he allows into his personal space. Is that really what you want to teach a child? This might cause him to dread coming over and may actually have the opposite effect of what you intended. It can cause resentment and distance from the child, instead of closeness.

Physical affection is personal and something that should only happen if it’s coming naturally to both parties.

Anytime physical affection is forced, it’s going to evoke negative emotions. Even if the kids and their stepmom get along well, forcing a hug can be uncomfortable. And if their relationship is already strained or awkward? You’re just throwing fuel on the fire.

If this has been the status quo and you’re sensing things with the kids are awkward, go ahead and release them from this requirement. “You don’t have to give your stepmom a hug anymore when you come home or go to sleep. If you want to you can, but it’s OK if you don’t. Saying hello and goodnight are enough.”

If the kids want to hug their stepmom, great! If not, no problem. Giving a warm, verbal welcome can feel much safer to kids than physical affection.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Why stepmoms need a kid-free zone in their home

Stepmom privacyLet’s face it, even in the best of circumstances, kids are not easy to be around 100 percent of the time. Even biological parents need a break from their children once in a while, so it’s normal (although not quite acceptable by society) for stepmoms to need a break from kids who aren’t theirs.

Some kids are just … challenging.

So, it’s nice to have a space to retreat to when you start to feel like you’re about to lose your marbles. Is it mean or selfish to want a space that’s all yours? Absolutely not. In fact, you’re doing your family a favor by giving yourself a sacred space where you can recharge. What do you think is better for your marriage and relationship with your stepkids—you as an uptight person about to explode at the next family member who looks at you funny? Or you as a happy, recharged, peaceful person who wants to be around others?

There are many reasons for a kid-free zone. It’s not all about the kids. Maybe you had a difficult day at work and just can’t be emotionally present for the kids at that time. Maybe you need a few minutes alone to compose yourself or decompress from a stressful day. Maybe you had an argument with a close friend or family member and you need some time to process it without interruption from well-intentioned little ones. Your emotional health is important, and you deserve a place where you can tend to it.

I was lucky enough that my husband provided me with two rooms I could call my own. The first one we called the J-Cafe. It was a little alcove directly off the living room. It had a small sofa, bookshelf and coffee table, and everyone knew it was my space. The second room was the bathroom. My husband decided that since we had two full bathrooms, one should be a girls’ and one should be a boys’. It was his way of protecting me from having to share a bathroom with two teenage boys. And, yes, he used the boys’ bathroom as well. That was a gesture I will never stop appreciating!

How to Create a Personal Sanctuary

There are no rules here. If you have a very small living space, you might only be able to claim a corner of a room, but that corner will provide you with a sense of comfort if it’s all yours. If you are lucky enough to be able to use a whole room, great! Display items that are meaningful to you and bring you joy and comfort. The goal is to be able to enter the space to decompress and be yourself without any input from the outside world.

If you are unsure of how to create your personal space, the following questions can help get you started:

  • When do you most often need time to yourself? What time of day? Under what circumstances?
  • What room in the house protects you the most from noise and foot traffic?
  • What activities help you recharge? (Painting, music, meditation, watching TV, etc.)
  • What personal items of yours hold the most value?
  • What do you most need in order to calm down and feel more like yourself?

Creating a kid-free zone is a great way to preserve your sanity and sense of self. It provides you with a place to retreat from the noise, drama, stress and responsibility while enabling you to recharge, regroup and find inner balance. And since it’s a kid-free space, you don’t have to worry about it being riddled with the kids’ messes. There’s really something different about cleaning up your own mess, isn’t there?

The idea of a kid-free zone may not be popular in the eyes of outsiders, but, hey, neither was the idea that the world is round.

This article was originally published in the Jan 2015 issue of Sm Magazine.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Confessions of a(n) Enlightened Stepmom

Stepmom confessionUpdated 1/2016. This article was first published in 2011 for No One’s the Bitch. 

I consider myself pretty successful in my transition from single girl to stepmom and I’ve always had the best of intentions when it came to my husband’s ex-wife.

And yet, I’ve made some moves that seemed right at the time, but weren’t.

Here’s one of them:

Being right

I won’t get into the details for privacy’s sake, but basically, I was tired of feeling like my husband’s ex-wife was pointing her finger in our direction for everything gone bad in her household, so I spoke up. Rah-rah, good for me, right??

I even did it in a way that was diplomatic. I didn’t call her names or tell her what I thought of her. I simply sent her an email giving her some really great advice.

I told her the truth; that until she took responsibility for her own life she would never be happy.

Then, thinking that I could enlighten her even further, I proceeded to explain that if she continued to blame others for her situation, she’d never have a healthy relationship and her unhappiness would continue.

All the while, I’m thinking, ‘This is great advice! These are the things her friends should be telling her!’ After all, read any book by Deepak Chopra or other spiritual leaders and you’ll find the same advice. She simply had never heard such wise words and once she did, she’d see the light. It worked for me in my life, so I’d be selfish not to share such knowledge with her. Right?

Yes, I actually believed I was being helpful.

Oh, how naïve I was.…

She’s not interested in what you have to say

To put it mildly, she wasn’t “thankful” for the unsolicited advice, she wasn’t “enlightened,” and she didn’t suddenly see (what I perceived as) the error of her ways.

After a few days, I had some realizations and sent her an apologetic email. These were my thoughts:

  • Each one of us is living in our own reality. Me and my husband’s reality is VERY different from hers.
  • Nothing I could ever say or do would convince her to see the situation from our perspective.
  • She’s viewing life from her own childhood experiences, life experiences, her own values, her own lessons learned. And we’re viewing them from ours.
  • We cannot tell someone else what their truth is.
  • Even if I was spot on with her truth, the last person she’d be receptive to hearing it from is me.

No matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we have life figured out, even if we’re convinced we are holding the key to happiness in our hands and want to share it with the world, it’s really only the key to OUR happiness.

So before you waste one more precious moment fretting over the other woman, realize that no matter how justified you think you are, how wronged you think you’ve been, trying to change her will be the biggest waste of your time and emotional energy and will only serve to sink you deeper into her world.

Acceptance

To do this we start by trying to accept that she is who she is. It doesn’t mean we have to like her, be okay with her actions, respect her as a person, or even have contact with her. It just means we say goodbye to expending our energy on wishing she was different.

It means we take back our power by redirecting our energy onto ourselves, our marriage, and our family; where it belongs and where it will benefit us most.

In the end, we can either spend years fighting her, or we can let go, accept her and focus on the good things in life. I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but it’s a choice that is ours to make.

Where to start

If you decide this is something you want to try, but it seems like an impossible task, start with baby steps. Think about one incident where you’ve been triggered and take some time to think about it from her perspective. What need of hers was she trying to meet by doing what she did? What was she trying to protect? What was she trying to gain? How was she trying to make herself feeling better?

Once you have a clear understanding of what might have been going on with her, release yourself from the need to correct her or defend yourself. The more you respond to her the more you validate her behavior, so focus your attention elsewhere in a positive way. Leave the house, go for a hike, laugh with a friend, do whatever it is you do to center yourself so you can behave in a way that’s true to who you are and so you can be proud of yourself.

© 2011 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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The High-Conflict Ex-Wife

 

crazy ex-wife**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2017! 

I talk a lot about dealing with difficult ex-wives, mainly because that’s often the #1 complaint of my clients and well, no one else is really addressing the issue. So, what exactly do I mean by difficult?

They’re the people who might claim they want peace, but then make it impossible to achieve that because they will blame you for everything. They only have one story; a story where they’re the victim and you’re the attacker. And their story only has one ending: them winning and you losing.  They’re not interested in a win-win.

Bill Eddy, author of It’s all your fault: 12 tips for managing people who blame others for everything, describes these people as HCPs (High-conflict personalities). He says they lack the skills for dealing with conflict and have no awareness how their behavior increases the conflict. He says “instead of sharing responsibility for solving problems, they repeatedly lose it and increase conflict by making it intensely personal and taking no responsibility.”

He goes on to explain “the hardest thing to get about HCPs is that they lack an awareness of how they contribute to their own problems. They honestly view others as causing the way they feel and the way they act… They feel they have to lie and manipulate because of unmanaged fears within themselves that they are not aware of.”

In my experience, they’ll always have an excuse or justification for their behavior, while attacking you for yours. They’re also skilled at projecting their own behaviors and beliefs onto you.

They don’t take personal responsibility for anything in their life. They will make you responsible for every single bad thing that has ever happened to them. They will blame you for every bad choice they’ve ever made and every bad consequence they’ve ever experienced. They will tell you their story of how it’s all your fault.

You can’t rationalize or reason with a high-conflict person. They’re not able to see their actual behavior. They’re not being mean or moody, but at this given time in their life, in these current circumstances, they’re not able to behave any differently. From what I’ve read, these people usually, but not always, have a mental disorder or at the very least, a personality disorder.

The good news is that it is possible to be the target of blame of a high-conflict person, and still remain happy and peaceful. It’s not easy, but it’s possible, because their words and actions don’t reflect the truth of you or the situation. It is simply the result of a belief they hold that’s meant to protect themselves from the painful truth about themselves. Keep reminding yourself of that. Also, it’s much easier to hold onto your sanity if you don’t allow them access to you, so protect yourself with firm boundaries and don’t let their attacks penetrate your spirit.

For excellent information and tips on how to deal with these difficult people, read:

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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