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My SD's mother is a nightmare - does anyone else have similar experience?

(13 Posts)
veraison Tue 18-Aug-09 03:21:42

I will try and keep this short. My SD's mother has suffered from bulimia for probably around 30 years....she also suffers from umpteen other mental issues such as compulsive exercising (she exercises about 5 hours a day),anxiety, hyperchondria and is quite delusional and histrionic. (She's also as thick as two short planks and denies having any of the above!). My partner and her have been divorced for 7 years (we have been together just over 2 yrs) and somehow he has managed to wangle the following care arrangements...SD stays with us 5 nights a week but sees her mum before and after school every day and has half the weekend with her....arrangements revolve around minimising the number of meals she spends at her mums as we are very concerned about the genetic predisposition she will have towards an eating disorder plus living in such an unhealthy environment where food and weight are such an issue, particularly now she is going into puberty. Her mum keeps threatening court action for more nights as this arrangement has never been formalised but my partner doesn't want to go down this route as he feels it will be too intrusive and that she will somehow manage to hoodwink everyone that she is normal and eventually he'll lose out. Unfortunately these threats keep coming and create great emotional turmoil in our household until somehow she is pacified. My partner thinks that the courts won't have seen anyone like her and therefore will not believe anything we say. I say there are plenty of mad birth mothers out there that the courts have already seen. Does anyone else have similar experiences.

Here's what we have to live with:
- My SD still sleeps in her mothers bed every time she is there (she is 10) - I think it's more for mum's benefit than hers and don't think it's healthy - she is not being allowed to develop her sense of self that is critical at this age, particularly as her mum also tries to influence the way SD thinks saying things like 'flying is horrible, travelling in a car is horrible, fruit is miserable etc etc.

-Her mum has a padlock on the fridge, which is in the shed (not the kitchen) and the key is kept with the next door neighbours.

-Her mum keeps SD home from school even if she has only the slightest sniffle and takes her to the doctor at the drop of a hat

-After we took SD away on holiday for 3 weeks, when we went to drop her at her mum's at the allotted time, she rang us an hour before to ask if we could drop her off a couple of hours later so she could go the gym!!

- We get weekly rants via text or email

- She buys presents for SD on a weekly basis and is always giving her food treats. Doesn't seem to understand how much she spoils SD.

-SD is more a friend than a daughter to her...speaks to her mum like she's one of the kids in the playground ie no please or thank you, 'duh' etc

- When at her mums, SD sits in front of the TV for dinner with chicken nuggets and chips - using fingers. I had to teach her how to use a knife and fork when she was 9 as she didn't know how to use them!

I could go on and on but would be interested to hear anyone else's experiences.

moondog Tue 18-Aug-09 06:41:11

No personal experience but a lot of people don't parent their kids in the way we approve of and ultimately, she is her kid and not yours so not really sure yuo can do anything (apart from feel justifiably issitated-sounds barking.)

veraison Tue 18-Aug-09 08:58:19

yes, that's true moondog, she's not my child but the behaviour she picks up from her mum (anxiety, selfishness, hyperchondria etc) does impact on my own daughter who is younger. I also have to constantly tackle questions from my daughter as to why SD gets so much in terms of treats and gifts. I would also add that my partner and I are very much on the same page in terms of parenting values and SD is his child too. SD's mum seems to think she makes a better parent because she's a mother and completely dismisses my partner's 'rights' as a dad and his ability to parent. Eg. SD's mum allowed her to get her ears pierced at age 8 completely ignoring my partners specific request that they not be done until she was age 11 (that's just one of many examples). So I might only be a step-mum but I think I have valid reasons to feel I should have some say in the way SD is brought up.

Hassled Tue 18-Aug-09 09:06:01

It's hard to tell what you want to know, other than whether people have experience of this (I'm afraid I don't, but I know other MNers have had similar problems, so keep bumping this).

I can't imagine, however, that if it went to court the courts would want to change the status quo significantly, especially if the SD is happy with the current set-up. That's the crux of the matter - what does the SD want? She's old enough that her views would certainly be sought. And as she gets older, she will work out herself that life at Mum's isn't in any way "normal". All you can do is keep providing a more stable alternative home.

terrier141 Tue 18-Aug-09 12:14:30

The padlocked fridge bit horrified me! I think the courts would be able to see through her cover! Really feel for you - the situation sounds horrendous and I think you DO have a right to be concerned as she spends a huge amount of time with you and as you said things do have an impact on your whole family. I think the role of stepmother is well under-rated in many situations (not all i have to say!), its not easy! Sounds like you really care about her - she is very lucky! x

abeeceedee Tue 18-Aug-09 18:13:46


Sometimes people on this board seem to feel the need to post really, pointless,unhelpful responses, designed to make you feel worse - I hope you can ignore them.

You are right to be worried, and as your SD's stepmum and mother of her stepsister you have every right to comment on ex's behaviour, and to try and see if you can improve the situation. Her mother does not sound as if she is parenting her well at all at the moment - and she's teaching her a really, really unhealthy attitude to food. Eating disorders can often develop from a child seeing her mother's attitude to food so I think you would be well within your rights to confront her about her actions - or if not you, your husband.Once an eating disorder develops, it can be for life.

If it did come to court, I am sure they would see the situation for what it was as they would look into SD's family situation in detail.

Your SD is really lucky to have a caring stepmum like you, I hope you can work things out.


prettyfly1 Wed 19-Aug-09 20:02:48

Abeeceedeee - Your positivity and supportive approach are very lovely but I dont think thats fair. Read through the other posts you are involved in and what you are reading as unhelpful are coming across as more different points of view from parents at different ends of the spectrum in terms of experience and ideas. The beauty of mumsnet is NOT us all agreeing with each other but discussing, contributing and sometimes arguing out different ways of looking at things in the hope that at the end of it we may all feel differently, to the benefit of our kids and families/friends.

OP, I can understand why a few of those points worry you - girls today are under so much pressure to look a certain way that even more pressure in a dietary sense is just not good HOWEVER if she is being fed, provided for and spoiled I think you will have to be content to try and provide balance in the other side of her life. No court will take a child away from its mother for being spoiled or overprotected, frustrating and contra indicative as it is. Just try and be a calming influence and allow your sd to find her own views and opinions as she matures. There is little evidence to suggest eating disorders are genetically pre disposed so I think attempting to gently educate is your best way forwards and good luck.

veraison Thu 20-Aug-09 02:55:49

Thanks for all the messages of support. I do just try to be a support for both partner and SD. A 'blended family' course we did suggested the best role for a step parent is that of 'interested observer'. But it is hard to watch someone else potentially destroy a young person's life, even if it is her mum.

Actually there is a massive body of research and evidence that children are genetically predisposed towards eating disorders, exacerbated by the environment they live in. Family meals at the dinner table in a social environment are seen as critical to the avoidance or reduction of issues with food as children go into their teenage years.

The other thing is that eating disorders are not usually a stand-alone mental illness - they usually are accompanied by other mental ilnesses such as depression or anxiety. In our case it seems to be anxiety, OCD and histrionic personality disorder. SD's mother's influence is very strong. SD knows I have a nutrition degree but still listens to her mum over me where food is concerned. This morning I heard her say to her dad when he was making her lunch...."don't give me sandwiches as mum says it's unhealthy to have more than two things with white flour per day" (the bread was wholemeal!) dangerous is that when you're getting so prescriptive about food at the age of 10!!

We are also starting to see SD getting very anxious and fixated over certain things. She goes to bed every night at precisely later, no such a degree that if we go out to friends or do something on an evening, SD will hassle or stress for days beforehand as it might mean she can't get to bed on time. It is very worrying. I don't need any research to see that mental illness is most definitely in the genes.

prettyfly1 Thu 20-Aug-09 15:57:17

Ok but are you translating that to SD - even unintentionally (sighing over the sandwhich thing within ear shot for example). At ten years old you are attaching some very serious labels to a young girl who IS NOT formed yet.

Ok so the bedtime thing is a bit random, but she will ALWAYS be loyal to her mum, even if you were THE ONLY NUTRIONALIST in the world. I think you have to make it clear that there are rules in your house that are no more right, they are just yours, ask her gently what she thinks might happen if she doesnt go to bed on time and take the step of seeing her doctor if it progresses but you appear a little bit determined that this girl WILL get anorexia, she WILL be mentally ill, and you are there to save her from herself and her damaged genetics - if she or her mother get even the slightest hint of that any chance you have of winning them over and perhaps influencing slowly will be shot to pieces.

I really can understand your concern and in your shoes I would be so frustrated but this is a ten year old girl and mental illness is a life time concern. Be careful how militant you become on this as she is coming up to a time when she will deliberately eat nothing but green foods and change the bedtime to 8.06.30 if needs be purely to PISS YOU OFF.

prettyfly1 Thu 20-Aug-09 15:58:46

Oh and anxiety (and believe me I do know what I am talking about) in a child of that age undiagnosed with autism is normally symptomatic of feeling a lack of control within her external environment - which would also suggest yours as well as her mothers. Has anyone spoken to her about how she is feeling?

mrsjammi Thu 20-Aug-09 17:24:19

Message withdrawn

veraison Fri 21-Aug-09 01:11:40

I know I might sound a bit vehement about this whole issue – I’m just so frustrated about the whole situation and this forum seems to be my only way to vent. My poor partner already gets it in the ear so I don’t want to burden it with him any more than I already am! In reality, partner and I take a very gently, gently approach with things….never, ever make negative comments about SD’s mum in front of her (which can’t be said about her mum) and always just gently try to prise information about how SD is feeling.
Partner and I actually went for a few visits to a child psychologist (didn’t take SD as she would have gone ballistic), just to find out how best to approach her anxieties and how to broach the subject of eating disorders. It was very helpful and we do use the techniques she has given us…..SD couldn’t explain why she ‘needs’ to go to bed at this certain time…we just try to keep things a bit flexible to show her that the earth isn’t going to collapse if she goes to bed at 8.07pm. We know she’s not autistic, she’s an extremely sociable child - she does have Turner’s Syndrome, which is an added worry as she will be very short and wide-bodied (Turner’s also have higher incidence of eating disorders because of this).
We have implemented rules in our household that SD knows are different to her mums. She now understands them and realises that what’s acceptable behaviour at mum’s is not acceptable here. She is very good really - a really dynamic, loving little girl who likes to please (I’m sure that will change!). I probably come across as some nazi-type step-mum but I’m really not – it’s just that this is a great place to vent!!

BonsoirAnna Wed 26-Aug-09 08:09:06

If you can prove that your DH's exW is negligent and an unfit mother (and, from the sounds of your OP, you might be able to do this), you will have a good chance of getting residency of your DSD in the courts.

This is rather an unpleasant thing to have to do but, from the sounds of it, might well be for your DSD's long-term benefit.

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