It feels weird to watch our parents fall in and out of love. And by “weird,” we mean strange, odd, bizarre, or causing feelings of discomfort, confusion, or fear because of perceived strangeness. It’s not surprising at all, then, that you’re feeling discomfort around your mom’s boyfriend. But what can you do about it? For starters, there are several levels of discomfort, and you want to figure out what kind you’re dealing with before we can figure out a plan. Let’s do this by asking a few investigative questions, but remember that your feelings of discomfort are completely valid, regardless of your answers to the following questions.
But first, let’s be clear: if your mom’s boyfriend is acting inappropriately, whether he’s staring at you in a sexual way, saying suggestive things to you, or touching you without your consent, you have exited the territory of feeling “uncomfortable” and entered into the realm of potential predatory behavior, harassment, or abuse. If you feel unsafe or unable to express boundaries like “please don’t touch me,” or “please do not enter my room without permission,” it’s time to tell your mom. If she isn’t willing to listen or act on your behalf, turn to another trusted adult, school counselor, or in cases of physical danger, the police. You can also reach out to resources like ChildHelp USA and RAINN, where an expert will be able to help you determine next steps. If you’re feeling a little discomfort around someone new, that’s one thing, but if your physical and emotional well-being are in jeopardy, it’s time to sound the alarm. You deserve to feel safe and secure, especially in your own home.
However, if your uneasiness is more along the lines of feeling “weird” that your mom has a boyfriend, here are some tips to help you process your feelings.
How to Handle an Uncomfortable Step-parent
Who is it that you feel uncomfortable around?
When you feel that weird, strange, grossness, who’s around? Does it happen when you’re all hanging out as a family? When you’re alone with your mom? Alone with your stepdad? Or when you’re just alone? Taking note of who’s around when the feeling hits you can be important because it can show you in more detail who you’re actually struggling with.
Are you more uncomfortable with your mom and how she behaves as a result of this relationship? Are you more uncomfortable with the boyfriend’s behavior when you are out as a family? When you’re at home? Are you uncomfortable with how Mom or the boyfriend treat you when they’re together? Are you uncomfortable with the boyfriend’s words or actions toward you or your mom or siblings?
When you’re feeling discomfort about a parent’s new partner, it may not actually be that you have a problem with them. Your discomfort could be more about your parent, the disruption of your status quo, or lingering and unresolved issues with your parent’s previous partner or your other parent. Take a deep look at who you’re really feeling weird about.
Where is the discomfort coming from?
Just like the last question, this one could have more than one answer, or the answer could surprise you!
Is the discomfort coming from a place of defensiveness? If so, are you feeling defensive of your mom, yourself, your home, your freedoms, your traditions, your safety?
Does the discomfort come from a place of fear? If so, fear of what? Of losing your mom, of losing your home, of losing your old way of life, of changing the way things work around the house, of abuse or neglect?
Is the discomfort coming from a place of loyalty? Loyalty for your mom, for your other parent, for the way things used to be?
Other places these feelings might be coming from:
- Feeling jealous of the time your mom and her boyfriend spend together
- Believing her boyfriend is “trying too hard” to win your or your mother’s approval
- Trying to defend or side with your other parent (your mom’s ex)
- Feeling embarrassed that your mom even has a romantic life
- Needing time to adjust or grieve the loss of your old family unit
- Feeling unsafe around the new partner
Those are all extremely valid sources of discomfort, and identifying where yours comes from will also help you determine what to do.
When does the discomfort hit you the hardest?
This one might feel like a silly question, but wait! Be honest… when do you feel this discomfort the most? Is it late at night when you’re lying alone in your bed and you can hear your mom staying up late talking to her boyfriend? Is it in the middle of an afternoon when your other parent is driving you to soccer practice? Is it at lunch at school when another kid is complaining about their new stepparent? Is it when you’re sitting next to your mom’s new boyfriend?
Recognizing when you feel the discomfort most, can help you narrow down the who and the where we just talked about. So take a minute and observe the next few times you feel overwhelmed by the discomfort. What time is it? What day of the week? Who are you with? What activity are you doing? The answers could be extremely helpful in getting to the root of your feelings.
What would you rather be feeling?
When you’re uncomfortable, try to identify how it is you’d like to feel instead. If you can come up with a “goal feeling” or whatever alternative to feeling discomfort you might prefer, you may be able to imagine what steps you might be able to take to achieve that change.
If you’re feeling jealous of the amount of time your mom spends with her boyfriend, you’d probably rather feel valued and prioritized by your
family. If you’re feeling like you’ve lost what “home” or “family” used to feel like, you’d probably rather feel loved and protective. If you’re feeling unsafe, you very understandably would rather feel safe! Choosing a goal to work toward can help you untangle what to do in those moments of discomfort, especially when it feels like this new weird, strange reality is permanent. In some cases, though, it might actually be possible to work toward a healthier relationship with your mom and/or her boyfriend!
How can you take steps toward your “goal” feeling?
This is the hard part! Moving from a place of discomfort to a place of action is a HUGE step. By no means do you have to do all of these things, especially not at once, but here’s a list of ways you could start trying to make things better for yourself.
- Talk to your mom. Ask for some time alone with her, so that you can express your thoughts and feelings without worrying about what the boyfriend or your siblings might hear. Explain to your mom that you’re feeling this discomfort, tell her where you think the feeling is coming from, and ask her for something specific that would help you feel better.
- If you feel safe doing so, and if you think you’d like a better relationship with your mom’s new boyfriend, talk to him too. Ask him if he has some time to have an important conversation with you. Try to explain your feelings, where they’re coming from and what you think would help you feel more comfortable.
- Talk to a trusted, healthy adult like an aunt, grandparent, teacher, counselor or family friend. Sometimes, especially when it comes to dating, even moms can lose clarity on what’s actually important, so if you feel like you can’t approach your own parent about your discomfort, find another adult to confide in and seek counsel.
- Create clear boundaries. If you miss doing certain activities with your mom, ask if you can please go out just the two of you at least once a week. If you’re feeling crowded out of your own home because the boyfriend is always over, ask your mom if she could please let you know when he’s going to be around, and tell her there are some times you would prefer to have the house to just the family. If your mom or her boyfriend are prone to behaving inappropriately around you or your siblings, make it clear that when they choose to do that, you and your siblings will leave the table, the room, the house, or the situation.
- Create new traditions. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something fun you could all do as a group to help you feel like this boyfriend is a little less of a stranger. Catch a movie. Have a cookout. Do a game night. Spending time together is sometimes all we need to feel comfortable around someone new.
Why should I do any of this?
There is such a thing as “constructive discomfort.” While some forms of discomfort are harmful and unsustainable, others might just be a part of how you’re growing into who you will become. If your family is going through significant changes, some discomfort is absolutely inevitable.
It’s incredibly important to clarify that any form of emotional or physical abuse or neglect on the part of your parents or their partners is not creating constructive discomfort for you. If you fear for your physical safety and privacy, or you’re worried about whether your basic needs like food, water, shelter, and support are going to be met, it’s time to reach out to someone who can step in and help you. Seek counsel and go to the authorities if necessary.
The bottom line is: no matter how uncomfortable life might feel sometimes, you deserve to have a sense of safety, security, and support at all times. Above all else, know that you are not alone. Talk to God, talk to friends, and talk to people who can help you figure out where your discomfort is coming from and how to make things better. We’re always available at TheHopeLine, because you’re worthy of a good life.
Have you been assaulted, physically, sexually or emotionally? Find out what to do if you’ve been assaulted. TheHopeLine can connect you with support and help you with reporting the abuse.