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Alright, a brief background. My step son is 5 years old, starting kindergarten in the fall. His parents divorced about two years ago, they share 50/50 custody. His mother gets him Thursday evening - Sunday, the 'fun weekend days' if you would. While we get him Sunday evening - Thursday. All of us work. His parents work normal Mon-Fri schedules with weekends off, while my hours fluctuate. He goes to daycare 6:30-4:30

Being a child of divorce myself I can understand wanting to go to the fun house all the time. The both of us are working most days when we have him and don't get to go out and have adventures, it's pretty routine and boring at our house. He's started attention seeking behavior sometime last year. He's not starved for attention or ignored or anything of the sort but we've deduced that it may have something to do with his parents having new significant others in their lives. We still play with, do activities and spend time with him once he gets home from daycare and dinner is made and then we will do something as a family until bedtime.

Lately however he's begun crying over the smallest things, usually followed by a 'I miss mom' or 'I want to go to moms' I've begun trying noting when this behavior occurs and it's usually after he's told to do something he doesn't want to do or told he cannot have or do something he wants to or bedtime, it's become a nightly bedtime ritual for him to be sitting on the couch crying that he misses his mom after he's been put to bed.

He's never behaved like this before, I'm trying to figure out a way to curb the behavior so he doesn't begin thinking he can cry and get his way or that crying is a venue for more attention, but not by making him think that it's not okay to cry or express his feelings. It hurts his father when he does it, the constant need to be a good parent (and yes that subconscious need all parents of divorce need to be the 'favorite' as well) We are pretty sure it's another attention getting ploy or an attempt at manipulation as it only happens when he doesn't get his way. Any thoughts or tips would be greatly appreciated.


A forgotten bit of information, aside from his new behavior he's a good kid, well behaved as a 5 year old boy can be, wants to make his parents happy, does what he's asked with a smile on his face, very very smart kid sometimes it's easy to forget he's only five.

  • Welcome to Parenting! This looks like a good question, and hopefully some of our users with experience in step-parenting or sharing custody will have feedback for you. – Acire Jul 29 '15 at 15:07
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    FYI, my 5 year-old behaves similarly when she doesn't get her way, and her mother and I have been married for 18 years. My 8 year-old went through a similar phase. It's possible you might be reading too much into it. – Karl Bielefeldt Jul 29 '15 at 15:14
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    I worry about that as well, Karl, I'm always super sensitive when it comes when his behavior changes and my knee jerk reaction is to try to find a cause and evaluate if anything has changed at home that may have caused it. – Concerned Step Mom Jul 29 '15 at 15:28
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    What is the bed time, and what is the bedtime ritual at Mom's house? Have you (or your husband) spoken to Mom about it? – anongoodnurse Jul 29 '15 at 18:36
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    Why does mom get him for all weekends? Have you considered the more standard every other weekend arrangement? – Aravis Jul 29 '15 at 21:26
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I agree with @Lance's answer that it's very possible that you might be taking this more seriously than you need to. That was my first impression.

I'm not sure that I would consider his behavior as solely manipulation to get his way. It might be that when he's sad, he really just does miss the comfort of the mother he was born to and continues to see every week. That's how I would approach it, and I would try (easier said than done) not to take it personally. You can empathize with him without changing what he needs to do.

...it's become a nightly bedtime ritual for him to be sitting on the couch crying that he misses his mom after he's been put to bed.

I may be misreading, but why is he sitting on the couch after you've put him to bed? If he's allowed to get up, he's doing something that works for him, but not for you.

All of this is much harder on him than it is on any of the adults. He has lost so much and he had no say in any of it. The ground beneath him must feel a bit mushy.

Perhaps the following would help.

Make sure he has an excellent emotional vocabulary. "I miss mom" or "I want to go to mom's" can mean a lot of different things. It could mean, "I miss my mom", but it could also mean

  • I'm frustrated right now and I wish I had a way out of this feeling
  • I'm sad and I wish I could talk about this with my mom
  • I feel all alone when I have to go to bed
  • I'm angry and I don't want to feel this way and I wish I could be somewhere else
  • I'm having new fears at night and I don't know how to articulate them, so I just reach for the first feeling I can name
  • I wish all of us could just all live together in one house, and I don't understand why that can't happen

He's five. You obviously love him a great deal. Giving him a way to recognize and name his different feelings - all of them - is one of the first and most important steps for him in learning to deal with them.

Then love him a lot. Maybe it would help to let him send his mom a goodnight text (and get one back) as part of his bedtime routine for a while. Maybe a soft nightlight would help. A special huggy-puppy at bedtime might bring him comfort.

Finally, if it gets to be too much, a few visits with a child psychologist might help. He's been through a lot.

Once, when I was helping my five year old to tie his shoes for the umpteenth time, he sighed, and with great love in his voice said, "Mommy, you're just like an angel to me, except when you're an angel-witch." He was quite guilelessly telling me that I scared him sometimes. But he was also telling me that he appreciated me most of the time. Both messages were important to hear.

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    Ah, by 'nightly ritual' I suppose I may have worded it wrong. He isn't allowed out of bed after he's been put down, it's just become a nightly thing to find him out of bed crying on the couch. We have been working on articulating things in a more appropriate (and easier for us to understand) manner. I'll bring a few of these points up to his father as well and we will keep continuing down that path. I believe you are right in patience is the key and not taking it personally. – Concerned Step Mom Jul 30 '15 at 12:32
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I have been in the situation in a couple different ways, and it is surely two things:

  1. We always read too much into things, but it is always important to continue to be that parent because the alternative has lasting negative effects.
  2. The "i want to go to the other parents" is a very intelligent way of manipulation, to suggest that he knows everyone is sensitive of his handling of the divorce and the new partners, and he is attempting to find weakness/propitiation/coddling that he can exploit.

It is very important that you mentioned that he is very, very smart. Raising intelligent children is outstandingly difficult because emotions aren't ever going to be as matured as the smart child's mind, but they are ridiculously effective at reading ours as parents.

Best of luck!

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