I am a stepmother. Now, when one hears that phrase, one is usually drawn to images of the step parents in the Grimm brothers fairy tales. Stepmother is wicked, wicked to her soul, and she hates her stepchild with a passion, or, at the very least, is insanely jealous of said step child, and plots to destroy poor child using highly suspect acts of magic.
I don’t think I’m evil, exactly. But I do struggle with parenting my husband’s two children from his first marriage. Let me tell you why I struggle. The children are naturally beloved of mum, nana and poppa, and are spoilt within an inch of their lives. They have certain….expectations of privileges dressed up as rights, and they have been known to be quite selfish in their outlook. None of this is at all unusual with kids. They are adored little creatures and loved and cossetted, and so they should be. However, one of the problems with these two bundles of joy has been my acceptance into their hearts. Because mum and nana are two very strong female influences, it has been hard to find my place. Who am I? Am I favourite Aunty? No. Am I fun older sister? No. Am I substitute mum? Definitely not. So what is MY role in these kid’s lives?
I think I have finally begun to carve a niche for myself as “Evil Stepmum”. The one good thing about this role, is that I can work both for and against type, without confounding any expectations. If I am mean to children (in the sense that I make them finish food on their dinner plate before eating dessert; or make them unstack the dishwasher before playing Wii games), that is Evil Stepmum, and entirely predictable. If I am nice to the kids, because we have negotiated a fair deal on something, or I’m feeling generous, that’s Evil Stepmum with a soft streak, and again, entirely within the realms of possibility. Start with hardness, and softness becomes an agreeable surprise. Start the other way around and children can be shaken by sudden death match situations. In other words, I have boundaries, and the kids know what they are, and, for the most part (after they have stayed with us for a few weeks), they are good at sticking within the boundaries. Like all kids, they will give those boundaries a good nudge, but I’m quite forthright and strict in rule setting, and the kids know this.
Problem is, I think my stepson has mild Aspergers. It is undiagnosed, but I think he goes through “phases” at times of displaying quite Asperger-like symptoms. The following checklist is from http://www.asperger-advice.com
- A dislike to any change in their routine
- They lack empathy so feelings of other people go unnoticed
- Try to avoid eye contact
- Preoccupations for one particular subject or interest
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of interest in other people
- Lack of initiating
- Social clues go unnoticed
- No pick up on non verbal signs such as body language
- Unable to take turns talking
- Trouble in maintaining a conversation or starting one
- Advanced formal style of speaking
- One sides conversations
- Subtle differences in speech tone go unnoticed
- Their own speech can be flat because it lacks accents,pitch and tone
- Verbalisation of their internal thoughts
- At young age: echolalia (the repetition of phrases and words)
- Their facial expressions and posture may be unusual
- Uncoordinated motor movements
- Repetitive movements of body parts such as arms, hands or fingers.
- Their motor development is delayed.
In my stepson, most of these symptoms show. Not necessarily to a very strong extent, but certainly he displays nearly all of these symptoms when he visits. I struggle to like him, most days, because as I said to a friend recently, “He’s often a boring, loud, annoying know-it-all with an infallible sense of what’s right and wrong: for him. Completely unaware of people’s feelings, often rude and tactless, no motor coordination, doesn’t cope with change, is argumentative, likes factoids, has a really infuriating habit of sounding pompous and know-it-all, often doesn’t look one in the eye, needs constant reminders to look at people when talking to them, has to be reeducated constantly about tactful behaviour etc etc.” He cannot eat well with knife or fork at the table (he is 13), he pees all over the toilet seat, can’t run, has very poor upper body strength: you get the drift.
I think he has Aspergers. He has one school friend, who is quite similar to him – his only school friend from the last 6 years. He corrects teachers. He corrects the speech of others. He needs to know what is happening all the time. He asks “why” questions all the time. He has the oddest sense of logic I’ve ever seen and he can also be very literal. For example, last weekend, we were visiting my in-laws. His dad asked him to check the front door to see if it was open. It was shut, but unlocked. My stepson, instead of opening the unlocked door and going upstairs, passively waited for us to ask again whether the door was unlocked, which he then agreed it was. At this point, both dad and stepmum nearly lost it, as he was unable to make the implied connection between the shut but unlocked door and doing, what we assumed was the next logical step of going upstairs into the house. This is normal behaviour for him.
He often argues with us, but rarely throws tantrums. He hates change, and struggles to accept new and different things. Is this Aspergers? My husband also looked up the symptoms and realised that many of them could apply directly to him, too. So maybe there’s a hereditary factor.
My stepson laughs, giggles, sees the ridiculous in things. He reads Harry Potter and various action books. He likes War Hammer games, and is getting better at golf. He can be very empathic at times, but usually after we have re-educated him. I have been concerned that I didn’t like my step son because he was just plain horrible, but I am now thinking that perhaps there is a diagnosis for his actions and behaviours, which, if acknowledged, would really really help me in my quest to find the best way to interact with him.
My other step child is mostly great this year. She may have an eating disorder as she gets older. Am awaiting this development with interest.
Help me, oh Obi Wan!