Relationship Connection: How do I protect my stepson from his mother?

Question

I have a stepson living with me that has a very codependent relationship with his mother. (All the children have been here for four and a half years). He is being withdrawn and surly and sometimes almost a bully towards others. He is almost 9 years old and used to be a happy, tenderhearted helpful little boy. Now all he wants is to live with her, and she feeds this attitude with comments like “if you lived with me, I would …” and “I miss you so much, I am only happy when you are here …” and many more.

He seemed to be making progress in adjusting to having two homes. But since his older sister told the mother she was happy living with me, the mother has focused on the boy. And he is not as resilient as his sister. I also worry about the youngest, age five, and whether the mother will influence her also. I know the strength of a mother/child relationship is strong, and the opposition on my part will cause him to defend her more.

How can I help him to deal with the emotional chaos he is feeling? My inclination is to sabotage their relationship, but I know that wouldn’t help anything. How can I bring back the little boy that was there before? It hurts me to see him hurting, and to imagine him living with her for his adult life without a wife, family or friends.

Answer

While I certainly don’t agree with any adult putting a child in the middle of their relational drama, I want to clarify one point that may help you understand what your stepson is going through. Dependency of any kind is not unhealthy in 8-year-old little boys. In fact, he’s completely dependent on her, on you, and on his father. He is caught in a terrible web of warring adults who threaten his fragile sense of security.

I agree with you that the worst thing you could do is to retaliate against his mother and sabotage their relationship. He doesn’t need you to make this about you. Instead, focus less on how difficult she is and more on how you can create a more secure environment in your home.

Can you trust the environment you’ve created for him over the past four years? Do you feel your relationship with him is strong enough to support him through these confusing messages? I think you’re fast-forwarding to the worst possible scenario of him essentially marrying his own mother. I wouldn’t go that far. He’s 8 years old and confused. He’s not doing anything wrong.

You don’t need to worry about his mother and her exploitive comments. You need to worry about getting his own father more involved in his life so he can feel a secure bond and a secure base. Your husband has to take the lead on this and let his son know he has a loving adult he can trust. Speak with your husband about being more deliberate in his relationship with his son. He needs to know that his father is accessible and responsive. This isn’t a contest between the parents. This is an opportunity to recognize a little boy’s distress and do more to comfort him.

His mother will likely continue to make unhelpful comments and force unfair comparisons between your two homes. Let it be. Focus on giving him an experience in your home where there are adults who only care about making sure he has the right balance of nurturing and structure.

If you can see his behavioral changes as a response to confusing messages about his security, then you will want to work on increasing your presence and connection during this difficult time in his life. He doesn’t need to sit around and talk about his emotional chaos. He needs to know he has people in his life who make time for him, don’t use him to push their own agendas, and allow him to be a child.

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

 

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8 Comments

  • Bugmomma September 3, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I don’t understand, would it be bad for him to move in with her? Nothing in your letter suggests that she is a bad mom or would not take care of him, or are you just leaving it out?The fact that she wants him to live with her is a natural thing for a mother to want, and unless it is against the custody degree, your reaction seems unwarranted…..

  • thestepmom September 3, 2014 at 10:17 am

    We have been in a similar situation for almost 6 years now and there seems to be nothing you can do in this great state of Utah as she is the mom. Our situation involves a mom who could care less about her kids and continuously puts them in bad situations and around bad people but because she gets a hefty child support check every month she refuses to let us care for the kids. The kids beg to stay with us, state they have no food at their moms house, state they are ignored and neglected, and are treated like teenage friends but because of the law we have to send them back to her every week and its sickening. I truly feel for you! I know in our case all we focus on is love and stability at our home. Its exhausting to always be the clean up crew for the mess she makes with the kids but being able to make them smile and feel safe makes it all worth it. Hang in there!

  • Koolaid September 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Protecting the boy from his mother or preventing the mother from seeing her son? What’s the matter? Is she not a member of the appropriate religion around here and not worthy to see her son? Are you brainwashing her son?

  • bobber September 3, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Sounds like someone needs to man up and stop being a sissy boy.

  • donnie September 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    your a real … winner …

  • Panda September 3, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    I have custody of my son and his dad is constantly trying to undermine me. I have found that by telling my son that it’s okay to love his dad and that I hope his dad can provide the love he needs. That kids should have two parents that love him without one parent or the other interfering or saying bad things about the other. I’ve helped him learn that I love him no matter what and that he can love who he chooses. By not responding to the crap his dad throws my son has decided that he doesn’t want to be around the negativity of anger and accusations his dad throws around. It’s amazing how kids settle down if you make it about them and not about you and let them know you are still going to love them if they want a relationship with the noncustodial parent.

  • Luv September 4, 2014 at 12:55 am

    It’s not your place.

  • koolaid September 4, 2014 at 8:25 am

    Mothers should be protective of their children if the new beau has a thing for domesticated animals. They would not be good role model material.

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