“Can You Take Him?” When My Stepson Came to Live with Us

Posted August 18, 2010 by

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The email came unexpectedly last year, in the middle of a fairly normal afternoon. My husband’s ex decided she could no longer manage their 9-year-old’s behaviors and asked if we’d let him move in with us. We could not believe what we were reading! Of course we’d take him! We were elated. We were already involved in getting him services, taking him to therapy, etc. We knew that as long as he stayed there and no changes were made, it was always one step forward, two steps back.

We agonized over how to explain to him that he would be living with us now. We sought opinions from different therapists and friends. We thought maybe we should tell him that our home was better suited to help him reach his therapy goals. We had fewer children in our home than his mother and we had more experience and more time for him. One therapist said that although he had goals in therapy, maybe they were not his goals, so maybe that was not the best way to go. We finally settled on telling my stepson, with his mother and therapist present, that his mom just did not have the time to provide him with the attention he needed because she had other children to take care of. There is just no good way to tell a child his mother no longer wants him to live there. We did our best to present it as a joint decision, with his best interests at heart.

My stepson moved in with us with no personal belongings. We figured his mother would send his personal belongings (clothing even!!) at another time. Nope. Over time things became more clear to us regarding what kind of home he was coming to us from. Many of his behaviors are those you see from children in foster care or even those raised in an orphanage: stealing, lying, and food hoarding. We learned he had attachment issues, possibly even an attachment disorder from early neglect.  Truth be told, it feels very much like we took in a foster child.

I go about my daily business of loving and caring for him and he goes about his daily business of doing whatever he can to push me away. He is nasty, defiant and argumentative. I take him to his doctor appointments, play dates, hair cuts, shoe store, whatever I am doing with my own children. I rearranged my work schedule so I am home with him after school. He will then proceed to tell me that the store his mom takes him to has nicer shoes or that he does not like the brand of milk I buy.

I know that deep down he is a little boy who had no say in the matter of moving out of the home he had known for 9 years. A lot of his behaviors stem from him having no control. I know that no matter what I do, I am not his mommy and can never fill the void his mommy left. I know that no matter what I do or say, I cannot make up for the abandonment he feels.  I can only continue to show him love and hope that as he grows and matures he will figure things out in his own time, and with therapy and consistency he will develop into a competent, secure young man.


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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