Trying hard to come up with a plan for dealing with my very sweet and unbelievably difficult 4 year old stepson.
Background: I've been in his life since the beginning. (His parents split right around birth.) He is the youngest of their two, and my DH and I have a son together who is younger. We have the older two half+ of every week, and manage schools, dr stuff, etc. Our relationship with Ex-W is very cordial (after lots of work), and we do our best to attend events together, and blend their two homes as much as possible.
But, unsurprisingly, SS is still having a really difficult time. Since he was an infant, he's been without his mother for half of every week at least, and in her struggles to get her life on track (which she's done very well), I'm afraid he's been shortchanged even during "Mommy's Time." There, he's often with babysitters, and most activities seemed geared to his older brother's interests. DH and I have tried to bring this up, really just suggesting that SS get some one-on-one time too (and offering to facilitate that with childcare), but thus far to no avail.
For the most part, our approach is to focus on what happens at our house, but lately, SS's behavior has become so volatile (even violent) that I've felt compelled to at least think hard about circumstances, whether they're under our control or not. At the very least, I figure, we can try to understand fully.
Over the last couple of months, SS has become extremely angry and emotional -- screaming, shrieking, kicking, hitting. It happens with both of us (me and DH), and can occur without any identifiable in-the-moment cause, or with something as small as a stubbed toe. DH can sometimes calm him down, but if I so much as approach him, it escalates to ear-splitting (and bruising) proportions. For a while, I sort of unconsciously withdrew, thinking that maybe I was being overbearing, or that maybe it was just right to let his father deal with it. But it's gotten worse and worse, and this week I stepped back in.
I started holding him during tantrums, letting them escalate until they die down and then talking to him once he's calm. I asked why he was so upset, and even seemed angry with me, and he hugged me and said, "I want my mommy." In another context, we talked about when he was a baby, and he told me that he screamed a lot then because "I thought mommy wasn't there." It was heartbreaking.
Obviously, this poor kid has more to deal with than is anywhere close to fair. I suspect he's mad at me/us because a) he feels like he's taken away from his mom every week (and when she has other plans) to come here, b) I'm not his mom, but have a son, and while I try to treat them equally, I have to admit that the recent issues have made that hard, c) maybe the very difference between me and his mom (I work at home, and I think we've had the kids babysat twice) makes him feel worse? and d) he may be angry at his mother (fairly or not), but unable to process that anger in any way other than transferring it to me.
My question is what I can do now to try to help. Am I doing the right thing by going back to being a strong presence? Or is that inappropriate step-mom butting in? I don't believe in any way that I can or should replace his mom -- but it seems like he needs some mother-ish presence that he's not getting enough of. If that's right, how can I best step up in a way that improves his sense of security (and doesn't come across as a challenge to his mom)?