My partner and I have been together for 4.5 years, but we only moved in together last summer when I had to move for school. His discipline style is... Ineffective. I knew that going into this, but he's been pretty open to changing, and he's gotten better over the years I've known him.
His older two kids have some real problems, especially his son. My DSS Is violent and can be very mean. He's 10. This is yesterday- he sneak attacked two kids with snowballs. He chased his sister into the bathroom after they had been arguing over who got to hide in a cupboard, and had to be physically removed. He told his dad to f**k off when he tried to talk to him about it. Later when I said it's not ok for him to throw snowballs at someone who doesn't want him to, he said ,"whatever".
This morning, I was upstairs and I heard my daughter yell, "give it back!" And then scream and start crying. I went down to see what happened, and his dad started acting like DSS was being victimized. He said, "Just because she starts crying you assume he did something". And, "Why can't she just wait for him to give the toy back?" He accused me of singling out DSS. Later she showed me where he had dug his fingernails into her hand, enough to draw blood.
I thought that it would help DSS to live with me. And it did for a while, he got better with consistent discipline. But the last few weeks have been a lot worse, and my partners response is to act like nothing's wrong. This thing where he blames others for the fights and downplays the violence is normal for him. For example, when he threw snowballs at his sister, it was DSD who got yelled at. DP didn't say anything to his son.
I feel like I can't live with them anymore. I'm home later than everyone else because of school, and frankly I don't feel comfortable having him watch all the kids. I feel like my home life is unstable, and that makes it so hard to concentrate on getting through school! I worry about what's happening to my kids when I'm not there.
Thanks for reading!
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
Is the dss in counseling? I can see why you don't want to live in that environment and frankly, I wouldn't either, and would insist on family counseling to help dss and his dad. It sounds like the child has issues and his dad isn't addressing it.
"Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen." Ralph Marston
It does sound really hard. Especially the part about worrying that your kids aren't being well-cared for when you can't be there to watch over them. It seems like a priority should be you and your dp getting on the same page re: discipline and family values. Are you two in counseling together?
I have a blended family, too, and I honestly don't know how anyone does this without the help of an excellent counsellor! We've been in therapy almost since day 1, and it's been a complete lifesaver. The whole situation with your stepson might feel much less dire if you trust your partner to handle things appropriately.
I brought four boys (now ages 11, 11, 7, and 4) to our relationship, and my partner/fiancé brought two girls (now ages 8 and 5). We've been together for 3.5 years, and living together for a little over two years now. The first year of living together was SO HARD. Dp and I were so excited about taking that step and becoming a family, but we had no idea how intense it would be for the kids. We each had established rather different household rules before the blend, and finding a middle ground was not easy. Plus, my boys were used to being incredibly physical with each other (in a fun, playful way, and also in a less lovely conflict kind of way), whereas Dp's daughters really had NO inclination to play rough. There was a lot, a lot, a lot of crying (the girls), and meanness (the boys) in that first year of adjustment. The boys felt like they were always being blamed, that we liked the girls better, etc. The girls felt like they weren't safe if we weren't in the room with them. It was a total nightmare.
One thing that really helped was re-reading the excellent book, "Siblings Without Rivalry," and beginning to treat the kids as if they were full siblings. Us moms coming to the rescue of the girls over every little conflict really was only making things much worse. Changing our behavior made a big difference.
Some sibling/kid behaviors are unappealing to us as adults (your snowball example, your DSS saying "whatever," etc.) but also need to be understood as relatively typical and in some ways expected behaviors. Siblings do argue and claw at each other occasionally. That doesn't make it ok, but if you see the behavior as normal as opposed to abnormal, that can make a difference in your ability to respond effectively. Nothing that you describe stands out as exceptional/atypical 10-year-old boy behavior.
When my sons were being difficult/mean to their step-sisters, I really felt like their behavior was understandable (given the greater context of the divorce, the blending, the fact that the girls were girls, the changes in house rules, etc.), and not that big of a deal (however unfortunate it was), but I felt like my DP saw my sons as little monsters who were going to traumatize her innocent babies. It turned out that we BOTH needed to shift our perspectives. Reading parenting books together and going to therapy really helped us.
Things are so much better for us now. Life is really quite peaceful (as peaceful as it can be when you have six kids and only one bathroom!), and our kids all have exceptionally lovely (really, it's pretty extremely great) relationships with each other. Our home feels safe and stable.
I hope things get better for you guys soon!
Mindfully mothering SIX kids (ages 6, 7, 8, 10, 12 & 12) in a small house with a lot of love.
Most of the kids are in counseling, but not us. I know how important it is, but with my crazy schedule, we just haven't managed it yet. I realize that what we're going through is probably pretty typical, but that doesn't really help when you don't know what to do about it. Part of me thinks this is just a bad time for trying to blend our family- my school really is an incredible amount of pressure and work. I have to wait until the kids go to bed before I can study, and as a result, I'm constantly exhausted. So I have to fight the urge to just Make. It. Stop.
It's good to be reminded that not everything DSS does is way out of the range of normal, even if it's stuff that personally pushes my every button. DP accuses me of singling him out. In some ways I do- for example, I don't feel comfortable with DP leaving him at home unsupervised. He routinely waits until our backs are turned to do things he's not supposed to. He is openly defiant, a lot. To me, having to come with us even when he doesn't want to is a natural consequence of those behaviors. But when I say that to DP, he says, what did he do right now, why do you want to punish him? BTW, he's 10, barely old enough to legally leave unsupervised. That's dp's style- he lets things go until something hugely intolerable happens, then he tries to reign their behavior in. His kids are well aware of this. They push things to the absolute limit.
With DSS, the problems go beyond mischief. He's had troubling behavior since I've known them. His tantrums are long, vicious, and destructive. An argument with him turns into him on top of the other kid, pounding them with his fists as hard as he can, frighteningly quickly. And his dad minimizes it. In that argument I described with my daughter, DP went right to dd when she screamed (because DSS had sunk his fingernails into her hand), and said why can't you just let him play with the toy? When I came in to find out why she had screamed, he accused me of singling DSS out, saying that just because she was crying doesn't mean DSS did anything. He didn't know DSS had hurt her because he was too busy blaming her to find out what had happened.
I said he singles himself out by hurting other kids- of course my first instinct was to see if she was hurt! Then he started talking about my son, who has also been getting angry and has put some holes in walls in the last few months. DP starts reiterating DS's crimes every time I get upset that he won't do anything about DSS hurting someone. I feel like that is a great example of singling a kid out, and it makes me want to get DS away from DP.
I can't decide if this is a situation where we are each getting entrenched in our own sides and need to meet in the middle, or if I just need to take my kids and get out of here!
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
That sounds really scary and unhealthy. Is your son's violent behavior new? It sounds like he is reacting to the situation by acting out, possibly imitating your partner's son's behavior in a bid to get attention too?
The way your dp is handling it is NOT okay. I agree with you that you always help the hurt party first and then deal with discipline. My ds was a hitter-as a toddler and still occasionally at almost 4, so not the same thing at all, I know-but we always made sure to comfort the "hitee" first so that ds didn't think that hitting equaled getting one on one attention from mom, even if it was negative attention.
Not that you should ignore a 10-year-old's violent behavior, of course. It sounds like major therapy is in order, but if you have somewhere you could move at least temporarily, it might be eye opening to see how it affects you and your children. You might find that you are more relaxed and that your kids' behavior improves once you are all away from the stress-and then you'll have to weigh that with managing your relationship with your dp while not living together, if desired.
DS putting holes in the walls in not unheard of- he has gone there in the past when he was under extreme pressure- when I divorced his dad, for example. This blending also came with a move to a different city, starting 7th grade for his first experience in a traditional school, adjusting to being 4 hours away from his dad, all on top of getting used to DP in more of a parent role rather than as a "family friend" (not to mention being almost 13 now!). It has slowed down exponentially since we made some changes at his school that took a lot of stress off.
DS is a huge source of contention between me and DP. He has... a sharp tongue. He frequently criticizes DP's kids, and resorts to name calling easily. He doesn't necessarily start the arguments, but he will call a kid "idiot" if they are arguing. DP's kids feel like he is picking on them. I acknowledge that he butts into conflicts a lot, and can be very insulting and critical. On the other hand, DP's kids have a high level of conflict going all the time, over really trivial stuff. They can be truly infuriating. For example, the other day, DS and DSD who is almost 12 were at the table eating. DS dipped a cracker in the communal bowl, and DSD shouted "August! Get your fingers out of our food". He replied, "I was just dipping a cracker... I didn't get my fingers in it". Not 5 minutes later, DSD finished her own bowl of food, and proceeded to put her spoon in the communal bowl and start eating! I said (gently!), "Is it ok with you if people put their spoons in everybody's food, because I notice it was REALLY not ok with you when you thought DS had his fingers in the bowl". She said sorry and looked abashed, like she realized she was doing something VERY similar to what she had just yelled at DS about. Her doing this is a very common occurrence- she does it several times a day (and it totally baffles me!), her realizing it doesn't make any sense is very unusual. I have to admit, if she was able to bring that behavior to me so that I had to deal with it, like the kids do, I would probably want to just get away from her. I can't imagine having to deal with that kind of thing every day. DP's other kids do this too... They pick at each other constantly, and the house is a high conflict place.
FTR, my own two sons pick at each other and fight constantly too. They have this banter going that drives me nuts, and it occasionally boils over into an actual fight. But they are siblings, so I think it just doesn't feel as intolerable to them. It's like they know there's no walking away from brotherhood, so they have adjusted expectations for that relationship. They don't do it anymore unless the other kids aren't around- every night when they are in their room before going to sleep, or when DP and his kids go somewhere.
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
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