Hi. I’m getting into more frequent arguments with my two stepsons at the moment. They are 17 and 15 years old. They enjoy provoking me. Basically we have a good relationship, but they do not think about their fellow men. They often make a mess, scream around at night, although they are supposed to be sleeping there. Arguing, making fun fights, trampling loudly through the apartment. With this they wake up my wife, me and our youngest son. I work all day and need my sleep. I practice patience and
I feel for your difficulty as there are few circumstances in modern life as challenging as being a stepparent to teenagers. It has been well said down through the ages that “Patience is the quickest route to God!” It is also the quickest route to household harmony!
The very nature of the goal of yoga is not to react emotionally to those “button-pushing” circumstances — so perfectly designed by the gods of karma to “get the goat of our inner peace!”
Marcel, what I am obviously suggesting is a combination of perspective and humor, both designed to bring calmness and patience into a difficult situation.
Here are some random points that might be helpful:
- Teenagers are often a little bit crazy. The combination of hormones, culture, rapid changes in their bodies, and peer pressure — overshadowed by the prospect of having to grow up and leave behind forever the innocence and irresponsibility of childhood — is a volatile mixture of “gases!” The awakening sexual energy of the teenage body is related to the awakening and expression of ego and willpower. It comes with the clear and necessary steps of separating from parental authority, respect, and self-identification.
- The points above suggest something to always hold in your mind: their behavior, even when inconsiderate, is not about you; it’s about them! Even when teenagers are mouthing off and being disrespectful, they are actually acting out their own fears and self-judgment of unworthiness and insecurity. (I’m not saying that any adult or parent should accept being disrespected; that’s a separate question. I’m simply saying that their behavior, even when directed toward you, is not about you. It reflects what they are going through.)
- They don’t know it, but they desperately need to see how a mature adult responds to conflict. A boy’s teenage years are all about conflict among their peers for gaining acceptance (from girls and boys, or good grades, or in athletics, or among the “in crowd” at school). It’s one big alpha male competition. (Same with the girls, just different). So they bring that aggressiveness home with them, and you are just another competitor — indeed, in some ways, a very threatening one.
- As a step-parent, your authority is fragile, to say the least. They can always appeal to their mother, who, if she doesn’t support you, deflates your role in the boys’ life. You are constrained therefore to make sure anything you do or say, especially regarding discipline and household rules, has the approval and support of their mother. That, in turn, makes you look weak and they know it. Like sharks in a feeding frenzy, they can turn on you anytime you are “taken down” by their mother. So you must be careful. Patience, patience, tolerance, gentle humor, quiet voice…
- Where you can, take the role of an older brother (rather than a parental figure) who understands what they are going through yet are ready, if they are interested, to share your experience and input. This can be a more secure role for you to play than that of a parent at this stage.
- Teenagers joke around a lot and tease each other as a way to act out their insecurities. You want to be very careful and not be overly familiar with them. At the same time, a little gentle teasing and humor can ease some of the friction.
- Lastly, teenagers are, in fact, very unaware of their behavior and very thoughtless about their impact on others. Lecturing to them repeatedly won’t usually work.
I think their impact on the household, and upon rest and sleep, won’t be easily “fixed.” No doubt you’ve already had calm and patient talks with them (?) but without impact. This may simply be a phase that you have to “offer up to God” with patience, forbearance, and even good humor. You can probably even tease them about your lack of sleep as long as it isn’t judgmental or angry but in good humor.
Nature and soul evolution requires the young person to separate from his/her upbringing and parental influences. It’s a kind of divorce: something you have already experienced. It is therefore likely to have its painful moments. Swami Kriyananda counseled my wife and me (long ago) during a similar period with our teenage son, to reflect in our calmer moments upon our son’s good character and noble traits. I suggest you bring into your prayers and meditations a reflection on the positive qualities of these two rambunctious teenage boys.
Do you ever do outdoor activities (camping, hiking, climbing, rafting) with them? Sports or athletics? Finding things to do in common that you do together — and not just you as being in charge — these are important. My last point is: they need to see how adults behave. You are the adult; they are still children. Never forget that, and never let their misbehavior turn you into an angry teenager.
There is a level of disrespect you should not have to tolerate: whether verbal or physical. What that is, depends on you, your upbringing, and them. One cannot define it. But if they cross that line, simply withdraw and discontinue the interaction. Do so as calmly as possible. If you feel anger, also withdraw. Such things happen in families — and in life — and the example of your calmness and maturity is essential to their own development towards adulthood. Okay?
And in all circumstances: PRAY! CHANT! LAUGH! Speak calmly with fatherly wisdom and understanding.
“This too will pass!”