8 year old suddenly "picky" but I'm worried it's about something more...

(2 Posts)
Squidglet Tue 08-Dec-20 11:56:03

My 8 year old girl splits her time between 25/75 between our house/her mum's house - EOW + Hols. (Yes, this makes us a step family, but we don't actively use those words - we're just family and we've been family for about 4 years now.) No other children in our household - but we're trying, eek!

She has a younger brother (DS6). Their parent's divorce was truly terrible and the animosity still hasn't settled down. I'm not here to b** and whine about their mother or the divorce, but this is relevant to the issue I am worrying about.

A couple of years ago, the children's mum met a fairly nice chap who quickly moved in with them. As she rents, this involved moving to a substantially larger house which enabled the children to have separate bedrooms. We were a little worried at the time, because their mum is unemployed and we were unsure if she could afford the house on her own, if they split. (We didn't discuss this with the kids.)
At around this time, the children reported that they had been asked to call the new man "Daddy". My partner was quite upset (tearful) about this but again, we didn't discuss this with the kids.

Ultimately, they did split and the children didn't seem to be aware. We noticed he was absent at handovers and the kids reported that he had been "on holiday to London for hundreds of hundreds of hundreds of days". During a weekend, while the kids were with us, his stuff was emptied from their mum's house by their grandparents. Kids were tearful about it for a week or so and then things settled down.

About 4 weeks later, at the next handover, the kids were delighted to inform us that a new man had moved in and mummy had told them they could now call this new man "Daddy."
The new chap isn't quite our cup of tea because he's been in a bit of trouble with the law (suspended prison sentence) but we try to be neutral in discussions with the kids. We also have some reservations about his son, who is at school with the kids and began sharing a room with DS6 upon commencement of mum's new relationship. This was around February this year.

All 3 children are in receipt of free school meals which have been switched to packed lunches since September, on account of the 'Rona. The packed lunches are (for some reason) veggie and gluten free for all children. There is no choice in this. The kids hate the options and the fruit portions are often a bit manky. (Old, over-ripe, soft - you know).

DS6 has always been a picky eater but he at least avails himself of the sarnie filling and yoghurt on most days but DD8 is usually a wonderful eater and is now eating absolutely nothing during the day.

When at their mum's, the children also don't have breakfast on most days. They do have dinner in the evenings which is usually a take away (but they do also occasionally have oven pizza or pie.)

The school have contacted mum (via letter) to say that DD8 can't eat what is on offer and to request that she packs them a lunch instead but their mum says she can't do this because it would demonstrate favouritism over their new "brother" (whom I mentioned earlier, is at the same school and also receives free school meals). And, because their new "daddy" has put his foot down and said no - the kids must eat the meals on offer during the day as these are free and they "cannot afford" to do packed lunches.

We can't provide packed lunches ourselves, because we live 100 miles from the school. (We didn't move - Mum moved)

Mum is eligible for the meals because of unemployment benefits, but we do pay child maintenance at about £600pcm. The maintenance amounts are set by the CMS which we pay via their collect and pay service so we are confident this is all okay. We have recently offered her extra money but she declined because she says we are "unreliable" and that the children would find it "disruptive". sad

DD8's behaviour around food is now changing altogether. She is leaving even her absolute favourite foods and saying "I don't like it" about everything. Most meal times, it feels like she might be spoiling for a fight - she dawdles to the table (I need to just finish this... I'm going to the loo etc) and then she won't sit still, loses her temper easily and won't finish her meal.

We suspect this might be some kind of transference because she isn't feeling "heard" by mum, but she knows how seriously dad takes meal times.

I know this sounds weird but also, DD8 has always enjoyed the "pomp and circumstance" of dinner time. She enjoys the conversation, we always "toast" before we eat, she likes to use posh cutlery chopsticks. So, the change in her behaviour is noticeable. (Nb. these aren't enforced things - just silly stuff she likes)

DS6 isn't fond of new "daddy" and new "brother" and reports often that he "shouts" too much (at mummy). Also, they are planning another house move soon, which DD8 is unhappy about.

Final point: during last weekend at our house, DD8 asked my partner to "help" because she says she can't manage any more of these lunchtimes. He said he would "try everything he could".

So, to try and summarise my essay, the kids have been through a lot of upheaval in last 2-3 years (plus a nasty divorce when they were babes). Do you think this could be the cause of the sudden change in behaviour? Or, is this a normal process for a little girl at her age? Or, could it be more specifically linked to her total hatred of free school dinners?

Also, can you offer us any advice? We have tried speaking to mum directly, and offering her more cash. That was a dead end - and she won't acknowledge any issues with the free school dinners.

Could we speak directly to the school. Does anyone have any experience in "upgrading" meals? I suspect this isn't exactly possible with a free school meal... what can we say? Is it too far for partner to email school and talk in terms of health, welfare and safeguarding? Don't want to cause trouble with mum.

Really, just looking for advice - please be kind. I know step parenting gets a bad rep on MN but I only want what's best here.

Also interested to hear from teachers / dinner ladies / school staff and how they would deal with this specific situation.

Thanks so much.

OP’s posts: |
JiltedJohnsJulie Tue 08-Dec-20 20:26:55

We can pay for school lunches online. Could you do that for both of them?

It does seem though that they seem really quite unhappy. Have you thought about asking to have them more?

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