Step-mom to a child who doesn't speak english...

cindrillonJanuary 18, 2009


I am having a really hard time being a step-mom to my husband 10 year old son. He just recently came to live with my husband and I (husband is french, I am American and we live in france) and the first few months were ok though I am pretty fed up of only cleaning and cooking I don't really feel like a family. My step son only speaks french and my french isn't that good and even if I speak french he acts like he doesn't understand unless it is something he needs to communicate with me to get something. My husband knows it is hard for me but now thinks that all I do is bad mouth his son and he told me that he doesn't want to hear anything about his son from me anymore. He is my only outlet for communication to the kid and if I have a problem with his behaviour or lack of following rules I would hope that I could go to my husband to relay the message. (I understand it must be horrid to be the middle man) Just in the last two weeks SS has been absolutely horrible to mainly my husband and his BM. He has NO respect for elders and only looks at them as a source of food, toys and entertainment. He is only 10 and acts like a teen already. I just really can't take it anymore I can't even be in the same room as they are because if they aren't screaming at eachother SS is sickly sweet and I can't take how Dr. Jeckyll Mr. Hyde he is and he sees nothing wrong with his previous behaviour.

Yesterday he refused to eat because he said that all the dishes in the cupboard were dirty and that he wasn't going to eat off of something so disgusting. When we gave him the alternative to re-wash the dish he said he didn^'t feel he had to because it was our fault they were dirty. None of them were dirty and one of the things I pride myself on is a very clean house. I was thinking perhaps he was trying to take a stab at me for some reason.

His BM is insane. Constantly calling and trying to get him to move back to her because even though she called and told us 4 months ago that she couldn't handle him anymore and that he had to come live in our living room (in the middle of building a bigger house so we live in our one bedroom). She feels now (even though she was pre-warned) that she is available and since we work all day and he is alone alot it would be better for him to go back. This woman and taught him NO life skills. He knows how to take a shower, dress, and pour a bowl of cereal. He doesn't know how to even tie his shoes and he doesn't want to learn how to do anything himself either he doesn't think he has to.

I don't know what I am expecting from this post except mainly some sort of release. I am so frustrated of not being able to communicate and knowing that I have NO say on how this 10 year old lives under our roof. I feel so stuck and it is leading to me resenting him BIG TIME. I know it is mean but I hope he goes back to his mothers. Just so that perhaps I can learn not to resent him and perhaps try to gain some sort of good relationship with him. But as long as he continues to disrespect and do nothing under our roof I can't stand being around him.



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He has NO respect for elders and only looks at them as a source of food, toys and entertainment. He is only 10 and acts like a teen already. I just really can't take it anymore I can't even be in the same room as they are because if they aren't screaming at eachother SS is sickly sweet and I can't take how Dr. Jeckyll Mr. Hyde he is and he sees nothing wrong with his previous behaviour


That is pretty disturbing, have you considered taking him in for counseling? Although it isn't unusual for children to "act out" following their parents divorce, the duality of his personality that you've labeled "Dr.Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde" can be indicative of a more severe psychological problem.

If you think his behavior is a result of his mother's lack of parenting, unless you think he's completely incorrigable, doesn't seem like shipping him back to his mother would do accomplish anything other than to make him even worse. I mean, he's only 10 years old and unless he's a sociopath, he probably stands a better chance at normalicy with you, than with her.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 3:21PM
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I'd try asking your husband: "How can you expect me to parent this child when we can't even understand each other? That is a cruel thing to do to your son, and unfair to me as well."

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 3:50PM
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His own mother couldn't handle him... now you are expected to? For that reason, I wouldn't take his behavior as personal or even that he is acting out because of the divorce. He is making a conscious effort to be a sh*thead to you. and you really need your husband's support. I would tell my husband, it's his child and if his own mother can't handle him, and he isn't going to support you, then he can do everything for his own son. I would refuse to do anything if he isn't going to be supportive. His denial is part of the kid's problem.

As for his behavior, if he understands enough to ask for what he wants, but not understand when you want something, then I would feign ignorance when he asks you for something... 'huh? I don't understand you... etc.' Two can play that game. When my kids would do that (and they spoke only english) I would do the same thing back to them. Kids need us... we don't NEED them. We can love them, want them and all that, but they need us more than we need them.

It may take a while.. lots of patience and consistency, but you can change his behavior. If the dishes are clean but he insists they are dirty, then your answer was right on.. he can clean them to HIS specifications or use them. and yes, he knows how to do everything he needs to.. IF HE WANTS. If he refuses to tie his shoes, I'd get him some with Velcro or zipper to close. He can physically do a lot, but he is choosing to feign like he can't so others will continue to do for him and as long as they do continue to do everything for him, he has no incentive to do for himself.

I suggest a counselor (if not for him, then for you to help you learn how to deal with him better without losing your mind) and also to get your husband on board with helping out with his son, instead of sticking his head in the sand.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 4:05PM
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(I understand it must be horrid to be the middle man)
Middle Man?...He's the dad!!!! It's his responsibility.
With that attitude I think I'd be tempted to say..
au revoir

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 5:30PM
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Hi Cindrillon,

I'm afraid I'm not going to be much help in the way of giving advice, but the others already gave you some good advice.

However just wanted to share that I can relate to your skid pretending he can't understand your accent, when it doesn't suit him. Of course it's a whole different story when he does want something, then he will understand you no problems right?
I'm a migrant and english is my second language. I'm not going to show false modesty here, my English is pretty much fluent and when I come across a word that I don't understand usually my FDH can't tell me what that means either! Anyway, every now and then I'll say something wrong, when I'm tired for example; and my skids are always quick to jump on that and give me sh*t for it. Sometimes in a funny way, sometimes not so funny.
I usually then repeat what I said but in my mother language..which of course they don't understand. And than I leave it at that.
My thought behind that is that if they are going to pretend that they don't understand me and not give me a break because it's my second language; than I'll just speak my mother language, no worries I understand both perfectly fine, not my problem!

Maybe you can try something similar; but it sounds like it's more of a battle for you so I'm not sure if it would work the same way as for me,

good luck with everything and sending you a big hug

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 9:25PM
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I think that while daddy takes his little darling to a behavior therapist you should go to french class. :o)

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 9:57PM
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Hi Cindrillon,

I feel obliged to respond to your post, since it mirrors my life so closely.

I am an American, married to a Frenchman living in France with 2 step sons (6 and 8 years old). Although we have them EOW plus 1-2 days per week.

I have a couple of questions. How long have you been living in France? Do you work? Do you have many friends here?

I ask this because I started following this forum because I was having major problems adapting to life with my step sons when I moved here 2 years ago. I felt they were rude, babied, not very kind towards me, etc. And I wasnt completely wrong. They yelled at adults and no one reprimanded them, they didnÂt do anything for themselves, couldnÂt (still canÂt) tie their shoes, didnÂt dress themselves, had at potty chair that they still used! Keep in mind they were 4 and 6 at the time. I think a lot of this has to do with culture. To me it seems the French donÂt value kids being independent as much as Americans do. It also has to do with guilt on my DHÂs side. Plus, everyone was so busy fighting and getting through the divorce earlier that I think, unfortunately the kids kind of slipped through the cracks a little bit in the "life lessons" department.

However, I think a major part was me too. I was in a new country, I couldnÂt speak the language well, I felt overwhelmed, tired, and every problem was magnified. Plus, since my life was so narrow (only DH and work) when something was going wrong it felt like my entire world was going wrong.

But, it gets better. The kids adjusted, your DH will adjust and YOU will adjust. My DH was good and stepped up to all the "parenting". He let (and lets) me have time by myself if needed. Whereas before he felt we needed to re-create a family and do everything together. But you canÂt force it. (It probably will come, though.) Get out and about. Do things for yourself. Pick up a hobby. I wonÂt say learn the language because thatÂll come naturally (and trust me, the last thing I wanted to do after a long day and a 3 hour round trip commute was sit my butt in a language class).

Now weÂre happily married, waiting on our 1st baby together (which the Step Sons are thrilled about), with ups and downs like any other family. I still get annoyed at the kids but itÂs more for "kid" things than "step-kid" things.

So, to recap my rambling postÂ
Make sure you DH does the "parenting", but jump in for the fun times and try to build a bond.
Try your hardest to be nice to your SS. He can sense your feelings even if you donÂt voice them, and youÂll get nowhere.
Take time for yourself and try to build your life here.
Be patient. Problems always seem magnified when your dealing with so much change to begin with.

I know this stuff isnÂt always easy, and IÂm still working on it, too. But I found that it helped me immensely. Also, thereÂs an online group in France for parents called MESSAGE. Maybe look into that. TheyÂve got great support and are always organizing outings. And if youÂd like, let me know and you can email me personally. ItÂs always better when someone understands your situation.

Hope things get better. Hang in there.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 7:33AM
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sounds pretty tough. Your DH has to do the parenting, not you. It seems like you are the one doing all the work.

as about not speaking the language...if your DH is French, why not learning some French? Plenty of people speak more than one language. I speak three and only two of them I speak since childhood, you can learn languages.

It is not little boy's responsibility to learn English. He didn't make a choice for his dad to marry English speaking woman. You made that choice, so why not learn some language. Is it hard? Sure it is! But is it possible? Of course.

Maybe he pretends he does not understand you, but maybe he really does not. DD speaks French and she says plenty of times either people do not understand her or she does not understand them.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 9:40AM
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We've all heard that the French are some of the rudest people in the civilized world....obviously it starts at an early age! (ok...that wasn't very nice, I know...I digress)

Most of Europe begins learning English in elementary
school. Doesn't he have mandatory English lessons? If not, I'd sign him up for some.

Also, you need to learn French. If you're going to live there, you should speak the language. Same for foreigners living here in the US...they should speak English.

You could tell your DH "not my kid, not my problem", but that won't go very far in building a loving, lasting relationship with either of them. I think you'd be best-served by making your expectations (for SS and DH!) clear and sticking to them. Kids need rules and boundaries. And they will tell you that they feel better/safer with them. They want to know what to expect, what's happening next, etc. I think kids of divorce sometimes fear that they don't know what's happening next or what's expected, as they try to maintain their lives in 2 homes. Then they act out, like your SS is.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2009 at 10:49AM
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His stepmother moved to France, where people speak French (rude or not, that's what they speak :)) So it would only make sense to put responsibility on her, not a kid who didn't move to the US or UK.

I would also assume that not only there is language difference, there is some cultural clash. SM came to a foreign culture.

As about cleaniness, I have difficulty eating in other people's houses even if they look clean. Unless I know people pretty well, I am hesitant. Who knows how they cook and how they wash. "Clean" is subjective matter. It might take this boy some time to figure that out.

I also wonder if he might have some disability because everyone can tie their shoes at 10. how often did he go to dad before you came to the picture? I wonder if he feels abandoned. his mom does not want him, his dad is not thrilled either and now there is SM who cannot even speak his language. Must be tough on a kid. maybe he is emotionally disturbed and feels out of place. he needs counselling ASAP. He is 10.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2009 at 4:01PM
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I wasn't referring to him speaking French as rude (duh!), I was referring to OP's OP, where she describes his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behavior, his lack of respect for elders, etc.

And I think, if you read what I wrote, I said SM should learn French...she lives there, she should speak the language. The boy is most likely learning English in school, as most countries in the EU begin teaching it in elementary. He may choose not to speak it, but he likely is learning it.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2009 at 9:29PM
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I was being sarcastic nicksmom. you said French people are rude and I said rude or not they speak their own language in their own country and those who move there should learn their language (unless they want to be rude of course lol).

i think signing SS for English class is irrelevant. of course they learn English in Europe but it is not his responsibility in this case. he might want to learn German or Spanish instead. Dad marrying American woman does not mean that kid needs to learn her language.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 11:55AM
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