Q :I've been married a year and a half and have a 5-month-old son and a 6-year-old stepson who lives with us. (His mother does not want custody.)
The problem is that my stepson is a wise guy with a smart mouth. Sometimes I think I just can't take it. He has always been this way, but I got married thinking he would change. He hasn't - even though my husband helps reprimand him.
I'm trying to treat the children the same and to treat him like a real son, but it's so hard.
A: Don't try so hard. First of all, you aren't and probably never will be able to treat your two children the same. Trying to will only infuse your relationship with tension. You can be a friend and support for your stepson, but your feelings for him will just be different from the passion you'll feel for your own son. The older boy can profit from seeing you mother your baby with this passion. He may well be jealous, and his "smart mouth" may get worse. But is that so terrible?
Nearly all 5- and 6-year-olds go through a stage of bringing home provocative speech. When you and his dad react to it, you may be reinforcing it. He may be testing you both to see whether this behavior will cause you to leave him, as he may feel his mother did.
Tell the boy that you won't desert him. Let him know that you and your husband can love him even if you don't like the way he talks to you. Give him a sense of security. The advent of a "new" baby to his "new" mother could very well be making him wonder whether you both will stand by him or reject him.
For more advice about stepparenting, I suggest that you read "Stepparenting" by Jeanette Lofas and Dawn E. Sova (Zebra Books).
Q: My daughter is 2 years old, and I'm still rocking her to sleep. I've read about different things to do to help her get to sleep on her own, but all the advice seems to be for babies .
A: The goal is to help your daughter learn to get herself to sleep. It may be more difficult now for you to extract yourself from your daughter's "pattern." But you can do it .
This is an autonomy issue for her and a separation issue for you, so be sure you do it gradually.
Introduce a "lovey," such as a stuffed animal, that she can use as a substitute for you - first in the daytime. Let her see that she can dare to rely on her lovey and can comfort herself. Then, at bedtime, rock her to calm her but not to sleep. Put her in her bed with her lovey when she is quiet but not yet asleep.
Sit by her to help her get down to sleep. You may be there quite awhile, and she may well protest, but if she knows you mean it, she can and will learn to be independent.
Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Dr. Brazelton regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.