Parenting Stepchildren/My sons' stepbrother hits them
I share custody of my two sons, ages 11 and 9, with my ex-husband. He is remarried and has a stepson, who I believe is 7 years old. The son is physically abusive to my two boys. My boys come home and complain to me about being hit and pushed. They say this occurs nearly every day they are at their father's house. Both both have cried to me over this and it breaks my heart. I have shared my concern with my ex-husband, but he gets defensive and denies there is a problem. Do I have any recourse? Can I somehow force my ex-husband to address this problem? I don't know what to do. I don't want to get into a huge, expensive, and emotionally-draining custody fight, especially since he has so much more money than me and fights me over every little thing.
Letting your children go to a place where you have no control over what happens to them is very difficult. Even as a father knowing that there was a new husband in my ex wife's home was difficulty for me. How will he treat my children, what kind of values will he bring into their lives. The hardest part is having no control over what happens in their other bio parent home.
The first question I have is: Do the children show signs of physical abuse? Are they bruised, scratched, or hurt in some other way that is viable? Boys do get bruises from the way they play, so be careful to ask first before assuming. If there is then you need to initiate some action that will stop this.
I am going to assume that there are no physical signs. As their mother you have a major role in how they will deal with this and you can make it into a learning experience for them. When they come home again complaining about being hit, ask them what they can do about it. They may come up with something like "hit him back". Discuss what the possible outcomes might be. If you hit him back what might happen? They may say "we might hurt him, dad will get angry at us, the stepmom might get really angry, ... help them understand the consequences of that action.
Then ask what else they can do. "We can just tell him to stop" .... then ask them to look at the possible outcomes of that.
Just help them go through different ways of dealing with it until they feel that that they have something they can try the next time it happens.
Then the next time they come home and complain about being hit, you can ask them what they did and what happened when they did it.
Perhaps they need to understand what this 7 year old boy might be feeling when they come to his home. Help them think about what he may be feeling and their feelings about this, by asking guiding questions. Again this teaches them to think from the other persons point of view
The point here is that you are letting them know that they have the ability to do something and because you are not there it is up to them to work out a solution that works for them. This teaches them to take responsibility for things that are within their control.
Most often as parents we take on the role of problem solver for our children even on smaller issues, and miss out on the opportunity of teaching our children to take responsibility, to look at the various things they can do in the situation and to learn sometimes by trail and error what consequences happen from certain behaviour. Children will fail, they will do things wrong, sometimes just to see what happens, but these are all learning experiences that help them grow. Our role is to make sure they have a safe environment to do this from.
Please let me know how this works out for your children.
Here is an article my wife wrote on how you can teach responsibility to your children.