New 'Stepdad' Seeking advice

aequitas1916May 28, 2011

Hey everyone,

My girlfriend and I have been together for a while. The situation is complex, but I'll try and sum it up as briefly as possible.

When she was 17, my girlfriend went to a party, made some irresponsible choices, and got pregnant after a one-night stand. The father was never seen again, except in the courtroom. She did not want to get an abortion, and intended to give the child up for adoption. Her mother talked her out of it, and agreed to take the child in instead. My girlfriend has regretted this choice for many years now. Her mother is addicted to prescription drugs and various other things. She lives off the child support she receives for my girlfriend's son, unemployment and whatever else she can scam her way into. They live with the grandmother's husband and their 22 year old shiftless deadbeat son, in a crappy multifamily in a bad part of town.

A few years back, my girlfriend actually started trying to get her life straightened out. She started working regularly, albeit in low paying jobs. We had known each other a long time, and after a number of years without ever seeing each other, we ran into each other. Our relationship grew and we moved in together a couple years ago.

In the time we've been together, the biggest cause for problems has been the crazy dynamic between her divorced parents and her child. Her parents, I could do nothing about. But she expressed torn feelings about her son. She is angry that her mom talked her out of the adoption, because she realizes that her son is now living in a horrible place, and has been his whole life. He is angry and depressed, he acts out at school and gets poor grades. However, she also never wanted to play the role of a parent.

I love my girlfriend very much. I have no fears about us living together, and sharing our lives. I also believe that in order for us to have a happy life, for her to feel like she's redeemed herself to her son, and ultimately for her son to have a decent shot in life, he needs to get out of the place he lives. He needs to have people who care and will work to make sure he succeeds around him. To that end, I offered to have her son move into an apartment with us.

Don't get me wrong, my girlfriend would have already done this if she had the money. I would have as well, if it had been possible. But the time is now. He's 12 years old already, and I know the clock is ticking if we're going to undo the damage.

So, after my lengthly introduction, does anybody have any advice they can offer? I know there's books out there, but I haven't found one that can offer advice on being a step-parent to an emotionally abandoned, at-risk boy. We've informed him of our intentions, he's excited, seems optimistic, but I know he can't trust me yet. He may not even trust his mother. She hasn't been a total stranger - we've had him over on the weekends many times. But I know he must harbor resentment for her. So, I'm trying to step up, and give him direction. I'm trying to be easy going, and give him some leeway on certain things, because I know he had no structure where he lives and horrible examples for how to treat people respectfully.

I could go on, but I'd probably just be rambling...

So, how about it? Any wise words?

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I'm not really sure where to start with this except to say that I don't think you're going to be able to fix this situation. I realize that isn't what you want to hear, but from your description this really sounds like a mess, and none of it has to do with you.

Many of the details of your story disturb me, but probably none do more than the fact that you're the one writing it at all. I don't mean that as a slight against you, just that it sounds like your girlfriend really has no interest in being a parent, and is only considering taking in her son now in an attempt to ease her guilt. Her son is 12 years old, and I have a difficult time believing that in a full 12 years she never had the money to take care of him as you say. She may not have been able to live a very extravagant lifestyle, and no doubt she would have had to make sacrifices, but if the living conditions are really as bad at her mother's house as you describe them to be, she would have worked to get her son out of there if she had a real concern for his well-being. If she wanted to, she would have, it's really as simple as that.

I think you really need to think long and hard before getting more involved in this situation given that your girlfriend doesn't seem as invested in trying to help her son as you are. Yes, she may be angry with her mother for discouraging an adoption, but there's nothing that can be done about that now. She needs to let go of that anger. The focus needs to be on the 12-year-old boy who is there, not on regrets from a long time ago.

Additionally, from a practical standpoint, I don't really understand how it is your girlfriend thinks her son is just going to move in with her. She may be his mother, but it sounds like she has been absent for long periods of time, and only spends the occasional weekend with him. If he's never lived with her, and she's mostly been absent, having him be able to move in with you might be more difficult than you think it is. Additionally, even though you think they're bad role models, your girlfriend's mother and her husband have been the ones raising him. They may not be the best parents, but they have been taking care of him for his entire life. Taking him away from them would probably be traumatizing for him even if you think it's in his best interest.

I do think it's admirable that you want to help this boy and give him a better chance at life, but I also think there are a lot of other factors here to be considered. Your girlfriend is the one who should be taking the initiative to repair her relationship with her son. She is the one who should want a better life for him and helping him to achieve a better future. You can't just expect to come into a situation like this as an outsider and repair all of the damage that has been done. I do wish you the best, and I'm sorry if you feel this post was discouraging, but I think you need to take a step back and reevaluate what you're getting yourself into before this goes any further.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:19PM
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If the child is 12, a mom that doesn't WANT to be a mom and a stepdad that wants to "fix" the past is not going to undo 12 years of dysfunction.

You don't take in a child to "redeem" yourself of a bad choice. If the child is in a bad place & has been for years, then the proper authorities may need to investigate & find a suitable place for the child. It isn't necessarily with a mother that doesn't know how to be a mother. Unfortunately for parents that are not ready to be parents when they have a child, the child does not stay a baby until they are ready. If she feels ready now that the child is 12, she is now going to have to be ready to deal with a child that has problems... which is far different than just taking in a child that has been raised in a good environment. It's hard enough to deal with your own child that you've raised from birth if they have behavioral problems... but to take on a child that sounds as if he's been neglected or improperly cared for, it probably isn't a good idea. Besides, she may also face a backlash from the child who may blame HER for leaving him in that bad situation for so long. He's entering his teen years & that can also be a rebellious place... not really a good time to take on the kid you really didn't want when he was a cute cuddly baby.

I agree with Swedishfish, it's admirable to want to fix it but it's probably beyond the scope of what you hope will happen.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 11:30PM
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I see what you're both saying. They are very good points. Perhaps I should elaborate a little more, and reword some things.

I don't think I can fix what has happened. That is beyond my wildest wishes (not for him, but that I could be solely responsible for it), my abilities and my responsibility. I'm merely hoping to help in whatever way I can. I don't think I can fix these dysfunctional relationships by waving a magic wand or something. But I, or really anyone with a good head on their shoulders, could give things a nudge in the right direction. May as well be me.

Of course, with the right mindset, my girlfriend could have removed her son from the situation earlier. Unfortunately, she could not take care of herself for a long time as a result of mental health problems, not the least of which was trying to figure out exactly how being raised by this same person (her son's grandmother) messed with her head. In fact, she did have some money, and used it to rent a room above a chinese restaurant. But, the bottom line is, yes, she abdicated her responsibilities to her son. I'm not making excuses for her. There have been a multitude of bad decisions made.

Perhaps "redeem herself" was a bad choice of words, and they are my words, not hers. She never expressed this idea as part of her intentions. It is a thought I had that this is something that could occur as a result of her choices, but is not the reason for them.

It IS long overdue, and you could be right that it's too late. I like to think that it's not. But, her interest in seeing the best for her son is not superficial. Only, until recently, she has felt hopeless at the prospect of doing anything about it. If you've dealt with anyone who has suffered from severe mental illness, you can understand how a person who has little self worth can have a difficult time believing or even comprehending what a difference they can make in the life of another person. Her resentment and lack of desire to be a mother (I should mention, that feeling was at the time she became pregnant) have been directed inwardly, and not to her son. She struggles with these feelings, not because she doesn't want to deal with the problem, but that she has had them at all. As if she is a bad person and horrible mother because she didn't want to have a child when she was 17, and has put off dealing with it due to her own issues, guilt, and the aforementioned bad choices. Maybe she's been a bad mother, I can't argue with that. But not a bad person.

At any rate, you're definately right about the anger issues. She needs to move on from that. And that's something that I can't deal with - she needs professional help for it. As well as her feelings about her son and her actions, or lack thereof, towards him.

I recognize, as does she, that her mother has been taking care of him. That's why, even though I think she deserves it, we are constantly telling him not to say the mean-spirited things he says to her. Although, these are largely in response to flat out bullying by his grandmother, but still, she has provided a roof over his head and food for him. My girlfriend also recognizes that she did not do these things for him.

As far as the contact goes, they have always been in contact with each other. She just never lived with her son. If her son wanted to stay where he is, we would never force him to move. Perhaps it's due to my lack of parenting experience, but I have insisted on frank discussions with him to determine his wishes and let him know our intentions. She has also insisted that he be a part of any decisions which would affect him. I believe he wants both a relationship, and answers, from his mother. She certainly wants one with him, but has difficulty believing she deserves it. Maybe she's right. I don't know.

As far as CPS is concerned, I've considered making the call myself. Speaking with my brother-in-law, who's ex wife behaves similarly, he related his experience with CPS. Even with empty pill bottles all over the house, it still took 2 years for him to gain custody. There is no custody argument here, as her mother would gladly give my girlfriend's son back to her. However, what could happen would be that my girlfriend's son could be placed in a foster home, even if there is just a slim chance of that happening. However, her mother is quite crafty and resourceful, so I doubt anything would ever come of it. He's not beaten or anything. Just verbally abused, taught by example how to live the life of a ward of the state, and generally mistreated.

It's been a long time since that first mistake, and she's undoubtedly made many more in the meantime. She established a track record of making good decisions, finally. Do you think she deserves a chance to be a better mother? I know she wouldn't do worse, and believe she could do much better. And placing the child in the foster care system is much more like playing russian roulette with a child's life than having him live with his mother.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 1:31AM
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You raise valid points and I commend you for wanting to improve this child's situation. However, all this needs to come from your GF. And I get the image of her remaing somewhat fragile emotionally. Not sure why.

I think if the boy comes with you to live there should be a TON of family and individual counseling as well, long term. There are a lot of things to take into consideration.

Where is the father? I'm sure at this age this boy has questions regarding his father also. Is he around, alive, part of his life? Does he know the child exhists. Does he pay child support? He/and his family may also have rights to this child and may have interest in obtaining custody and raising this child.

Are you going to marry? Would you adopt him? What if you GF decides she still is unable to parent after you've had the kid for a few months-then what? What are this young boys expectations in the household, chores, allowance, having friends over, schoolwork, just normal stuff when thinking of a 12 yr old boy. He has not had a normal life so to throw him into a family type situation with a mom and her BF he hasn't ever lived with might prove to be too much for him to deal with. He is at a very tender age and while I feel your intentions do come from a good place, they may well cause a lot more harm than good.

If he is being abused by all means get him out of there, but do it in a well thought out careful way with professional help all the way because the bottom line is this is about what is best for this child.NOT your girlfriend, not you. What is best for this child?

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 11:17AM
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Sitting a 12 year old child down that has lived with grandma all his life and having frank discussions about changing custody to his mom/step-dad & hoping/expecting him to be a part of that decision is probably not in the child's best interest. The adults are supposed to figure out what is best for the child, not ask a child to choose between the person that has parented them and the person that gave birth. A 12 year old is perhaps on the border of being old enough/mature enough to give input, but 12 is not an age where they necessarily know what is best for themselves.

As far as CPS goes... unfortunately it's a government agency & you really can't compare experiences with it since one person may get a diligent caseworker & someone else may get one that is more laid back. Empty pill bottles don't prove anything. I thought my son's father drank too much. He had multiple DUI's & no license. My attorney hired a private investigator to get "evidence" and he showed up in court with a picture of two large trash cans full of empty beer cans and court records of the DUI's. The Judge said, "so?" You have to prove they are inebriated around the child and that it affects their ability to care for the child or the child is affected in a negative way. If they are prescription pills, the court may care less... unless you can show that the child is harmed in some way.

Without knowing the legal situation... it's hard to give my full opinion on part of your post. Is he a ward of the state? Does grandma have legal guardianship? Or did mom voluntarily allow the child to live with grandma without any court involvement? If you believe the child could end up in foster care over his bio mother's home, then that leads me to believe that the place he is in, either it's not as bad as you think (or at least the State doesn't think it is) or that his mother's home isn't any better. It may be YOUR opinion that he is verbally abused/mistreated but I see parents all the time in stores, talking to their children in a way I would never talk to mine... I don't agree with some other parenting techniques but that doesn't make me right & them wrong. It's all a matter of perspective. Of course kids ARE taught by example, that is how they learn most of what they know/do.

Do I think she deserves a second chance to be a better mother? I think SHE deserves nothing. I think her child deserves to know his mother.(where is the father?) I think her child deserves to have a mother that puts his interests first, even if that means leaving him where he is, in the only HOME he has known & just spending time with him to get to know him & build a relationship with him. She can influence his life and be a good example without uprooting him because that can cause further damage. As bad as you or she may think it is, it is very hard for older kids to adapt to the kind of changes that come with living with new rules, new schedules, new lifestyle, etc. Some kids may do great, others will have bigger problems and from the first post, this kid is already having problems... lashing out at the grandma or having problems in school. If there is going to be any changes, it might be a good idea to get a professional involved to help him adjust... even then, it is probably not going to be an easy road.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 11:38AM
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If like you said GF has mental health issues, perhaps that is the reason for her inability to parent her son. Is she in treatment? If not, then I wonder if a child will be worse off with mentally ill, emotionally unstable mother. Not to say that mentally ill people cannot parent, but it could be the case with her. It seems somewhat strange that in 12 years she was not able to get herself into a better place ...So i am wondering what makes you believe that she will be able to now?

"Don't get me wrong, my girlfriend would have already done this if she had the money." I am not sure I understand this statement, money to hire a lawyer to get custody or money to raise him? It doesn't take that much...Go to work and get child support, what do other parents do?

Who has a legal custody? if a child is neglected at grandmas, he might need to be moved to a more suitable environment, it might be his mother but it might be someone else or a state.

I think your heart is a in a right place but you might be getting yourself into a big mess...I agree with imamommy that if a mom wants to be a good parent, she can do it by being a good example. She needs to get herself some job training/education, get treatment for mental issues, keep a job and be a positive influence.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 12:06PM
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This whole situation worries me. I can not imagine that the grandma who you said is living off child support money is going to hand over the child and loose her source of income. I also have a hard time believing that your gf is going to be able to deal with being a mom to a troubled 12 year old at this point.

If you and her do take her son in I think parenting classes as well as individual and family counseling are necessary.

I have a son around the same age and I have provided him with a good home life and he can still be a handful at times! 12 is a rough age to deal with even in the best of circumstances. There are attitudes, boundry testing, complaining, arguments, and all the other "fun" teen/preteen behaviors to deal with. Throw that all together with any problems your "stepson" might have with school and you and your gf are sure to have many struggles ahead of you. Are you sure that you are both ready for that??

    Bookmark   May 29, 2011 at 2:16PM
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I hate to disagree with all the postings as there are a lot of very valid points and concerns. But, aequitas1916 it sounds like you have a very solid and realistic perspective on the situation. And, while it might be your gf's job to fix some of these things that doesn't mean that you can't do some good as well.

It's not uncommon for a non-relative to make a difference in a child's life. It wouldn't be any worse than having a foster child or doing a big brother type program. And, they do those programs because they actually help kids who have issues and need a good example and role model. So, i don't see why you couldn't do some good in this kind of a role.

You aren't really saying that you want to make everything all better, and bring him to live with you and be a dad and suddenly your gf is going to be this wonderful mom.

yes, it's going to be hard and you will have struggles. It will also depend on how much you decide to take on and how you go about doing this. I would be careful to alienate the parents who raised him the last 12 years. But, even if it's hard and there is trouble for the boy's sake what is wrong with wanting to give him a better situation? Even if it's only a little better. (or could be a lot better)

Maybe you could work with the parents to help the boy? Also, it is good to be prepared for all of the things mentioned in the above posts. You will have to deal with all of that and a whole lot more. Also, i would say do this if you care about the BOY. (not neccesarily because you care about your gf, and you hope it will make her happy if you help her boy)

cause you're walking into a real mess, and the last thing that boy needs is someone to come along, try and make things nicer and then dissapear on him. If he starts to trust you and see you as a good example and role model, then you need to be careful that you can stick around.(what happens if you and your gf start not getting along?)

Everyone on this forum knows just how much of a mess these situations can be, and how much pain can come of it. They are all trying to look out for you and question whether you really want to step into the mess. So, that is true and you need to be ready for it.

But, that doesn't mean that you wouldn't be a really good influence in this boy's life. It sounds like he could use someone who was really thinking about what was best for him, and at 12 he is at such a critical stage in developing his identity. If you do decide to take on this sitation then i wish you good luck!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 3:06PM
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Go for it, & bless for having the heart & the backbone to take on this family;
you can make *the* difference in this boy's life.

As you said, it's a multi-layered, complicated thing, so get some good, solid, help.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 5:15PM
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I agree that OP could make a difference in boy's life by being a good role model. But the situation is that he is not the one with legal responsibility. Is a GF ready to take on this responsibility?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 6:32PM
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Aequitas1916, you are to be commended for your willingness to do so much to help this child. It is obvious your heart is in the right place.

But, you asked for advice. I know a woman who is in a similar situation; she has a 9 year old boy who lives with his father. BD (bio-dad) hired expensive attorneys after their divorce, he lied through his teeth, the attorneys ripped her apart trying to find every little thing to make her look like a bad mother. So BD got custody - just to spite her; he never really wanted the child. Since then, BD has withheld visitations, and gone out of his way to poison her relationship with her son. She didn't have money to fight this in court. She'd see her son every chance she could, which wasn't much. BD and his wife are horrible to the child; they're either spoiling him and allowing him to behave like a brat, or being cruel and mean to him. Fortunately this woman has a BF of a couple of years who understands, and soon they're probably going to try again to get custody. The child will obviously be better off living with her; she's a good mom whenever she's given the chance.

There's only one teensy little problem with her story - it's not true. It's our BM that I am talking about, and she has indeed told exactly this to many, many people (most of whom do not believe her), but apparently the BF does. Even now, she only wants to "play Mom" in front of BF (BF is in prison at the present time, so her extent of acting like a mother is only long enough to ask my SS to write letters to BF in prison and to tell my SS how everything is going to be so wonderful when BF gets released.) We truly believe that if/when BF is gone, her interest in SS will be gone, and she'll be no-showing for visitations left and right, just like she'd done for the previous seven years. We also believe that BM perceives her version to be "the truth" - but that truth is not the same that DH, SS and I have.

I'll be honest, I see red flags all over the place. Your GF got pregnant after a one night stand - Not Her Fault, just a mistake. She wanted to give baby up for adoption, but GM insisted on allowing her to raise child - Not Her Fault. GF never wanted to be a parent, but is now forced into it - Not Her Fault. GF would have gotten her child sooner, but she didn't have money - Not Her Fault. GF has mental issues - Not Her Fault. GF is angry and resentful because of her mother - Not Her Fault. Because of these issues, GF has not been acting as a mother to her child for twelve years - Not Her Fault. But now, despite the fact that she still doesn't really want to be a parent, and that's she still having some mental/emotional issues, she's going to give it a go - and try parenting a neglected, angry, depressed, troubled twelve year old. Who really is the one who wants to help this child - is it your GF or is it you?

So, here's what I'd suggest. You've had the child over for weekends many times? Have him over for weekends even more. Have him for summer vacations, after school if possible, holidays, when he's home sick, etc. See how that goes; if he seems to be feeling better or if you and/or your GF begin to feel the strain. Because if it's too much pressure to have a child every weekend and most of the summer, it's not going to work to have him live there during the school year.

You say that this child living with you and your GF cannot be worse for him - yes, it can. You've got a GF with mental illness who is still struggling through her own issues and you're going to add a troubled almost-teen to the mix? It can get much worse for all of you.

I'm not disparaging your GF, but I am saying that even an experienced uber-parent would have an extremely difficult time with the situation you've presented.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 10:13AM
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I've stayed away from this forum because I was getting a lot of negativity. Well intentioned though it may have been. But, I haven't been absent without reflecting on most of what has been said.

First, I came to this forum seeking advice on how to interact with what I see will be my stepson. I refer to him as my stepson for simplicity's sake - you can see from above that it may be inaccurate. However, it will not be inaccurate forever. The future I see involves me, my GF and her child (my stepchild). At any rate, perhaps I should have sought advice on another forum. This one seemed to fit my situation the most. I appreciate your concerns, but ultimately, I was not seeking advice on the wisdom of having this child come to live with his mother and I, but on how I might better relate to a child who is not my own.

For all the concerns about removing him from his grandmother's care - I have either not explained the situation well enough or you cannot grasp the affects of his current situation. Has she provided for him? Yes. He has a room in a home, he has food. Does he love her and vice versa? Yes, or at least I believe so. He is her grandson, she is his grandmother. Do they simultaneously hate each other? Yes, I believe that as well. Nothing out of the ordinary for a parent and adolescent child. However, his grandmother is consistently strung out on vicodin, percocet or anything else she can get her hands on. She uses unemployment, the child support for my GF's child and sells her food stamps to pay for all this. They have food due to the charity of food pantries at the local church. She's also consistently behind on the rent, causing the child to worry (because she doesn't) that he will be in a shelter this month or next. His grades are abysmal, as is his attendance, because she doesn't care what's going on with him. In short, he is not abused, simply neglected. And there is no such thing as benign neglect when it comes to children. I've heard people yell at their kids in stores too. And, no, I don't always agree with their methods. But there's no call for anyone in position of authority, and who should know better, to scream, at the top of their lungs, "IDIOT!" in the face of a kid who already has self esteem problems. This is not an isolated incident, it happens nearly every time I'm over there to pick him up, simply substitute "Idiot" with any other derogatory word, including some I won't sully your ears with. She gets him to do his chores (which IS good), but uses an allowance to do so. The problem is that she gives him an allowance and then steals it back to pay for pills (he recently saved enough up to buy himself a Boost prepaid cellphone, which made me proud, only to find the money had been stolen from under his mattress).I do not make it my business, ordinarily, to critique ANYONE's parenting skills. But I have never personally seen anyone do such a consistently bad job, as evidenced further by my girlfriend's siblings.

That said, I have no intention of driving a wedge between anyone in her family, including her mother and her son. All communications about the prospective move have been discussed civilly, agreed upon and even welcomed (so far). We will see what happens when the grandmother is actually faced with the loss of child support, although she agrees to it now.

I don't see how having open discussions with the child could NOT be beneficial. We want an improvement in his schoolwork, his interpersonal skills, his ability to form relationships and his life in general. We want a better relationship with him. We want these things, he wants them and he's dying to have people who care and want these things in his life. Would it not be better to have someone involved in their own life and improvements to it, rather than have him see us as forcing things on him? I just don't see how having him be on board with it could be bad. I wish someone had done the same for me when I was a kid - not put me in charge, but let me know what the hell is going on. I should add that all it took was me showing an interest in his homework, asking him to start being accountable, and he started doing it, asking for help/explanations, and his mother and I gladly do it.

I suppose I can't blame anyone for thinking she doesn't deserve another chance to be a mother. More to the point, I guess I don't care. I believe she does. And that, for my own part, is what matters. I may be a more strong-willed person than she is. I have to help her, and I have to help him. I will not let this child fall through the cracks, and I won't let my GF fall through them either. I hate to toot my own horn, but the lack of support network she has within her own family will be made up by mine, her friends, our friends, and even those who she wronged back when she made that ill-fated decision. That's the quality of the person who I love, who her son loves as well as her friends - even for such a horrible series of mistakes, they still love and support her and her son. And that is what will make the difference, and will help all three of us get through the difficult road ahead. Giving up, leaving him in his current situation - it will be worse. It is simply not an option for anyone with the means and the knowledge of the situation. Ignoring him now would be much more cruel a course of action than the one that put him there originally.

The child's father is useless, and a sorry excuse for a man. The one redeeming thing I can say about him is that at least he pays his support. Nobody knows much about him, other than he wants nothing to do with his son, at least not enough to actually contact him. He has never contacted my girlfriend since the results of the paternity test, 12 years ago. My GF's son has recently started asking about him. We will address this together, with the assistance of professionals.

My girlfriend's mental illness is such that she is regularly and significantly depressed. In the last couple of years, things have improved - another reason she has begun to get this current change in motion. This improvement is an ongoing process. You could argue that she has no business taking on this challenge in that state. Thank goodness, she doesn't have to face it alone. Nobody should have to. That is part of what relationships are about - teamwork. If you argue that she should have taken responsibility for her baby, whatever her own problems were, you cannot also argue that she should not have her child back due to her current problems. It's contradictory. She is a person with problems that must be addressed. Her child has problems that must be addressed. There are problems to be addressed. No problem cannot be overcome. Especially when the relationship is there, and both people - her and her child - want things to improve. They do have a relationship, and perhaps I was not clear on that before. They know and love one another. They see each other quite frequently even if he only stays over once a month or so. They are not strangers.

A few other things: I am not in a hurry to get married. I wouldn't say that I'm opposed to it either. I am committed to my GF, and for now, that is enough. I am also committed to this child. I would like to adopt him at some point, although I have to say I am ignorant to how that would work while his mother and I were together but not married. In the end, that may just end up being what I do - getting
married that is - to settle it once and for all (her child not being the sole reason for the marriage, but a welcome bonus). Regardless, I see the importance of stability in his life and to that end have committed myself to supporting this child emotionally/financially and in whatever other way he needs, and I can provide, no matter the disposition of my relationship with his mother. Bearing in mind that I am not his father - and am not seeking to play a role he isn't ready for me to. But, I find that with the gravity of this situation, I must commit myself entirely or not at all.

To mattie_gt. I am NOT offering excuses on my GF's behalf. Yes, these things are all her fault. They aren't just a bunch of things that happened. What I have offered is an explanation of these mistakes (Yes, the were mistakes, which she is at fault for. But, believe it or not, she did not INTENTIONALLY ruin her life or that of her child), which were mostly made in the intemperance of her youth. Since that time she has been plagued by the consequences of those horrible decisions, as has her child. What possible HARM can come of reconciling the two, facing the problems that have been caused by these decisions, and preparing this child for adulthood - hopefully sans the feeling of abandonment, or at least lessening it? I'm not saying it's going to be easy - of course it won't. It'll probably be the hardest thing we ever do. But it needs doing. I just don't see how this could be worse for him. And uber-parents we certainly are not. But, perhaps partially thanks to the mistakes of her past, we have 6 other "as close as you can hope to get to uber-parents" to seek advice from, as well as a multitude of other caring people. No, this child will be in good hands, and will receive the best counseling we can get (as will we).

I hope that this helps explain things. I have a decent understanding of the situation and command of the English language, but I don't know what else there is to say. I would welcome any helpful tips or anecdotes about relating to my "stepson". But, what I really don't need is people telling me this is a bad idea or trying to stress me out more. Although I'm confident that we will manage and all three of us will be better for it, I don't need anymore reason to be freaked out. My eyes are open, I'm looking before I leap, but please don't tell me my chute won't open. I don't need that.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2011 at 8:31PM
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Aequitas, I'm not trying to freak you out. What I was trying to say (and apparently not very well), is that I think this is a process that might be better to happen more slowly. I understand that you are seeing a little boy in a horrible situation, and your first thought, naturally, is to get him away as quickly as reasonably possible.

But. This is going to be very difficult for all of you. I can tell that you seem absolutely determined that you will make it work, that you will do what is best for this child, and that is to be commended. However, your determination is not what I'm really thinking about, because, if things start to go badly, you will have very little ability to change a lot of it. As Mom's BF (and even as Mom's husband), you will not legally be able to make medical decisions, to discuss his education, legally you cannot consent for him to go on a field trip at school! If your relationship does not withstand the pressure (and please understand that if you are taking in a troubled child, you and your GF may spend literally days or weeks at a time with almost no time alone with each other), your GF can walk away with the child to raise him as she wishes, and you might never see him again. Or Mom could return him to her mother's if she chooses, and you cannot stop that. Basically, if you and Mom disagree about how to raise him, her opinion will prevail. If she neglects him, you are legally limited as to what you can do to help him. If she decides to spank him for misbehaving and you disagree (and it's legal in your state), you'll have to sit and watch. It can be very tough, and that's what I meant about being very sure you are on the same page on this.

If you're still reading here comes the advice part (as requested), for what it's worth. First, I'd try to get all of you if possible, but definitely SS and GF into family counseling now, before any move. It takes time to find and build a relationship with a good counselor; better to have this started earlier. Meanwhile take this time to get your house in order, and I mean that literally. SS is going to require an amount of attention and time that may seem astonishing at first. If you only have fifteen free minutes at the end of the night (which is quite possible), you don't want to spend them running to the store for milk because no one remembered to stop after work, or trying to find the air pump for the tires on SS's bicycle. If possible start having SS over for longer periods, and more often. I don't know what you do when he's there now, but if it's a lot of fun trips hither and yon, start having more stay at home, mundane, "family" things.

Hopefully all will be going well at this point and then comes the move, and the fun part begins. You need a very clear, very detailed, list of expectations/rules/requirements/penalties. Ideally, you, GF and SS will all sit down and agree upon what's "fair" together. By this point the counselor should be able to offer suggestions, but it is likely that SS will want structure, routine, consistency, because this has been so lacking for him. And thus why your own house needs to be in order - a child who craves structure will want things to be exactly as you said. If dinner is to be served at 6:30, SS may expect that to mean 6:30 - not 6:45, not 6:15.

SS may begin testing you both, breaking rules to see if you're paying attention. Enforce the agreed upon penalties but at the same time pay close attention; there may be some other issue at play. For example, if SS doesn't go to bed on time and gets up to play or read, it may be that he's still afraid of the dark or afraid of bad things that have happened at nighttime before, and he's afraid/embarrassed to say so. If he is being defiant with schoolwork he may be seriously behind where he should be and have managed to hide it more than you know.

As for you, you might not want to take his Dad's place, but he has no active father so you'd be his male role model. Don't be surprised if he blows hot and cold, from hating you to loving you back to hating you. Stay calm, be patient, patient, patient and very consistent. Remember that you will be a very important figure in his life, and he will begin to model what "being a man" is based on you, and that means in everything you do. Build something with him, take him fishing, teach him to cook, just spend "guy" time with him. It's not what you do with him so much as how you do it that is important. He'll be watching every single thing you do, even when you don't realize it.

At some point you'll be ready to pull your hair out, scream, and throw your hands up. Then, you'll overhear SS talking about the really cool thing you did with him over the weekend (the thing that he seemed to be miserable and complain about while you were actually doing it), or SS will suddenly say Thank You to a complete stranger, or come bouncing in the door with an A on a test.

Good luck! I really hope that you can make a difference in this boy's life.

Oh, meant to add - is there any chance of you getting any kind of legal guardianship rights in your state? I know here there is something that can be done, if the parents agree, where a third party (like yourself) can have certain legal rights for a child in case of certain conditions. If, God forbid, your GF has a recurrence of depression where she is temporarily unable to take SS to doctor, for example, then you would be able to do so. It might be something to look into.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 9:38AM
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aequitas, you sound like a big hearted person, and yes, it can work out for you, ...As long as you expect the rocky parts and can withstand the pressures of this situation..I have two foster daughters, who came from a backround so hideous I wont even go into detail about it..Oldest girl was a gang member, younger defiant as they come..Both were LD and hated school..Today youngest is in a steady job, and older is a college grad..They have turned into the kindest sweetest most respectful kids you d ever want to meet...They were over Mothers Day with homemade cards and candy (and really dont have money to spare)and I couldnt be prouder of them..I dont credit myself, they had something inside them to overcome the hand they were dealt, hopefully your future SS does too...Rather than backing away from a seemingly impossible situation, I say go for it...You ll want to tear your hair out , but in the end, to see these kids turn into a productive loving person is the best reward...Good luck

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 1:57PM
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"I know there's books out there, but I haven't found one that can offer advice on being a step-parent to an emotionally abandoned, at-risk boy."

You were looking for advice specifically on how to interact with him. Well, most step-parent books, and just books about children are actually going to have more helpful information than you might think.

some kids are worse off than others, but pretty much every child who went through a divorce, or who was seperated from one parent or another is going to be "an emotionally abandoned, at-risk" child. Just how much they are affected, depends on the situation. But they all have those little seeds of hurt. So those books are going to be more help than you think.

And all children crave very similar things. Love, Stability, Consistancy, routine. They want to know what they can expect. They want to know they are safe. They want to be able to get excited, without the fear of having their hopes crushed.

If you think he is excited about the idea of living with you and his mom, then that's a good sign. Maybe it is hard for people on this forum to give any specific advice on how to deal with this boy, since as of right now it sounds like you guys are getting along and the boy is excited to try out this new situation.

If something specific comes up, maybe there are some books that can help, and also maybe you can get more informative feedback for that situation.

The main advice i would give for now would be to just watch his reactions, and follow through on anything you said you would do. that's the best way to create trust, and with a boy who has a bunch of issues, trust is going to be really important. :)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 7:42PM
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...Reading this thread made me run through all human emotions one by one! lol. I went from hopeful, to angry, to sad, to proud and back. At one point, I literally bounded out of my chair and gave a standing ovation, and it was to you, aequitas1916, when you told these people to shove it!

Truth is with this forum as I've notice reading things here and there, youre pretty much damned if you do and damned if you dont. You posted that you want to help out in this situation and immediately received every reason in the book on why you were moronic for considering such an idea, and basically had people telling you what your life was. I guarantee that if you would have said that you were not interested in taking on this responsibility you would have be crucified as the most malicious horrible person who doesnt have what it takes to be a step parent anyway.

Truth is, when you post the nutshell version of your life on a message board and ask others for their advice, you ARE at the discretion of those reading to give their opinion, and most of the time, it AINT gonna be what we wanna hear or it wont be what we will agree with, but "C'est la vie." Anyway, I'm glad you stuck to your guns and put it out there that you dont care what these people think about the PEOPLE involved and its past, but about the SITUATION as it stands and how to go FORWARD.

With that being said mattie_gt's last post really says it all. You seem to have a clear understand of the difficulties’ that lie ahead, and you are mainly focusing on how to relate to this kiddo, but mattie was not off in stressing the possibility of stress in the relationship. I AM NOT intending to be negative, and only touch on this because how you relate to one another in the relationship spills over into how you will eventually relate to the child. I add this two cents worth coming from someone who is in the situation of a Step Parent who is having a hard time dealing and relating to kids who have been reared in a messed up environment as well. It has placed stress on my relationship because we do not always agree, but because we love each other very much we make it through, and it seems your bond with your GF will be a major strength if this is to occur.

Again, agreeing with mattie, counseling GOES A LONG WAY. This will definitely be a huge help to ALL OF YOU. A professional can get the ball rolling and guide this family into the homeostasis that seems to have been missing. I also enjoy the idea of a slow phasing in of the situation, while you are straightening out the major details. Start implementing routines that can continue once he moves in permanently. For all we know, you may have already done this since you state that you go pick him up and he spends time in your home. This will go a long way to letting him know what he will be in for when the time comes.

Your GF and future step son are lucky to have you, and I again remind you to hold on tight to your love for them, and that something special you have within you to go forward in what is going to be a high stress situation. Just remember that you can do it, everyone makes mistakes, and even most of the folks who think they know it all have screwed up. There is no manual on how to do this stuff. Take a deep breath and don’t give up. That’s what I tell myself every time I want to pull my hair out! And guess what? It ALWAYS turns out better than I would have given it the credit to. Your support system will be your biggest asset, but remember to put a counselor on the roster. The techniques they have at their disposal are limitless!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 11:42PM
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Any updates here? I've been wondering how it's all been going?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 10:47PM
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It's been quite a while since I've posted here. Just thought I'd post an update.

My gf's son moved in with us in early July. He had to sleep on an air mattress in the living room for the first month and a half, because we were in a one bedroom apartment and waiting for a bigger place to open up in our complex. That said, it was still a major environmental upgrade for him. Grandma's house had a scabies infestation, drugs and screaming matches that went on all night long. This is the reason we moved him so quickly - the more we got to know about his living conditions, the more of a hurry we were in. And, we wanted enough time to try and stabilize his mood and behavior before school started. As of now, he has his own bedroom with new (or new - used) furniture. His mother and I don't get into screaming matches, although there's occasionally enough passive aggressive tension in the air to cut with a knife.

We had a pleasant enough summer. We gave him the kinds of privileges we thought he should have, and that I took for granted when I was a kid. He could go out until the street lights came on, we gave him a cell phone, he could use the computer, play video games, watch TV, etc. He has chores to do, and an allowance (which we were compelled to promise we wouldn't steal back as his grandma did). Aside from his chores and bedtime, he didn't have much responsibility. He was and is still afraid to go anywhere by himself. I find this trait to be strange, as when I was his age I rode my bike all over the place and grounding was a torment I couldn't tolerate any longer than necessary. Similarly, whenever we go anywhere together, he is pretty much right at my side the entire time. This isn't as bad anymore, but I do find it quite irritating from time to time. I imagine this is related to some abandonment issues he may have, so I usually don't say anything.

We were preparing him with conversations and reminders, on occasion, that he would be expected to put forth an effort when school came around. He had been told that he had failed the 6th grade at his former school. I don't have a very high opinion of the school. It was a charter school in an old office building where a lot of trouble makers go. And, I'm convinced that the place was in business to soak up state school-choice dollars and didn't really care about the success of the students. During the last week of school, we had a conference at school during which it was decided that he was a special needs student, and that he would need additional resources for the following year. Regardless, between his teachers' attitudes and the kinds of other students which were attending, we decided to put him in a different school.

Apparently, due to "no child left behind", and his status as a special needs student, his former school told the new school he should be in 7th grade, despite his academic performance in the 6th grade. So, he started the new school year at a new school, in a new home and behind academically. Now, he is a bright kid. He can learn the material, and I help him. But, because he was behind to begin with, and the fact that he learned that it was OK to act out at his old school (they would just send him home if he talked in class too much), the beginning of this year has been horrible. He doesn't want to look stupid, so he just acts goofy, pokes other students and is generally impossible to quiet. We got two calls home from the teacher on the first two days of school, and that pattern has more or less continued since then. He was suspended for a day after the teacher had had enough. We met with his teachers and principal the next day. Instead of threatening expulsion, as I had expected, they said they were determined to do whatever it took to help him overcome his behavior problems. I knew then that we had made the right decision about changing schools.

As far as life at home has been during this, I would say unpleasant would be an understatement. Though, It's not any worse than it would have been for my parents. He lost all of his privileges. I have been wrestling with this issue, because I cannot, in my mind, cede any of these privileges to him without improvement. At the same time, I know how tedious life can be with nothing to do at that age. Plus, given his history with his mom not being around and his dad abandoning him, I'm afraid of what too much time alone would do to him.As an alternative approach, I decided a few weeks that instead of taking privileges away, I would have him do work. I took him up to my parents' house and had him do yard work for a few hours on Saturday. This, I figured, would at least get him outside for fresh air and sunlight (not that he's locked in the basement or something - you know what I mean).

Finally, mom and son started psychotherapy. Both have a lot of issues to work through. He thinks she hates him, and that he was a mistake. He doesn't understand why she left him with "those crazy people" for so long. This is what comes out in abbreviated 13 year old exclamations, so I'm sure it's more complex than that. She's angry with herself, with her mother who convinced her not to give him up (she believes he would have had a better life with a different family). She has anger issues in general which, while significantly improved in the time I've know her, are still a challenge to handle. And, occasionally, these feelings boil over onto him. She loves him, but whenever he has problems she is reminded that he might not have them if she had done the right thing. So, in essence, he is occasionally a reminder of her failure.

At any rate, the combination of help at school, counseling, consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good behavior have started to pay off. I'm still not 100% confident, but he has had some noticeable improvement over the last couple weeks. His daily reports from the teacher have been less severe, and today he brought home a report with only good remarks and corresponding grades for behavior. He has earned his cell phone and TV privileges back, and for today's report, we gave him a Bears jersey (although why he likes the Bears, I'll never understand, we live in Wisconsin.)

If we can get the behavior under control, he'll hopefully absorb more classroom instruction, and we can get his grades back where they were a few years ago (he was an A student).

It's a rough road, and I'm sure we'll hit some more potholes along the way. But, I think we're on the right path. I'm still not sorry for my decision to do this. I think that, although there were pros and cons for removing him from his grandmother's "care", the pros far outweigh the cons.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 6:39PM
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Baby steps A!!! Great job, sounds hopeful...You sound like the man for the job...Much luck to you...

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 9:56PM
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I think it's amazing that you are willing to take this on in such a committed fashion.
It will take lots of commitment, you might not see all the results you hope for in the boy, but you will definitely be doing him a massive favor and what's great is he's old enough to appreciate it.
I think the most important thing to do is to make time every week to sit down with ice cream or hot chocolate and talk to him. Listen, ask him if he's happy, what he thinks he needs to be happy etc.
Then he shouldn't act out because you are giving him the opportunity to ask for what he needs.
If you can't provide everything he wants, then explain you want to but it's not possible because you don't have the money or whatever, and ask if there's a compromise he'd accept.
If he wants extra things (shoes, clothes, video games) get him to help you do some man things like change the oil in the car and teach him, then he can learn, earn some allowance and learn to trust you.
If he acts out, take him to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen and show him what life is like if you make bad decisions and that he is free to make those decisions but it won't make him happy.
My dad did that to me and it worked!
I know he lived a life of poverty before but children quickly forget once they've been comfortable and secure for a while.
Make sure his mother explains to him that she loves him but felt unable to cope with bringing him up. She should apologize and tell him she will be doing her best to make sure he gets what he needs to do well in life from now on.
If you have more kids, make sure he is involved every step of the way (choosing clothes, building the crib, etc), and make sure he doesn't resent the child but sees it as a bonus that now he has a little sibling who will be his friend for life.
That's all I can really think of. The most important thing is to spend time, listen and do man stuff with him (sports games, diy, etc. Show him by example what a good man is and he will want to follow your lead.
Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2011 at 2:43PM
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Hello everyone,

I wanted to post an update on how things have been going with my family since I originally posted. Hard to believe it's been almost a year and a half! I got a lot of good advice, support, and helpful warnings on this forum, and truly appreciate it.

GF and I are still together, and "SS" has made about as a good a transition as I could have hoped for. We had some trouble at first. Pretty much all of last year was a struggle in school. We had moved him from a local charter school (one that did little to improve my opinion of charter schools) to a regular public school near our home. He acted out constantly. Not violently, just to seek attention. It was to the point that we got daily calls from his teacher, met with the principal several times and he received a couple suspensions. This was not new behavior to him. His old school would simply send him home for the day when they'd had enough, and I think he was looking for that to continue. No such luck for him, though. We got him and his mother, and myself into counselling - which is ongoing. Through a combination Of positive/negative reinforcement, counselling, and (for better or worse) ADHD medication, we had gotten him to settle down in class by the end of last school year. He managed to pass all of his classes without issue (he had failed the 6th grade at his last school, but was passed on to 7th anyway - No Child Left Behind?). One week into the school year and no calls home yet. That's a dramatic change from last year. Maybe I'm setting the bar low, but you gotta crawl before you can walk, right?

At home, things have changed as well. At first, he acted as you'd expect one would act as a guest in someone's house. I suppose that's normal in this situation. Quickly, he began to test his boundaries. There is a lot of tension between "SS" and GF, mainly due to her absence for so long and the fact that she's still struggling to get on her own two feet. I suppose the contrast he must perceive between myself and his mom doesn't help. So, it is a struggle at times to stop him talking back to her. He rarely talks back to me. Shortly after moving in, he argued that because I'm not his dad, he doesn't have to listen to me. I let him know that he was living in my house and I'd be damned if he was gonna live there and not listen to the rules. Haven't had a problem since. Still though, he has a lot of issues to work through with his mother.

When he first moved in with us, he also had a problem going anywhere on his own. This struck me as strange, since by the time I was 4 I was wandering off on adventures and by the time I was his age, I rode my bike all over the county. But, we grew up in vastly different areas. He didn't want to walk to the strip mall next door, although he always wanted to go to the shopping mall a mile down the street - as long as somebody drove him. When in public places with him, he would always be right at my elbow. Of course, I want to make him feel safe, but that can get pretty obnoxious when you're grocery shopping. At any rate, in the last year that seems to have faded away. He still doesn't want to go anywhere alone, but he will at least ride his bike somewhere on his own to go meet someone else. I can live with that. Maybe he's not as solitary a person as I was/am.

Things haven't only been about how well he behaves himself either. As he and I got to know each other better, and shared our personal experiences, I realized that he had very few memories of doing anything fun. And I don't mean in the day to day sense. I mean the kind of things that you remember the rest of your life fun. I hadn't had a vacation in a long time, and so I thought that this was the perfect opportunity. Now, I wanted him to have fun, but I'll admit I'm a bit selfish. There's a lot of places I've been wanting to get for a long time. So I figured this was a good chance to go, and at the same time, take him someplace he's never been either. Granted, given the choice, he probably would have wanted to go to Disneyworld or something, but a vacation is a vacation when you've never been ono one, right? We went to Gettysburg PA on spring break, along with a few other stops on our roadtrip. Before we left, though, we got in an argument and he told me he didn't want to go on a roadtrip if it meant he'd have to be stuck with me for 5 days. He reconsidered, and ended up thanking me afterward and wondering why he ever said he didn't want to go. That meant a lot to me, and seemed to be a welcome reward for my effort. GF discovered that she can no longer tolerate roadtrips, so "SS" and I took one without her (but with her blessing) in June. We spent 8 days together and travelled over 3,000 miles, including an excursion through Canada. I will never forget it, and I hope he doesn't either.

So, it's been an adventure, and there's still a long road ahead. But, I'm glad I didn't listen to the nay-sayers at the beginning of this odyssey. Life may have been easier, but having experienced the relationships I now have, I feel like it would have been much more empty.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 8:16AM
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So, the road hasn't been easy, but neither is life. Thanks for coming back and giving an update. That is a wonderful story about the road trips you and your GF's son have taken. I think road trips are great bonding experiences, I remember several I took as a child and you're right, they are times you never forget.

Yeah, you are not his dad, but it takes more to being a parent than just DNA. I think this boy is very lucky to have you in his life.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:58AM
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Wow, great feeling to wake up to this story!!!Same message as Oct 2011, GREAT job and best of luck to you and the boy!!!!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 10:23AM
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