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Trying to "be a parent" with limited contact

(49 Posts)
NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 08:36:45

We've just had a very difficult weekend with DSS7 - and DP is wondering whether he is trying to achieve the impossible.

DP and his exW have very different parenting styles - which has already led to the estrangement of DP's 13 yr old daughter, who prefers her mums "free range" style parenting to the expectations and consequences that DP has in our home.

DSS is emotionally quite "young" for his age - in particular in relation to his manners (particularly at the table) and his personal responsibility when out (he expects to be led by the hand and would actually follow someone under a bus, I'm sure!).

DP tries really hard to give him opportunities to develop independence and develop skills to match his peers - but DSS is only here for four nights a fortnight (Thursday after school to Monday school drop-off).
After a particularly difficult weekend, DSS has indicated that he prefers his mums house to here, because "there are no consequences at Mums, when me or C (his sister) do something wrong, all mum does is yell at us"

IMO, DP is not being tough on DSS at all - he expects basic manners (please, thank you etc), simple personal care tasks (brush teeth, wash hands before dinner), there are a few crucial (and simple) house rules in relation to the dogs, and finally, DP expects DSS to be honest. The consequence for DSS blatantly lying to a teacher in front of DP last week (about washing his hands before sitting down at breakfast club) was that DP docked his pocket money by £1 for this week. (it was linked to money because DSS had picked up a penny outside school and quite reasonably, DP had told him that it was dirty and he would need to wash before eating).

Any thoughts? Is DP fighting against the tide? Should he just make the time DSS has with him enjoyable, without trying to teach/influence DSS? isn't this just becoming the Disney Dad he is desperate to avoid?

chelen Mon 25-Jul-11 11:09:22

Hi, I'm gonna give you a general ramble of thoughts, we've had some similar discussions about my SS - almost same age, opposite domestic arrangements (he lives with us). My partner is a bit strict by nature and this created a constant nagging environment. We eventually took advice on how to chill out a bit so we could make a nicer atmos and have a bit more fun.

I would separate what you are saying into two distinct categories:

1) application of your house rules (saying please & thank you, washing hands, telling the truth)
2) other expectations placed on the child about how they 'should' behave - e/g/ level of independence, skills to 'match his peers'

On number 1, I think is correct for your house rules to be clear and to be followed. However, you need to say 'in this house we do x, y, z' and not present your rules as though they are obviously correct. In your post you said "DSS had picked up a penny outside school and quite reasonably, DP had told him that it was dirty and he would need to wash before eating" - but this is a grey area - I wouldn't tell my kids pennies are dirty, I wouldn't care about that - I say this just to illustrate everyone is different. Kids from separated parents know better than anyone that all adults do things differently so I think they prefer it if rules are presented as related to the particular adult/home rather than presented as though they are the one true way of life.

Maybe pick the rules that really really matter. So if you're saying washing hands before meals, the dogs stuff and telling the truth, maybe some of the please & thank you stuff could be only in certain situations, not every time your SS asks for something? I have a rule with my SS that if I've just rollocked him on one thing, I'll find a way to 'not see' the next slip up, so I make it a bit nicer on all of us (e.g. I am a touch OCD about putting loo seat down, but if he's just had a rollocking for not putting coat away I'll pretend I didn't notice). In my experience not following rules and having to be nagged are standard across the 7yo peer group, so don't ruin the whole weekend over the small stuff.

On number 2, I want to be diplomatic, but tbh, I think your OH could try to accept his son will develop in his own time. If he pushes at him, then your SS will understandably feel criticised or like he's letting his dad down. If you're talking about a developmental delay or serious learning problems, get some support. But if you're just talking about a kid being a bit clingy, what's the harm in holding his hand for a bit longer? We had similar concerns over my SS, and decided to let him be as handy-holdy as he liked rather than creating a bad feeling every time. He wouldn't hold his dad's hand for anything these days! You say he's young for his age, but there is a very very wide spectrum for normal. Crying, being scared of heights or similar, being slow to learn to swim or ride a bike, liking cuddles - these are all normal and not a sign of being too babyish. Lots of kids this age find it hard to make choices, they want others to do it because they are afraid of getting things wrong. Try to focus more on what your SS does well rather than what he 'should' be doing.

I think its great your OH doesn't want to be a disney dad. But that doesn't mean he needs to be a total rules freak either, otherwise it is just your own time that is getting spoilt.

startail Mon 25-Jul-11 11:39:07

Some households care about washing hands before meals etc. Some don't and any sane person expects children to lie about whether they've done it. Docking the child's pocket money is going to make him hate you.
Gentle positive encourage and praise when he behaves as you'd like in your house.
Think back, did you never stick your toothbrush under the tap, but not use it or make a great show of drying hands that were nearly wet, let alone soaped?

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 12:29:22

Are we 'insane' to consider DSS lying a transgression for which there should be a consequence?
This is a really big issue for me and DP; my DD doesn't lie, never has, (she doesn't even do sneaky very well) whereas the porkies that DSS tells horrify me!
He told DP that he'd spent a night in hospital after falling down the stairs and nearly breaking his leg, with all the details about the Dr/room etc and he made up the most convoluted story to explain why he hadn't drunk his juice at school (when 'I wasn't thirsty' would have sufficed) He more often than not blatantly lies when he's asked if he has done or not done a specific thing, even if it's something he would be praised for if he told the truth.

We have picked our battles - for DSS, lying is something that DP wants to address, but i do think we could present it differently "in this house, we tell the truth" rather than try to influence his behaviour when he's not here.

<with DD, her ability to lose/mislay items is the battle I have picked - otherwise it's going to cost me a fortune on uniform etc when she goes to secondary school!>

The thing about DSS developmental progress is that he can do it when he chooses to - but it's easier not to have to look where he is going, brush his teeth, wipe his own bum if someone else will do it for him.
He's not a crybaby - in fact, I worry he shows too little emotion - I do wonder if one of the reasons that he doesn't do these things is because when he has tried in the past, he has been teased/criticised by his older sister who tends to bully/nag him sad

I know it must be hard to adapt to two households - but even for single home DCs, rules are different at school/grandmas etc - so most DC face this in some form or another.

theredhen Mon 25-Jul-11 13:33:49

I too hate lying because you never know what is the truth and what isn't. It's the crying wolf scenario all the time. I have always told DS that I will be more angry if he lies than if he owns up and I have proved that to him when I have caught him "bending the truth".

I would pick a small situation where you know he has lied (cleaning his teeth for example) and I would show him through your behaviour that you are not angry at the lack of teeth cleaning but you are angry that he has lied and make it clear that he is losing out on something for the lying not the actual action. Eventually I would hope that when you ask DSS if he has cleaned his teeth, he will simply roll his eyes and admit to not having done it. You can then ruffle his hair and tell him to run along and get them clean without making a big deal out of it.

If he can learn that the consequence is for the lying and not the small misdemeanour, you might be able to get him onside. If he thinks he has to tell bigger and bigger lies to avoid a consequence, it will only get more difficult.

If you can do this in conjunction with positive praise and really noticing when he does something positive, however small, I think he will be more inclined to be honest with you but be warned, it won't happen overnight.

Don't tell him that he "should" be doing such and such. Tell him you think he is very capable and grown up and he could do such and such now he is a big boy.

chelen Mon 25-Jul-11 14:20:22

Hi, I do agree lying should have a consequence, my SS also has told lies, for three reasons we can identify - 1) experimental, 2) to avoid getting into trouble and 3) because he is just giving the easy answer as not very interested in the topic. Lying is a pretty normal thing to try, its a logical extension of trial and error.

On all occasions where we've found it out, we have done as redhen suggests and made the lie the issue rather than the original thing.

We've found it effective to take away something like going to shop on own, as you have to be trustworthy to do that and you can't be trusted if you lie.

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 15:31:52

DP discussed exactly that with DSS when they agreed the 'house rules' together - lying will always result in worse consequences than telling the truth, no matter what he has, or hasn't, done!

I've read loads of MN posts, books and even been on parenting workshops and they all emphasis how important consistency is when teaching a child - and that's what we can't do.
It can be consistent here; but he's only at our house for a few days every couple of weeks, it seems to take him that long to get back into the swing of things, and then he's gone again!

Last school holidays, DP made real progress over a period of a week by encouraging DSS to choose his clothes and dress himself independently in the mornings; but two weeks later, he'd taken several steps backwards and was telling DP that he couldn't put his own socks on - even though he'd been doing it fine the last time he was here. it took several more visits over a few months before he stopped asking DP to help every morning, with DP encouraging him to do it himself. We tried sticker charts, but they don't seem to motivate him - that's part of the problem - he's unresponsive to praise & reward as much as he seems to be to consequences sad

I think my DP is worried that if DSS thinks life is 'more difficult' here, then he won't want to visit - but equally, DP wants DSS to learn to be independent.
For instance, DSS has swimming lessons every weekend, and DP has been teaching him how to get changed etc on his own when he's with us.
DSS turns 8 next week so won't be able to go into the ladies changing rooms with his mum anymore - but his mum still helps gets him undressed, dried etc and I fully anticipate that DSS will say that he doesn't want to go swimming anymore if he has to get himself changed - and his mum will reinforce that sad

We'll have to keep trying - I suppose I was hoping that there was a magical solution that we didn't know about!

chelen Mon 25-Jul-11 15:37:25

I don't think there's any magic solution, sorry sad

theredhen Mon 25-Jul-11 15:42:18

Hmmm... Sounds like Mum is clinging onto him and not allowing him to grow. She's her "baby" isn't he?

There isn't a magic solution and I think the answer is to be consistent but to choose your battles. Don't make the mistake of helping him with his socks once you have decided and told him that he is capable of doing it himself. I am sure there are other things you could "let go" though for the sake of family harmony?

I do understand that your OH doesn't want to be a disney dad but I also think he owes it to his son to bring him up without mixed messages. I think it's very difficult for your OH but he can be kind and fun without being a bad parent.

brdgrl Mon 25-Jul-11 16:03:56

My SS was 10 when his dad and I got together - but you would have guessed he was about 7. He was 'incapable' of doing anything for himself. I remember one day when we were visiting at a friend's house...she'd invted us and the kids for dinner. SS would not use the toilet by himself. When we played a game after dinner (I think we played Jenga and charades - both games which a ten-year-old should have been able to handle, I thought), he threw a fit when he wasn't winning, and started kicking the walls and was all pretty mortifying. At home dad did everything for him, he had no chores, had to be dressed by dad in the mornings, and could not even make toast.

He is still very immature for his age, in some ways, and needs to be guided through tasks which he really, REALLY ought to be able to manage solo. I love my SS - he's a great kid - and I hate that he was basically held back in his development.

Anyway, I think it is good for you guys to have higher expectations for your SS. The things you outline seem quite reasonable - washing hands, etc. I also agree that it is important to have house rules and to be consistent about them, and certainly if lying has been an issue it is right to address that.

Maybe you could decide on, say, 3 or 4 house rules - for example, they might be 'no lying', 'such and such about the dogs', 'everyone must dress and wash themselves', 'all toys must be put away at the end of the day'

Too many rules and it will be a losing battle.

You could also try making a list of some things you would like to see him do independently, or even just some small tasks which give him a tiny bit of responsibility, and put these up on a chart where he can see it. 'Feed the dog', for example - and teach him how to put the food in the bowl. Make that 'his' job, and make a fuss of him when he does it well. Consequences are fine when he breaks the rules, but on the flip side, rewards (in the form of attention or hugs, or a sticker on a chart, corny as it sounds!) are more effective when it comes to him taking on new responsibilities.

Next time he changes himself for swimming, make sure he hears that you guys are proud of him. And tie it to something else - that evening you could say something like "since you are getting big enough to change for swimming alone now, I guess you are big enough to make some decisions around here! What should we have for dinner, burgers or chicken?" - make him feel proud of himself for growing up, instead of scared, y'know?

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 16:04:27

redhen He definitely seems to be her "baby", he was an unexpected pregnancy, and there are six years between the two children.

The way she interacts with him seems quite needy as well hmm I haven't seen them together very often, but when I have, she is the one that asks him for hugs/kisses (she does that on the phone with him, as well) or encouraging him to sit with her on her knee.

On the other hand, it sounds like she gets frustrated if he's slow/imperfect as he says she yells at him - so maybe she's doing these things for him cos it's quicker/easier than him learning to do them himself ?

I think DP (and I) are going to have to have another think about what is really important in terms of behaviour and focus on those, turning a blind eye to other things as the level of influence DP has in DSS life is limited.

brdgrl Mon 25-Jul-11 16:10:18

Meant to add - I just don't agree that docking pocket money will just make a kid hate you - I think it can be totally appropriate and effective. I also think that almost any form of discipline has the potential to make a kid "hate" you, or at least say that he does! - but that isn't an argument for not doing it.

I 'hated' my mother when I was grounded as a teenager. But she was probably right to do it.

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 16:21:43

brdgrl - thanks, there are some great ideas there!

We've really struggled with the reward side of things, though - there just isn't anything that seems to motivate him enough to overcome his laziness reluctance blush

We've tried stickers, the chance to choose dinner/pudding or things we do as a family, special experiences (such as an "off road" trip in our landy, holding the dogs leads when out)......he is non-plussed by everything! DP even asked DSS what he thought a good "reward" would be for brushing his hair himself every morning, but he basically said he didn't want a reward, he wanted DP to do it!

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it is linked to fear of getting it wrong, and that is going to be really hard to overcome if it is being reinforced every day he's not with us.

We've broken basic tasks into small chunks - so rather than expect him to "get ready for bed", DP explains that this weekend, he would like DSS to get undressed on his own, then the next weekend, to get undressed and brush his teeth, then the next, get undressed, brush his teeth and wash his face etc.

It is only in the last 12 months that DSS has begun to toilet independently - he would sit on the loo and holler for his Dad; we tried ignoring him, he yelled for 20 minutes and got really, really distressed! When DP asked DSS what he did at school - he said that he didn't go confused

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 16:26:47

Oops - x-post

DP has baggage about his DC's "disliking" him though - his daughter (now 14) opted out of contact because she didn't like the fact that there were consequences/punishments -she even yelled at him that her "old Dad" didn't have consequences, and she wanted her "old dad" back.

The final straw was when she deliberately gratified on furniture in the house - her consequence was confiscation of her laptop while she visited, and she never came back sad

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 16:27:45

Grafitti'd not gratified - what an image !! lol!!

brdgrl Mon 25-Jul-11 17:13:12

LOL at gratifying self on the furniture!

Seriously though, that's so sad about DSD.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it is linked to fear of getting it wrong, and that is going to be really hard to overcome if it is being reinforced every day he's not with us.
Makes sense. I guess all you can do is work on him slowly, with lots of positive reinforcement and reassurances that it doesn't have to be perfect...

Yeah, we run into that 'old dad' thing from time to time. They miss their full-on DisneyDad.

What's interesting though - before we lived together, I was witness to a few arguments between DH and each of the kids in which they'd yell at him "you don't ACT like a dad!" - basically complaining that he wasn't being strict enough! The rest of the time, though, of course they're saying he's an unreasonable monster!!

You can't win, I guess - recently, DH woke up at about 4 AM and went to the toilet - he saw the light on in DSS's room. When he was on his way back from the toilet, the light had gone off - obviously DSS heard DH. Well, DH let it pass - but a few days later when DH was arguing with DSS about his late-night use of the internet, DH mentioned that incident. DSS's response? "Well, a parent who really cared would have come in and bollocked me for it!"

NotaDisneyMum Mon 25-Jul-11 17:33:56

"Well, a parent who really cared would have come in and bollocked me for it!"

How do you respond to that! shock

I get the feeling it's going to get worse before it gets better!

glasscompletelybroken Tue 26-Jul-11 10:28:16

I am often staggered by the complete inability of my DSD's to do even simple things for themselves and see that in many threads here. Will start a new thread on this subject to avoid hijacking this one!

theredhen Tue 26-Jul-11 10:33:28

Will look forward to it glass. I think I might be able to give some input. wink

elastamum Tue 26-Jul-11 10:54:12

Have you considered that by not doing things for himself and getting your DP to do them for him he is actually getting his dads full on attention, something he doesnt get much of on a daily basis.

I think you need to accept that you dont get much time to spend with him and chill out a bit. I'm quite sure he will get there in his own good time and you wont be dressing him at 14.

If the poor kid comes to yours and gets a softly, softly improvement programme every time he comes, it isnt really going to do much for his self esteem and he is quite likely to vote with his feet when older. No one wants to be in an environment with an undercurrent of 'not quite up to our expectations' and yes he will pick up on it. By all means have 'rules' for your house and stick with them, but lots of positive attention will do far more for him than trying to 'fix' him on a bi weekly basis, which quite simply isnt going to work.

It is frustrating for you, but no fun being on the receiving end either.

NotaDisneyMum Tue 26-Jul-11 15:25:57

elastamum I do appreciate what you are saying, although can assure you that attention towards him isn't in short supply wink

The situation is slightly complicated by my DD10 who lives here 50% of the time - she doesn't, and won't, get any allowances made, and I am sure that she will think the arrangement you describe is most unjust. If DSS is crying out for more attention than he currently gets, we would be better splitting their visits, perhaps - the CO for DSS specifies the same weekend as DD, but it could be changed, I'm sure. They get on so well, it seems a shame to separate them, but if you think DSS behaviour is attention seeking, then maybe he does resent her being around!

Im not sure I agree that DSS will 'get there in his own time' though - yes, he might dress himself - but who will teach him to tie shoelaces, for instance? In terms of table manners, if DP stops teaching him, then he's unlikely to learn and I certainly won't continue to share a table with a 10/12/14 year old who can't use a knife and fork properly and shovels food into his mouth as if he is starved - so it will begin to fragment the family we have tried so hard to establish sad

brdgrl Tue 26-Jul-11 20:41:46

you might not be dressing him at 14...but the question then is - will you be doing something else for him at 14 which he ought to be able to do for himself? At 16, will you be putting toothpaste on the brush for him at night? At 21 will you be doing his laundry? At 30, will you be paying his rent? I am afraid that a kid who is allowed to lag behind developmentally in one area is bound to have problems in other areas, and possibly for the long term.

But I think you realize this already!

If my DD isn't toilet-trained at 2, great. If she's not at 3, ok. If at 4 or 5, she's still in nappies, I'm going to start suspecting something isn't right. Sure, sooner or later she'll probably get there, and by 12, she'd almost certainly be toilet-trained - but really, that's not good enough.

chelen Tue 26-Jul-11 21:14:44

I can see what you're saying, but is important to separate not actually being able to do something from not wanting to for emotional reasons (or sheer bloodymindedness). You can chastise a kid as much as you want but if someone doesn't want to do something you can't force them. Or maybe you can force them, but that's not likely to make them keen to spend time with you.

If a kid wasn't potty trained by 4 or 5 you'd be searching for a physical or mental cause because that is off the scale. I think it's important to keep an eye on what's annoying and a bit behind the curve and what's a serious development delay. As for laziness/defiance, that's a whole different issue. i was a nightmare kid & teen, refused to do anything my mum said just to wind everyone up and get loads of attention. It was very effective! But I knew how to do whatever was asked, just didn't want to.

brdgrl Tue 26-Jul-11 22:11:49

See, I think this is at the heart of it. If a parent is thinking "well, if I force my kid to do something, he's not going to like me or be keen to spend time with me, so I won't do it", then something is really wrong. Sometimes, surely, being a parent does mean forcing your kid to do something. Forcing might be a loaded word, because it suggests physical or draconian means, but really, children are forced to do loads of things they would rather not, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it seems like lots of us on these boards are up against partners of exes who don't want to force their kids because they are afraid of the consequences. I don't think I am a conservative parent or a strict one, and I wasn't brought up that way at all, but my mother would have laughed herself silly if I said to her that she couldn't force me to do something.

My DSS says that he "can't" walk the dog. (one in a list of things he 'can't' do, which includes answering the phone, washing-up knives, walking a distance fo more than 1/2 a mile, learning to ride a bike, or hanging up shirts). She pulls on the lead, and he gives up. He's going to be 14 in the autumn, and he absolutely is CAPABLE of walking the dog - he just thinks if he pleads his case, and whinges, and intentionally does a crap job - that then he'll be allowed to get off the chore and go back to his xbox. And yes - I think the answer is to force him. We can't physically drag him down the street with the dog tied around his neck, but there are consequences if he doesn't - loss of the xbox, or loss of pocket money, or getting a lecture... We help him, by giving him tips on how to deal with her (which he ignores), or going part way with them, sure. But he's not going to win this battle by pretending incompetence. If he is less keen to spend time with us because of it, I think DH and I are willing to accept that as a part of parenting a teenager, because it is important to us that he learn that he can't get out of things he doesn't like by just refusing to do them properly.

The OP talks about a 6 (now 7) year-old who wouldn't use the loo on his own and so didn't go to the toilet at school. I think that is more than just annoying, especially if it is part of a whole spectrum of 'lagging' behaviour and dependence, it is a developmental delay. Doesn't mean there aren't emotional reasons for it that need to be addressed, but I wouldn't want to just let it carry on either in the hopes that he'll catch up eventually. [shrug]

brdgrl Tue 26-Jul-11 22:12:54

sorry, i meant "partners or exes" in my first paragraph.

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