My son is very small for his age, so I am not used to him being a bully of any kind. My girlfriend's son is bigger and more physical than my son and tends towards being very active. My son says mean things to him, like that he's retarded, or that I really don't like him, just his mom. He gets upset, runs to tell his mom, who then gets furious with me and my son.
I don't have any tolerance for bullying. I don't tolerate my son's less than appropriate behavior. But, not to make excuses, I think he is jealous of the attention this other boy gets from me after several years of pretty much one-on-one attention with me.
The other relevant factor is we have talked openly about future marriage. We are serious about marriage in a few years, after the next two (our 16-year-olds) graduate high school and we dispense of financial baggage from our previous marriages.
I have always taken great care to let my son know he is part of me, part of my life, and that I know these plans are threatening. He seems to respond and handle it all well. Could it just be 11-year-old boy stuff or do we need to do more to reassure him? I've already laid down the law that the mean stuff will stop.
You're instincts are probably "right on" about a large part of what's going on between the two boys; a combination of "11 year-old boys stuff" and "territoriality."
Here are some suggestions:
1. Continue to do what you've been doing - reassure your son often and sincerely, that you love him, and that he'll always be your #1! You should expect him to "test" you on this - guaranteed!
2. Arrange some "blended family bonding experiences" for them. I know it may seem contrived, but it is nevertheless probably necessary. For example, camping trips, vacations, rock climbing adventures, sailing or general stuff that "the guys" can do together. This will help facilitate and foster the natural bonding process that will help the relationship between the boys.
3. Discuss the step-relationship with your son. Explain to him that "you don't have to love him" and "you don't have to see him as your brother," but you should "look for the good in him, like you would any other guy" and "give him some more slack." If you can find any joint or mutually shared interests, you should promote and emphasize these areas.
4. When the boys are together with you, make sure to demonstrate your love, affection, and attention to your son. Point out to your son that since you don't want to hurt your girlfriend's son's feelings, you and your son have to be nice to him, and show him respect and attention also.
Good luck, hope that all works out well.
Marc Garson, MSW,ACSW,ACP