Too many d*cks on the dancefloor…

A Reader: There’s the Testosterone Conundrum… Teenage boy + step father = constant conflict & disagreements so what do I do?

Father and Son

Boys boys boys. Growing up in a house full of two “little” brothers, a wrestling match or stinky hamper was never far away. Neither was a fight over our mom’s attention. Like two dueling dancers, they’d each try to out-do the other until she noticed. Even when you love the boys in your life they can be stinky, LOUD, rude, and messy all at once without realizing it themselves. Lots of testosterone can certainly strain a family relationship. It doesn’t even take a full grown boy to disrupt a family dynamic, even a Preggosaurus Rex growing a little boy can produce enough testosterone to kick the circus off-queue. So what is a mama rex to do when the going gets too RAWR?

The first step is to channel it. I like to think of testosterone as steam in a kettle. The more of it a guy has, the more forcefully he needs it to be turned into spent energy. You can’t just cap the steam and expect it to go away, it needs a healthy outlet. Finding some activity they can do together, maybe it’s race RC cars, or go to batting practice or work on a car, or whatever it may be for your boys, will go a long way in helping them bond in a healthy way. The more healthy outlets they have in common, the stronger a relationship they’ll be able to build.

There’s also some sticky family dynamics at play, underneath all the hormones and beating their chests with fists. There is a father-son dynamic that needs support. Right now, as a teenager, your son can’t see the big picture and long term because his pre-frontal cortex is just not quite there. It will take him a few years to realize your husbands’ actions aren’t putting restrictions on him or reigning him in just to be mean, but rather to give him guidance that typically comes from Dad. Finding ways to nurture this bond is tricky and often, a well-intentioned plan can backfire in your face. Some degree of Mama-Sneak is called for, but not too much. You can send them on errands together, find new activities that they both have to try (outdoor stuff is good because they burn much more energy and come home tired!), but be careful being too sneaky in setting activities up.

Something that seems to work well for the men I love in my life, but certainly is not appropriate for everyone, is being the rube for them in those crucial bonding situations. When they can be on the same ‘team’ because they’re both laughing with (and usually at) me, I don’t take it personal because I know they in the end, they’ll be more bonded, and it’s not like there’s any less love then.

The other consideration is to be an open listener for your son. This means to LISTEN and not judge or try to problem solve but just listen. He’s reaching an age where he wants to emotionally attach and if you and him have a good relationship, he’ll attach back to you. This is not attachment in some weird way but rather he’ll develop a deeper trust with you. He’ll be comfortable sharing more than the typical teenage boy shares with his mother about the happenings of his life. The goal is for you and his Step-father to be there for him as a solid support- through dumb decisions and good decisions.

And when all else fails, “RAWR” at them.

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Grandma’s got a… beer?

ID-10032444A Reader:

Within my more somewhat liberal, Catholic, northern family, all gatherings include beer and wine for the adults (even children’s birthday parties, which are more family affairs than bunches of little kids). My husband’s family are Southern, conservative, and more generically Christian, some baptist, and anti-alcohol of any type.

We live 5+ hours from both of our immediate families, in opposite directions. My husband feels more at ease with my immediate family than his own, and our local group of friends, who have become our family, are much like my family. We gather for their kids’ birthdays, and the adults have a few beers while the kids eat cake and shoot nerf or water guns.

Our son is nearing his first birthday, and my husband wants his party to be like those of our friends and my family. He doesn’t even want his parents there, because he doesn’t want them to judge our friends (no one ever gets out of hand). We never drink around his parents out of courtesy, and it took many years of us being married before DH didn’t hide any beer we had in the house when his parents came to visit. He’s honestly too hard on his parents, as annoying as they can be at times, and really tries to cut them out. Not that I particularly enjoy hanging out with them, but I smile and exchange niceties, they are our son’s grandparents. Thoughts on handling this situation?

Kayce:

I actually come from a family just like this; my mom was raised strict Roman Catholic, even attended a Catholic school with nuns who hit the kids with rulers, while my dad was raised Southern Baptist and was forbidden to dance (including prom!), drink, or even have playing cards in the house (they lead to gambling you know). Thankfully they both rebelled, first by marrying each other (via secret elopement), and then by distancing themselves from both doctrines. They still read the Bible to us as kids, but allowed a dialogue about what the teachings meant to us, and encouraged us to seek out our own interests in spirituality.

Their gatherings always included some drinking and lots of card playing & dancing. To this day I’m surprised when I find that I know parts of the Bible more than most of my Christian friends, and I make it a point to connect with my Source (or God) every single day. I’ve never had a drinking problem, or a gambling problem for that matter, and I can’t say that dancing has ever lead to sex for me (I’m not that great of a dancer haha)!

I remember a happy, healthy childhood while my parents have struggled most of their lives to forgive their parents for the expectations that were placed on them at such an early age. So, I guess the bottom line is figuring out what’s more important to you- trying to live a life based on what your church has interpreted as being upright while judging those closest to you, or connecting with your friends and family in a real way that lasts generations and affects everyone they in turn meet. Its important to be honest as adults and to lead by example for your children; the family members can choose whether or not to attend! It’ll ultimately be their loss if they distance themselves, but they might surprise you and come around – rawr!

Marie:

As it’s your party, (since you planned and are hosting it!), if you want to cry, you can. But I doubt you will because you seem like a realistic gal with her head squarely on her shoulders. It’s obvious to me you want everyone to feel welcome, drinkers and abstainers alike. Keep that feeling in your heart and all the guests will feel it.

Coming from a family with a history of alcoholism and where many members of my family have bad memories associated with alcohol, I can understand the need for a ‘dry’ event, religious beliefs aside. Alcohol can bring out the bad side and more voracious comments at the wrong time. And after attending many dry family events, I can also attest to the great social lubricant that it is. Sitting awkwardly on the couch for a few hours is hardly fun for anyone.

So looking for a happy medium, let’s separate alcohol from the obvious. Set up two beverage centers, one with non-alcoholic punches, juices and spritzers (oh my!) by the food and festivities. Set up a “grown ups only” bar somewhere off to the side (maybe in the garage or laundry or back bedroom). Get a bunch of blue Solo cups and a couple packs of fun colored Sharpies or maybe something extra fun like differing Mustache stickers and have everyone personalize their cup to drink from. (I’m sure your cool friends will “get it” and cooperate.) Then it’s a little less obvious who’s drinking and who’s not.

Lastly, designate a “quiet room” for anyone (of ANY age) who’s having a fit. Fill it with some calming music, soft blankets and pillows and keep it pretty dark. Then, if someone does get unruly, grown up or grumpy munchkin, there is somewhere for them to retreat to without causing a scene and ruining the party. (Unless it’s you crying, and then, since it’s your party, you can cry if you want to.)

Hop on board the baby train!

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A Reader:

“I’m 40 and pregnant with my 4th kid. Only my husband and a few friends know. My third son is just now approaching 1 year and while pregnant with him, I had family and friends commenting on how old I was. Now that I’m expecting again, how do I tell family that will be less than thrilled about baby #4 (this includes my oldest son, stepmom and other family members)?”

Marie:

First my dear reader, congratulations on your pregnancy! Children are miracles and blessings regardless of the sacrifice that comes with them or opinions of those in their lives. Before we worry about what anyone else thinks, I’m curious how YOU feel about the bun in your oven. Are you excited? Scared? Disappointed or upset? Nervous? Hopeful? I ask because how you feel will affect how everyone else reacts to your news. If your underlying emotion is tinged with anxiety, anyone you share with will pick up on that emotion. If you are bursting with excitement (maybe this is a girl?!?) then it will be easier for them to get excited with you.

As for sharing this joyful news, don’t share it any earlier than you are comfortable. A lot can happen in a pregnancy and caution at over-sharing can sometimes be for the best. However, you don’t want to keep a secret for too long because then you’ll risk alienating those closest to you by not being honest with them.

If this is going to be your last babe, you may want to have some fun with sharing this information. Maybe do a ‘reveal’ party? Although these are typically for revealing the gender, maybe you have a party a bit earlier to celebrate the baby on the way? Or you reveal the gender and pregnancy at the same time to peripheral family and friends? Maybe you reveal your secret only to those closest to you on a special family outing?

Speaking of family, I would vote for sharing with your son and closest relatives before sharing with the peripheral relatives for two reasons: trust and trust. If you’ll be relying on anyone in your immediate family for support with the young-uns, you’ll want to make sure they’re on board the baby train with you sooner rather than later.

As for your oldest, being an oldest child myself, I can empathize with how he might feel. If he’s become a ‘mommy’s helper’ for you, I would strongly encourage you and your husband to discuss some alternatives to relying on your oldest. Although it is tempting to ask him for help, you might be putting more on his shoulders than should rest there. As the oldest he’s already keenly aware of responsibility in general and what specific responsibilities are required of him. Putting too much on his shoulders may leave him growing up to feel like he always has to be the responsible one. This isn’t necessarily bad for his future (he’s more likely to focus on his education, find a good job and drive himself to achieve more), but it could be bad for his self-image and just isn’t fair to him. He also could run the other way, away from responsibility! Playing caretaker can also leave him confused about his role. If he’s reinforcing family rules, baby-sitting and caring for his younger siblings, it will be easy for him to feel like a parent. But then when dad comes home and reminds him he’s not the dad, inside it will lead to confusion (“but… I was just acting like the dad…”).

What’s the antidote to the responsible older sibling syndrome? Making sure he has time for fun and to be ‘free’ of responsibility at least once a day or a few times a week. Part of sharing the news with your oldest should include some plan you and dad have already discussed that ensures he will still have time to be a kid. If you can ensure him that, I think he’ll be happy to jump on the baby train with you.

Although how you tell everyone is important, I think it’s less important than how you handle their reactions and the weeks and months to follow. You may need to be thick skinned for a few months. Once the baby comes, those baby hormones will probably bring everyone else around to jumping on the baby train.

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Where’s the life button for De-friend?

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A Reader:
I need advice, how do you de-friend someone in life without hurting their feelings? Me and my neighbor became close when she moved in. Our kids would play together all the time etc., we have been friends for over 2 years BUT she tends to ask for favors a lot mostly taking her places, she complains about her husband A LOT. He is an ass but I am tired of hearing it if she isn’t gonna change the situation, and honestly after getting to really know her I don’t like the person she is won’t go into detail there.

Erin:

This is always such a hard situation, especially as women when many of us tend to carry this idea that we are obligated to care take even when it is burning us out. I think firstly you will have to decide what level of involvement you want her to have in your life. Do you want her totally out? Do you want your children to still play together and have minor contact with her that way?

Whatever you decide, you will have to be ready to draw some boundaries with her. Since your children are friends and you guys are neighbors, it seems like a gentle approach may be the best so as not to cause unnecessary tension. Maybe slowly reducing the amount of contact with her is a way to start. That said, I think you will need to be ready to answer questions when she asks if you are avoiding her.

Marie:

This is quite a pickle to be in because it will require a thoughtful response to properly extricate yourself from this situation. Most typical responses would either be a direct approach to stop the relationship all-together or a passive-aggressive approach to let it quietly die out. I’m usually a fan of being direct because there’s no games and no pussy-footing around, but you will have to tread lightly so as not to create more trouble and hurt feelings. Which route you pick will depend on your and her personalities. There’s also the option to try to change the dynamic of the relationship (all relationships are essentially contracts- an agreement between two parties for some sort of trade and benefit). However, I get the feeling from your question that modifying your relationship with her isn’t a goal- ending it is.

To passively and slowly stop the relationship, don’t reach out to her anymore. If she contacts you for a “small favor”, kindly tell her that you won’t be able to help. You don’t even need to give a reason, just say no. (It works for drugs, it can work for annoying neighbors.) If she pushes you for a reason or to help at another time, just kindly tell her that you’re really busy and won’t be able to help. After she calls for requests and is denied a few times, she’ll likely stop calling. You can still be polite and conversational if you run into her in the neighborhood, but just emphasize how busy you are. And maybe buy some good window shades.

Since she is your neighbor and not a stranger you’ll never see again- be careful if you choose the direct method to end the relationship. This will give you the cleanest break but must be handled with tact or feelings will get hurt. This should consist of sitting down with her- in-person to explain that you’re not really going to be available to help her much in the future. Be honest with her that hanging out with her is hard for you because she is clearly unhappy and yet unwilling to make changes and that is difficult for you to observe. Let her know (only if you’re willing!) that in the future if she’s made changes and needs help, that you would be there to support her, but that until she’s willing to make the hard choices, you have to make the hard choice to remove her from your life. Be clear that you’re not judging her, but rather that seeing her in pain or constantly upset and negative is too much of a burden for you to bear. Definitely also encourage her to get help from qualified professionals (a counselor or therapist) if she is willing to make changes in her life as she’ll benefit from the support of a professional.

Negative Nancys are hard people to get rid of. They’re really good at asking for help and being selfish and terrible at being present and aware of others and reciprocal. It’s good that you’ve recognized her pattern of behavior now as you’ll have the best shot at eliminating her negativity from your life by being vigilant and sticking to your decision.

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Tickle me no more!

A Reader:

“Can someone explain to me what is wrong with men? My fiance is currently not talking to me (childish) because he claims I speak to him like a child. Example: Telling him not to tickle me when I’m holding a baby. Or explaining he has to take his cough medicine as directed and not when he feels like it. Sometimes my 11 month old baby acts ten times more mature and aware of her surroundings than he does!”

Marie:

He’s either going to complain that you’re babying him or he’s going to like that you’re babying him. Men are ruled by their egos and to play along you’ll have to either play along or put an end to play time. There is certainly a time and place for scolding (um, do you want me to drop our daughter?) and a time and place for kind reminders (sweetie, it’s time to take your next dose). However if he’s responding so immaturely to perfectly reasonable requests, then there is likely something deeper going on.

First, check the tone of your voice. I am often snappier than I intend to be and it has an affect on Raul. I have to be careful that I’m very clear in what I’m asking of him and that my tone matches my intent. (Often easier said than done!)

Next, call him out on his complaint. “What about what I just said or asked makes you feel like a child?”  Hear him out, however ridiculous it may sound and then take a deep breath. Once he’s had the opportunity to say his piece, you can kindly remind him that your response was a reaction to him- by not caring for himself or being considerate of you, you get frustrated with him. You are sorry if he feels demeaned, as that wasn’t your intent, but you’re also disappointed in his behavior by acting and responding so immaturely.

At this point, as long as you both are still conversing at normal conversation levels, this would be a good opportunity to make your expectations clear. “I will never be ok with you tickling me while I’m holding our daughter.” or “I’m concerned that you’ll get more sick or stay sick longer if you aren’t following the medication guidelines properly.)

Next you’ll want to remove yourself from these ‘bad guy’ situations. Set up his phone to pop a reminder to take his meds. Make a point to hug him when you’re not holding a kiddo. And if he’s being immature again, call him out on it (nicely!). If you have him helping you with a task, you’ll just have to accept that it might not get done the way you want it to. Assign him the tasks that you don’t mind if it’s not exactly as you would do it (ie. taking out the garbage vs folding clothes).

Lastly, if he still won’t grow up and cooperate, it’s time to fight fire with fire. Flip the tables on him. As soon as he gets all pissy, start crying at him for not listening to you and making your life harder. He’ll likely freak at the tears and say whatever he can to shut you up. Sob, “I’m trying so hard to__________ (insert action he was just complaining about) and you just come in here and mess it all up! Boohooohoo!”. They hate crying worse than nagging.

It takes time for a new-ish guy to learn how you like things done and it takes time for you to learn his strengths and weaknesses in supporting household chores. Patience and planning ahead will go a long way to keeping the peace.

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