I have two step boys (6,8). It is apparent that every time they transition back to our home the mom has put unhealthy ties to them. When we are at a school function, she takes control and it looks like the boys are uncomfortable talking to us. We just try to overlook and stay positive, but it’s been a struggle as the boys come back and it is like they can’t talk to me (especially the younger one).
Their mom is unpredictable with us. We have tried to be flexible with different things the boys are involved in, but she refuses anything that we suggest or have enrolled them in. Healthy things like soccer. She uses the guise of you didn’t give me any time or ask my input..which we did. However, we still apologized to make amends so that we could work together.
She responds to apologies with that communication is more in line with the divorce decree..which is fine but just hard b/c no progress has been made. It’s been really challenging. My husband and I were thinking about talking to the boys, not about details, but about their transition to our home. Perhaps saying, we know that you come here every week and then go back to your mom’s.
We want to bring light to that transition, while also validating that they can love their mom in our home and love us also. That even though both families are different it’s ok. Do you think it would be appropriate to say, “we’ve noticed that your behavior is different when you come to our home?” Just trying to figure out what’s healthy to say and what’s not.
It just seems like things are in the dark and I want to bring light to them in a healthy manner. What do you suggest?
Stressed out Stepmom
Hi there. I can certainly understand why this is stressful. Those boys are lucky to have you and their father in their lives. Being willing to invest the time and energy so you can find a healthy path is a very admirable quality. Let’s see what I can offer you in these few minutes together.
Re: Re-entry (transitions). Over the years we have found that it’s very helpful to have a ritual for the stepkids when they are coming back to our house. If the school day is a possible in-between activity, that’s ideal. Going directly from one parent to the other seems to be the hardest for the stepkids. I’m not sure what’s happening for you, but if it’s possible to change things so they go to school between being at either home, that’s bound to help in some way.
What can you do no matter what the transition? start them out with a silly fun activity instead of talking. Finding some kind of activity that’s fun for even 10 minutes can really make a huge difference. You can read about some ideas in the public articles about connecting with your stepkids. The goal? Giving their baby brains a chance to clear out any worries and remember how fun it is to be a kid. My favorite…A fun song that plays whenever they walk into the house for the first time…dancing around, coming up with a fun routine of dancing over to coat racks, hanging up the book bags, working together, while singing to prepare a snack, do some exercises, bust a line dance move, etc…anything that is a fun, happy, let’s be a team doing this together can work magic.
Depending on your circumstances you could have more than 1 and let each skid pick.
Maybe you have a 3 person and 4 person version in case both of you & your husband aren’t there together.
This will keep the routines fresh and give you a chance to surprise the other parent. Meaning you and the stepkids or dad and the boys could prepare something. Over time this could be fun for the next few years..until they outgrow it. Right now, they’re at an age when playing is usually the best way to heal their little hearts. Any ideas coming to mind?
If you all aren’t the singing, happy dancing kind of folks, reading together while they have an after school snack can be fun. the goal is to give the space to not feel they are being expected to say anything.
One common, unintentional pressure that stepkids feel is having to fill us in about what happened at the other parent’s home. Whether intention or not, stepkids can feel like they are being grilled. Sometimes they actually are being grilled when at their bio-moms so our well-intended simple “How was your weekend?” can make them anxious & fear they will have to share something that will upset us. This is a lot of pressure for the little guys. An alternative question could be, How are you feeling today? Let’s talk about our plans for this week/weekend.” This gives them permission to relax as well.
Showing them know that the first 10-30 minutes of being in your home is about relaxing, playing, remembering they can feel happy can have a great impact on their mood and ease their little hearts and minds.
I would encourage you and your husband (DH) to NOT speak to them until you try a few things and see how it works. Why? Because it feels like they are already under a lot of pressure at their mom’s. It isi always a good thing to talk about stuff however, as adult, if we can address the situation for the kids, in a kid comfy way…that feels kinder to me. If you can give them the gift of relaxing and feeling happy, they may make their own shift and things can be even happier whenever they are with you. You might even ask them for ideas for fun things to do as soon as they come over. We’ve had some amazing, silly and effective ideas make our list and some life time memories made in the process. (Seeing my husband skip around the block, still in his suit with his 6 year old son was a delighted memory.
Now, as far as the public pressure to not be with you. I know all about that and this is a time for you & hubby to make some really impactful choices. I chose to free my stepson from any duty/obligation to even acknowledge me after he shared the pressure he was under and the punishment he experienced when he interacted with me in public. I drew back to protect him. It was painful for me yet it was such a relief for him that I was able to help myself in other ways.
It is natural to want “equal time” whenever there’s a public event. However if you have a bio-mom who’s not willing to be civil or kind, but instead chooses the hostile path, this is going to require you and their dad to be the wise, more loving set of parents.
I worked hard to keep looking at it from my stepson’s perspective. It is his mother. Whenever she is unhappy, he is the one being punished in some way if she isn’t happy with him. He has to learn how to live in her home and with his little baby brain, he only has so many options. So, I looked at how to help him, given the reality of the situation.
When you do this, you will find that there are options that can help keep them out of trouble with their bio-mom, or will minimize the pain they feel. Like it or not, she is their bio-mom. We can help them by reducing the wrath-impact AND letting them know we understand, that it’s OK if they can’t come over, etc.
Deep Breaths…I know this isn’t fair or right or easy or fun. However, when the bio-mom isn’t willing to put the well-being of her bio-kids first, some times we have to do things to try to help them that don’t feel so good for us. Not as martyrs but more like the mother in the King Solomon story. We know they are just kids and are truly at the mercy of a hostile bio-mom. We are creative, smart, wise adults who will help them in every way we can and help ourselves process the impact on us in other healthy loving ways.
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Kind regards and best of luck with your “Creative thinking Caps,” Cathryn
Copyright 2016, Cathryn Bond Doyle.