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dear gefilte

My Son Doesn’t Like His Stepfather–What Do I Do?

dear gefilte

Dear Gefilte, 

My son doesn’t like my second husband and won’t socialize with him.

My husband feels that his family and kids take us as a couple, and my son should do the same. What should I do?

Affectionately,

Caught

READ: Carla Naumburg on Mindful Parenting & Why It’s OK to Ignore Your Kid Sometimes


Dear Caught,

Here is a little questionnaire I once wrote for my mother’s potential lovers after my father died:

1. What are some of your hobbies?
2. Are you allergic to anything?
3. Why are you pursuing my mom and what do you hope to get out of this relationship?4. Please list your past three “serious” relationships and explain how/why they ended.
5. Fill in the blank: NO means __________.
6. How much do you know about my late father—his passions, his work as an attorney, his ability to whistle Braham’s while riding his 10-speed Schwinn, his resemblance to Gene Kelly?
7. Can you whistle anything?
8. Have you even heard of Gene Kelly?
9. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
10. Do you know how to do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in pen?
11. Think I really care?

It was longer, but I think you get the gist. And I admit, I never passed out the written version of this questionnaire, but I wish I had because instead of voicing these feelings, I scowled and seethed. I “forgot” to give my mom telephone messages. I had grown up tantrums. I even gave my stepdad the silent treatment over breakfast just hours before he dropped dead of a heart attack.

Caught, I don’t know how you and your first husband parted ways, but however it went down, this new configuration of your family is a huge step. It’s exciting, and hopeful, and also can be marked by grief. It could be days, months, years since the rift, but it still stings. For your son, it’s still under the heading of “Life after Dad.”

So I commend your son for speaking up about his feelings, even if it’s not exactly what you want to hear. And I think you have to acknowledge and investigate what he’s saying. Take him out to one of your old haunts—a favorite diner or a walk near running water. Ask your son to tell you what about your new family is working for him and what is not. Ask him if there’s anything you can do to make this easier for him. Listen fully to his answers without interrupting—even if he’s throwing out all sorts of accusations or giving you monosyllabic boy-grunts.

READ: Six Easy Steps to Being a Pretty Good Step-Parent

Then, when you feel like he’s really given you as much as he’s going to, tell him your feelings about the shifting dynamic. Please try to start your sentences with phrases like:

I feel sad/scared/frustrated when we’re all having fun and you don’t want to join…

I love you so much and I miss connecting with you…

I’ve been reading this gefilte column and it’s freaking brilliant…

Rephrase as needed. Just try to avoid being defensive. Let your son know you love and value him and you see how this change is affecting him. Also tell him why you love your new man.

And speaking of el hombre, I think he needs a little one-on-one time too. You can ask him the same set of questions, really. What does he like/not like about joining forces? What can you do to help ease this transition? Would it help to watch a few reruns of “The Brady Bunch”—if only for the bell bottom factor?

Then let your husband know you have some complicated feelings about the situation. You feel caught between your son’s needs, your husband’s needs, and your own. He was once someone’s baby boy, so somewhere inside I hope he can relate to this mother-son bond.

Listen, Oedipus didn’t go blind from texting too much.

Jacob and his mom Rebekah were a complicated duo.

And I won’t even touch Hamlet, but if you watch it, get the version with Glenn Close.

So this triangle of mother, son, and lover is a hot, messy jungle and I appreciate you trekking through. Make sure after you put on your patient face and listen to your boys that you make time to treat yourself to a latte, a foot rub, or a kickboxing class.

You can even take yourself on a date and enjoy this personalized questionnaire that I’ve created just for you:

READ: The Six Hardest Things About Being a Stepmom (And the Two Things That Make it All Worth It)

1. Who was the first person you ever kissed?
2. Do you like hearing the words “I love you” or would you rather a surprise bouquet of long stemmed roses?
3. When was the last time you looked in the mirror and felt beautiful?
4. If you had an extra hour in today, what would you do just for you?
5. Fill in the blank: I AM AN AWESOME _______________.

Remember, this is an ending and a beginning. And just like the horah, we trip over each other and run in circles because the middle is always the hardest part.

Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to deargefilte@kveller.com, and you might just get an answer. 

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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