May 4, 2010

A Battle of Hugs: Dealing with the jealousy and possessiveness of children

(Reposted from Arapahoe County Parenting Examiner)

The idea that I can give anyone advice on parenting is oftentimes laughable. I struggle with many aspects of parenting…and even more aspects of step-parenting. Whereas I was just starting to feel comfortable raising my son, as if I had conquered this whole single parenting thing, the addition of another child has sent me for a loop. It’s as if the universe had pulled the “Sorry!” card and booted me back to the home space.

One situation currently has me unsure on how to proceed. With any set of siblings, there is bound to be some jealousy or rivalry, right? For instance, if only one kid gets a new toy, the other one is instantly upset. They want a toy too! Now, imagine it is not a toy, but a mother figure. One child has a mother who he lives with and gets to see every day. He gets to hug her and have her read to him each night. While the other child has a fantastic father who she lives with, she doesn’t get to see her own mother very often. Do you see where this is going?

As a way to make the children feel more comfortable, Keene and I decided to let them control any sort of physical affection with his or her new parent. We settled for pats on the head or knee as a way to say goodbye or congratulate the step-child on a job well done. However, that changed when I arrived home after a weekend trip out of state. As I greeted the kids, Maia ran up to me and gave me a big hug. I was surprised, but pleased that she had seemed to miss me so much.

From then on, she hugged me before school each morning too. I felt this was a good turn of events, a sign that we were growing to be closer as a family. But that was when the trouble started.

One day, while dropping the kids off at school, I hugged Kayden then Maia. I started to walk out the door, but then Kayden hugged me again. Then Maia hugged me again. It seemed both wanted to be the last one to hug me before I left. One more round of hugs and I gently pushed them away lest I wind up late for work.

I thought it was a fluke, but the next day, the kids upped the ante. After several rounds of hugs from each kid, Kayden stood on his tip-toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek. This presented two problems to Maia: 1) she is not nearly tall enough to reach my cheek; 2) she isn’t quite to a “feeling comfortable with cheek-kissing” stage yet. Heck, it took Kayden nine years to get there. So it seemed the dude had finally trumped her in his show of affection. Nevertheless, here we are two months later and we still put on the biggest show of saying goodbye in the State of Colorado.

This cycle, as fun as it may sound, is bound to be upsetting to the children. To start, Kayden is likely feeling possessive of me. He’s always been the only kid in my life. I’m his mom and he doesn’t want to “lose” me to another child. He wants to ensure I still love him more.

On the other hand, Maia probably misses her own mom and feels jealous that Kayden has his mom nearby. As much as she loves her own mother, she wants another mother-type around, just like any little girl would. She wants to be able to show affection and have that affection reciprocated.

So what is a person caught in the middle of a hug-triangle to do? Frankly, I don’t know. How can I reassure Kayden that my love for him will never waver—no matter how many more children enter the picture—without it coming across as playing favorites? How do I explain that mine and Kayden’s relationship is naturally going to be different from mine and Maia’s relationship, without it hurting either of their feelings?

While I’m unsure of how to handle such a delicate situation, I have a plan of action. I will work more on spending alone-time with each child so they can feel secure in their respective relationships with me. With time, hopefully, that will suppress the possessive or jealous feelings the kids seem to be experiencing. After practicing this for a bit and seeing the outcome, I may be in a better position to give advice to others.

In closing, however, this is really a great problem to have: two great, loving kids who are trying to “out-affection” one another. Of all the step-parenting issues I’ve read about or experienced, none have had such pleasant outcomes.

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