Question:

I wrote to you a while ago when my dad and my stepmother had just married because I wasn’t sure what my new relationship with her should be. You gave me a kind and helpful response and I am sorry I never replied to say thank you for that.

I would like to say that things went smoothly and well, but I can’t give such good news. I have tried hard to make things work, and I know my stepmother has tried very hard too. I like her a lot as a person, and I hope she would say the same. And like I said before, I really admire her for a lot of reasons. A lot of the time we do get along, and it's similar to how it was before they got married. But then so much of the rest of the time we argue and have really bad conversations. I don’t know how we can get around it. It's something I feel more and more guilt over because some of the time I know it has been me at fault, or I have been the one to start it. I also feel guilty about a few things I have done behind her back or times I have not been honest with her. I should just own up to her about it, I know, but that is easy to say but not to do, and I am worried about how she would react.

A few things make it more difficult. Often now my dad is away because of work, sometimes for longer trips. I guess from his view now she is around, he is able to make those trips and leave her “in charge” but it isn’t that simple a change as that.

Also what makes it harder for me is that all these arguments are just between me and her. My stepsisters always seem to be perfect. They are a little bit loud and excited sometimes but they are never in trouble with their mum or my dad. They are still little kids, so how can they manage it so well and not me. It feels like it's just me making the problems or me being picked on for not being as perfect, even though I should be by now. And I should be a better example to them, I know.

It seems like it's happening more often, and it's especially bad now we are getting ready for Christmas, which should be a positive time, but we keep disagreeing over things and arguing. When something like that starts, she will often tell me I am being defiant or I shouldn’t speak to her like I am doing, and at that moment that just makes me more annoyed and gets me saying worse things. It never seems to get anywhere, we both just end up going to our bedrooms and crying or I throw or break something and then later things are really awkward for ages or until my dad gets back, and we pretend nothing happened.

I don’t know what to do about it or how I think a better situation would feel like. I know you advised I should think of her as my mother and give her that respect. I do want to, but it just becomes challenging so often when she is finding faults or getting involved in what I do or don’t do. When I think about it later, I know she is only trying to help, but I can’t see that all the time. And it's hard to know how to treat her as a mother. I can talk to her about a lot of things but it's not the same as how I treat my dad and can’t be. They are different people in lots of ways and it's going to be a different relationship.

I don’t even know what help you could give because of how much I don’t know, but I got good advice when I asked months ago and this is the only place I can really think to ask again. But I’m sorry if it’s the wrong place to try.

Oh, and thank you for your answer about the language and the Bible quote last time. That was actually really interesting.

Answer:

I don't have much to go on since you didn't give me any examples of the types of things you are arguing about with your stepmother. I gather that in the greater scheme of things, they are really minor matters because while you and your stepmother clash, you both are more upset about the clash than what the clash was about.

Teenagers go through a phase when they start wanting to be more independent. It is natural, but it causes problems when the teenager forgets that she isn't an adult yet. It is fine to file some things to think about when you are older and have children on your own. You won't be exactly like your parents because you'll have your own way of doing things. However, you will likely find out that your parents were right when you get to their current age -- you just didn't know because you didn't have the experience that they have.

First, let's consider that you've noted that your stepsisters have so far turned out to be decent individuals. They haven't got to the age of wanting independence yet, but so far they are doing all right. That tells me that while your stepmother does some things differently from your father or your mother, it isn't that she is doing anything particularly bad.

The second thing we need to consider is that you both are letting a lot of anger accumulate without resolution. Anger sometimes happens, but we can't leave it unresolved. "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity" (Ephesians 4:26-27). While pride is keeping you from talking to your stepmother, you need to swallow it. You know she wants what is best for you, even when you and she don't agree about what "best" is at the moment. The best way to handle this is to pick a recent issue and during a calm moment tell her, "I've been thinking about what you said. I didn't agree with you but I see that I was wrong." And then explain what you learned. Even if you think you are right, you can apologize for arguing with your stepmother and admit that you realize that arguing is not the best way to disagree or to present your views. Don't try to handle all the past issues at once -- it will be overwhelming. Just select a recent one and deal with it. I suspect you will find that it gets resolved more smoothly than you are expecting.

Your stepmother is not your dad nor is she your original mother. But she is a woman trying her best to help you and treat you as one of her own daughters. You two are bound to disagree over somethings. If your mother had survived to this point, you would have been arguing with her too. We all have a tendency to romanticize our memories. We choose to only remember what we want because it makes the memories easier to deal with. Thus, stop expecting your stepmother to be like your dad or your mother. Treat her as your mother. Give her respect, follow her guidance, and when you disagree, think about how to communicate your views as an adult instead of emotional "I hate you!" or "You're not my mom!"

Question:

Thanks for replying so quickly.

I didn’t give any examples, that is true, I just didn’t think of it. You are right a lot of the time it is minor things that get blown up into something big, and, yes, mostly it is the argument that is worse than the original thing. It is often her saying something like “I asked you to do (or not to do) this but you haven’t (or have)” and it goes from there. Or she gets at me for using bad language or something. I know I shouldn’t with my stepsisters around, but it just slips out sometimes. Stupid little stuff that just turns into a big deal somehow. I know I should be able to just swallow my pride as you say and just deal with it but somehow, a lot of the time, I just can’t let it go.

Sometimes it is more serious like about whether I can go out somewhere with friends that I have been planning for ages. There have been times where she has tried to say I’m grounded, and I haven’t agreed. When I mentioned doing things behind her back, that has included going out when she has said I can’t. Sometimes it comes after an argument, and I just go out anyway. Sometimes I try to do it without her knowing.

I know what you mean about her and I agree she is trying her best to help me. I know she is a good mother because I know my stepsisters, and I see how they are growing up. I think the worst thing is that I know that all to be true, but I still find myself disagreeing with her and getting annoyed almost for the sake of it. I really don’t like to think that words like defiant and wilful could be used about me and it winds me up when she uses them, but afterward, I feel like she isn’t wrong, and I dislike that too. It makes it worse that she almost never yells and I do. I haven’t ever said “you’re not my mum,” although I know that is the stereotypical thing, but you are right, it gets emotional when it doesn’t need to.

That’s a really good point about anger building and not resolving. I like the quote from Ephesians. As you suggest, I’ll try talking with her about our most recent one. I’m not saying it will be easy to admit I’m wrong, but I will do my best to have that conversation, and as you say, I’m sorry we argued even if I still disagree with what she said (although again a lot of the time I don’t deep down). Hopefully, that will mend things a bit or at least start to.

Answer:

What I noticed from your examples is that pride is getting in your way a lot. Even when you know you are wrong, you can't stand to have it pointed out. "A wise son accepts his father's discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke" (Proverbs 13:1). It sounds like most of your arguments are due to knee-jerk reactions. You respond first and then think later. That needs to change before you enter the adult world.

Let's examine one example: Your stepmother has asked you not to use profanity. My guess from the way you wrote about this is that you don't see anything particularly wrong with profanity. You use it all the time with your friends and while you vaguely know it is impolite and should not be said in front of children, you don't see it as that big of a deal. For this, I would like you to read over "Careful What You Say." After considering what the Bible teachings about your language, do you think what you've been doing (stepmother around or not) is right?

Another point you made that has me concerned is that you only accept discipline if you happen to agree with it. Is that how you think the world works? Do robbers and murderers only go to jail if they agree with the judge that they should be incarcerated?

I hate to say this, but your current track is leading you to misery and heartache. You have parents who love you and care about the person you become. You know this, but your desires come first, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.

It may seem strange from our modern point of view, but under the Law of Moses, one of the ten commandments was to honor your father and mother. Like all the other Ten Commandments, this law was enforced by a death penalty in cases of extreme defiance, which sounds really harsh.

"If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his home town. They shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear" (Deuteronomy 21:8-21).

Fortunately, we don't live under those laws but consider why God saw extremely rebellious children as a problem. I think it was because it shows a lack of respect for authority. These are the type of children who grow up defying government laws and causing havoc in society.

Your parents want you to be a good woman and a kind mother one day. While the lessons are rough, you need to swallow your pride and follow both your parents' instructions, even when you disagree with them. It won't be long before you are on your own and I suspect you will appreciate their guidance then.

Question:

Mr. Hamilton,

Firstly, I did talk to my stepmother last night about the last argument we had as you recommended. I  said no matter what the original thing was and who was right or wrong, I probably shouldn't have turned it into something else like I did, and I was sorry we argued about it. It made me feel awful like it always does when we do argue. (I know you said not to try and tackle the whole issue at once but that much seemed to be natural.) I could see it meant a lot to her to hear it. We did have a good talk, even though she did say this wasn't done, and we would have to discuss it another time. But we did have a nice evening and I felt a lot better, so thank you for that advice.

Obviously there is stuff in your email that isn't so positive. I don't like reading it, but I think I know it to be true deep down. I know I am making things unpleasant between us and maybe sabotaging the future for no good reason. Just knee jerk stuff because of pride, never mind right or wrong. Like I said before, that is not the sort of person I want to be or see myself as. I guess I just have to try harder not to let myself go down that road.

I am not even really sure where it is coming from, I guess the obvious thing would be that I don't like the idea of obeying her because she isn't my real mother. But I don't think that is it. It's not how I really feel. I would like her to fill that role for me, and I do respect her and want to give her that respect and honor, which as you say is a commandment. But for some reason what I want in my heart and what my head gets me doing at the moment are different. But again I guess that is just what I have to work on.

The other thing you said you were concerned about when you talk about me accepting discipline. Does that mean agreeing to stay put if she says I am grounded or is it a bigger thing than that? Obviously it's a bigger concept than that, but I mean in my situation. From your example, I see what you mean, but I would say (or I would like to think) that a serious criminal (unless they are mentally ill) definitely knows what they have done wrong and they deserve something because of it because our laws, as well as God's laws and all our morals, say so. It is definitely wrong. Whereas it isn't as clear as that with things at home, it isn't written down anywhere what the rules are and sometimes I do disagree with what my stepmother has decided is right. That's just my first thoughts on it. But instead, should I just accept whatever she says straight away, and not try and discuss it?

I read the article about bad language. There was a lot in there I hadn't considered and that I will have to think about. I think the thing is I do know it isn't right. I do try not to talk inappropriately, but I'm not perfect and sometimes things slip out, and then I do get annoyed at my stepmother for picking me up on it every time when it was an accident. But maybe I'm as annoyed with myself as I am with her.

One other thing, when we were talking last night I mentioned I had got some advice online from you and that prompted the whole thing. We talked about it. She asked if I would be OK with her asking her own questions and I said I guess. So you might hear from her too sometime. I hope that is OK.

Thank you again for your advice.

Answer:

I generally expect parents to contact me when I'm talking to minor children, so I don't mind if your stepmother writes to me.

It is interesting that you note that most criminals do know that what they are doing is wrong because you frequently mention that you know you are doing the wrong things too. It doesn't matter if the rules are written and it really doesn't matter if you agree with the rules or if you think there should be an exception to the rule. What you have to train yourself is to do what is right as you "knee-jerk" reaction and when you realize that you did something wrong, that you accept the consequence because you know you should not have done the wrong action.

If your parents point out that you did something wrong and you genuinely did not realize that it was wrong, the proper thing to do is to apologize for not being aware of the problem. Calmly ask for clarification so you won't repeat the offense, and then accept the consequence.

If your parents point out that you did something wrong and you had done it by accident, well, it still remains your responsibility to pay attention. You should tell them they are correct and that you were being careless and once again accept the consequence.

If there is something being labeled wrong and you don't think it is wrong, then accept the consequence, but later discuss with them why it is wrong and perhaps make a case that it shouldn't be considered a wrong. You have to do it later because if you do it prior to the consequence, it appears you are only trying to get out of the consequence. Discussions about the rules need to take place when there isn't an outstanding problem. I also suspect that too many of your "discussions" have really been emotional tantrums which shuts out the other person.

I know it is hard, but it basically comes down to accepting your parents' rules and that includes the punishments. If you think a punishment is too severe or violates the teachings in the Bible, you can try discussing it with them, but you have to do it calmly with reasoned arguments and not emotions. If you think they are being unreasonable or abusive (which doesn't sound like your parents at all), then you talk with a school counselor or someone in authority about the situation.

I know that what I'm suggesting will seem impossible, but as I pointed out in the last letter, you need to get used to adulthood. "I want" is never a justification for doing something wrong. "It was an accident" or "I didn't intend" only points out that you were being careless and again is not an excuse for doing wrong.

Response:

Mr. Hamilton,

Thanks. I'm not sure what she will want to ask, but it might get us both more on the same page which is a good thing for sure.

Thinking about it that way helps, I kind of have a better idea of what I need to do. Making the knee jerk reaction to do the right thing, not to do what my pride tells me. I do still not feel totally right at the idea of accepting something or going along with something which I know or believe to be wrong. That doesn't seem to be completely right either, even if that is obeying your parents as proper. I guess that is just why it is a tricky area sometimes.

And like you said in an earlier message, she has got a lot of experience and a lot more than me and that does count for something. I don't always know the answer that I think I do. That is a difficult thing to accept sometimes but it is true.

As for accepting consequences (I guess that includes whatever punishment she might say as well as just natural effects of what I've done) I think I can do that. I feel like I am better at that than the picture I have maybe painted talking to you. Yes, I have argued about being grounded or sneaked out but that is a few times for specific reasons, not every time she has tried, and other things she has said I have accepted and gone along with. It's not every time I argue.

Also I am sure she is not going to be abusive, that is not any kind of worry. Unreasonable is one thing, and I have thought or said that, but never anything to report to anyone, I would never do that. As for violating the Bible, I don't even know what that would be. I can't think of anything talking about that. I'm not an expert though, obviously.

That point about discussion makes sense too, it does need to be at a time when there aren't outstanding problems. And we can have a not emotional conversation and agree about it, not make it seem like I am just trying to change her mind, or getting into a tantrum (that's another word I really don't like but see why it is used).

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