I have had many challenges being a mom — more than your average due to the fact that both of my children have mental health issues. I have battled the school system. I have navigated the complicated mental health systems maze. But NOTHING could have prepared me for the challenges of being a stepmom.
I thought I had it down. I have known my stepsons since they were 2 and 6. (They are now 11 and 14.) I had never had any incidents like I read about where the boys have said, “You’re not my mom!” and refused to comply with any requests. I have always understood and respected that I was not their mom. The boys regularly visited with us every other weekend, a week at Winter break, 2 weeks in the summer and at various other family events. In fact, things were all hunky-dory until my youngest step son moved in with us at age 9.
At first we had a wonderful honeymoon period. He was happy to be with us and seemed to understand why he was no longer living with his mother, half-siblings, brother and stepdad. He had behavioral issues and mental health needs that his mom could not keep up with. He even knew that because she shared with him that she was unable to do things for him that he needed. He seemed to understand and accept that. OR SO WE THOUGHT.
In reality he decided that if he was “as bad as he could be” we would send him back to his mom. He had decided we had taken him from her and that even though she did not keep up good contact with him by calling or scheduling regular visits, (sometimes she’s out of touch for weeks at a time), it was somehow our fault that she was not seeing him. Let me rephrase that last sentence. It was MY fault. I was “replacing” his mom and he wanted no part of it.
He tells us he completely understands how busy she is and that she cannot call him, and then he is angry and nasty towards me. We are dealing with this together, he and I, in therapy, and he is starting to explore his feelings towards his mother although he is still too young to understand how he is projecting those feelings onto me. Let me stress that we never say anything negative about his mom. In time he will figure things out for himself.
We have seen some progress, but not as much as we had anticipated. We have seen a lot of backslides, especially after he has extended contact with his mother. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone. He needs his mother. He loves her and he should see her and talk to her. She has her own issues that prevent her from being able to meet his needs and so the cycle continues. We certainly would never keep her from seeing him, but the inconsistent nature of her contact is doing more harm than good. When we do approach her, she will vow to do better, and she will try for a little while but can never keep it up — and we go right back to where we were.
So in addition to dealing with my stepson’s anger and feelings towards me, I have to deal with my own feelings about his mother. This is a mom who clearly did not nurture her child. He did not form proper attachments as a baby and toddler and has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Then she sent him away and does not contact him often, yet when she does want to see him she demands it be on her terms because she is THE MOM! When my husband tries to explain his needs or direct her to the doctors, she claims she knows what he needs because she is the MOM, in case he forgot.
My stepson feels abandoned. Although he cannot say this, he only shows it by his self-defeating and destructive behavior. He feels unloved and unwanted and displays this by wetting himself and destroying property, lying and stealing. I am doing my best to understand why he behaves the way he does. We are working with doctors and therapists and everyone is on the same page. We implement consistent, clear consequences, although at times he simply does not care. He has told us he feels he deserves punishments and that he was sent to live here because his family hated him.
Each day I try to see as a new day. I know my anger at his mom sometimes gets in the way of how I feel about him, but I am doing my best to care for him and do the mom things just as I do for my own children.