Stepson doesn't want to stay at our home - FamilyEducation
Stepson doesn't want to stay at our home
10/16/2009 at 23:02 PM

My husband's (almost) 10 yr old son lives with his mother Monday thru Thursday. On Fridays my husband picks him up from school and he stays with us thru Monday morning. Recently (within the last couple months)he has been very vocal about his dislike for staying at our home.

He isn't doing well in some subjects in school and my husband has been cracking down on him to ask for tutoring that the school provides, listen better in class, respect his teachers, etc (the typical stuff). We have been sitting down for family meals a couple times during the weekend and my husband fights with his son to eat "real" food that was made, many times his son breaks out in to crying fits over eating the food (doesn't seem to matter what I make, he argues about eating all of it). We have a small chores list for him, for which he earns an allowance on what he completes (taking out the trash, making his bed, helping take care of our pets, etc).

At his mom's house, he has far less expectations and a whole lot more fun. She doesn't impress the importance of doing well in school, completing his work and NOT failing (she won't support tutoring because it would mean he'd miss part of one recess). She will agree she is on board with something but when something happens, she'll will decide for whatever reason she doesn't want to enforce the rules anymore, leaving my husband to entirely dole out the consequences of his son's bad grades or behavior. She doesn't require him to do anything in her own home and does no cooking thus he eats lots of microwaved chicken nuggets, fish sticks and fast food which he loves, so getting him to eat real meat and potatoes on the weekend is a huge ordeal at our home.

My husband's ex wife is who is is, she lives her life her way and that is fine, I don't expect that we will change her in any way. What is frustrating is that now his son is becoming increasingly upset about coming to our home because he sees us--in comparison to his mom's home--as the "torture place" where he has to do all kinds of awful things. Did I mention, we have a puppy that his son just loves playing with, he has other pets he loves playing with here, we do let him pick what he wants to eat some evenings, we make time for "family fun" times with games, Wii tournaments, movie nights, swimming in the pool during the name it, we have fun, too, when the work for the day is done! All and all, I think we have a fairly good home life. Sometimes, I feel we are being easy on him compared to how I or my husband was raised.

Even though my husband doesn't say much to his son when he loudly complains (even runs away from him) when he picks him up, I know he feels bad about this. Before we got married and moved into our home, my husband provided his son less structure on the weekends which he wanted to change when we finally settled (and he has implemented more structure and rules in the last 10 months).

It also doesn't help that ALL the grandparents enable him to have this behavior by giving him everything he wants and spoiling him rotten (because he's the only grand child in the area). No matter how much we ask, they do what they want. In comparison to every other home he stays in, our home must seem like a prison to him!

So, what to do? Do we just wait this time out and not take what he says personally? Will it just take more time? I don't feel we have a bad home--I feel we are doing what most sensible parents would do with regards to parenting. This situation is foreign to me--I feel bad for my his son doesn't want to stay with us even though we have a great home now (much different than before we got married).

Any words of wisdom will be much appreciate! I'm really at a loss right now.

I know it seems tough right now, and you probably feel like a warden at a prison, but I promise it will get better. I have 3 girls, my 11, and 8 year old are from another father, and now I have a 9 month old with my new husband. We have been together now for about three years, and it took about 1 1/2- 2 years for my daughters to come to grips with the changes. I had to deal with the exact same things. They would go to their father's house for the weekend, where they had no chores, no consequences for their actions, and no structure what so ever. Every Monday when I would pick them up they were just monsters for the next few days. They would give their stepfather the worst time. Telling him they hated him, and didn't have to listen to him. They yelled at me, and talked back all the time. Homework, and dinnertime were the worst. But we stuck to our ways, and with positive discipline, and family routine, boy I tell you my girls have come far. Their Dad ended up going to prison (which kinda helped a little in the long run)for 18 months, at first this was devastating for them, but as time went on they managed. Some things that I know really helped with my situation was a list of family rules that we all created as a family, we are still working on some of the consequences when a rule is broken(trial and error :). Also what helped with chores was I created a basket where I wrote all the chores I knew the girls were capable of doing on gift tags, and put them in a basket, at the end of the week the girl with the most chores gets to pick a prize from the "prize cards" which range in things like go cart riding with mom, to picking out the next family night activity. If you only have your one son maybe you could do something like if he has more than 3 chores in his "finished" basket he can pick a prize. (Kids love rewards no matter what the age). Also when you pick him up from school maybe make that the night you do the fun, and save the chores for sunday, or even saturday morning. As far as the eating goes thats a tough one, and believe me I feel your pain. He'll get over it, and soon he'll be asking for you to make whatever it is now that he is protesting. Split families are tough but with persistence and an understanding of their feelings, patience, and knowledge you'll be just fine. He's just testing your boundries, and making sure you really love him. Separations are hard for children, and all involved. I finally left my older daughter's father after 10 years, and boy did they hate me for first, but now they realize how happy we are, and what a bright future they have in store. Hope I was able to help. Good luck, and remember to breath, choose your battles, and be patient it will get better.

Thanks for sharing your experience and advice, 3grls7sistas. I guess it has only been 10 months so maybe we just have to stick to our routines and let time help as well. It hasn't been all bad--he hasn't lashed out terribly at me which I was expecting would happen but am thankful hasn't happened yet. I talked with my stepson this morning about why he doesn't like staying at our home. I feel after talking with him that it isn't that he doesn't like us or doesn't like our home. It is just that at his mother's home, very little is expected of him. He just does what he feels like, he gets away with a lot more arguing and back-talk (she just argues right back instead of stopping the attitude). His mom, even though she's in her 30's, still wants to have fun like she's 21 so he thinks of our rules as torture in comparison to the fun at her house (torture to him = doing homework, getting good grades, doing chores to help the family, family dinners, punishments like no Wii playing or going to bed early when he disobeys or has an attitude etc). I listened to him as he explained why he was upset and then tried to explain why his dad and I have these rules, eventually he just got sick of hearing "why" and ran out of the room to hide. *sigh* You gave us some great suggestions, I showed them to my husband as well. I know there are different things we can work on improving...I guess maybe we just have to know we're doing what we feel is best, even if my stepson doesn't realize this until he's 25... Thanks again!

One strategy that I have found helpful is to hold off on responding to what a person (child or adult) says until an hour or a day later. That provides you the opportunity to reflect on what has been said before you have your say, and it also helps the other person to believe you respect their position, even if at the end of things you take a different position.

It is normal for children to have a "favorite" home. My children prefered to be with me, even though they had many more expectations with me than with their father. Their step-mom was closer to my son's age than my ex's, did all the chores, catered to them, fixed their favorite foods when they ate there and did their homework with/for them. They lived in a huge, beautiful home, had toys galore, arcade and video games, a pool table, went out to eat often, had beautiful rooms, expensive clothes to wear there and went on extravagant vacations. I was in constant worry that they would choose to live there full time in the lap of luxury, getting waited on hand and foot. When my son was a teenager, I asked him why he prefered to be with me, the stricter parent. He said he felt more comfortable with me despite the strict rules, my daughter said the same when she was a teen. This may have more to do with the child's personality and comfort level than with whether there are rules at your house or his mother's. My children said they just never felt comfortable with their step-mother and father. This could be the case with your step-son. Food for thought.

Yes, you could be right about that, too 2xstep mom. I sort of expected he'd always prefer his mom's simply because it is his mom and, despite what we see as faults, she loves him and they have that mother-son bond. Lately he has been very vocal in his dislike for going to our house and I know it bothers my husband. We do not have a lavish life style by any means, we have some fun 'things' but I think no one would say we spoil him with 'stuff'. It is funny because he really does like many things at our house but the thought of us telling him that he needs to do some chores with us or needs to eat some of his dinner, etc just really cramps his style...those things are not expected of him at his mom's as consistently as at our house. We think it is partly his personality to focus on all the bad things and forget that much of the time good things/activities that he likes are here, too. It may just take time to realize that complaining--no matter how loudly--is not going to work?

He sounds like a typical 10 year old. Perhaps you could let him provide some input on what would be reasonable chores to expect of him, and also let him provide some input on what food it is reasonable to expect him to eat. It would be hard for you if you worked at your regular job, but every week or so your work environment and job expectations changed dramatically, then changed back. He's only 10. Cut him some slack.

Hi plantgirl - I just googled the words 'stepson wants less contact with dad' and found your post! It reads like pretty much exactly what we're going through! Our stepson is 7 and I've been in his life since he was tiny, we have a good realtionship and what I thought was a nice '2nd home' for him. He used to stay with us every weekend, but recently we've been working toward increasing this to him staying equal amounts between the 2 houses as this is what he'd asked for. We have a similar disparity between the 2 houses in terms of rules, food, homework, TV, computer etc, but it has never seemed to bother him. He also has a little sister and a dog at his Mum's house. As we have no kids we work hard to make sure he has a good balance between school stuff and fun stuff. His Mum doesn't have a lot of time or money so he tends to do a lot more with us - we have great trips and holidays and he does lots of sports etc, we try and make up for the lack of 'built in entertainment' in our house (e.g other kids). Within the last month or so he seems to have gone a bit cold on the idea of staying with us more. We rang him to discuss picking him up a couple of days ago and he said to his Mum 'do I have to go' - this was the first time we'd had any indication from him that he wasn't happy and we were gutted. As we don't want to force him to stay with us if he doesn't want to we told his Mum that we'd go back to having him every weekend. We saw him for a chat tonight and he confirmed that he doesn't want to stay here as much. He couldn't explain why and when we explained to him that it meant he wouldn't be here for his Halloween party, our weekly Wednesday trip to the cinema etc - he just didn't seem bothered. We're totally at a loss to understand what we've done wrong, we try so hard and have built our lives around him, only to find he doesn't seem to care about spending time with us at all. He's always been a bit fickle about who his 'flavour of the month' is but nothing as extreme as this. We've agreed to reduce contact as we don't want to force him to be here. I'm figuring he'll start missing his Dad and then want things back to how they were, but am scared that he won't and also don't think its appropriate for him to dictate terms but don't know what else to do!! Any thought appreciated, we're just feeling really sad about the whole situation.

You have done nothing wrong! You state this is sad for you, think how this child must feel. This is a child who for his whole life has had two homes, with disparity, as you state, between the two homes. This can be very difficult for this child, as it was to my children in a similar situation. There is also the lack of control factor. He has never had any control over his life, having to go back and forth between his parents and two very different households. Having a younger sister at his mother's just adds to the difficulty of his situation. He is probably very torn between wanting to spend time with his father and wanting to spend time with his mother and sister. It is much better to allow him to have some say in where he spends his time. Dictate terms is rather strong for what he is going through. This situation is not about whether he is missing his father or him being unhappy with you. Of course it is difficult for a 7 y/o to explain why. Like nearly every child in your step-son's position, he would rather not have to make this kind of choice. But this is his life so he deserves to have some say. Letting him know his feelings matter and you both love him unconditionally no matter how much time he spends with you will make all the difference. Best wishes to you all.

Thanks 2xstepmom. I wasn't suggesting that it isn't hard for him, only that I was writing last night only an hour or so after feeling like the family we've been building is in shreds and we're all desperately upset. 'Dictate terms' might sound strong but I only mean that its hard to know what to do for the best - whether we should try and keep up higher levels of contact because we think its the right thing to do or whether to let him decide, in which case our working arrangements etc would be being varied on a weekly basis dependent on what he was feeling like. Anyway, thanks for your best wishes, hopefully we'll ride it out and things will improve.

Wow, honestly, when I posted my story and asked for any words of wisdom, I wasn't expecting any responses (it was rather therapeutic just to write it down even if I didn't get replies) but it is wonderful to get so many posts and food for thought. I only wish I had the wisdom to contribute to helping others more...maybe in another 10 years!! I'm sorry to hear about your situation, trueblood. It really is sad and is like happened?! For a while he appeared to be fine and then something changes in his head. It caught us a little off guard. Being 10, he has some ability to articulate to us why: he doesn't like the "extra" homework and tutoring for the math he is doing very poorly in that dad requires of him(the 'extra' is in-class worksheets he doesn't finish so my husband requires he complete them at home to turn in), he doesn't like the chores and when we "interrupt his free time", he doesn't like going to bed going to bed at 10 on a weekend night(then reading in bed for a hour) early?! We do listen to him and what he feels, we ask him how he feels about things. When we created the chores list, we talked with him about what he felt he was able to do, most of the list were his suggestions! All I can figure, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it is a phase he is going through. He went through this phase of him not wanting to go to school so he would play sick on Monday mornings--not just some Mondays but every Monday. This passed with time and persistence on everyone's part that he had to go to school. I'm new at this so I haven't been through all of the different ups & downs a child goes through in their young life; I lack the hindsight! Also, I never really expected that any 10 yr old would like doing their homework, or chores or anything else that is not fun, when I was 10 I complained too! But, what was going to happen? I didn't have any alternative places to go to that seemed better than where I was at. That is probably part of my difficulty--I didn't grow up in a split home myself, I struggle to relate (that's where my husband helps a lot because his young years were much more split than his son's). We do not have the option of giving him the choice of where to stay. In addition, I do not think at his age and with all the recent changes we would let him decide, my husband isn't convinced that that is the best way to approach it. His mom works weekend days and then has her social life in the evenings. To her credit--she does make him do his homework most weekday nights and my husband has been in the room when his ex has been talking to their son about how staying at dad's isn't that bad. Yet, I believe it worries her (I don't blame her), she often calls on Saturday nights to 'check up', she didn't do that a few months ago. I guess we shall do the best we the end, at least he will know that he has lots of people who love and care about him. Now I have a million questions about grandparents and their roles in their grandchild's life...can I start a new thread about this!?!? :-D

plantgirl: wonder how things worked for you and if you have any advice? I have an 8yr old step-son that my husband and I provide a loving home and he is starting to resist coming to stay with us on the weekends. Do we push through this and continue our same schedule with him or relax and let him spend more time at his mom's - even though that kills us? He is with us now saturday thru monday. It is so hard to hear he doesn't want to be with us when we want to be with him and love him so much.

I know this thread is several years old but I could have written your posts Plantgirl. How are you coping these days?