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DSS's Mom is dialing up the pressure...UPDATES, posts #4 & 8

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
So far, it's been delightful having DSS (11) home from his 7-week summer visit with his Mom, in CA. He seems very happy, the brothers are all enjoying being together (my twin sons, 15 and our 2-y-o son) and DSS has mentioned numerous times how happy he is to be back and even that he's excited about school! This year, for 6th grade, he's switching to Catholic school and at orientation he smiled ear-to-ear the whole time, was greeted excitedly by kids he knows from CYO sports and was excited when we bought him a school-logo sweatshirt and T-shirt. He and the one other new kid were invited to stand up and everyone applauded them. He practically leapt from his seat with excitement to discover his homeroom/science teacher is a cool, young, male Notre Dame grad. He declared science is his favorite subject and ND, his favorite college. The twins (at public school) had to go back a week before him and the day before, while I was helping them organize all their new school supplies and locker doo-dads, DSS asked if I would help him, when it was his day to go back. I said of course! He said, "No, I mean can you be there with me on the first day of school, to help me set up my locker?"

So you can imagine how shocked and crushed I felt, to hear he's been texting his Mom that he hates being here, he wishes he didn't have to go to school here and could go to the one near her; he wants to live only with her "permanently"; and when he's here the only thing he does is spend his time dreaming of turning 14, so he can leave! Naturally, she responds to this very warmly: "ME, TOO, Baby, ME, TOO!!", "YOU + ME = BFF" and reminders that he has all the power, if he can just be patient for a few more years.

As usual, when she calls and he tells her he's doing something with us and will call her back later, she calls/texts him back repeatedly, so he will focus instead on her.

As we suspected, he scarcely worked on his summer reading, with her. He says his Mom told him he didn't have to do the outlines because she asked me to e-mail her the rubric and I refused to! Apparently, she also told him his Dad and I didn't understand the instructions and he only had to read the 1st book, the other 2 were optional. Adding insult to injury, she and her family keep FBing him to sympathize about how awful it must be for him to have to do so much reading and work, when he's with his Dad!

He was supposed to choose an instrument and start lessons while he was out there, so he could be in band class at school. She bought him an electric guitar (which he can't play in band class), mailed a second one to our house and sent my husband a copy of her correspondence with an instructor here. She arranged weekly lessons for him which just happen to be during the hour we go to church (which has been an ongoing sore subject for her).

Every year, we go camping Labor Day weekend, which she knows. (She tends to call then and freak out if we're in an area with bad reception and DSS doesn't C/B immediately.) She announced she's coming for a visit that weekend. DH is supposed to get a chance to tell her - BEFORE she buys tickets - if the W/E she picks is inconvenient for us. But before telling DH, she told DSS she's picking him up at 9am that Sat., "So don't make any plans!"

She also bought him a digital camera that can instantly send the photos via e-mail or something. His Mom has been scolding him when he doesn't send her pictures, to show her where he goes and what he does, so she can "be with" him all the time!!! Theoretically, it's a nice idea for her to have a glimpse of his life. But I feel like we're being spied on. It used to upset DSS to the point of tears, when his Mom whipped out her camera to "get evidence", every time his Dad picked him up or dropped him off, or came to his school. Now I feel like DSS is the one gathering evidence FOR her. And I'm supposed to smile about it and tell him what a nice camera it is.

As a purely knee-jerk reaction, my feelings are hurt, over what DSS has told his Mom. I put a lot of effort into making sure he has fun things to do. I arrange it so he has special alone time with both me and DH, if he wants to talk. DH takes valuable days off to have fun and be playful with him, during this precious little time we get while he's not in school. His brothers have turned down invitations to friends' houses, to have time with him, since they haven't seen him in 2 months. He seems so happy! Is he just faking? If so, he's bone-chillingly good at it!

Emotions aside, I know DSS can genuinely enjoy being with us and still hate the separation from his mother. Of course he does! I also know he's heard so many times that she "can't ever be happy again" unless he lives with her and that she "doesn't need anyone but him". (She's in a LTR now and DSS thought she was getting married this summer, but evidently she has told him she'll "never" remarry, because HE is all she needs!). So, he probably feels guilty for enjoying his time with us. Telling his Mom he hates it here may be his way of making it up to her that he needs/loves people besides her.

And - here's the really hard thing for me to swallow - perhaps he DOES wish he could go back and live with her! For one thing, she IS his mother (and I sure as heck hope MY sons would miss living with ME, if they stopped). Also, since the custody change, his time with her is constant Disneyland. Only with us must he go to school, do his homework, eat healthy food and be told some things he wants are too expensive! Plus, he was only 8 when he moved here, so the older he gets, the more he probably forgets about the years when it was his Dad that he missed; and all those times DH came to visit, when DSS' Mom would only give them a couple hours together and DSS would try to steal more time with him, by lying: "You don't have to take me back to Mom's - she said I can spend the night with you tonight! She just forgot to tell you. No, don't call and double-check with her! She's really busy!" I'm sure he also forgets that when he lived with his Mom all the time, she had a regular life: She worked, he was at school/daycare 9 hours a day, he had to do homework and every single weekend did not include an amusement park, a cruise or a resort!

Part of me thinks DH and I should prepare to lose him when he's 14, because after all the crap he's been through, he's SHOULD finally get to say what he wants! After all, DH fought for custody because he wanted a healthier situation for DSS, NOT just because DH's possessive!

The other part of me thinks there's no way for us or a judge to ever know what DSS really wants. If he says he wants to go back to his Mom, how could we know he's not just saying what will please his pushier, more emotionally needy parent? He knows anything he says to a judge, a counselor or his guardian ad litem will get back to his mother. He's been intensively coached about what to say, practically since he could speak, and he's neverendingly reminded that his mother's entire emotional well-being hangs on what he says! So wouldn't it be better for us to try to document the manipulation and be prepared to argue that the pressure on DSS has been so intense that, even at 14, he should be shielded from having to choose between his parents? That a judge - and only a judge - should decide which home is the healthiest place for him to live? (And, of course, we think ours is the clear answer.)

We're also talking about making DSS go back to counseling. He's not interested. But it CANNOT be mentally healthy for him to act perfectly happy around one parent and never even mention missing the other, while simultaneously telling the other parent he's miserable and pining for her! I wish he would tell us how he's feeling about his Mom, but if he won't, shouldn't he tell somebody?
post #2 of 12
Jeannine, the absolute first thought I had was that your DSS feels guilty for enjoying himself so much while he's with you guys, and his mother is certainly fueling it. It sounds like he is not faking when he is with you, it sounds like he is happy, and you guys don't put the insane pressure on him that his mother does.

I can only imagine how that must have felt to find out about those texts but I am willing to bet it all that he only said that because she was guilt tripping him, or had done it (guilt tripped) for so long that he just feels that way around her.

The camera thing It does sound like this woman is trying to pry into your lives, and she has found a brilliant way to do it, I feel like saying UAVs about her So, she used to document everything with pics? and is now wanting her son to do it now that he is with you more??!?
I'm sorry, I am for you.

I wish I could say something of use, but I really just had to share my thoughts
post #3 of 12
It DEFINITELY sounds like there is some manipulation going on and that he's saying these things to appease her. However, actions speak louder then words, ESPECIALLY with children. If he is happy and having fun at your house, you can be certain that he is.

However, have a little faith in his maturity at 14 years of age. He will choose where he is ultimately happy. When I was 13, I went through the same thing. I had lived with my mother up until then and knew that it was not some place a 13 year old should be living (she could ill-afford my sister and I, we were living in squalor conditions, and smoked 2 packs a day in the house.. I was suffering from chronic bronchitis, etc) so I chose to live with my dad despite the fact that my mom was always coaching us to stay with her and never tell my Dad how bad things really were. Telling me that he was not a good parent, etc. I loved her but I knew I had to get out of that situation. I went in front of the judge and knowingly broke my mother's heart. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.... but I knew I needed to do it for MY happiness. My mother cleaned her life up and I moved back in with her at 17... so although still children, a 14 year old CAN and will stand up to manipulation and choose what is best for himself. At 11, it's much harder to do that... but give him time. I trust he will choose what's right. Good Luck! Being a step-parent, I think, is one of the hardest jobs on the face of the planet. No one can truely understand the difficulties until they are one.
post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 


DSS is settling back into being home. He's started back to school and really likes it! I think I mentioned before that he was supposed to pick an instrument to play in the school band, while with his mom and she offered to start lessons. But she encouraged him to pick the electric guitar, which of course he can't play at school. Then she sent him a guitar at our house and set up lessons with a friend of hers, which conflict with us going to church. We decided to schedule the lessons on a different day, of course, but also to hold off on them until 2nd semester. We want to see how he does in school and, if he's going to spend time on an extra-curricular activity, sports need to come first (since he came home from CA 3 pants sizes larger than when he left! Of course, we didn't explain to him why we feel sports is the top priority. Hopefully he'll just have fun.) So, he's playing soccer at the Y and DH, who coached his basketball team last winter, is setting up once-a-week after-school practices for his teammates, to get ready for the season.

Yesterday, DSS asked - with absolutely no input from us - if he could pick a different instrument, because he really wants to be involved with the band, at school. He took the initiative to ask his music teacher about it and she said if he takes private lessons, he can join the band next semester. So, if he keeps up with his school work, we're going to do it! I know his Mom will view this as sabotage of her electric guitar efforts. But it's what he chose...and I feel her push toward electric guitar - rather than something he can do at school - was part of her numerous other efforts to make him feel negative about and not invested in school, here. Opinions? Is it OK to let him take lessons on a different instrument, while postponing the lessons his mom scheduled?

Also - and here's the big relief - DH and I have discovered that DSS mostly seems to be texting his mom about how much he hates it here and wishes he never had to come back and see any of us ever again, etc...right he's told to finish his homework or clean his room, when he'd rather not; or after he has trivial spats with the twins. I think it is a sensitive thing for him that he and the twins have gone from seeming like they're all the same age and playing Legos and building forts together and feeling like living together was an endless slumber party, to really being brothers. They're different ages, they like different things, have different friends, sometimes they annoy each other, sometimes they want privacy in their rooms... Of course, DSS thinks it's no big deal if he tells them they can't go in his room, or touch his stuff, or if he playfully insults them... but evidently he's feeling very sensitive about them ever doing the same thing, to him. His feelings were hurt because one twin tried to start a pillow fight the other night and hit him first. Or, for example, DSS loaned his tennis shoes to the kid across the street. One twin noticed the shoes at the neighbor's house, brought them home and told DSS, "Here, you left them across the street." DSS acted hurt at the assumption that HE left them there. When I figured out what he was in a funk about, I explained that of course Twin A assumed that's how the shoes got across the street, if DSS didn't explain it to him. The point was, his brother made the effort to bring them home and give them to him! And that was the end of it. Pretty silly stuff.

So I've made a subtle point of orchestrating pleasant times with the 3 older boys, where DH or I are involved and can mediate - playing more board games together, making sure we all have breakfast together, before school. DSS seems to have stopped the dire texts to his mom.

It occurs to me what a crazy situation we have, where:
1- Amidst a happy, pleasant home environment, I can feel sick with worry over fairly typical pre-teen complaints of "hating" one's home life due to some trivial issue the kid does not feel upset about, 15 minutes later.
2- An adult (DSS's mom) hears this type of thing and doesn't think to say, "I'm sorry you're upset, but every kid has to do their homework/clean their room/figure out how to get along with their brothers. I'm sure you don't mean that you wish you never had to see any of them again!" Instead, she says things like, "I know exactly how you feel, baby! Don't worry, I'll be there soon. And before you know it, you'll be 14 and you [I]won't[I] ever have to see those people again..."
3- A parent could actually feel relieved to think that their kid is miserable and despondent.

Don't get me wrong! It's not that my husband and I are immune to that. Before he had custody, it was a bit of a relief to hear that DSS felt bored at his Mom's, or that he hated having to go to after-school care every day, or that he hated her place being so small that he couldn't have friends over. It felt like confirmation that a custody change would be a good thing for him, not just for us. The difference is, we didn't go overboard and take his comments to mean that he really hated being with his mom, or wouldn't miss her if he left. We know there are things for kids to complain about, wherever they are and whoever they're with.
post #5 of 12
I'm glad things are settling down. The adjustment back to regular life is probably stressful for him, especially with starting a new school. The first few weeks of school tend to be emotionally charged for my kids, and I have sole custody. Not knowing what teacher you'll get, who's going to be in your class, getting used to the routine again... it's an awkward time even without the added dynamic of a parent who is vested in disrupting his life.

I wouldn't worry about when he's 14... that's when kids want their independence and their friends, which it sounds like he'd have neither of living with her. I'm sure he'd make friends, but how many close attachments to peers there does he have now? I think it's quite common for a teenager to decide to live with the other parent when they both live locally, but over a long distance is probably a lot less common.

Those texts are crazy! Her responses are completely inappropriate. It's possible to forward text messages to email, if you decide to document them, that might be a good way.
post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Mummoth View Post
Those texts are crazy! Her responses are completely inappropriate. It's possible to forward text messages to email, if you decide to document them, that might be a good way.
So you don't think that would be atrocious of us? We feel squeamish about ever peeking at his text messages, anyway. It feels like the kind of thing she used to do, like giving DH's letters to DSS to her attorney. We wonder if DH wouldn't look worse in court, for having read the messages; than she would, for having sent them?

In general, I don't have a problem with parents checking on kids' texts and emails. I feel like you have a right to full privacy when you're an independent, self-supporting adult. And if a snoopy parent figures out that someone's offering their kid drugs, or encouraging them to skip class or sneak out, or if their BF's abusing them or their GF's manipulating them...then that opportunity to intervene is more important than the "You invaded my privacy!" issue. But theoretically, it should be different when it's a kid's correspondence with his parent. Then, on the other hand, DSS won't ever have a problem GF who's more manipulative and subversive than his mother is. It's not like DH religiously checks every text they exchange. But, in general, we feel like we need to have some sense of what DSS's dealing with/being told, to know whether he needs help.
post #7 of 12
I see your point, I don't know how a Judge would feel. I agree that it's responsible parenting to check on texts if your child has a phone (I've heard of kids staying up all night texting, being bullied via text, or sending inappropriate images, etc) so you have a valid reason for having seen them.

Maybe a better option would be for DH to write out an email to her. He could inform her that now that DS is approaching the teen years, where there may be issues with a cell phone, that you'll be checking his texts from time to time. She may be more careful about what she says. Or if she isn't she was forewarned. Does DS know that you guys check up on him? Would she just instruct him to erase messages from her? Do you think she might suspect already that you guys see the messages and her comments are meant to get under your skin?

If you keep them, you don't necessarily have to use them. Your lawyer could decide they aren't helpful and not mention them in court. Considering that you have a good reason for having seen them in the first place, and that you've done the court thing before and know that you need to back up your word, it seems totally logical to me that you'd document what you've seen... but it's amazing how often Judges just don't seem to get it.
post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 


DSS initiated a great talk last night, with DH.

DSS brought up what I've been assuming: Since coming home from his summer visit with his Mom (who visited over Labor Day weekend, incidentally), she really pushes this idea that they are both secretly counting down to the day he turns 14 and (she expects) he will tell a judge he wants to go back to live with her, in CA. She also expects that will quash any other considerations in the case. Surely some things about CA are attractive to DSS, even if he doesn't feel comfortable telling us that. But last night he got teary-eyed, telling his Dad all the things he loves here, too (including his new school! ). But he can't bring himself to say that to his Mom, since she seems so certain that all he cares about is being with her and that leaving us wouldn't bother him in the slightest. He doesn't want to disappoint, or hurt, or upset her. DH thinks he's also afraid of making her angry. She does tend to completely cut ties with people who make her angry. Surely, her
only child is the exception to that rule! But maybe he does worry that she'd stop loving him, if he didn't tell her what she wants to hear.

Anyway, he also said that this summer, his Mom started telling him DH "is trying to completely cut her out of his (DSS's) life". It's such a relief that DSS said that, and gave DH a chance to respond to it! DH explained everything he does, to make sure she knows about activities at DSS's school and his sports schedules - way in advance - so she can arrange visits around them. And he pointed out that whenever she visits, he agrees for DSS to spend nearly every moment with his Mom, even though the court has said it would be OK if he had DSS sleep at home every school night.

DSS must have wondered, "So, why doesn't she visit more, or participate in anything?" But he didn't ask that. My answer? #1- When she had custody, she was so stuck on this idea that she and DH could not share in ANYthing in DSS's life. Even though DH's willing to share, she refuses to get out of that rut. If she can't have an area of DSS's life all to herself, she won't get involved at all. #2- She hopes to make DSS feel dissatisfied with his life here, by refusing to participate in it. She'd like to convince him the ONLY way he gets to have her be a significant part of his life is to reject his Dad and return to her. She's manipulating him! But, of course, how would I really say all that to DSS? Maybe he already knows it and that's why he didn't give his Dad the opportunity to say something like that out loud.

DH told DSS that even if he does decide he wants to move back to CA:
* The decision is still the judge's, not DSS's. The judge is required to consider a list of other factors, too; and
* DH will not just back down and agree to let him leave!

DSS has always insisted he didn't want to be forced to choose between his parents, "I just want the judge to decide!" I always thought that was remarkably mature and sane, for a 5- to 8-year-old! But he probably didn't know why his Dad fought for custody, and just assumed he was a possession that both parents wanted to "win".

Last night DH explained - without going into detail - that he feels very strongly that living with him is best for DSS, for a number of reasons. So until DSS is ready to leave for college, DH will continue to do everything in his power to make sure DSS lives with him, even if DSS doesn't agree or it makes him angry.

Then he said, while he understands DSS wanting to say whatever will please his Mom, if she believes he's miserable here and she expects him to fight to return to CA for high school, it may influence her choices. She changes jobs at least once a year. So she could at least consider moving back here. But if she feels sure DSS will be back in CA by 9th grade, she might think it's better to stay out there and wait for him. Then, if the judge says DSS should stay here for HS, she may wish she had gone ahead and moved back. Again, it's not DSS's decision. But telling her the truth (that he likes things about both places and it's not certain he'll move back) might be the kindest thing for him to do for his mother, in the long run, even if it's not what she wants to hear, right now.

DH and I hadn't discussed that concept, so I was surprised when he said that to DSS, but I'm glad he did and I think he handled it well.

What I also wish someone would explain to DSS - but there's no way to do it without attacking his Mom (and maybe he already knows it)... is that there was/is no cruelty in his Dad fighting for custody, or wanting to keep it. DH never wanted DSS's Mom to move away. When DSS came back here, DH never wanted her to stay away. He just wanted to stay involved in DSS's life and DSS's Mom decided he could not do that, while she had custody. On the other hand, what DSS's Mom did while she had custody - and what she's expecting of DSS now - IS cruel. We all see how loving, affectionate, playful and wonderful DH is with our 2-year-old son and how the baby adores him and loves to be around him. Surely, it was the same with DSS. But when the relationship between DH and DSS's Mom ended, she decided DH and DSS needed to break up, too - and she fought tooth and nail to make that happen. Even now that she's spent almost 3 years learning how miserable it is to live across the country from your kid; and she believes DSS is ALSO miserable, being away from her - she is not telling him, "I'll ease your pain and stop making you live thousands of miles from one of your parents,". Instead, she wants DSS to ease HER pain, by pointedly choosing between his parents (which he's begged since kindergarten not to be made to do!!!!); ONCE AGAIN moving away from his Dad (and ALSO his brothers, his friends and his school); and never burdening her with the fact that this would make him sad, or that he'd MISS anyone here, the way he currently misses her!!!

Ack, I feel SO ANGRY toward her, about this! And I know it's far from the first time I've said it. But it's feels good to get it out, when I'm thinking about it again.

If anyone has made it to the end of this post, we can't seem to decide on a new counselor for him. Any advice about just taking him back to the custodial evaluator, for some counseling? Are there advantages or disadvantages to that, in anyone's experience?
post #9 of 12
Wow! It sounds like your dh did a GREAT job with a HARD talk! Man, thats alot for a kid all at once!

As far as a counselor, I don't know about using the custodial evaluator as a counselor - but why not call them and ask? You can ask them a few different questions. First - would they even consider seeing a child they made a recommendation about as a counseling client? Second - if not (or even if they would) do they know of anyone else they would recommend for situations like this? It's very possible that they have some really good connections, and could connect you with someone who is familiar with divorced parents/long distance shared parenting.

I hope it works out!
post #10 of 12
Kudos to your DH for a really, really great job with a hard talk.

Everything that has gone down in this situation, for all these years, can be squarely laid at the door of your DH's ex. But this:

"...there was/is no cruelty in his Dad fighting for custody, or wanting to keep it."

... probably is not how your DSS experienced being forcibly taken away from the parent who had been his primary caregiver since birth. It's a terribly cruel situation. Children who are taken away from mothers who abuse/neglect them to the point where the State bestirs itself to remove them still view the removal as a cruelty. The situation your DH's ex created by denying access made it IMPOSSIBLE for him to take any action that wasn't cruel. Disappearing from his son's life would have been cruel. Taking him away from his mother was cruel. There were no noncruel options in the scenario she laid out. Your DSS is going to carry emotional scars from this experience forever.

But I think you can be confident that he's genuinely happy living his daily life in your home, and that nothing is going to change that - even if he petitions and is granted the right to go back to mom when he's 14. It's not a defeat for you if he goes back to his mom. It's not a sign that you've done something wrong or failed to protect him. Remember, it's the JUDGE'S decision. Your DSS does not have the ultimate power and responsibility over his custody and deserves to live his life free of guilt and not let the possibilities eat away at him. The same reasoning applies to you and DH. Remember to treat yourselves with the same fine compassion that extend to DSS.
post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 
Thanks, Smithie.

I see exactly what you're saying, about having no uncruel options, from DSS's perspective. That's true. And this is why I don't go down this conversational road with him: I'm not even clear in my own mind how one should look at - much less phrase - certain things. I guess I was thinking more about the parents' motives being cruel, or not. But of course you're right: either way, he is kept away from a parent. So I'm sure the motives seem much more significant to me, than to him!

The catch-22 is, in any other circumstance I can imagine, where a child will be asked to make a choice or take a stand, it would be right for his parents to give him the benefit of their wisdom, insight and experience and to share with him their sense of priorities and beliefs about right/wrong.

If he were invited to join a group that's hateful and exclusionary toward kids of a different ethnicity or religion, we wouldn't just tell him, "You have to decide what you think, for yourself." We'd certainly tell him what we think and why. But when he's asked to take an equally polarized, exclusionary and hateful stand about his Dad, we have to avoid being direct about our belief that attempts at parental alienation are "w-r-o-n-g", or that what he's been told about his Dad are "l-i-e-s", or otherwise criticizing the motives of the person encouraging him to take this stand...because it's his mother!

If he were considering dropping out of school at 14, or if he were eating horribly and never exercising, we'd certainly tell him what we think is best and healthiest for him and remind him that what seems fun or easy when you're a kid is not always the right path. But we can't come right out and say, "It may seem more fun at your Mom's, because you're praised to the hilt for being 'diligent and hard-working', even when you completely blow off your school work; and you're allowed to eat whatever you want and never get off the couch in front of the TV/computer and when you gain alarming amounts of weight, she just reassures you you're due for a growth spurt...BUT by priroritizing "being your BFF" and seeming "cooler" and "nicer" than your Dad, so you'll pick her over him, she is failing to give you the guidance kids need from parents! So, as you decide where you'd prefer to be, try to think about what's best for you and not just what's easiest and most fun."
post #12 of 12
Crashing again but I've been following your posts Jeannine. And I certainly don't see why you can't say this:

"So, as you decide where you'd prefer to be, try to think about what's best for you and not just what's easiest and most fun."

Maybe change a little ove the verbiage but I don't see that as "against" the mom but as truthful and really, what is BEST for him to know to make his decision.
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