Dss issues. Help, mamas! - Mothering Forums
Blended and Step Family Parenting > Dss issues. Help, mamas!
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 01:58 PM 06-17-2005
Well, Dss (3) is here during his 2 month summer visitation. I was really excited to see him when he came out. We haven't seen him since January! We used to have 50% custody, but then the military moved DH and I out of state away from him in October '04 and he was already enrolled in school, so he stayed with his mother.

Here's my issue: He misses his mom, and his dad's always at work. He gets to spend maybe 2 hours a day with his dad (when dh gets home), then it's his bedtime and he's falling asleep on himself. Dss and I aren't as close as I'd like us to be, so of course he's not even close to as happy with me as he is with his dad. He spends his days asking when daddy'll be home and where mommy is. He ignores me and throws tantrums 10 times a day (no kidding), sometimes for no apparent reason (maybe he's missing his parents?). At times he screams for 45 minutes because he wants to take his shirt off (I help him in the first 2 seconds, then he just keeps tantruming). I mean, little reasons like that. He doesn't ask or say anything, he just starts hollering ("NO! MINE! MEEEEEE! NO NO NO!!", etc).

I don't get it. And I don't know what to do. I've tried everything I can think of. Drawing pictures for mommy when he misses her. Calling her when he misses her, webcams, extra love and hugs, visiting dh during the day at work, at much more. Nothing works. After we're done, he's ok for maybe 30-45 minutes, then he goes off again. When dh gets home he's super happy, but it's short-lived. We have a 6-month-old dd, dss seems to adore her. But when he has a tantrum he'll come over and scream in her face seemingly just to make her cry. when she starts crying, somtimes he'll scream louder, other times he'll try to hug her and "comfort" her while he's still screaming. I'm baffled. And quickly reaching the end of my rope. We have 5 more weeks of this. I'm out of ideas. Help me out, mamas! Please! If y'all have been there, or if you have a clue about this, chime up!!

mammastar2's Avatar mammastar2 03:05 PM 06-17-2005
That's a pretty long summer visit for a 3 year old! We'd love to have my stepdaughters that long, but I agree it can also be taxing, and the missing mom thing can be tough on all of you. I'm sure his mom probably packaged it as going to see his dad for the summer, too, so wrapping his 3 year old brain around day after day with you and a 6 month old may be hard for him. It sounds like you're responding really thoughtfully, with the drawings and webcams and so on.

I find sometimes though, that when my stepdaughter gets overtired or stressed out when she's with us, that even though she says she wants to talk to her mom then, that isn't actually the best time - she's kind of vulnerable then, and it's hard for her to think of the good stuff, she just kind of collapses over the phone. Can't tell if that's an issue with your little guy? I would never, ever prevent her from calling her mom, but if I sense this is what's going on, I usually respond by (if it is actually an issue) reminding her of the time difference (e.g. well, it's 4 am there, so your mommy is probably still sleeping) and reminding her of something else that's going on ("we're just about to go to the park/read some bedtime stories/have some ice cream"). Then I have her call her mom later when she's doing better, blood sugar higher, etc.: "Oh hey, you wanted to give your mom a call. I think you should be able to catch her before she goes to work and wish her a good day. You can also tell her about the sandcastle you built - she'll be so impressed!" Her mom usually does her best to get dsd mopey again, but then she's somewhat insulated from it.

How is your relationship with the mom? As you can tell, mine is not good, but if you have an ok one with her, maybe you can ask her for some tips.

Will your dh be taking any time off this summer? It would be really good for him and his son if he did, especially if you are all adjusting to moving away from him.

You mentioned daycare one day a week as a possibility. What kind of socialization/activity level is dss used to? I'd try to match that. My daughter has never been in fulltime care, but both her half-sibs are used to a lot of activity, full time care, school, after-school activities. So when they're here we try to sign them up for a week or two of camp out of the 6 week visit so they don't go snaky. It's also a good way to meet kids their own age. It might help your dss to start associating visiting you with meeting new pals at a daycamp or daycare. I suspect what you'd be likely to find is that some rec centres offer half-day daycamp activities for preschool-aged kids. That could give him a sense of fun and routine.

Good luck!
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 06:26 PM 06-17-2005
Well, his mom hates me. She's been trying to get rid of me since she found out dh and I were dating almost 2.5 years ago. It's jealousy thing. She keeps putting ideas in dss' head like dh will leave me and go back to her and they can be a family again (which is a HUGE lie). So asking her for anything is out.

Dh is in the military and in specialized intensive training right now and for the next year, so he's not allowed to take leave until he's done. I tell him he needs to take time for his son, but he gives me excuses.

Normally dss goes to school/daycare 5 days/week. we can't afford that much daycare. so we need to take im out ourselves. But he doesn't behave very well when we go out. he takes all of my attention, and i need to focus on dd some, too.so i don't go out very often during the day with them because I'm alone. Then on weekends, dh won't really take him anywhere either because he's "tired". so he expects me to take both kids then, too.

dss is now only responding when i talk about 10% of the time. every other time he either ignores me or screams "NO!". and dh is still totally unsupportive. he won't even come home for his 2 hour break to see dss. he goes out with some random people and wastes time. he's only 10-15 minutes away!! so this emphasizes that my issue is not with dss, but with dh! and i have no clue what else to do...

sorry, that turned into a bit of a rant. thanks for your help and well wishes. if you have more, keep it coming!!
mammastar2's Avatar mammastar2 06:47 PM 06-17-2005
Ah, ok, his mom is like my stepkids' mom. Not good, and so frustrating when you're actually bending over backwards to be super-stepmom extraordinaire to their kids, and not to diss them in return. I know the feeling well!

It does sound like dss is feeling at sea, with not having his usual routine and gaggle of kids to play with, or his dad around, who he thought he was coming to see. What kinds of outings/activities have you tried? Even if you can sign him up for a half-day daycamp for a couple of weeks while he's there, it will give him something to look forward to. We tried to do it during the early part of their visit with us so that they would meet other kids and hopefully continue with playdates and so on. Are there any drop-in playgroups in your area, at recreation centres and such? I know when kids are a handful it's easy to fall into the trap of not getting out of the house, but believe me, it can be worth the effort. At least it's summer - maybe there's a park nearby that can become part of your routine? On the one hand, you want to include him in how life just normally is in your family, but give some thought to how you can help him feel special too, during the visit.

I'm sorry your dh is being so blind over this. Obviously based on what you've said he can't just take a holiday, but if he has a two-hour break a day, and evenings, and weekends, well, he should be spending them with his son (and you and your daughter as well, of course). I'd be tempted, if I were you, to tell him that you love the little guy to death and you're busting your buns to care for him, but that he's having a really hard time not seeing his dad and that it's affecting his adjustment to summer visitation - and that you're concerned that your dh may lose out on access in the future as a result. Sure, he doesn't have to be a one-man Disneyland, but does he want the little guy to grow up (or go back to his mom, who would probably be all over it, now) remembering the disappointment of going to see dad for the summer and spending it cooped up indoors without ever getting to do special stuff with his dad? I don't know what having the summer visitation means to your dh, but if he wants to sustain it he needs to work at it. Heck, one reason my dh is a stay-at-home dad is so that when his older kids are here he can spend all day with them (and he has way less visitation than your dh).
Flor's Avatar Flor 01:45 AM 06-23-2005
Oh, my gosh, 2 months sounds so long for a 3 year old to be away from his regular home. I know my 10 year old dss would never make it. The longest he's been away from his dad is a week and that was hard on everyone. Not that this helps this year, but would shorter more frequent visits be possible? Like a week or less at a time, but several times a summer? Or, you and dh go and visit him in his space. I think it is soo hard on kids to come to us.
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 03:52 AM 07-16-2005
I fully agree with you, Flor. I told dh that we're not doing this again. A couple weeks at a time at the most. Any more than that and it starts to feel like he's been uprooted. He gets super-aggressive and defensive and clingy to his daddy (he tries to push him away and hug him at the same time, poor thing ). Dh wants to make sure that he feels like both places are "home" for dss, but this is definitely not the way to do it. Now, shorter trips are possible, but not necessarily more often. Plane tickets are too expensive for more than one trip each summer. And it's way too far to drive. I don't really have a "cure-all" solution for this, but I could use a few suggestions. Anyone?
Flor's Avatar Flor 04:09 AM 07-16-2005
Shorter visits might just work better inthe long run, too. Dss went to his mom for a week once, and really flipped out. He refused to go visit her for a long time because he had such a hard time being away fromhis dad for that long (he was 5 at the time), it was like it ruined visitation in his head . It really backfired on her and after that she just took him 2 or 3 days at a time (she was 300 miles away so driving was ok). I am sorry I don't have any solutions for you for this summer. It is heartbreaking. Of course your dp want to spend time with his child, and that child probably can't fully enjoy his dad if his heart is aching for his mom. I read somewhere that having split custody means the child missing someone each night. It is so hard on these kids.
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 04:30 AM 07-16-2005
Originally Posted by Flor
I read somewhere that having split custody means the child missing someone each night. It is so hard on these kids.

I feel so helpless! Like dss is royally screwed (for lack of a better phrase) either way! He goes back to his mom on the 24th of this month. I wonder how he'll act there after this summer...
UptownZoo's Avatar UptownZoo 12:47 AM 07-17-2005
Oye, that's rough! Poor dss, and poor mama!

I have a couple of suggestions, but take them with a grain of salt! DH and I each have joint custody of our children-from-before, but all parents live in the same town, so we don't have to deal with long visits.

Have you tried, instead of trying to help dss feel better, just acknowledging his feelings and helping him express them in ways other than tantruming? You could also limit the tantrum's effects on you and dd by putting some limits on them. If he's upset, you could say to him, "Wow, you're really missing Mommy. That must make you sad. Do you want me to hold you?" I guess he'd refuse right now, but maybe in time he'd see that you could be a source of support, not competition for Mommy.

You can limit the tantrums by setting a firm rule that that is something to be done in his room. I think that sometimes kids need to get all that pent up emotion out (esp. since he's feeling helpless), but that doesn't mean he gets to abuse you and dd with it in the process. Offer always to hold, or talk, or whatever he seems to need, but 3 is old enough to know that out-of-control screaming is hard to listen to.

As for dh, I personally would put my foot down about his monkeying around. I don't know what your relationship is like, so maybe this would be a bad thing, but I would tell my husband that his child is unhappy and I'm not willing to be the person who has to watch a child be miserable for no good reason. So more hours with the kid, or the kid goes home to his mom! I would also make clear that I was saying this for the well-being of dss, not myself. After all, he didn't come all this way to see you! My ss and I love each other deeply, but I'm not his mom or dad. Those relationships are different.

As for ss's mom saying those things to dss, that just bites. Isn't that just divorce/child custody 101? I hope you can get it worked out. My ss's mom was very jealous at first, too, and then it all got ugly again when our baby was born. Crazy, since she was the one who asked for a divorce in the first place (and even considered leaving the state and giving custody of dss to dh!). It has improved over time, and hopefully it will for your family, too.
Flor's Avatar Flor 09:20 PM 07-17-2005
Originally Posted by uptownzoo

As for dh, I personally would put my foot down about his monkeying around. I don't know what your relationship is like, so maybe this would be a bad thing, but I would tell my husband that his child is unhappy and I'm not willing to be the person who has to watch a child be miserable for no good reason. So more hours with the kid, or the kid goes home to his mom! I would also make clear that I was saying this for the well-being of dss, not myself..
I agree here. Can he go home early if you dp can't work this out? I know the mom will probably use it against you (couldn't handle him, or see, he wanted his mommy, or some nonsense) but, poor guy!
Mommy Piadosa's Avatar Mommy Piadosa 01:01 PM 07-18-2005
your post made me so sad for you, dd and esp fo rthat little 3 yo. i would never let my 3 yo be away from me that amount of time- even w/ daddy- its just so inappropriate and promotes attatchment disorder- which is what it sound like is happening to your little guy. that's where i would start reading about treating attatchment disorder. all of your skills as an ap parent come into play here- it sounds like your trying so hard and i applaud all that you are doing.
aisraeltax's Avatar aisraeltax 01:27 PM 07-18-2005
i woudl try to see someone professional about it but i think it will get better over time. we have joint custody of my son and the transitions are horrible!
and since he is 3, why do you guys still not get 50%...its not like hes in a required grade. just wondering...
L.J.'s Avatar L.J. 04:03 PM 07-18-2005
Originally Posted by SamI'mNot
Dh wants to make sure that he feels like both places are "home" for dss, but this is definitely not the way to do it.
I think this is the key to start the discussion with your dh.
If he wants to make sure the child feels at home in dad's house....he needs to be with DAD!

If it were me, I'd be tempted to suggest that either your dh start spending more time (including breaks) with his son or you will start making arrangements for dss to go back to his mom early.

You are not the little boy's parent, your dh is and it's time he starts making the effort and taking the responsibility not just expecting you to make sure both kids are okay.

I also think that just being close to this little boy and allowing him to express himself is okay. Part of it may also be his age. My 3 year old screamed at me for 45 minutes the other day because he was overtired, maxed out and threw a tantrum. You may want to look up tantrums and such in Dr. Sears "Gentle Discipline" book. He has some good insight.
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 05:20 PM 07-18-2005
We have the "tantrum in your room" rule. But he tantrums about so much stuff so often that he'd wear a track in the hallway floor from running to and from his room. Little things really seem to get to him. But it's more what I call frustration followed by "Crocodile tears" to get someone to come to him. I don't know why he feels the need for fake crying for attention. He's never lacking it here. It just makes me wonder what life with his mom is like.

It'll only get worse from here with dss' mom. She doesn't know about my dd. She's almost 8 months old now and we haven't told about her. I'm scared that dss' mom will do something dangerous and stupid with dss or threaten me or dd with violence or start to interfere and harass us again. She's done it before, and she'll do it again. It's just a matter of when.

Dss goes back to his mom on Sunday. I'm counting every second of it. But I feel that the damage that this whole 8 weeks has done to my relationship with dss is irreversible. He's just reaching that age where he starts to really use his long-term memory. These negative feelings are probably always going to arise when he sees me now. So I fear that we'll always have issues from now on. That just kills me. Especially since I know that no matter what I do now, I'll never be able to erase this time for him. And he's just getting worse. You'd think he'd get used to being here, but he really misses his mom. But I know when he gets back there, he'll cry for his daddy. I HATE THIS!!! I told dh for weeks that it would be worth the ridicule from his ex if we sent him home early. At least he'd be happier. But dh gave in too late. She'd already bought plane tix and they'd cost alot of money to change dates (more money than we've got).

We used to have 50% joint custody, but the military moved us to a different state (the first of many moves that we'll make in the next few years) and we didn't want to disrupt his school and other daily appointments, so now we only get vacations and birthdays and certain holidays.

So, long story short, I can't wait for him to go back to his mom's. I've got nothing left to give. I'm tired.
mammastar2's Avatar mammastar2 07:09 PM 07-18-2005
I'm sorry, that sounds really rough, for you and your poor little step-son! Your dh - who knows? Did he ever share with you what his expectations were of the summer: what the point was from his point of view, even? I understand that if you work full-time, you work full-time, but I don't get not moving heaven and earth to spend lots of quality time with his son while he's there.

It sounds like some major re-vamping of the visitation arrangements may be in order for the next time, assuming they continue. I know you've said money is tight, but if there is anything at all you can do to either make visits more frequent or introduce activities that he's used to, like summer daycamps, that would help. I know my stepdaughter really looks forward to her time in daycamp when she's with us - it's just a week, but it breaks it up, she's around kids her age, etc. Then her baby sister does a camp for a week too, so that she also feels included and so that big sis has one-on-one time with dad. The oldest (3rd) sister has not been coming out because she has issues with being away from her mom right now - we have offered to chip in for mom and the girls to come here for a visit. We can't afford the mom's ticket, but we could pay for an extra visitation for the girls (well, by going further into debt, but it's about dh's relationship with his kids, so what can you do?)

About not telling his mom that you have a child - well, she'll know now, I guess. Probably a bad call, but done now. I understand not wanting her to flip, and we've timed certain disclosures carefully, but we try to tell whatever news to the mom at the same time that we are telling the kids (even if it's just a letter - "as you will no doubt hear from [child]..." I would at least send him back with a note, summarizing his visit in neutral, friendly language and adding on that he has been getting to know his baby sister. Did he not know his dad had another child until he got there? That would be rough.

So far as lacking attention goes, well, it sounds like he was certainly lacking it from his dad, and also that everything was probably pretty 'strange' to him. No matter how hard you tried, he was going to be pretty stressed. Hard to tell whether or not he behaves this was at his mom's, under the circumstances.

When my stepkids were 3, I think I thought of them as more mature/rational than I now know 3's to be, having my own full-time - to me she's still a baby!

Good luck resolving this with your dh, and hugs to your step-son.
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 09:11 PM 07-18-2005
Well, dss was here when dd was a month old for 2 weeks. They spent a lot of time together, then. So dss knew his sister. He didn't tell his mom. I'm not worried about him telling her this time, either. He spent a ton of time with me while I was pg with dd. So his new sis was no surprise. He was excited to meet her for the first time.
mammastar2's Avatar mammastar2 09:51 AM 07-19-2005
I'm glad he's happy about the new sibling! I still think sending a note back that mentions her would be a good idea - not necessarily an 'announcement', but in outlining what he did over the time, you or dh could say something like "as [dss] will no doubt tell you, he is really enjoying spending time with [dd], especially now that she is 8 months."

It really shouldn't be totally up to him to be the conduit of news between the two houses, which will just be increasingly stressful for him as he gets older. I know that when my stepdaughters' mother puts the responsibility on them to either withhold specific information from their dad (I know that's not what you're doing here, of course) or to be the one to pass it along when really she should tell him, it's very hard on them - not to mention aggravating for us. On the other hand, we try not to behave in the same way: she can be pretty nuts and vindictive, and we try to protect ourselves from it where we can, but within the bounds of acting and communicating in a way we can be proud of. If it's something major that will affect the kids, we let her know, although we do give a thought to timing - e.g. not right before a visit she might cancel out of anger, etc.
Flor's Avatar Flor 07:09 PM 07-19-2005
I thinkyou are being very thoughtful and loving in the amount of concern and attention you are putting into such a hard situation. I hope you will share your experiences with others when they are planning out visitation. I think this happens so often-- dad gets some visitation then goes off to work. Of course, I am all for dad's having custody/visitation, as my dh has custody of his son, but it's the back and forth at such a young age for so long that is heartberaking. I don't think the damage is irreversible. You have a life time to bond with him under better circumstances.
SamI'mNot's Avatar SamI'mNot 07:55 PM 07-19-2005
I've never told dss not to tell his mother about dd. He just never does. He doesn't talk much to begin with, but when he crosses over from his dad to mom (or vice versa), he just closes that part off and moves on to the other side. Never the two shall meet. Sometimes I ask him if he wants to tell her, but I always get a big "no".
And dh and I never discuss or even mention not telling her about dd in front of him. He's never even been in the house when we've talked about it. It's really odd, but it works for me. I know that when she finds out about dd, our calm, drama-free life as we know it is over.

Although I think she may be tipped off after this visit. When I nurse dd, dss is often in the room (the living room with the tv and the toys and whatnot). He has recently (as in 2 days ago) decided that he enjoys pretending to nurse his favorite teddy bear. I'm not sure what to do about that except for tell him that little boys don't nurse, mommies do. So I think that he'll either still be "nursing" his bear, or he'll ask his mom to. (She never bf-ed him when he was a wee one, so she'll think this is super-weird. She's waaaaaaay mainstream.) So when she calls to find out why he asked for something so odd, the cat'll probably be out of the bag.
Mallory's Avatar Mallory 12:59 AM 07-20-2005
It really shouldn't be up to him to be the conduit of news between the two houses, which will just be increasingly stressful for him as he gets older. I know that when my stepdaughters' mother puts the responsibility on them to either withhold specific information from their dad (I know that's not what you're doing here, of course) or to be the one to pass it along when really she should tell him, it's very hard on them
I completely agree with mammastar2. He shouldn't have to be in the middle like that about anything. You, or his father should be the one to get the reaction to news like that, especially if you have reason to believe that it will be unpleasant. He proabably already knows how his mom feels about you and having a big secret, that his dad doesn't want to step up and tell his mom has to be uncomfortable--even if no one has told him explicitly to keep it a secret. It seems pretty obvious that things from one house aren't supposed to be mentioned in the other.