Hi! New here, just trying to figure a few things out... advice welcomed :)

(25 Posts)
size4riggerboots Sun 08-Sep-13 00:39:06

Hello, I'll try and get my head around all the abbreviations you guys use here but bear with me please!

So, a bit of background is probably the best place to start. I'm a (female) merchant navy officer, working on the other side of the world for 4 months at a time, with about 2 months leave between trips. My boyfriend (DP?) of three years has a now 6 yr old daughter (DSD?) (7 in December). When I'm home we live at his mother's, I hope to have saved enough for a deposit on a house within the year.

He has been through the courts more than once to get reasonable contact with her and now has every other weekend, plus half the half terms, half the xmas and easter holidays and 3 weeks in the summer. So far so good smile

Sadly, the relationship between his ex and he is, strained.... they would get on much better without her parents (who she and DSD live with) fuelling the bad feeling. I get that she is basically just a protective mother who wants the best for her child. My beloved DP isn't necessarily the best example of someone who "has his shit together", he's a carer now, but gets very few hours as yet, and he used to be a stoner but has left that behind him. But, he adores his daughter and whether I'm away or we're together he/we make sure that when she's down with us she is loved, cuddled, cared for, fed proper nutritious meals, taken out to do fun things, played with etc as well as making sure boundaries are set, house rules are observed and some discipline is held. I (and this may sound really naff) watched a lot of Supernanny when I was studying to become an officer and have used a heck of a lot of her ideas when dealing with DSD, and blow me down they bloody work a treat! I'm constantly working on him (gently) to follow suit: I tend to get better results than him, ie. averting strops before they blow up etc and then I explain to him why it worked.. (uphill struggle there...) He's not a perfect parent, but he tries hard and wants the best for her, especially for her not to be a spoiled brat.

One of our major problems is that DSD has a very different life up there compared to down with us: we know she's allowed to watch tv in bed, (her mum BRINGS her breakfast in bed at the weekends), her maternal grandparents buy her expensive presents, she throws a strop and gets what she wants because they can't deal with her any other way, and we're fairly certain that mealtimes are mostly in front of the tv, eaten with fingers. When she comes down here, she's expected to eat at the table with the grown ups, with a knife and fork, there's little to no TV, (and certainly not in bed), presents are much less extravagant (but hopefully more meaningful), strops are dealt with by explanations of why such and such is not going to happen, and then whisking her away and/or either distracting her or if it's really overblown ignoring it for a bit. If she is genuinely upset, then of course, cuddles and love is administered. (And if we're not sure we go with cuddles). But when she literally stamps her foot at us, we draw the line and tell her so, very firmly.

Anyway, all of that so far is actually going very well, I have a fantastic relationship with DSD, she tells me she loves me at least once a day when she's here, I am person of choice to play with and she loves my cooking. (When I'm around I make sure I do all the cooking, not because DP is a bad cook, far from it, but me cooking gives DP more time to spend with her). So, as I'm sure you're wondering now, what's the problem? Well, I don't have any frame of reference as to whether what she does/where she's at developmentally, is normal. Any friends of mine who do have children have kids much younger, and I don't have anyone to compare notes with about how she's doing.

I've realised I know very little about children in some ways... I get to be "step-mum" every other weekend while I'm on land, and while I adore her completely and get to use all the lessons I've learned from Supernanny and I feel like I'm doing OK in that department (caring and being bossy seems to come naturally!), I have no idea where I should expect her to vaguely be in terms of development: As I said, she's 6, turning 7 in December: She can read but only really does so with a lot of prompting, use of knife and fork is slooowly getting there, again, with lots of prompting and praise, she's incredibly fussy over food; things she used to love eating are now refused. When she doesn't get what she wants a strop is the first tactic, followed by (fake) crying when that doesn't work. And, what time is a reasonable bed time at the weekends? Do other people have dinner/supper early (ie, 6ish) so their kids eat with them or do the kids get their supper early and then the adults eat later (at a civilised time!)?

I think I'm doing pretty well at this step-mum thing, I found myself anointing her bum crack with sudocreme first thing this morning, before I'd even had my first cup of coffee, and didn't bat an eyelid... But, I just want to know how other kids compare really? It's also knowing that a lot of her behaviour stems from the fact that she has two parents at opposite ends of the country, that she knows don't get on, and we know she plays on that sometimes. I'm trying to figure out how much all that has affected her and whether she's at a normal place/stage of development for a kid of her age, in this (particularly odd? [i.e. me being a part time step mum]) situation?

'She can read but only really does so with a lot of prompting, use of knife and fork is slooowly getting there, again, with lots of prompting and praise, she's incredibly fussy over food; things she used to love eating are now refused. When she doesn't get what she wants a strop is the first tactic, followed by (fake) crying when that doesn't work. '

The reading sounds a little behind to me but mine have all been very good readers so I may be off there. Everything else sounds bang on normal tbh. 6/7yr olds are still very young. Throw in a slightly tricky family set up and yes you will get strops. You seem to have a handle on that and be working with DP to do the best for her so I would just keep on going.

The food thing - very common for children to use food as a way of exerting control. Best thing to do is offer variety as well as the things she likes and ignore the stropping.

Lethologica Sun 08-Sep-13 01:44:48

No advice but you sound very caring smile

Does your DP get feedback from the school? What does your DP think.

The 'sloppy' parenting your DSD gets at her mothers doesn't sound great but it isn't nessecerily that bad either. Lots of kids watch too much TV and eat while watching it. It's not ideal but its not the end of the world either. confused

The most important thing, of course, is that your DSD feels loved and it sounds as though she is.

daisychain01 Sun 08-Sep-13 09:27:55

Hey Size4 sounds like you are doing a great job of being a SM.

Keep helping your DSD with her reading, I have found children enjoy being read to, but also doing some out-loud reading with an adult sitting with them, you or her DF. It is a lovely time to bond with her and she will enjoy you helping her - her having your/DFs attention is a big part of that. It's amazing how quickly kids can suddenly catch up, if she is a bit behind, especially if her confidence was low before.

At weekends, DSS has always eaten with "the adults", as its a more relaxed time, and we have always involved him in our conversations, so now he understands the importance of turn-taking, he knows to sit and listen when other people are talking and that we always give space for him to say things and participate. Weekdays, at your DSDs age, will probably need to be more geared around getting early nights for school, but once she gets a bit older, an early-ish family dinner at say 6.30 -7pm seems to work well.

Isnt it amazing that, despite her having stricter boundaries with you, she is clearly thriving and shows you that she enjoys that. Breakfast in bed? The words "rod" and "back" spring to mind.

And Super Nanny rocks! Good common sense, nothing naff about that, at all. Most good parenting is just that.

ChinaCupsandSaucers Sun 08-Sep-13 09:44:19

size4 A lesson that many SM learn the hard way is that no matter how committed they are and how much of themselves they give, they cannot, in anything other than the most superficial of ways, influence the way their DSC turn out.

While I understand WHY you are worried about your DSD development, the reality is that even if she does need additional support you cannot influence or secure that.

You can do the best job ever (and it sounds like you're doing brilliantly) but you will only ever play a supporting role. Your DP must lead on parenting his DD, preferably co-parenting with his exW, and finding a way that suits him. You may find that you do not always agree with his decisions - and that can be tricky if you are heavily emotionally invested in your DSD welfare.

size4riggerboots Sun 08-Sep-13 13:05:26

Thanks everyone! It's good to know that we're doing it right smile DP and I are very much on the same page and I know full well that my job is to support and help him be the best parent he can be.

He's only recently started picking her up from school and is getting much more feedback from DSD's teachers. We had a strop this morning over how she does her spelling homework (she reckons she should be allowed to see the word and then write it down, we thought otherwise) so I have advised him to ask her teacher next time he picks her up and have that conversation with the three of them together so everyone is clear on what's expected.

When she as kicking off we tried to get her to calm down but she continued to kick and scream so we left her alone for ten mins and then I went back. She'd realised by then that it wasn't working and we then did the spellings (her way) and had cuddles and a nice chat about how throwing a strop doesn't do anyone any good and wasn't really worth it was it? She happily agreed, told me she loves me and the whole thing has been forgotten smile She also voluntarily read me the storybook she's been reading this weekend earlier :D

louby44 Sun 08-Sep-13 14:25:17

Re: the spelling, lots of schools use the Look, Cover, Write, Check method, so she may be right!

So she may be allowed to briefly look at the word then cover it up before she writes it!

onedev Sun 08-Sep-13 15:38:45

No advice re step parenting but just to say my son is Year 2 & they look first briefly, then cover the word & then spell / write it.

size4riggerboots Sun 08-Sep-13 16:34:03

Riiiiight smile See it's these little things that I have no idea about, and they make a huge difference, had I/we known that this morning, there would have been no strop! Ah well we live and learn smile

onedev Sun 08-Sep-13 16:39:20

The thing is though, you're doing your best & your DSD knows you both love her & that's surely the only thing that really matters. smile

Onebuddhaisnotenough Sun 08-Sep-13 23:05:25

Perhaps if you'd listened to her this morning there would have been no strop. Will you apologise to her tomorrow for being so very wrong about her spellings ?

size4riggerboots Sun 08-Sep-13 23:18:52

She's gone back to her mum's now and anyway it's been dealt with and forgotten, we said our sorrys, and forgave and forgot when we had the chat after she had done her spellings. There's no point in keeping old arguments alive. And, as I said in my last post, had I known that this morning there would have been no strop. "So very wrong" is quite a statement to make, when I was a kid we did our spellings without looking at the word 2 seconds before we wrote it down, I don't see that it was such a terrible thing to ask of her and neither does her dad; as previously stated, we are very much on the same page. We do listen to her a lot but when she starts whining and screaming then we refuse to be ruled by what a 6yr old demands.

ChinaCupsandSaucers Mon 09-Sep-13 07:44:46

Thing is, your DP (and you) can only effectively co-parent if he is treated as an equal by school etc.

It's likely that there was an explaination given to new parents about spellings; be that a note home, quick word from the TA at pickup time or similar. Your DP missed this because he's not there every day.
To effectively play the role you describe, he either needs to work much closer with his DDs mum (did you consider ringing her to ask about the spellings?) or ensure the school knows that she (mum) doesnt share that info and ask them to ensure its shared with him directly.

daisychain01 Mon 09-Sep-13 08:27:15

China, you make a great point. It has taken a lot of time and being like a broken record to insist the school supplies a separate set of mirror information ie everything given to both parents to read and stay aware of the way their DCs are expected to learn..

Size4 it is very difficult trying to play 'catch-up' with ongoing changes to teaching techniques (some of the new techniques are bordering on dumbing down, IMHO gosh we didnt look first, that was cheating in those days!). Anyway, you handled it well, and it shouldnt be about pointing fingers and finding fault, buddha. Step parenting is a difficult enough job without all that! smile

daisychain01 Mon 09-Sep-13 08:29:23

Sorry - should have said " it has taken us a lot of time..." For the first couple of years, the school only sent everything to DSSs mum, despite being told this is a 50/50 care arrangement!

size4riggerboots Mon 09-Sep-13 10:01:32

I quite agree China! However, like Daisy he's had an uphill struggle getting information out of the school, and, as for simply calling the Ex, I mentioned that the relationship was strained did I not?! Calling her while DSD is in full strop wasn't going to help the situation: we get a lot of fake crying (I've actually caught her sobbing while surreptitiously looking up at us to gauge our reaction and smirking) and "I WANT MY MUMMY" when she's being told to do something she doesn't like. As soon as the strop has been resolved, we ask if she wants to call her mum and she's totally uninterested. However if we call Ex while DSD is in strop mode, it simply serves to extend the strop, DSD gets differing messages from Mum and Dad, and Ex then thinks that DSD is having a miserable weekend which she will then take out on DP later. Plus she'll probably have a go at DP for interrupting whatever she's doing on her DC free weekend. Text messages work best for inter-parent communication, but don't necessarily get responded to immediately.

JohnnyUtah Mon 09-Sep-13 10:14:16

You sound lovely. All you can do is your best and you plainly are.

With the spellings - not an issue. Many dads who live with their kids wouldn't know the drill. A lot of families have one parent more involved with school and the other working long hours. And it is look, say, COVER, write, check, which doesn't sound quite the same as what DSD was trying to do!

size4riggerboots Mon 09-Sep-13 10:34:47

sobbing should have been "sobbing", there's no actual tears involved here... Oh, and I've also heard her say to her mum "I used my crying voice, and I still wasn't allowed to..." (whatever it was at the time) I mean, seriously, she has a "crying voice" and consciously uses to try to manipulate the adults around her. Is this normal? We are not going to let ourselves be ruled by her and her strops (this is DP's stance which I agree with 100%) she has to learn that as a 6yr old she cannot always have her own way, and certainly not by screaming and shouting at us about it.

Having a "crying voice" and trying to gain control in a situation sounds pretty normal, IMO. When I first met my DSD (she was 4), she had a special whine that sounded like it was going to escalate into full-blown tears, but never did. It was different than proper crying because she would kind of smile and look in our direction when making the noise - her face never got red and her eyes never got teary. She would whip this out to get her way because the sound used to get the adults to jump up and do what she wanted. Eventually, we all cottoned on that we were being a bit played. smile And then she started crying for real all the time. :-p

I remember one good friend of mine, who was a step-daughter herself, told me that she used to move anything her SM organized in the house. Like, if SM put down something like a pen or a coffee mug, my friend would have to move it. It was almost a compulsion. She told me that looking back, she thinks she was trying to gain control over a situation where she literally had none. I don't think kids in together families have to deal with such a large loss of control and security quite as soon as divorced or widowed kids. It doesn't mean we should cede control of our households to our children, but just that your DSD might not be as fully conscious of what she's doing as an adult might be.

My DSD (now 7) is also a reluctant reader and appalling speller. But this has gotten better over time. Feeling stressed out with her parents split might have gotten in the way a little. DH and his ex have different approaches to homework too. But everyone keeping up a dialog with the school has helped, and DSD enjoys her bedtime story from DH (or me filling in for DH if he can't do it some nights). Read books to her that interest her - my DSD isn't confident about tackling chapter books on her own, but loves having them read to her for bedtime. If your DH and his ex can agree on taking your DSD to an activity like a sport or music, that will give her a positive way to get attention too - a way that doesn't involve being "bad at school".

Being a bit lazy about using a knife and fork is an age thing, I think. Lots of parents on MN complain about it. wink Practice will help. Fussy eating also normal - my DSD is a better eater now, but still slips back into fussy if she thinks she can get away with ignoring tea for a huge helping of dessert. I like eating meals together with DH and DSD when we can, because it gives DH and me a chance to slow down and actually ask DSD about her day.

PS - I watched Supernanny religiously the first two years of my marriage. wink It's not easy coming into it all without the bond you'd develop if the kiddo were a baby. Any advice I could get, I'd take, and then feed it straight up to DH. Especially since it sometimes felt like the immediate support network (my ILs) were so wrapped up in feeling sorry for DSD that they'd undermine any discipline we'd try to enforce.

Eventually, I got to a point where I felt (mostly) confident enough with my own approach and didn't need to watch it so much.

Oh yes, for setting bedtimes, DH used to have a 7:30 pm bedtime. As DSD got older, we started referring to NHS guidelines and aimed for the high side of the recommended range for her age www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Childrenssleep/Pages/howmuchsleep.aspx

We just count backwards from the time we need to get DSD up in the morning for breakfast/dressed/childminder run, count back another 30-60 mins for getting ready for bed (depending on if bath required) and set bedtime for then. On Good Parent days, that is consistent through the weekend.

The Behaviour/Development forums on MN have been handy. The folks in there have been nice and helpful for some of my questions, without getting angsty that I am a SM instead of a bio-mum. SM angst seems to be more common in AIBU and Relationships - avoid those forums.

size4riggerboots Mon 09-Sep-13 15:02:31

Thanks PJG smile Generally she's brilliant with me, I'm working on DP to follow my example with some things eg, when I need her to do something, I get down to her level and look her in the eye and explain gently why she has to do something, using my "soft voice", which gets results with very little capitulation most of the time, possibly a pouty lip but she does it. DP has a tendancy to use the "deep cross voice" if she doesn't do what he says straight away, which then leads to resistance and then him getting more cross.... it's a work in progress! He reads to her every night before bed, and does reading with her during the day sometimes too. If she finds a word difficult she gets stressed and starts saying "I CAN'T DO IT!"... patience and perseverance are things she has yet to learn!

Regarding food, I've learned one thing recently - if you say it's stew she turns her nose up, but call it chunky soup and she tucks into it with gusto!

Yep, as time goes on you and your DSD will get to know each other better and figure out what works. I started cutting back DSD's portion sizes when I finally figured out she was still grazing, rather than eating three square meals a day.

There is a book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, which was really helpful to DH and me too. I think some of the advice and techniques really helped make our relationship with his DD stronger.

size4riggerboots Mon 09-Sep-13 17:47:05

I'm really lucky in that I've actually known DSD since she was tiny. When DP and his Ex were still together we were all friends, she kicked him out about a year before we got together (it was one of those "shit I think I fancy my mate, is this a good idea?" things!) And she took DSD up north to live with her parents a few months before we got together. So when DSD came down to stay with DP she recognised me, not immediately, but she had a "Ooh, I DO know you!" moment. We never made a big thing of her Dad and I being an item and refrained from displays of affection for the first few visits until we were sure she was cool with us, although she immediately took to climbing into bed with us in the morning for cuddles with both of us!

JohnnyUtah Tue 10-Sep-13 10:00:35

Haha to the chunky soup. I served casserole in pastry last night - one of mine doesn't eat pie!

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