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I'm the stepfather of an 8-year-old child.
He spends every other weekend at his biological father.

Ever since they moved in with me, he's been increasingly reluctant to spend weekends at his father. This has escalated to him being very angry and obtuse when the time is coming near. He's often telling us he doesn't love his father, and doesn't want to go.

And when he returns he's often angry, spends the whole ride over complaining about his father / stepbrother / weekend. Most of the time when I go to pick him up I'm greeted with "what he did wrong this time". Which is usually back-talking or going against what his father told him.

I don't want to interfere in any way that might damage my relationship with him in the future. All I've been doing is telling him that his biological father loves him, and that he'll regret it if he doesn't at least try to keep a relationship with him.

However I'm starting to doubt myself in this. I feel that he is much better off with us, than he is there. And that he's being better taken care off here. But this is an obviously biased point of view.

In fact, I'd wager that when it comes to luxuries / ease of living he has a better time there:

  • Gaming consoles
  • More free time
  • Never any homework when there
  • No curfews
  • Always easy to prepare / junk food
  • A stepbrother of the same age

While with us he has no ready access to games, has to do homework every day, strict bedtimes, and often has to eat food he doesn't like. And he's currently the only child (for the next few months at least).

How could I explain to him that despite how he feels, I can't decide this, and neither can he for now. My apologies for the somewhat disjointed post; this is a hard subject, and it's not entirely straight in my head, as such it doesn't come out straight in writing.

7

There are two parts to this, what you can do with your stepson and what you can do with his father.

With Your Stepson

First, I would explain to him (like you have been doing) that his biological father loves him and cares for him and that his father is part of your son's family. For better or worse, we don't get to pick our biological family members. And that comes with its own pros and cons.

Continue explaining to him that going to visit his father is a non-negotiable thing (at least for now). And because of that, he has a choice. He can either choose to be miserable while there or try to make the best of it. Part of life is that sometimes we all have to do things we don't want to or don't enjoy at all. Sooner or later he will have to learn to knuckle down and just do whatever it is.

Also, it sounds like there is some tension when he visits his father. Whether that is because of your stepson's actions, his father's or a combination of both, I don't know. But I would make it clear to your stepson that while he is at his father's house, the rules of his father's house apply and that you expect him to follow those rules just as he would yours. Any steps you can take to help reduce the contention over there will help transition the visits from being painful to possibly enjoyable.

Finally, make sure your stepson feels comfortable talking to you and your wife about what happens there. I don't expect that there is anything inappropriate going on there, but it would be nice to know if he ever feels unfairly treated or something similar. That gives you an opportunity to either teach some life lessons to your stepson or to bring up a situation with his father to work toward some kind of resolution.

With The Father

It seems as if your household and the father's household function at least somewhat differently. And that sort of switching might be causing some problems for your stepson. He is used to your house, seeing his friends that live near you and doing all the normal things he does 12 days out of 14. Then for 2 days he gets sent somewhere else where he probably has fewer friends and everything is different. And it seems that he acts out with his father a bit, possibly because of the unpleasantness of feeling stuck somewhere he doesn't want to be.

All that being said, I would try to talk to his father to see if there are any differences in how you handle discipline, house rules, how you spend time with your stepson, relationships with other family members, etc. And see if there is anything you can agree on to make the transition a little more seamless for your stepson. That may mean his father may need to make some changes. You might need to make some changes too.

If you come to any conclusions after talking with the father, let your stepson know. That way he knows that first, you are making an effort to help him with this and second that things are going to change and here is what he should expect. Then he knows he's not alone in this, that both you and his father care and are looking out for him.

14

We all sometimes think that a kid will be more happy with things like gaming consoles and free time and no curfew and junk food. But I have a nagging suspicion that this is a classic example of what is far more important to a kid for their emotional well-being.

It seems like expressing love comes readily to you. Even expressing to your step-son that his father loves him. Kids need and crave to hear and be shown that. Love is primarily patient and kind, and it sounds like you communicate that to the boy. Not only by assuring him of his father's love, possibly also stating your own love for him, but also by providing structure and consistency to his life, and showing concern over his well-being. Even your post here is a statement of love and concern for your son.

On the other hand, there are indications that this is not so at the home with his biological father. If you are greeted by the father with complaints about the boy, when you pick him up, then that is also what the boy primarily hears from his father, and that should not be so. Don't get me wrong, if one of my kids back-talks to me or his mom, he is going to hear it from me. He or she will be disciplined so that next time they are tempted they will be less likely to do it. But, for every time that I have scolded one of my kids, I can easily count at least five times that I have told them I love them, that I am proud of them, that I think they are awesome. They also see and know that in a hundred other ways - working with them on a science or art project, taking them out on a one-on-one date with dad, praying with them when they have a bad trial.

It may also be that your step-son might have a personality that craves structure. For kids like that, two days of completely open ended, unstructured time, no schedule, can be particularly stressful and conducive to misbehavior. Can you suggest to his dad to have some more structured things? Does he have some things that he regularly does together with his son? Is there some homework that can be planned to be left for those weekends and that his dad can commit to helping him with?

This all sounds like a very difficult situation, and I know my answer is poor, but, for what it is worth...

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