“I hate you! This is why you are so annoying!” I’m told this by my stepson Jake as he finally stomps up to his room for his 15 minute time out.

During dinner, his elbows were on the table, he kept talking with his mouth full of food, and he kept eating with his hands. My wife and I scolded him for these things a number of times (as we usually do), and could have easily made a bigger deal of it, but could live with the fact his table manners rated him just slightly above a barnyard animal. What really bothered me (and also my wife), was that fact that he insisted on being so rude to us during the entire dinner.

“Only one hamburger? Where’s the cheese?”

“Give me that.”

“This taste like crap.”

When it came time to clean up after dinner, I asked him to clear the table while I took care of Lulu (our four month old daughter) and my wife did the dishes. (I usually do the dishes since she almost always cooks, but today I made the hamburgers, so got baby duty.) Since I had set the table, I reasoned with him that clearing the table before helping him to unplug the toilet he clogged wasn’t much to ask. After that, if all went well, we could watch a movie. But he begged to differ (in a manner more fitting with his own specific, bratty 10-year-old charm):

“I have to clear all that?? Why are you guys always so mean?”

After doing my best to encourage him in friendly manner, he proceeded to start sulking, doing nothing to clear the table, instead stabbing the table with his fork. I gave him an ultimatum: clear the table in 15 minutes or no movie. This made matters worse, with more complaints on how mean I was, degrading even further into accusations of my stupidity, and other annoying qualities I possess.

Which brings us back to where this post began: Being a stepfather still stinks. As rewarding as it sometimes is, my stepsons still resent me. I’m to blame for everything. (I assume this to be the case since this is exactly how I felt about my stepfather for a good 20 years or so.) If I any way try to be fatherly (and I’m not talking about being their father here–I know I’m not that to them), either by trying to discipline them, support my wife in enforcing the rules, etc., the reaction is generally similar: angry, belligerent, defiant. Perhaps because I am their stepfather, perhaps because they are mad at their real dad and taking it out on me, or perhaps because it is natural for any boy to at least partially rebel against male authority figures, almost any interaction I have with them that has any rules involved becomes tense.

On the other hand, I’ve tried the advice they gave me in a marriage class my wife and I attended, and that didn’t work either. (Basically, they instructed me to support my wife when disciplining Duke and Jake, but not to take the lead. According to their philosophy, if my wife was gone, and Duke and Jake were starting to act up, I was only supposed to remind them of the rules their mother had told them, and that there would trouble when she arrived. My role instead should be of a friend to them, or some sort of loving babysitter.) With me acting only like their friend, or helpful babysitter, my wife was left trying to discipline both of her kids (I write her kids here because this marriage class philosophy seemed to support that they really weren’t my kids since I had no place disciplining them like a real parent would) own her own. I was the ball-less, helpless stepfather who was supposed to happily see his wife suffer and his stepkids act crazy.

Which returns me once again to the premise of this post: Being a stepfather stinks. Whether I try my best to be a good parent to them (mind you, definitely not trying to replace their real father) or trying to be their pal, someone is unhappy. I think I’ve decided that being a good parent is the solution, but getting told on a daily basis that I’m annoying and hated certainly doesn’t make being the foil to their Disney dad, who can’t be bothered with real parenting, any easier.