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Advice please? When the mother doesn't seem to care?

(18 Posts)
wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 16:41:33

We have my stepdaughter every other weekend and 2+ evenings a week. She has more and more frequently come to us in filthy clothes, usually unshowered (often since we last had her) and starving because she's not had a proper meal that day. Her dad ensures she has a full meal, a shower, and clean clothes to go home in. We try not to make a big deal in front of her. But considering her mother has residency, it's piss poor that she cannot keep her own child clean and well fed in between visits to us. The poor girl is starting to get embarrassed about this. We just make it a routine that the evenings we have her are shower, dinner and a movie nights. It's frustrating being a step mother as I want this child to feel like she matters to her mother, yet her mother is more interested in her online games. We have sought legal advice and apparently access to food and water and a roof and a responsible adult = she's not being neglected. Which I find frankly ridiculous.

I'd appreciate any advice on how to deal with this? I'm desperately sad for this little girl. She can't come and live with us as the laws here are overtly anti-father. Again, ridiculous.

glasscompletelybroken Thu 18-Apr-13 16:45:48

How old is she?

mumandboys123 Thu 18-Apr-13 18:21:44

if she is with you two nights during the week, surely she's not going more than a couple of days without bathing for when she's at school? how old is she?

what do you mean by 'filthy' in terms of her clothing?

is she being fed, just not enough in your opinion or is she not being fed at all? is she coming to you at the end of the school day when most children would be starving hungry or at some other time?

It is an uphill struggle to change residence of children and you would need to be demonstrating some serious neglect. Are you sure it's just not a question of different standards?

purpleroses Thu 18-Apr-13 18:56:21

If she's old enough to be starting to get embarrassed about it, then she's probably old enough for you/DP to start to teach her how to be more independent to keep herself clean. Can she shower or bath herself? Does she know how to use deodorant? Does she know how to look at and smell an item of clothing to decide if it is dirty? Does she own a good hairbrush and use it independently? (if not, and hair is a problem then would suggest a haircut)

You can't really do anything to change her mum's attitude, but you probably are in a position to help her take better care of herself.

I don't think what you've been told about what constitutes neglect is as simple as what you state but that said, people do have quite different standards of cleanliness that don't necessarily constitute neglect. And some DCs are capable of making any set of clothing filthy by the end of the day. Not eating adequately or being ignored whilst mum games would be more worrying to me. Is she left to fend for herself for large chunks of time? Is she underweight? You can get charts online that tell you.

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 18:57:58

She's 9, but very advanced physically with all the joys of greasy hair, body odor and she has had a lot of pre-period discharge lately. So when she comes to us, after 2 or more days not washing or changing her underwear, she smells and is sore down there, and her hair is greasy and tangled from no brushing. It's not a case of differing standards. It's basic hygiene in my opinion. She needs to wash daily and wear fresh underwear every day.

Her clothes are food stained, as she's a messy eater. Sometimes we have dropped her off in clean clothes Monday night and when we pick her up on Wednesday or even Thursday she is wearing the same clothes, including underwear. She wears these clothes overnight a lot. When we have tried to encourage her to at least put pjs on she says she doesn't have any. We have sent her home with some, nothing has changed.

Food wise, she's fed McDonald's for dinner if she's at her mums. Her grandparents and I try to feed her simple home cooked stuff as she's fussy. She puts up a fight about it sometimes but has generally improved. Recently due to bad snowstorms she's had days off school. We've picked her up at her normal time and she's been ravenous and told us she's only had Doritos all day. When her dad asked her mum about this, he gets told it's "all she would eat". Ummmm no. We have fresh fruit and veg available for her and I don't think there's any excuse for her not to have the same thing at home? Again, I don't think it's unreasonable for this little girl to have healthy food at both of her parents houses? She tells us that her mum gets pizza delivered after she goes to bed, and she only gets a happy meal from McDonald's after school. Hardly nutritious. It's lazy, too.

I realize no two homes will run the same, and parents differ in their styles etc. but I don't understand or accept there is any good reason for not taking better care of this child. She's at a difficult age, going through emotional and physical changes, and she NEEDS her mum to teach her good habits! Her dad and myself can only do so much. It's not my place to be this child's "mother" figure when she has a mother already. But I find myself more and more doing stuff so this little girl won't be teased at school for being smelly, or get a Uti from not washing, and encouraging healthy eating and exercise she's already 115lbs at 9yrs old. It's so tough. I'm a "nobody" in the eyes of the mother and the law, yet if I don't step in then the dad is left to handle things and to be frank it's not always appropriate for him to be teaching her how to shower or keep herself clean, is it?

At the end of the day I love her. I love her father. We are a family. I will do whatever it takes to make that child as happy and healthy as if she were my own. I just get so frustrated seeing her own mother sit back and do nothing.

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 19:04:38

I've taught her how to shower and wash her hair. I've also taught her the importance of washing her pits and bits every day in between showers. She doesn't wear deodorant yet but I will get some for her. She does take good care of herself when she's with us. But at her mums she is left to fend for herself most of the time. She's very independent. She's used to her mum being asleep or in a different room most of the time. Her mum claims that she is "unmanageable" yet we haven't seen or heard any behavior to back that up. She's doing great in school. She has the odd tantrum with us. She does have an anxiety based OCD which is rearing its head again. We are concerned its because she's alone so much at her mums.

headinhands Thu 18-Apr-13 19:06:14

How is it not appropriate for a father to teach his daughter how to shower/wash? What about single parent families where it's a dad and daughters?? What does your partner say about all this?

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 19:10:32

He feels the same as I do that the mother needs to encourage good hygiene and healthy eating like we do. He has been helping her shower but she gets embarrassed and asks for me to help. He's of the opinion if she is more comfortable with me helping then that's what we will do. He does everything else, like brushing hair, teeth, checking if she needs clean clothes at home, disciplining her if needed, etc. he did everything himself before I came along. It's her choice I help her as she's now turning into a young lady and wants another girl to help her.

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 19:12:09

I guess inappropriate was the wrong term. It's her choice, her comfort level that dictates who helps her shower etc now.

purpleroses Thu 18-Apr-13 19:13:53

Buying deodorant's a good idea. Does her mum oppose access, and get annoyed at you doing things? Sounds like she can't really be bothered to - in which case can you and DP just try and alter things gradually so she spends more time with you?

Have you tried talking to the school about your concerns? They'd be well placed to tell you whether they thought they should be taken further.

I agree that if she's 9, and developing it's normal for either her or her dad to feel uncomfortable with him helping her shower/wash - though she should be able to do it independently with advice. There are things that a lot of fathers don't feel that comfortable with - and no reason not for you to take on some of these, especially if everyone's happy with that. I help my DSD brush her hair, etc - as it's not really DP's thing.

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 19:27:55

Her mum doesn't oppose access. She'd never give up residence though as she would lose a small fortune in child support. So we just try to have my dsd as often as we can and do as much as we can in that time, iykwim.

The school has picked up on her OCD habit and she's waiting for CBT to help overcome it. She's got a tendency to be lazy with homework and turns the taps on if she doesn't feel like doing it. She does better with her dad as he won't take any crap, so she does most of her homework with us.

When we sought advice from the children and family welfare people we got told unless there's actual prolonged physical neglect and/or abuse, the child will never be taken from the mother. It's insane. It might not be beatings and stuff, but being ignored and not fed decent meals and not encouraged to wash or wear clean clothes is surely just as damaging to a child? She herself said she's used to her mum sleeping all day. That is so sad to me.

headinhands Thu 18-Apr-13 19:30:00

Sounds like mum might be depressed? Am a bit hmm that you think mum has caused the OCD.

Queenofknickers Thu 18-Apr-13 19:42:21

Unless I read it wrong I don't the OP did blame the OCD on the mum....

Can I just say from one stepmum to another thank goodness this little girl has you in her life - she will be glad and keep doing all you can for her.

There's a real sense on this thread that anything the OP says will be picked on - prejudice against step mums?

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 20:02:37

I'm not blaming the mum. I actually get on pretty well with her. I just don't agree with how she's doing (or not doing) things.

The OCD is anxiety related and occurs when she feels insecure. She tells us she feels insecure a lot at her mums because she doesn't like being on her own while her mum has shut herself away in another room.

Her mum has not got a formal diagnosis for depression. She does what she wants when she wants, and doesn't appear to consider her child as being part of the equation.

I think there is (maybe naturally) some anti step mother feeling towards me. All I can say is sometimes the birth mother is not a good mother. And sometimes the stepmother can be better for the child. I do my best, against some tough circumstances.

headinhands Thu 18-Apr-13 20:23:18

She may not have a formal diagnosis but her behaviours are typical of depression, shutting herself away, sleeping all day, less attention on day to day responsibilities. How does she seem in herself when you see her?

wrinklyraisin Thu 18-Apr-13 20:44:20

She's not sleeping literally. She's online. On those role play games. She tells my dsd she's sleeping or she's tired, to make her leave her in peace.

She's fine in herself. I grew up with a severely depressed mother so I know the signs and the damage. My dsd is hard work to her mother. Her mother cherry picks the experiences and effort she's willing to put in. Even her own parents say she needs to pull her finger out! She goes on gambling weekends, she has a good social life, she isn't down about life. It's hard to explain. She's happy, chatty and totally pleasant to be around. She just doesn't put any effort into her child. If my partner or I (or any of her family who live very close to her) thought for a minute she was genuinely depressed, then this would be a whole different story. But everyone (including herself!) sees her as lazy. She jokes about it, when its related to her messy house. She just doesn't do ANYTHING beyond basic supervision of her child. Like I said, it's so hard to explain if you haven't seen her patterns over a year now. She takes good care of herself. She is social. She is not depressed as such. Her child is just too much like hard work.

planeticketplease Thu 18-Apr-13 21:36:07

I agree completely with Queenofknickers on all points. Thank god this girl has you in her life, it sounds like you are trying really hard to deal with these issues with sensitivity and genuine kindness.

DH and I were in a similar situation with his dsc for a long time. We went to every professional involved with the kids to try to get support with what we could see or were being told was happening, but neglect is hard to prove and isn't taken seriously enough imho. We opted for having the dsc as many extra days as possible until their mother decided (after several years) that she really couldn't be bothered with them anymore and gave dh full custody without a fight. This happened at the same time as new class teacher kicking up a fuss about the neglect too, so maybe keep taking your concerns to the school again and again? You may eventually speak to someone there who echos your concerns and is willing to act on it. It was a long and hard couple of years worrying about them and trying to find ways to make life easier for the dsc when they weren't with us.

It sounds like you are doing everything you can for your dsd and its good that she trusts you so much. She is lucky to have such a loving stepmum.

wrinklyraisin Fri 19-Apr-13 01:52:25

Thank you plane ticket. It's a thankless task being a stepmother at times. Everyone has such negative views on us! All I want is this little girl to grow up in a happy, healthy and loving environment. I don't dislike her mother. She's not evil or bad. Just lazy. I don't want this laziness to affect an innocent child negatively though.

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