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end-of-tether reached after DSS stay - help

(14 Posts)
flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 08:45:49

ok this is my first post, writing it having just snapped on last day of DSS visit. DSS is nearly 9, just been with us one week. we have a DD (2.5) and DS (15 mnths). DH sees DSS regularly for weekends, 1-on-1. they live abroad and it's a day travel each way. we go on family holidays all together and he comes to stay with us also a couple of times a year, like this week.

me and DH got together when he was 3, and it's never been easy... DH's ex remains bitter, makes everything as difficult as possible, tells DSS i took his daddy away, and that our DD and DS are not his 'real' brother and sister etc. DSS acts like i'm not there most of the time. DH a supersofty with all his kids, but i see when he's finding it increasingly difficult. but he tries his best to keep the peace, i feel at the expense of DD/DS, and myself.

DSS always gets the vast majority of DH's attention when he's with us, DH tries to overcompensate and every day they spend most of the time doing stuff together. but when we all all together DSS blames our DS and (especially!) DD for everything! takes it on himself to tell them off and run to dad to let him know.

DSS regresses when with us, becomes an oversized toddler. tantrums if DD/DS don't give him their toy he wants to play with - which he then proceeds to suck try to wreck - bear in mind he is nearly 9, and otherwise plays happily on his nintendo DS! if we are watching a film he has to be sat on daddy's knee, if we are going for a walk he has to be carried on DH's shoulders... telling him 20 times a day he loves daddy. constantly needing DH's attention, 'daddy, look at me! daddy, daddy, daddy'. drives me nuts, he is so saccharine! i don't let it show though, and try to be empathetic, but this is getting tougher. DH also aware of it but conflicted.

i'm afraid of him around DD/DS. once when DD was 18mnth i saw him push DD over and hold a large cushion completely her, then lean on it. i was pretty shocked and outraged but he told DH in tears it was an 'accident', which DH assured me was the case. i've never left his sight when they together since. it makes me very tense.

last night was his last night with us, so we all went out to eat. DSS next to daddy, ok. but constantly pointing out to DH ways in which DD/DS were being 'naughty'. somehow a plateful of food goes flying - onto guy eating at next table. whoever did it, it was an accident, but DSS telling DH it was DD and that it is always DD misbehaving, while DH dutifully mopping op the mess and trying to pacify the guy, me calming down DD/DS who by now are both in tears. then i flipped and just scooped off DS and DD and told DH next time it's just the two of them. it's not working. DD/DS suffer when DSS around. i wont see DH now until late tonight when he returns from dropping DSS off. the thought of every family holiday following this pattern... awful! what to do?? feel we all need counselling on this.

cansu Fri 04-Jan-13 08:56:15

It's obviously v difficult for your dss to share his dad because he doesn't see hine as much as he would like to. I think though that his dad needs to start discouraging the telling tales firmly and perhaps needs to see that he has to sometimes discipline his ds when he is out of line. i think you need to have a conversation with your dh when you feel more calm. Perhaps he could designate plenty of time for one to one time with his ds and then some other time as whole family time and make this clear to his ds gently.

flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 09:07:30

thanks cansu! i agree DH needs to take a stand on this but he makes so many allowances for DSS, mostly he's just grateful for the time he gets as in the past access has been sporadic or non-existant due to his ex cutting the time. he just wants our home to be a place DSS enjoys spending time in, not a place where he gets disciplined and dreads going, but it has created an 'everything is ok' space for DSS where DSS is King, and it is becoming unbearable! it is going to be very tough to break this pattern. also as myself and DH have differing attitudes on acceptable behaviour, DH a lot more permissive. i'm finding it supertough to be objective, with no family to bounce things off, and no friends with step-parenting experience

mumandboys123 Fri 04-Jan-13 10:17:04

bluntly, he is still a very young child with very little contact with his father. His father has two young children - who I will bet behave in the way that you are describing your step son does, only you won't notice it. He is 'regressing' because he believes that's what he needs to do to get his dad's attention. On top of that it seems clear that you are making your feelings known - scooping up two children and telling them that next time, they're on their own. Did you do that in front of DSS? How on earth do you think that might make him feel? That he's behaved badly and got his own way (dad to himself)?, resentful that you won't listen and accept your child was the one in the wrong (which it could have been) and therefore he's got into trouble for nothing? or just plain old rejected by someone who should be on his side but who is prioritising her children (however natural that might be from an adult perspective) and behaving like a child herself to get her own way? Whatever he thinks, he's not wanted, is he?

The cushion thing - my children do things like that to each other all the time. They are playing. It's not malicious. Older children don't necessarily understand where the line between playing and plain dangerous comes, but my eldest (8) constantly does that kind of thing and I don't believe he is trying deliberately to harm his siblings. You are being a bit precious if you are hovering around and not trusting him at all (which will be a problem as well).

I accept it is difficult for you but as I read it, you are very much part of the problem. Focus on the positive, give the boy proper quality time with his dad, agree some boundaries with dad so you're working together, accept the child in your home and as part of your family rather than an outsider who gets on your nerves.

Incrediblemeee Fri 04-Jan-13 11:03:56

Flippa, I experienced very similar issues with dsc, although they saw their dad every second day! It seems EW cause a lot of problems, I.e. bad mouthing everybody in second family so dsc feel entitled to walk over them, and apparently regressing is a cute way of doing this. Our solution was reading books on successful parenting, stepparenting and now counseling. Setting boundaries is the key and respect follows naturally. Dads just have to be convinced it is for the good of their kids, I.e. becoming balanced pleasant people. Believe me it works, good luck, xx

flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 11:16:29

heartening to read your post Incrediblemeee, that things can work out.. but the bitterness on the side of ex is hard is deeply imprinted, and DSS naturally very loyal to her. what kind of timeframe did it take for you guys to turn things round to work for all?

Incrediblemeee Fri 04-Jan-13 11:38:24

It sounds bad when I say 3 years, but initially my dp was adamant to have dsc live with us. This really clouded all issues. I began suffering from something resembling burnout because I was enabling his Disney dad behaviour, so please do not go down that road. However, once the boundaries were set it was a matter of weeks! I want to cry now at the time wasted, and yes the EW is a mean twisted !?X!?... So she is included in the boundary setting grin. Our rules are simple, dsc come only on designated days and times because neither I nor dad are unpaid sitters (sounds harsh but gets her to respect us and our needs), ordinary family time when dsc are here, specials only on birthdays, etc. everybody has same chores (own laundry, keeping own room tidy, one dishwasher day, they are aged 12 to 15). This has all kids feeling equal at our house. Dp has special time with own kids (I have own ds) but treats them now as children not equals, not mini wife (dd 15) and best buddy (ds 12) anymore. There were trivial setbacks but counseling encouraged this behaviour, (dp has trouble taking my advice regarding his dc...) and kids respond to these rules like magic. Make sure you don't favour your own and though they are still very young keep an eye on being seriously fair, they also benefit tremendously from having another sibling, I know mine does, xx

flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 11:43:14

mumandboys123, yup i'm aware i'm a big part of the problem, but i do try, though it might not sound like it from my outline of the situation... it's only 2 years since he had my place in bed whenever he stayed with us, with me relegated to the spare room, at his insistence! equally he's not damian, he can be very sweet and polite.. he was incredibly cute when smaller, still is, and this gets him lots of attention. he's very much the favoured grandchild on all sides. but he has no siblings and doesn't see friends outside school, so DD/DS are quite a novelty to him. DD just adores him unconditionally and follows him round like a lapdog. DSS discusses DD with DH parent-to-parent style, telling her behaviour is unbearable and that she is difficult.

the probs are compounded by language - DSS's mum is german, his dad french. his 1st language is german, speaks to DH in french/german. i'm a brit, french in my 3rd language and i don't speak german, so all a bit of a mess, with DH often having to act as translator. DD/DS are being bought up bilingual, but not in german.

the restaurant incident, it was an accident, no one was to blame, least of all a 2yr old. it's just not DSS's job to chastise DD/DS as sport or to win points with DH. and my reaction to DH was not infront of DSS, who thought i left the resto as was pissed with DD - so something of an own goal for him. as for the cushion incident, DD was jabbering loudly while he was trying to watch a film. she was pushed from a chair and her head cracked on a stone floor. the cushion followed. i appreciate a 7yr old doesn't realise the consequences of such actions, but he should be firmly told that's not ok. i feel my DH's approach is way too passive.
DD/DS squabble constantly but the playing-ground is more equal due to the small age gap. i was abused myself by a considerably older sibling to admit to being paranoid about it, knowing it can make home feel unsafe. i don't want this in our home.

mumandboys123 Fri 04-Jan-13 12:00:06

ooh the language thing, what a nightmare!

Just wanted to pick up on the restaurant thing and your DSS chastising your children. No, it's not his job but I would say it's normal behaviour. Again, my 8 year old sometimes acts 'parent' to his younger siblings (and I have been known to shout 'who's the parent here?!') and I don't think he does it to win points with me, he simply does it 'cos he feels it's his 'place' or 'right' to do so as the oldest. He knows everything, according to him! If your DSS is also an only child for most of the time, he will be used to being around adults a bit more than the average child and this does tend to make you grow up faster than you might with siblings. Overall, I would say he sounds entirely 'normal' and that his behaviour is 'normal', however annoying or deliberate or nasty it may feel to you. Of course, it's a fine line between normal behaviour and it tipping to abuse but as your children grow a bit, they will learn to stick up for themselves (and you will encourage that, of course!).

Why is his ex 'bitter'? and how do you know? I mean really know? I always struggle with that kind of comment. I think we all carry a level of anger, distress and guilt about the breakdown of our relationships which some might interpret as 'bitterness' and/or which can tip over into bitterness if we don't keep a check on ourselves. How is this having an impact in your household?

EMS23 Fri 04-Jan-13 12:00:58

Flippaflippa I think there are a few issues here.

Firstly, your DSS spends very little time as part of your family. Try to imagine it from his POV - an only child who suddenly has 2 siblings. And boring young toddler ones at that. He has no clue how to act around these kids so does what he thinks an older brother should do - act superior, tell them off, shift blame etc.. It's all pretty standard sibling stuff and when you have a big age difference it happens more. My DSS is 9 and he tells his sister, my DD1, off all the time. She's 2 and it is a bit annoying but it's what he thinks he's meant to do as the responsible older brother. We gently remind him to leave her alone, don't tell tales, leave it to us, don't get involved, mind your own etc..
When DD1 is a bit older I imagine she will do the same to DD2 and we'll tell her the same things.
My brother always used to tell me off. Still does actually and we're adults.
Do you have siblings? Can you recognise any of this in your relationships with them?

Secondly - regressing. Again, my DSS did this when both his sisters were born. DH had a lot of lap sitting, "Daddy I love you"s, silly baby voice etc... It's a normal reaction for a child when a younger sibling is born but in the case of your DSS he is doing it whenever he is with you. Probably because of the infrequency of his visits to you, he feels insecure every time so displays these behaviours more than other kids might.

Third - you have to rise above, detach, be scrupulously fair, show him affection, like him, make time for him, parent him, look after him etc.. Etc.. It's really tough and being a step parent is hard when you're doing it all the time. You're only doing it once in a while. You have your routine, your home life and then DSS comes along and it all feels disrupted. It's not his fault that contact is arranged this way but you, as the adult, have to make it ok.

I can only imagine how hard all this is for you, it sounds exhausting and I have a lot of sympathy for you. Your DH is obviously wrong to Disney parent his DS but most of us here have watched our DP/ DH's do it at one time or another. Can you talk to DH about it?

The pillow thing doesn't concern me that much either TBH, my brothers were very rough with me but I don't believe it was ever malicious. However, if you really believe it was then you are right to keep an eye. Has there been any other incidents in the 2 years since it happened? If not, can you put it behind you now?

As for DSS's mum - there is very little you can do except ignore it. If someone (DH or DSS) tells you things she's said, say you don't want to hear it. Tell them it's irrelevant to you and whilst she is entitled to her opinion, you love them both and that is all that matters when you are all together.

Family counselling could be a good idea, I have no experience of it but if your DSS s with you so little, will there be time? Or are you thinking just for you and DH?

Bonsoir Fri 04-Jan-13 12:03:00

Your DP is not parenting his three children as siblings. He must learn to do so. Maybe he should have some counselling?

flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 16:22:32

i take your point re; the chastising thing, i think i'm just going to learn to relax about it, and maybe tell him to cool off if it gets too much without it being a big deal. i've just never felt it my place before to tell him what to do, also for fear of it getting back to his mum and it screwing up contact. to be honest it was easier before DS, we spent more time together when it was just DH, me, DSS and DD.. then the weekends together were possible. now since DS came along it's such a huge expense and effort shipping us all over to germany and staying in some hotel just for a couple of days it doesn't happen, it's just DH who goes over. so the only time we all get together is for the longer breaks. and all 3 of them are changing fast, so they have to re-make the rules each time.
i think frankly too i'm just pretty frazzled by the whole bundle at the mo to even think straight, last night was just my limit.

as for bitter ex, since we got together for a long time DH never allowed to see DSS, despite him living solely with him 1yr+ when DSS 2. they moved house without giving new address or phone no. after pressure, there's been some mediation since, but visits still very much at her discretion. DH allowed no input/given no info re; decisions about school etc. never allowed to collect DSS from school. ex said she will never meet me, or talk. told DH we (me and him) have our own kids now so forget about DSS and stop contact. just keep paying. since we cobbled together a visit arrangement, she insists he fills in a diary of everything we do for the days he spends with us. she packs him off with a worn piece of her underwear that he is to sleep with when he's with us, so he has at all times an intimate smell of her with him, for 'comfort', hers more than his i guess as he doesn't bother following up on this one and it stays in his suitcase till he goes back! oh and as far as i know he still sleeps in his bed. the list goes on. i think he has quite a lot to cope with to be honest.

flippaflippa Fri 04-Jan-13 16:25:07

sorry, typo, make that DSS still sleeps in BM's bed!

TeaMakesItAllPossible Fri 04-Jan-13 22:55:01

You've got a lot of really good advice here flippa

We have the same older/younger child dynamic going on. It's hard. In our house, to all three older half brother's to our DS(2), we frequently use the phrases "don't worry, you're not the parent, that's our job" "you'll get the chance to parent with your own kids so enjoy your meal" and "we'll make sure the rules are followed so don't worry" along with roaring "will you leave him alone" and "get your hands off him"

We also use concentrated 1to1 time to try and reduce the competition over adults attention when we're together. Twice a year, each boy gets a day with their parent, just them. We found special time allows family time to be more shared. We make a big deal of it. I know you have limited windows of opportunity, but if he's over for 7 days, can your DH stop in London or where-ever with DSS for 24 hours for some fun so he feels more secure when he arrives home? Then your house and rules, age appropriate, for rest of time. Then, your DH can spend a couple of hours in that week with DD and DS so he sees it is fair. Over time, as he gets used to the concept and your DC get older, their special days move out of contact time and you can all talk about theirs when he comes to visit rather than physically do it.

He might also quite like time with just you. My youngest DSS sounds a bit like your DSS. He likes attention so will happily do family time with his siblings even after an hour of baking a cake or making a robot rabbit with me.

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