Advice on Best Living Arrangement for Son

Updated on June 15, 2008
T.V. asks from Saint Ann, MO
5 answers

My husband and I are trying to decide the best possible living arrangement for my step-son. He is 4-years-old and has been with us full time for 3 months, after his mother moved to colorado with her "fiance." At the time, we agreed to keep him until they got settled - well they are currently staying in a 1 bedroom apartment, which to me says they were not planning on his return (although she disagrees). prior to their moving, we had been sharing custody (every other week visits) for the last 12 months, but before that, our son had lived full time with his mother, as my husband was in the army. so he is definitely very attached to his mom, and being without her has been very hard for him. he has been acting out at school and showing signs of aggression both at home and at school. My husband and I reassure him that his mom loves him very much and that she has not abandoned him, we do not ever talk bad about her in front of him. Since being in our home full time, he has made significant developmental progress, such as learning self care skills, maintaining a routine, improved social interaction, and learning his alphabet (still working on this). We are struggling with deciding upon the best living arrangement for him. She is coming to visit next week for 3 days, and is staying in a hotel. She wants him to stay with her the whole time (understandably so), but then she is leaving again with no set schedule for the next visit. We discussed with her about a month ago that when she and her fiance got a 2 bedroom place, he could return to her care, but until that time we were not comfortable with him living their. Prior to their moving, they were all sharing a 1-bedroom apt. and he was sleeping on a mattress in the living room. I guess I don't know which is best. Because on one hand, he has grown so much since being with us, but he has also been so angry that it is interfering with his schooling, and makes our home life stressful. We had to switch daycares shortly after he moved in b/c of his behavioral problems, but the problems have continued at his new school. NOw his mom is coming to visit and then leaving again. He is going to be devastated when she leaves, I can already anticipate this, and likely increase his acting out and aggressive behavior. I'm starting to believe that maybe our home is not the best place for him, even though we have a much more stable and structured environment. Is it really worth it? I hate to see him hurt so much. His mother is not at all structured, and has more of a "friendship" with her son rather than a parent-child relationship, so it's understandable why he would be so angry at our house where he has rules and discipline and set bedtimes. but are these things more important than a child feeling abandoned by his mother. could these skills be learned with age, whereas his anger and feelings of abandonment might always stay with him? should we make arrangements for him to return to her home right away, or hold out until september when she is suposed to get a 2 bedroom. My husband and I want to do what is best for Clark, not what is best for us. b/c we want him to stay with us. but he is clearly more attached to his mother and misses her greatly. she is not abusive. young and clueless yes, but a danger to him, absolutely not.

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answers from St. Louis on

I think your heart is in the right place. And you are absolutely right about fearing his abandonment issues. My mother got divorced when I was a baby and my brother was 2 1/2. My dad just took off. He would come back from time to time until my brother was 4, then left for good. I was the lucky one - too young to know I had a dad. My brother never recovered. Even though we had (have) the best, most loving and devoted mother in the world, my brother grew up angry with her, thinking she made dad go away. He has had issues all his life and at age 50 now, he's beginning to understand how "off" his thinking was all those years. And by issues, I mean low self-esteem and lack of respect for authority, which led to touble, obviously.

I think your stepson's mom is a bit in la la land. She has a fiance whom she is probably totally into and has mistakenly put this new man as a priority before own son. She may never win Mother of the Year, but if she is not abusing or neglecting him, even if she doesn't make a lot of money, I think the boy is better of with her. Who cares if it's just a one bedroom apartment. The kid is little. I'm sure he'd much rather sleep on a mattress on the floor of the livingroom than not be with his mom. Also, on the positive side, they are saving money by being in a smaller place. As the child grows, they will be inconvenienced enough to work toward getting a bigger place. There are plenty of poor people in this world raising more than one child in one bedroom shacks. It may not be ideal, but as parents, we can't just decide we can't afford to keep our kid right now (unless they are out of work and homeless).

Also, since you are bearing the brunt of Clark's emotional turmoil over his mother, you and your husband have every right to address these issues with the mother. You can lay down the law on this. She has to know how her leaving him and not knowing when he'll see her again is devestating to him and it is unfair to treat him that way. At the very minimum, until he moves back in with her, there has to be a set schedule of when she will call and when she will visit. He needs the comfort of knowing he'll at least talk to mommy at 8:00 every night and can look at the calendar and count the days until her next visit. That's only fair.

Good luck with this. You're a GREAT step mom. Let us know how it works out.



answers from St. Louis on

Pretty sad to say that she chose a man over her son, then to get a one bedroom apt knowing she had a son, sounds like she had no intentions of wanting her son back. Its just what I would think, if I were in your situation. Does she plan on getting that 2 bedroom apt? If so, I would hold off and explain to him as much as he will understand that Mommy needs to get things settled and when she does she will come get you and you can stay with her. I think every child needs structure and your doing the right thing in helping him accomplish that, kinda sucks tho that, it may not continue when he goes back to his mom, but guess when that happens, it will be out of your hands right, sad to say. Its good that she isnt abusive physically, but in some way she is, by not teaching her son the right ways in life, its considered neglect. They learn by the Parents, you need to set them straight at an early age.

So I would hold off until she gets settled. He will adapt eventually, hopefully.



answers from St. Louis on

Dear T.,
I am sitting here analyzing your side and the voices of the other two and all sides are valid. The study that stickes out in my mind is, the one that always boggles all pyschiatrist and scientist alike is the "abused monkey". A child will always love their biological parent unconditionally no-matter how abusive and/or neglectful that parent is. As sadly as it sounds and that explains why a man in his 50's is just now understanding why life is not what he really thought it was, because his brain is just now mature enough to define and undertand the reality of his past. That being said, you and your husband are great parents to be so concerned about this little guy. His mom does need to have very strict guidelines about consistent communication, phone calls and visitation with her son. He has to know on a calendar to be able to visual see and know when he gets to talk to her and when she is coming and when he is going to see her. He has to have a schedule and a routine in his daily life with you and with her. All children have to have rules and boundaries, it gives them sanity---structure prepares them for the unknown. It provides them with security. You two are preparing him for life and she has to continue this pattern for his health and over all well-being.
I know he is young, but a child psychologist would greatly benefit him, your family, as well as "mom". I would suggest having some appointments before mom shows up and then having one when mom comes with the whole family. Abandonment is not understood by a child this young, but mom not being there every day is and that hurt is very deep. Thus the anger--which you two are already aware of---You and Dad are doing a good job. Keep praising him and loving him for all his good days and all his good deeds. Keep helping him have a happy home and happy days. I wish you all well and I have you all in my prayers. M. N.



answers from La Crosse on

Hi, T.!

This is a tough one. I am of the opinion that he is best off with your family, at least for the time being. I can not tell if there is alot of animosity between the two families. I get the feeling that there isn't. Is she contacting (calling) him regularly, because seeing him is difficult with the distance.

He obviously is receiving love from you all, but he really seems to be seeking routine on the whole. You are giving it to him within your nest egg, but somehow his mom needs to be involved more in the routine. Yes, the distance will prove to make this difficult, but maybe if she can call for 10 minutes each night at i.e. 8pm to "tuck him in" (ask how his day was, read him a short story and say "good night, love you") and then have a longer chat one/two nights each week, he will have that daily interaction with her that he so desperately wants and it will be within a stable routine where she is involved daily, besides continuing to visit as much as she can.

Beyond that, I also recommend either a family therapist or child therapist to help him adjust and help you all assist him with whatever adjustments he needs to make. Ask his daycare if they have any suggestions also. Adjustments to new schools take time.

Anyway, that is my recommendations for the immediate time. The best of luck to you all! Keep up the good work!



answers from St. Louis on

That is a tough one. Either way, one of his parents is abandoning him. Why did she move to Colorado ?

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