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Sometimes shy dss does not answer questions or respond to simple "hello"

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
I have been living with dh for 2 years. Our dd is 1 year, and dss is 6 years old. He has been living with is mom since his parents split 5 years ago. He spends a couple days (not nights) with us a week. The lack of equal time is in response to dss comfort level, as he expresses, overtly and passively, his need for a preferred routine and more time with mom. Understandable to me as a momma myself.

It is well understood by is mom, dad, and both step-dad and myself that he is "shy", and often in new situations becomes overwhelmed. When there is a new person, or a situation with lots of unknown people (like going to a big swimming pool), he becomes very quite, non-responsive to questions, and generally appears uncomfortable.

The usual response on our parts is to sort of become intuitive, and guess or anticipate what his needs are, and how best to respond to them. Sometimes, its simply giving him transition time.

Here is my issue. Sometimes when he first comes to dad's house. I will say "HEy *****, hows it going" and then, there is total silence to me. But meanwhile, he will enagage dh.

Sometimes, I will be attempting to connect to him, ask questions about what he wants to have for dinner, his last fishing trip, how is animals at mom's house are doing..you name it-and he totally ignores me.

He also does this with stangers. But I am not a stranger. Thats said, as the day progresses, he warms up, an things get easier.

NOnetheless, I find that I am getting frustrated, because I am needing to feel at ease in my home, and that there is a acknowledgement of my presence, or just inclusion in family life with him. Not always, but sometimes, I feel kind of resentful, and am like, screw it, if you don't want to talk to me, so be it.

HOWEVER-what I am more deeply seeking, is to support DH's and dd's relationship with dss, and hopefully forge my own caring connection with him over time.

I am trying to make for more one on one time with him-go for bike rides, play special games to help him feel more at ease.

BUT ultimately, I believe that its also the parental role,to encourage behavior that most serves the child long term. I have not seen any of the other parents address this directly. An as you can see, I am hardly in the role to parent him.

I am concerned, genuinly, that his shyness, and inability to move pat his discomfort in new situations, will make future endeavors and challenges even more challenging. I also belive, that the spirit of inclusion and friendliness, is a support powerful quality to inact in one's life.

So, here is my question:

Am I out of line to have a desire, or even expectation that he answer my questions?

Is it also appropriate to request the other parents, mom and step-dad, to connect to how we can support him better, but also encourage behavior that is inclusive of others.

IN all, any perspective would be helpful.

ps. I feel a bit silly, to have "issues" with a 6 year old, but (sigh) I do.
post #2 of 27
I don't think the desire is out of line, but the expectation may be premature. Especially for a child with an introverted or shy disposition, new relationships can be tricky to navigate. You've been around for 2 years, but since your time with him is limited, it's going to take longer for you and him to develop a relationship.

I would say that the most important thing for a stepparent to do when working on their relationship with a stepchild is to work on dependability. You're probably already keeping that in mind, but what seems to really help is

*always let the child know far in advance when the next visit is
*always do what you said you would do and try very hard not to alter plans
*make a transition routine and stick to it
*make sure the child knows far in advance of any big changes coming up (moving, babies, new car, etc)

This helps the stepchild see that you are consistent, that he can depend on you, and that you care to involve him and inform him.

As far as the parenting thing - it's not abnormal for a 6 year old to be shy. More so than encouraging interaction, I would focus on reassuring your dss that he's secure and emotionally safe. Maybe offer him non-verbal ways of communicating that would help him feel more comfortable. For example - "If you would like to wear the red shirt, can you give me a thumbs up?"

And hang in there!
post #3 of 27
I think you are expecting a little too much from a 6yo.

He is 6yo and "shy". He is dealing with transitioning between parents and getting to know a step parent.
Keep trying...keep inviting conversation but no pressure. Maybe wait until he's reconnected with his Dad and has settled in your home before trying to get a conversation going.

My dd wouldn't talk to people at all but at home she wasn't shy at all. She wouldn't smile or respond in any way to anyone for a long time. At 7yo she is just now starting to. The more I pushed her to at least smile and say "hi" to people the more she retreated. I wouldn't push this issue too much.
post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the feedback. I found both your posts very helpful. I think I will need to focus on having a routine with him, that is consistent, and creates a space, where it is clear that I am focused on him.

I was thinking of talking to his mom, about having me pick him up from school one day a week to drive him home. That way he sees me in the role of caretaking in a regular way.
post #5 of 27
I think that's a great idea. Maybe after he has gotten used to the routine of you taking him home one day a week you could stop at a park for 20-30 minutes to play and have a little snack. I think having something that you do together and is a reliable part of their life is a great way to connect with kids who haven't always had you around.
post #6 of 27
I think that's a great idea about picking him up from school!

My stepson is almost seven and does what your stepson does and he lives with us full time. He even does it to his dad. It is so hard not to take things personally with stepkids. I have been a stepmom for almost five years and I am still learning how to have a thick skin about stuff. It's usually not as big of a deal to them as it is to us.
post #7 of 27
Originally Posted by Lucia's mama View Post
ps. I feel a bit silly, to have "issues" with a 6 year old, but (sigh) I do.
I understand completely. No solution, but understanding.
post #8 of 27
hey there. This sounds very challenging, indeed. However - remember that when parenting is hard it doesn't mean that you are doing anything wrong, nor is he - it's just hard.

that said, i have a few thoughts. i agree that routine is important - as are the expectations that dh is setting with him. i would really be careful not to "expect" him to act in certain ways with you - any pressure with someone shy is bound to make them retreat more. but dh and you could create a routine where you make yourself scarce right when dss ariives. this give dad and him a bit of time together. then dh can let him know that after they hang out you have a snack for him AND you'll do something non-verbal with him. like... drawing, clay, even watching a movie - something where the two of you are together but there's no pressure to talk. another idea might be to do something around nature - take an "explore" in the backyard, or at a nearby nature spot. somewhere you can both look and explore and occasionally share something with each other. nature can be such a powerful experience - and something nice to share together.

my daughter was shy and basically wouldn't say hi, or thank you or please to anyone for the longest time - i know yours is a different situation - but even that was really frustrating. but it PASSED - and so will this - IF you remain chill about it and realize it's NOT a recrimination of YOU - it's just his own challenge. make sure you and dh are on the same page, too.

good luck!!
post #9 of 27
i havn't been w my ex for almost three years. he has been w his gf for two. and i have been with my bf for less than 6 months. and my older dd had and has trouble w new suiations. she is rude to my bf sometimes and was to ex's gf. she sensory issuies. she sees a ot and will start up art therpy soon here. i have to explain and reexplain stuff w her to my bf often as he is new to the gf w kids stuff. he is good w them. there is a period of getting used to. i have days where i want to jump off a cliff. and i wish my ex and his gf would be able to talk more. instead he is in pain alot from his neck issues and doesn't call to much during the week to check on dds i do much of the decisions about kids on my own.just wanted to share.
post #10 of 27
I'm only going to address one issue because it comes across as rude/inconsiderate.

Well, I tend to go against the grain. While many blended family issues take time, it doesn't take but a moment to speak. I'm sorry, but after two years of LIVING with your dh plus any time you were together beforehand is not a new situation, especially with him coming over weekly. My dsd used to come to where I was staying and walk right past me after I spoke which is what her mother used to do. I explained that you acknowledge people when they speak to you, especially when you go to their house. After a while, I stopped them at the door and would say, "hello" until I got a response. I wasn't rude, but I did insist on being acknowledged and not some invisible maidservant. I'm not having anyone come into my house and give me a cold shoulder, ignore me and walk into my home and speak to everyone else as if I don't exist. If you're not ready to open up and have a full on conversation, I understand because I may not want one with you. However, if you have a mouth, the ability to nod or wave, I expect a response no matter how old you are. I would also expect my husband to say something like, "Son, *** just said hello to you. You can say hello back to her." Children will do anything they're permitted to do. I guess I see this being a problem later down the road in dealing with non-family. More power to you if you can stand it, but I couldn't deal with this behavior for too long.

...and yes, I have shy children, and dsd was 3 at the time I would expect a response from her and her mother.
post #11 of 27
Repeat after me:

"As a stepmother, I am not solely responsible for the challenges I encounter."

Here's a hard truth: Sometimes, no matter how kind we are, no matter how giving, no matter how open or generous, our stepchildren either take an inordinately enormous amount of time to warm to us OR, sometimes, they never really warm to us.

I am not saying that this is happening to you.

What I am saying is that you're not doing anything wrong. Your DSS's inability or unwillingness to acknowledge you when he comes over is not your fault.

That said, he's clearly a little boy with some issues and it's absolutely, positively appropriate for you to feel empathy for him and to adapt your way of relating to him so that he's more comfortable. And it sounds like you're trying very hard to do just that.

But here it is, Mama: You deserve to be acknowledged when you speak to your DSS. Ignoring a parent, stepparent or other adult in the house is completely unacceptable. 6 years old is NOT TOO YOUNG to be taught that, even if it's a little uncomfortable, you always answer when stepmom talks to you. This is a basic respect issue. You are the mom in your house (even though you're not his mom) and he doesn't get a pass on being respectful just because he's shy and/or doesn't live with you.

I believe that it is your DH's job to address this with your DSS. DH needs to make it clear to his son that he expects a certain amount of courtesy from him when he's with your family. It could be as simple as "'Lucia's Mama' is a member of this family and I know it's sometimes uncomfortable for you to talk to her, but I want you to try really hard to answer when she speaks to you. If you forget, I will remind you." And then he has to stay on the ball and when he notices his son ignoring you, he needs to gently remind him with a "Lucia's Mama is speaking to you honey. Please rememeber to be kind and answer her."

If your DSS lived with you or there was a true shared custody arrangement, I would suggest that you give him feedback yourself when you notice him being rude. But, I think that would backfire for you in this situation. My own DSS used to pull this ignorning stuff with me when I first started living with him (he was also about 6) and I would just say, very kindly, "Hey bud, it feels hurtful when I talk to you and you don't answer me. Is everything okay?" It didn't go on for very long.

Good luck Mama. Remember, you didn't create this situation, but that doesn't mean you have to live with being disrespected in your own home. Talk to your DH and tell him how hurtful it is to you when DSS ignores you and come up with a plan together.
post #12 of 27
Originally Posted by mild_adventurer View Post
Repeat after me:

I believe that it is your DH's job to address this with your DSS.
You've gotten some great advice and your idea to pick up is a great one. Also, in suggesting this you will be opening up a dialogue with dss's mom, and she will see that you are being proactive. But your DH should set some parameters for basic manners, and you don't want to allow dss to passively/aggressively be rude to you, if in fact that is his intention. He may be shy and passive aggressive! Or just shy. Either way, he needs a few ground rules. Good luck!
post #13 of 27
I agree with mild_adventurer.
post #14 of 27
I'm going to disagree with some of the advice. I don't think you should force a response, especially as soon as he gets there.

You say that he's quiet and it doesn't seem as if he's being dismissive, he's just shy and uncomfortable. You said that he warms up after a couple of hours...I would engage him then. Give him time to get settled back in the house again.

I remember going to visits with my bio-father after my parents got divorced and I was terrified. I was a very outgoing child and I'd clam up and was uncomfortable. I just imagine how he is feeling.

I do like your idea of picking him up every once in a while.
post #15 of 27
Originally Posted by Sarah W View Post
I'm going to disagree with some of the advice. I don't think you should force a response, especially as soon as he gets there.

You say that he's quiet and it doesn't seem as if he's being dismissive, he's just shy and uncomfortable. You said that he warms up after a couple of hours...I would engage him then. Give him time to get settled back in the house again.

I remember going to visits with my bio-father after my parents got divorced and I was terrified. I was a very outgoing child and I'd clam up and was uncomfortable. I just imagine how he is feeling.

I do like your idea of picking him up every once in a while.
I thought this thread was about a preteen or a teen, so even though I have little experience with blended families, I need to say my piece. I was a painfully shy kid and if someone confronted me or forced me to acknowledge them, I pretty much wrote them off. There is a BIG difference between being rude and being shy and only the person feeling those feelings can tell you which one it is (Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves is a great book for helping understand this). I think if you respect his boundaries in needing time to transition and warm up, then you will be much more likely to have his respect.
post #16 of 27
I don't think this is an issue of respect and I don't think it's helpful to conceptualize it as such. The OP has raised two issues: 1) wanting more of a relationship with DSS and feeling hurt not to be acknowledged; 2) concern for HIS welfare as a shy kid and will this hurt him in the long run/how do we teach him to interact socially? I think it's really useful to separate these out.

We need to have empathy for this kid who is both shy and only sees his dad (who he's known since birth) a couple of afternoons a week. He's too shy/needing of Mom to even do an overnight with his own dad. Clearly this is an issue for him. To us it might seem simple: you acknowledge someone when they speak to you. But to him, he may be terrified, disoriented, a little sad, needing to establish his dad as a solid base before interacting with others, etc. MAKING him say hi back to his stepmom will just force him to retreat more and hurt his trust in his dad as an empathetic, supporting base from which he can reach out to others. The fact that he does connect with the OP after re-establishing that connection with dad indicates that this works. This doesn't mean that the dad can't talk to his son about it - or even better the mom. But I envision a convo that's more like "it seems like you have a hard time when OP says hi to you" without asking why but just acknowledging it. Maybe guessing "it must be hard to leave your mom's and come here" - i.e., try to acknowledge feelings and get him to open up. Sometimes just getting kids to feel understood helps THEM think through how to change their behavior. I think the OP's instincts are right on and the steps she's considering and her approach are setting her up for success. This is because she's starting from a position of empathy for him rather than concern about if she's being "respected" - which I really think is not the issue. Too often adults think it is and I think this can be enormously frustrating to children.

In terms of long term, his issues with shyness. My instincts tell me to definitely not force it, empathize, help set him up for successful encounters. But if he is painfully shy, which he sounds like he might be, you might want to explore play therapy. I don't think forcing a shy kid to be outward and social, though, will help - I think it would backfire.

Good luck. You sound like a really caring and great stepmom.
post #17 of 27
I think he needs more time to transition into your home culture. It sounds like he is an introvert and you are an extrovert. Maybe you can have your husband remind him to say Hello when he comes in, to be polite, but I wouldn't expect him to jump right into conversation or connect with you until he has had a little time to adjust. Introverts are slower at making transitions, and making conversation can take a LOT of energy. I think all the questions you are throwing at him to try to draw him out are overwhelming him, and he doesn't have a polite way to say "Back off for a few minutes and let me talk to my dad!", so he ignores you.
post #18 of 27
post #19 of 27
My dd (6) has Selective Mutism, which is an anxiety disorder. She basically finds it extremely difficult (sometimes impossible) to speak in certain situations.

When my dh (her father) comes home from work and says hello to the family, my ds (2) is all over him telling him about his day, but my dd hangs back. Dh gives dd a quick kiss on the head, gives her space, and waits for her to come to him when she is ready. It's usually within a couple of minutes, but for whatever reason, she needs that time before she can speak to him. After that, it's non-stop talking.

My dd comes off as rude, especially when she doesn't answer. Some of my family members were upset b/c they thought I was condoning rude behavior by not forcing her to speak. She has been like this since she was a baby and I know that the more pushing she gets, the more she retreats. It just doesn't work with her. It's not about respect, it's not even about you. It's about them and what they are going through.

(This is something we've been working on for a while and she has been getting better about waving, nodding, and shaking her head. Baby steps, but we're getting there. Also, as a parent of a child who is a chatterbox at home and completely mute in public, it can be very frustrating.)

Maybe you and dss can come up with a non-verbal greeting, like a peace sign or high-five (maybe an air high-five if he's not ready). It sounds like he just needs time to warm up and readjust.

Hang in there!
post #20 of 27
The OPs feelings are hurt when her DSS doesn't acknowledge her existence. It's frustrating for her and makes her feel uncomfortable in her own home.

Even though we all believe (and wish) that we should be able to set our own feelings and needs aside when confronted with challenging behavior from our step-children, the brutal truth is that it's really, really hard.

And what stepmother hasn't felt a little guilty about the fact that when their (clearly) hurting stepchild is behaving badly, it's not always easy to muster the empathy and kindness required to "put the child first?"

I know it's happened to me and I love my stepchildren dearly. I have my frustrating moments when, honestly, I don't really care what they're going through, I just want them to be nicer to me.

And of course, I never tell anyone this because it's ugly and shameful and not very motherly.

Stepmothers who navigate relationships with their stepchildren by never acknowledging their own needs/feelings and acting on them often find themselves in divorce court. Because eventually the tension between stepmother and stepchild spills over into the PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP in the home: the husband-wife relationship.

65% of re-marriages with children fail in the first 3 years.

As far as I can tell from the OPs post, her DSS is shy but hasn't been diagnosed with any additional clinical disorder. I stand by my original assertion that it is not unreasonable to expect a 6-year old to acknowledge the presence of his stepmother when he walks into the house.

If it works for the OP, I think a very good compromise is to agree on a non-verbal acknowledgement, like a little wave or a wink or even eye contact and a smile.
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