Sometimes a Step-parent is Easier to Talk to

molly & Ali

One of our children has anxiety disorders, which I have previously mentioned. She was also newly diagnosed with ADHD. We recently tried her on a medication for the ADHD, at our pediatrician’s suggestion, to see if that would help her to better concentrate at school. Homework consistently takes between two and four hours every night, sometimes longer. The difficult thing about trying to make a child go to bed without finishing the rest of her homework. There are certain things that set her anxiety symptoms off, and her OCD tendencies kick in, and then once she starts obsessing over details it is extremely difficult to divert her attention from the details. We have had nights when her anxiety has been so bad that she was hyperventilating, sobbing hysterically, and she has said horrible things about herself. It is so hard to hear your child say awful things about themselves and to see the pain in their eyes, and to not be able to erase it for them. We were willing to try medication if that would make homework easier, hopefully easing her anxiety in the process.

The medication was supposed to have been extremely mild, and the four of us made the decision as a group to try the medication. We have tried therapy, behavior modification, and she has had help at school. While those things have helped to some degree, she still has trouble concentrating when it comes to her school-work. The only anxiety medication options for her age group according to her doctor are SSRI medications which are typically used for depression, and she said there has not been enough research on children under twelve so she advised against using SSRI therapy, so we could only treat the ADHD with medication, which was scary enough.

At first, things seemed to be going okay. After two weeks her behavior began to change a little. Her fuse became shorter, and her temper flare-ups became more frequent. We discussed the possibility of the behavior being caused by the medication, but we didn’t think it was possible for it to affect her behavior so quickly. By the end of the third week, we were growing extremely concerned. One Sunday in particular was really bad. She had put one of her assignments off and it was one of those several-step-assignments that should have been done over the course of the several weeks that she had been given. Three or four hours went by, and she had a major meltdown. She was worried about getting into trouble at school if she couldn’t finish her homework in time, but she was so worked up about it that she was unable to concentrate.

Her behavior declined on a daily basis, but not all four of us were convinced that it was the medication causing it. I felt like my little girl was fading away, her sweet bubbly personality was being replaced by an angry, distant kid that I didn’t recognize. I also felt like I had to wait until either we had a parenting meeting to all make an informed decision or we could take her back to the doctor.

The final week she was on the medication, and she happened to be at her dad’s. She was with her grandma, and her sister, and they went shopping. When her grandma took her home, Molly, her step-mom, noticed she seemed really down. She asked her about it, and they ended up talking until late into the night. She told Molly that she was feeling angry, sad, and just horrible about herself most of the time. She told her many things that she had not told me. Molly called me the next morning and we talked about everything. The four of us asked our daughter what she thought about the medication. She hadn’t noticed any improvement from the medication, and she felt that her moods had actually been worse since she began the medication. She said she had only kept taking it because the doctor had told her it would make her do better in school. She was afraid to talk to me about any of it because she didn’t want to upset me or worry me.

I have to admit that at first my feelings were hurt just a little bit that my baby didn’t want to talk to me about what was bothering her. But what hurt even more was hearing how badly my daughter was hurting inside, and I had no idea what had been going on inside her head. I felt awful! Once I really thought about it, I realized the most important thing was that she had someone safe that she felt comfortable to talk to. Sometimes I’m too close to the situation and I can understand that. She wanted to talk to a parent, but she didn’t want to worry me. She knew that Molly would tell me everything in a way that would reassure me, so it made her feel more comfortable somehow.

I put my mom-pride aside and put my daughter’s feelings first. What mattered was that she talked to one of her parents! And even more importantly that parent came to me right away! How rare and wonderful! I am so blessed and lucky!

The first thing I did when I saw our daughter again was hugged her, and I told her that everything was going to be okay. She wanted to stop taking the medication, and she said she would try a different medication, but she wanted to take a break first. The four of us discussed everything, and we decided the best thing would be to taper her off of the medication. We noticed a difference after a few days. Step-parents are so amazing, and when I think about everything my husband and Molly both do for our girls, I feel petty for my earlier feelings of jealously for our daughter choosing to talk to Molly first. Molly rarely gets to have a first from either of the girls. I’ve had so many firsts with them. It’s okay to share, and my daughter’s life will be richer just for having Molly and Bob in her life.

Do your kids talk to both bio-mom and step-mom? Do you encourage open conversations and open parenting? If not, why not?

Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on, and She is a regular writer on, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.


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