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How to make two SS feel comfortable with us?

(17 Posts)
GiveMeStrengh Tue 14-Nov-17 15:47:19

I have two stepsons (14 & 10) and its so hard for us to even get them to speak to us about what they did during the week, nevermind anything else
We've been told numerous times (by their mother) that they just find it hard to talk to us but are never given a reason why, not matter how many times we ask. We are just ourselves when they come round - their dad and myself are basically big kids, playing games and messing around so its not like they can't speak to us because we're strict or anything - I won't even have them do dishes are ours because its boring and we want them to have fun when their here not moan about chores.
Only time the 14yo speaks is when his brothers aren't around to interrupt or wind him up (which is basically never as my son is only 2 and his brother cannot go to bed with him so no late night chats can happen) we had one night when boxing was one but DP was constantly having to go upstairs to see the 10yo because he was upset that he was upstairs alone (that's a whole other issue!) so conversations were stop & start all night and he eventually got fed up of brother coming downstairs that he just went to bed himself.
We are constantly telling them they can invite mates round and saying if they want to go out and meet friends that's also fine with us but neither ever happens because their mum says they need to spend that time with just us, even thought we've said it's fine.
10yo won't speak as he has 'anxiety' about speaking to us - though he doesn't know why and I put that word in quotes as he hasn't actually been formally diagnosed with anything, it's just a word he's pick up from mum who thinks there's everything under the sun wrong with him and gets annoyed that we won't jump on the band wagon until she's taken him to the doctors and actually got him tested for things.
When he does speak to us, it is literally only to tell what he's 'anxious' about this week, and I always make a point to use the words 'worried' or 'concerned' when talking about the problems he having - taking each topic point by point and telling him why he should/shouldn't be worried - something that I know mum doesn't do, she will only tell him that he should be worried and make everything a bigger deal than it needs to be which in turn makes him worry more (I know this as I watched this scenario play out in front of me a number of times)
I think i just need an outside perspective - why do you think they aren't comfortable talking to us/being with us? I know this is already an essay so don't want to waffle on about everything but this has been going on for around 4/5 years now so not a teenage thing i don't think but could be wrong but after countless meetings with mum on her own and also all of us, we are still struggling - its like we have a chat about it, all say (including kids) we'll make more of an effort to have 1-1 chats etc but by the next time they see us they've forgotten the whole situation and refuse our efforts to try, going back to mum saying its still difficult and me having to basically defend their dad and myself against what the boys are saying we have (more rather haven't) done to mum who always has to text me about it - on that note I have actually stopped replying to her texts as I shouldn't have to defend myself or my actions to anyone, especially when I am - or DP is - being lied about. Thanks in advance. and sorry for essay!

lunar1 Tue 14-Nov-17 16:07:36

Has their dad tried with them 1:1? Do they get time alone with him?

FaFoutis Tue 14-Nov-17 16:10:19

I think it is the 'us' that is the problem. They need a relationship with their dad first. You should back off a bit.

Justbookedasummmerholiday Tue 14-Nov-17 16:13:37

Reading between the lines - and having been a sm in the past - their dm is trying to make them feel anxious and unsettled, maybe even guilty, for enjoying being away from her and daring to have another life that she can't control.

Belleoftheball8 Tue 14-Nov-17 16:13:41

That was really hard to read and follow to be honest. I agree it sounds like they want one to one time with their father rather that the alternative option of us.

The1975 Tue 14-Nov-17 16:17:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Goldmandra Tue 14-Nov-17 16:22:07

You need to stop telling your younger DSS that he shouldn't be worried about things that make him anxious.

An anxious child without a diagnosis is still an anxious child and telling an anxious child not to be anxious is unhelpful in the extreme. There is nothing more likely to stop a child communicating than being told they are wrong when they are communicating how they feel.

I agree with the previous poster who said you may need to back off. They need to have the opportunity to communicate with their dad without you around. If all conversations involve you, it's no surprise that they shut down.

You also need to be very, very careful not to criticise their mother, even by what you don't say. They may feel that talking to you would be condoning your view of their mother. They need to be supported to be loyal to both of their parents.

schoolgaterebel Tue 14-Nov-17 17:18:17

Perhaps a day out with their Dad would help the relationship, something fun like watch by a sports game, go to a festival, paint-balling or a theme park.

I think encouraging kids to engage in conversation and answer questions is a bit stressful for them, and puts them under pressure.

Just spending by time with them, doing activities that they enjoy will bring you hem out of their shell.

swingofthings Tue 14-Nov-17 17:34:40

I think i just need an outside perspective - why do you think they aren't comfortable talking to us/being with us?
I think they are used to mum treating them as victims, which is a comforting situation, so you talking to them by trying to make them see another perspective is not as much of a nice talk.

I'm with you though. I can't believe how some parents have a way of making their kids anxious, taking them into a vicious circle they then struggle to get out of. I saw this with a friend of my DD. They would make plans about something, with the friend a little bit apprehensive, but then excited and feeling positive about it, then she would call her mum and her mum would immediately start going on about 'have you thought of this, that, and what if, and do you really think you would cope etc..., leaving her daughter in a state and immediately backing off the plans whatever my DD told her to reassure then. She would then miss out on the fun, feel depress about it, and then would tell DD that she her severe anxiety was holding her back. I felt so sorry for this girl as I'm sure she could have been helped, but instead her mum pull her down even more.

I do think that the only way to make them talk would be by offering more 1 to 1 session, not expecting too much, and making it more about listening and asking questions than commenting. Do remember though that some kids don't talk much. My DS is not one to talk much about his days and when he does, it's when HE wants to do so, not when I do. I've learned that the perfect time to start a conversation is just after his favourite premiership team has won a game, starting by talking about football (I pretend I care!), and then moving on to asking things about him!

NorthernSpirit Tue 14-Nov-17 18:56:36

I have 2 SC, now 9 & 12. They stay with us everyother WE.

To be honest it’s hard getting much out of them - typical kids, you get a one word answers or a grunt.

Try asking open ended rather than closed questions. I find 1-2-1 time helps.

Their mother may be making them feel anxious. For example my SC have told me that they don’t like telling mummy what they have done at ours as she gets angry or tells them that she misses them (which makes them feel bad). Never bad mouth their mum (I have to bite my tongue at times). But she’s their mum.

Make sure they have 1-2-1 time with dad and don’t put pressure on them.

LoverOfCake Wed 15-Nov-17 05:55:59

You say that you and their dad are constantly playing games and messing around and that you don't believe in making them do chores. Tbh you're not treating them as children/step children but as visiting children where they have no responsibilities and life is all meant to be fun. But this means they likely don't look on their dad as a parental figure or you as a step parent, and as such they may well find it difficult to open up to you.

Added to which they are teen/pre teens who aren't the most engaging of creatures at the best of times.

But your OH needs to start parenting his children, and that means not treating them like special snowflakes in the palace of disney when they visit. If this is meant to be their house too then make it feel like that for them, including the expectation of decent behaviour, some chores etc.

GiveMeStrengh Wed 15-Nov-17 15:10:27

As much as I agree with most of what you have all said and appreciate your messages, DP does parent them - they get treated the same way as our son - same amount of love and time as we can give inbetween work and such and get told off if they haven't done homework or have done something wrong. I won't comment on the 10yo as this is an ongoing difficult situation - we don't ever tell him he's wrong to worry though, we simply say something along the lines of 'I understand why you are concerned about X but have you thought about the positives of this and that' etc. We don't even bad mouth their mum to them or anything like that either, I am in fact quite friendly with her, I just disagree with the way she handles things sometimes but never stick my nose in as it's not my place. Having said that, I don't believe I should 'step back' am I a parent to them too (just like their step dad who lives with them) and have been around for a number of years. When I first got with DP I would go stay with my mum on weekends for around 5/6 months so they got that time with their dad but it was them who asked me to start staying.
I am going to read through all your comments again and see what we can do to use your advice next weekend. Thank you

GiveMeStrengh Wed 15-Nov-17 15:16:03

But having skimmed through just now, it's DP they have more an issue with talking to, I have to be there for them to speak to him - He's done nothing (that we know of) to upset them or anything, just won't speak unless I am present. I don't constantly do the talking but am there for them because they want me to be. I do however know that their mum has bad mouthed their dad in front of them on a number of occasions as they have asked me 'why does mum call dad a <insert your favourite bad word here>' He is a gentle giant and loves all his kids more than life. I've never met a man so for the children beyond anything else so you can imagine how hard it must feel for him when his pride and joy don't want to talk to him

Magda72 Wed 15-Nov-17 17:08:18

Hi OP - two things strike me reading your post.
1. I would say the dm (whether she realises it or not) is fuelling the situation by (as another poster said) treating your dss as 'victims'/letting the world scare them! It also sounds like she has a lot of opinions on what should be going on in your house (as in they have to spend all their time with you guys & not their friends) which she is no doubt saying to the boys also & will not be helping them - they're hearing one thing from you & another from her. 14 is a funny age so it's no wonder the eldest is not so talkative, plus, he could be feeling well fed up with all the attention the 10 yr old is getting.
2. You and your dp are probably not making things any easier by making reference to the problem/lack of communication. I know this is probably totally unintentional on your part but I'd say both kids are probably a bit overwhelmed & over stimulated by all having a lot of focus & commentary in both houses being put on their not communicating/behaving the way the adults wish.
My advice would be for you & dp to back off, as in relax a bit more & stop focusing/mentioning the anxiety. Be vigilant, but chilled & aim to get some 1 on 1 with dp & each kid separately (the 14 yr old in particular will be needing some man time).
Their heads are probably melted from all the negative attention. Family meetings with kids to discuss 1 to 1 chats sounds way too intense for teens & pre teens to me. I'd be shutting down too to be honest.
I hope the above comes across ok - I don't mean to sound critical - just some advice from dealing with similar myself smile.

GiveMeStrengh Fri 17-Nov-17 10:20:09

Madga I think you've hit the nail on the head! Thank you, that explanation is spot on I think, reading it how you have put it makes me understand it all properly (better than I thought I understood what what going on in my own situation if that makes sense!) The meetings we're always mums idea, we either went and dealt or she would throw the 'boys don't want to come this weekend, I'm having to force them' card at us to make us feel like shitty people who don't care about them which is completely untrue - If i didn't care I wouldn't be asking complete strangers on here for advice right?
We had them for tea last night, I made a point of getting DSS2 and my DS into front room playing games and left DP and DSS1 in dining room - DP said they had an 'alright' chat in the end, DSS only really spoke about school and his football team in monosyllabic sentences then DP felt strained to keep conversation going. But it's a start!

Purpleforest Fri 17-Nov-17 19:44:09

I'd try to give them things to talk about that are easier for them. Don't go for the "how was your week?" Most kids and teens find that a boring question and tend to grunt or say "fine". Try watching movies with them, or TV, or playing a board game. Then the conversation isn't so much about them, so is less stressful.

If you do want to make chitchat, asking what they're doing in a particular subject at school can be a better start - pick one that you have an interest in yourself.

But I'd second what others have suggested above that some one to one time would probably help the older one in particular. As a stepmum I think there's a really useful role you can play with supporting that by distracting or entertaining one to free your DP up to spend time with the other.

Could you read a story with the 10 year old? Teach him to cook something? Suggest he comes with you and the toddler to the park?

I think you're being a bit unrealistic expecting a 10 year old boy to sort out his own social life. At that age you'd more likely need to fix things up for him. The 14 year old might, but it's probably not worth pushing that if he's reluctant.

EndofSummer Fri 17-Nov-17 20:59:18

justbooked has it right. There’s something very off about this. Their mum is hyping up the situation. Kids pick up things so easily. They carry a pre agenda.

You can’t tackle this directly without hyping up the situation even more. You have to play the long game? Just be the relaxing place to be. Use humour to loosen things up. Just acknowledge their anxiety but don’t tell them how to cope with it, don’t dwell at all, just carry on doing normal things. Don’t ask them any questions at all if you can help it.

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