DH and I got married in April. He had 3 boys, I had 2, and I was pregnant with our daughter. It's been a busy year.
Right around the time we got married, my ex divorced his wife. She was the one he left me for and she had been my boys' stepmom for three years. They also had a stepbrother with her.
I don't agree with the way my ex handled it, but that's no great surprise, really. He didn't tell the boys anything. He came to pick them up one weekend and told them that they were going to Grandmama's this weekend and Kate wouldn't be there. His new girlfriend was there. And they decided to tell them that his new girlfriend also happens to be his first ex-wife...he was married to her before he was married to me. Jerry Springer much? So just in case all that's not clear, he was cheating on his current wife with his ex-wife. they both left their current spouses, and moved in together. He didn't think it was important to explain to the boys that he was divorcing their stepmother of three years, but he wanted to be honest with them and let them know that he's now back together with the woman he was married to before me (for the record, they were divorced for 3 years before he met me!) Oh and I shouldn't be worried about that situation because they're not getting married or rushing into anything stupid...but the very next weekend he announced that they're living together and when he visited the boys a week after that, they came home talking about taking wedding pictures. Glad they're taking their time.
So I've spent the last 4 years trying to convince my now-8-year-old that divorce is permanent. When you get divorced, you don't suddenly say sorry and get back together. You don't forgive each other and get over it. When you're divorced, it's forever. Of course, marriage is supposed to be forever, but I guess that's different. And maybe sometimes divorce is different too. But maybe only for the kind of guy and girl who cheat on each other and get divorced and then cheat on the people they cheated with and then cheat on the people they cheated with again and then... yeah, he's only 8...it's a lot to process.
I knew this was going to be a lot for him. He's very sensitive and 'spirited' and doesn't really do change well. He's been the man of the house for a while. We left our house, left his school, left all his friends to move in with my husband. Instead of being the oldest, he's now the middle of five (until baby made 6). Instead of being the man of the house, he's got a very strong stepfather and three very strong stepbrothers. Instead of my rules and routines, everything's different now. And that's just at our house...nevermind what's going on at Dad's! On top of all that, even though he's only 8, apparently his hormones are firing up already. He showed me the other day that he's growing pubic hair already!
Well, it's been 6 months and it has been hard, but I thought we were doing ok. Some days I even thought he was doing better. But suddenly, everything seems to have come crashing down. He's been lashing out and throwing temper tantrums and talking back and lying. He's getting in trouble at school. His teacher sent me an e-mail yesterday and said that while she knows he's smart, he's just refusing to do his work or rushing through it and not doing a good job and he's in danger of failing third grade because of it. On a good day, he just daydreams and plays and doesn't get his work done but he doesn't disrupt anyone else. On a bad day, he's loud and disruptive and destroying things (cutting or tearing paper, breaking pencils, picking apart erasers, etc.) We suspected a couple of weeks ago that he had taken some toys from one of his step-brothers' rooms. I defended him and told everyone he didn't do it. A few days later, he took money from another stepbrother and then apparently took some earrings from a store. He's lied to me about that for almost two weeks. I finally figured out yesterday where they had to have come from and confronted him with it. He very nonchalantly said that he found them in the parking lot at the store. I want to believe him but I can't. Last night, we had to take the door off his bedroom because he kept slamming it and kept locking himself in there. He's had no privileges at all at home for the past two weeks because I told him he had nothing until he told me the truth about the earrings. It hasn't bothered him though...he's fooled around about his homework until bedtime. Last night he still didn't finish his homework...I just put him to bed when I couldn't take any more. At this point, I have nothing to threaten him with or bribe or bargain with. He's got nothing to lose and no reason to do right. He's miserable and he's going to make sure everyone else is too.
I've tried talking to him about all that's going on and all he'll say is that he doesn't want to live here. If I want to be married, I should let him move in with his dad or his grandparents (nevermind that his dad doesn't see him even EOW and I can assure you he wouldn't last 5 minutes with my parents...not that it's an option...I'm just saying). He says he knows that DH is trying to get along with him but he doesn't want to get along, he doesn't want to be a part of the family, he just wants to live anywhere else but here...even if it means he has to go to "juvie" (I have no idea where he heard that word or got that idea). One minute he's crying about the prospect of having to repeat the grade (because that means his two younger brothers would be "almost" in the same grade as him) and the next minute he says he doesn't care...next year will be even harder so he might as well hang back here where it's easy. One minute he's drawing pictures and making gifts for DH and wanting to do things with him, the next minute he says he hates him and hates his family and wants to live anywhere else.
The school counselor recommended outside counseling but both DH and Ex are opposed to that for their own reasons. I'm ambivalent about counseling but at this point I'll try anything. Ex wants me to talk to the doctor about ADHD but I refuse to drug him, especially given everything else that's going on. Everything else needs to be under control before we event THINK about meds and it would take a lot to convince me even at that.
I had PPD with both of the boys so I'm aware that could be part of what I'm dealing with right now...and the fact that *I've* been through a lot in the last few months and have a lot to adjust to. But I'm crying all the time, I have horrible headaches and feel nauseous, I can't sleep but don't want to get out of bed...I'm just falling apart inside. I know I'm supposed to feel bad for the poor kids in my son's class who can't learn because he's acting out...I know I'm supposed to feel bad for my stepsons who have to deal with the screaming and yelling and crying and whatever...who have to worry that he's coming into their rooms when they're not around and stealing things...I should feel bad for my DH who trusted me enough to bring us into his home and now my son is destroying things and exposing his kids to all of this. I do feel bad for everyone else...some...but mostly I see my baby who used to be this smart, funny, bouncy, friendly, happy kid and now he's so angry and hurting all the time and there's nothing I can do for him. He didn't ask to be born to a man who didn't want him and didn't care about our family...that was me. But he has to deal with all the crap his dad puts him through. He didn't ask for me to get pregnant...taking us from two kids to six in a matter of weeks. He didn't ask to have his world turned upside down so that I could get married. But he had to leave his friends and his school and his life. All these changes that have made everything so much better for me have caused him so much pain and that's my fault and I don't know how to fix it for him and it's heartbreaking.
DH keeps saying it will be ok, we'll get through it together, etc. He's doing all kinds of reading about dealing with these kinds of behavior problems and child psychology and kids of divorce and blending families. He gets really frustrated in the heat of the moment, but he's sticking with me (and us) and I hope my son sees that. I know we WILL get through it...I just hope we can turn it around before it's too late. In a mother's mind, he's still just a baby, but I know he's on a very dangerous path and it really just breaks my heart.
I'm sorry this was so long....
We're going through a lot of similar behaviours over here with our 10 year old. Brief run-down of our story, DH and I have been together 3 1/2 years, married 1 1/2, we also have a 1 year old baby and an 8year old girl form my first marriage. XH and I split 5 years ago after he assaulted DS, and then XH abandoned them until this spring, when DH and I started to make moves toward having him adopt the kids. Anyway, XH has been visiting the kids since spring and DS began slowly unraveling, DD is weathering this storm a lot better, but she wasn't 3 yet when the split happened and doesn't remember any of the abuse. We finally got services in place for him in September, and that has helped (trauma-specific counselling and a support worker coming to our house)
I don't have much advice, what it feels like is that he's testing us. He wants to make sure this home is a solid place for him to live and he's shaking the crap out of it to make sure it won' fall apart on him. Is that maybe what's going on with your son?
Spending lots of time as a family seems to help, especially after a visit with his biodad he needs lots of TLC. He's been coming home for lunch this year because the school day is pretty long for him to cope with.
He gets hot chocolate to help him settle down at bedtime. he knows that if he's really mad he can go out in the yard to be by himself, or he can take a shower, etc. Those are the things he finds calming, but maybe talk to your DS when he isn't upset and make a plan of what he can do next time?
He's burning up a lot of grey matter figuring all this out, there just isn't a lot of room available in his head for academics and we've eased up on our expectations there. Where we are, there is no repeating grades, he moves on to grade 6 no matter what and luckily he's the type of kid that once he can focus on school work, he'll catch up no problem.
It is really scary, some days it's almost like he's a stranger he's acting so different from his normal self. Other days he's his usual sweet, thoughtful smart kid.
~Teresa, raising DS (Jan. 02) and DD1 (Jun. 04) and DD2 (Dec. 11) with DH.
I don't want to say I'm glad someone else is going through this because I honestly wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but it is comforting to know we're not alone. I thought last night was somewhat better than the last few days but DH was about to explode by the time the kids went to bed. I guess that goes to show that we really do get used to our own kids and their brand of game-playing and kind of get immune to it.
I do think my son is testing this new relationship/family/household/whatever to see just how stable it is. And I think he's incredibly conflicted because he likes my DH even though he doesn't want to. It's unfortunate that his dad decided to leave his step-mom at exactly the same time we got married because I think that has a lot to do with his hesitance to trust this situation. He was close to his stepmom and stepbrother and then all of a sudden one day, they were just gone with no explanation. Even worse, they were immediately replaced with strangers. Even the kids know she's just the flavor of the week but she has no sense of boundaries and she's really pushing and trying to act like their mother. They're having to consciously fight that. Over here, we eased into the situation...talking to the kids about each other first, then introducing everyone and hanging out and visiting, then talking about marriage, then talking about the pregnancy, then weekends together, and finally moving in together. We tried to do everything "right" and ease the transition for the kids and we're trying to be sensitive to what they're dealing with. My oldest son likes my DH and he sees that he's the kind of dad the boys always wanted, but I think that scares him more than anything. He knows that if he opens up and lets himself, he could get totally attached to DH and based on what he's seen all around, that would only lead to heartache. So the best option for him is to keep his distance and if that means alienating everyone around, then so be it. Add to that the fact that he's no longer one of two (the older and more dominant one with a younger brother who's shy and happy to hang out in the shadows), but now he's one of six just like him, and he's having a hard time figuring out where he fits and how he can stand out. His recent behavior definitely sets him apart from the rest of the kids! And then the fact that he's always been "a handful" (I've often wondered if he might be on the autism spectrum but we've never given "it" a name) and it's a perfect storm.
I'm trying to take it one day at a time...one task at a time...and let him know that we're here for him and we're not going anywhere no matter what. Hopefully, eventually, he'll realize that this is a good thing for him and stop fighting it. I just hope that happens before he self-destructs or does irreparable damage to his relationship with his stepdad, his brother, and his stepbrothers.
Please, please help him to get counseling. He is clearly showing you that he is trying to deal with too much and that he can't do it alone. He is struggling. He needs someone who can help him figure out what's going on and how he feels about it, and come to a place where he can deal with it. You need someone who can help the adults understand what he needs from all of you. He's crying out for help. He's crying out to multiple adults... losing it at home isn't working, so he ca start losing it at school. Stealing at home didn't work so he stole from a store. He is doing everything he knows, and he may very well continue to escalate until someone takes him seriously. You can get him the help he's asking for now, or things may get worse and worse until everyone is forced to deal with it.
If you can't convince dad (who has a right to say no, but for your son's sake I hope he can be convinced to at least give it a try for a few weeks), I would suggest getting some counseling on your own. You need support, and you especially need it if you are going to be in a place to try to help your son and to be there for your other kids through all this. I would look for someone who is willing to offer not just emotional support but who also works with children and can give you some guidance about supporting your son.
Your story sounds similar to what my DSS7 is going through. Lots of acting out at school and home. Being mean to the animals in the house. Etc... He's currently in Play Therapy and it really does seem to be helping!! There's only so much their brains can process on their own!
I agree with the other posters about extra family time. It really helps when we limit his TV time and actually HANG OUT with him. I really find it frustrating on school nights because he doesn't get home until 4:30 and bedtime is at 7:30 and it never seems like enough time. But he needs his sleep, so we make the most of the hours. We both DP and I are working (we work shift work, so it doesn't happen too often) we pick him up at the sitters at 6:15, feed him in the truck and get home around 7pm :( No where near the time he needs, and we usually have some behavioral problems because of it.
My heart goes out to DSS. It's hard to watch him struggling with his emotions. And while we're trying to prepare him the best we can, I'm due in March and his world is about to change again.
I wish you the best.