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Having a hard time step-parenting

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

This is my first time on this forum but maybe you can help. I am a child of divorced parents and DH is not. I have two children that I have full custody of and DH has one that he shares custody with (we have him half the week). During mom's half of the week DSS usually stays with her mom (grandma) so he ends up with three homes. DSS is 10. 


My issue is that when we pick up DSS he often has left something at someone else's house. We pick him up from baseball and he is in his uniform with no clothes to change into or shoes. He often leaves his backpack or other item at mom's when we pick him up from grandma's or vice versa. We all live with 10 minutes drive of each other but I still feel he needs to learn how to be responsible and remember things he needs. Of course he needs to be taught this. Mom and grandma don't think it is a big deal to drive all over getting things from each others houses and DH gets mad at me when I say he needs to have a talk with them and DSS about being prepared when we pick him up. DH thinks I am being a nag and that there is nothing he can do about it so leave it alone. I feel that I am not asking anything I wouldn't ask of my biological children (ages 8 and 12) or anything that wasn't expected of me when I went back and forth with my parents. 


DH is now mad at me because I am annoyed by what just happened. Yesterday I told DSS that when we pick him up today he needed to have his swimsuit (he told me he had brought it to his mom's house and I told him that if he we were picking him up from grandma's he needed to get it from mom). Of course when DH called to say we were on our way DSS said the swimsuit was still at mom's so they need to go get it. How do I deal with this? Do I just let it go and have DH drive all over town every time we pick up DSS? I seem to be the only one that cares about this. 

post #2 of 15

I don't know how long you have been step-parenting or how long your stepson has been going back and forth between houses. If you are a relatively new step-parent and his parents have been divorced for a while, undoing this habit might be more work than it is worth. You might be better off figuring out how to reduce the impact on yourself than how to get anyone else to change something that is apparently working for them. This is something I have had to work on a lot over the last few years.


What impact does this have one you, personally? Are YOU having to drive around to get his things from this house or that? Do YOU have to find his things and have them ready when mom or grandma or step-son calls and says he forgot something? Or are you late to things or making the other kids wait while things are fetched from various houses for their brother? Or does your husband do the driving and fetching and finding? 


If your husband is the one who actually deals with it, and you aren't the one directly impacted and inconvenienced by this arrangement, I think I would be inclined to just let both husband and step-son know that if they are fine continuing on this way that is up to them, but that you are not going to continue to be impacted by it. And then remind them of it when you need to and stick to it. "You need your swimsuit because we are going to the pool. I am the one picking you up tomorrow, so if you don't have it at grandma's, I am not driving to your mom's to get it and you won't be able to go swimming this time. Do you want to go put it in your bag or by the front door now, or write yourself a note?" And then, if you pick him up and he doesn't have his swimsuit, he will have to live with the consequences or convince one of the other adults (who are fine with the arrangement, apparently) to run his errands for him.


If it is one of the adults (mom or grandma) asking you to go get something, you might have to create an excuse about why you aren't able to do it... you have a really tight schedule today, you have to get one of the other kids somewhere, you aren't going to be home or you don't have time to look for it, whatever. Again, if the other adults are fine with the arrangements, that is their business. They can find a way to do it that doesn't involve you.

post #3 of 15

Like the other poster said, I suppose that it may depend upon how much of a parenting role you play and how much it directly impacts you.  But that aside, as a parent, even a "step", and depending on how much of a parenting role you play in the kid's life, you have a right to be concerned about this kid learning personal responsibility and remembering his stuff.  My SD is 7 and often does the same thing because she spends a lot of time with her grandmother.  Usually the grandmother ends up having to get things back to us or it waits until the next visit.  Part of it is her age, but it's our responsibility, even if we aren't the ones who are put out by having to get the belongings back, to teach her responsibility and get after her about remembering things.  That's how I see it.  Even if this is how it's been for years, before you came into the picture, that doesn't mean that it can't or shouldn't be changed.  Even if it doesn't effect you personally in terms of you having to go out of your way to get the items, it effects you because you are one of his parents.

post #4 of 15

Totally agree with the PP on deciding if it personally affects you, but I also wanted to offer an idea that's helped with my kids going back and forth between my house and their dad's. I got them large tote bags (oilcloth-like shopping bags that stay upright and open) and those bags sit next to the front door at whatever house they are in, and they put in anything that needs to go back to the other house - clothes, toys, jackets, notes, etc. They go back & forth often and it was crazy keeping track of what had to go to the other house until I got the bags. I can even drop in things that I am sending to their dad (mail that comes to the house for him, dishes they've brought with them, etc).

post #5 of 15

A lot of this could be solved by each household having a set of his clothes, a swimsuit, a sports uniform, etc. That would probably go a long way toward making each of his homes more homey (for lack of a better word). Right now it sounds like he has places where he goes, but he and his stuff are on this permanent cycle of moving around. Your stepson constantly getting hassled about having all his stuff in one place probably isn't great for his sense of belonging. 


That aside, if it were my child and they only had one swimsuit for whatever reason and they left it somewhere else, then they wouldn't be going swimming. Natural consequences. And in this case, missing something fun is a good way to learn right quick that they had better remember the swimsuit next time.

post #6 of 15

yeah, that's interesting that he doesn't have what he needs for each house. My DSS also has about 3 homes between ours, his mother's, and his grandmother's. So everything he needs is at each house: a different swimsuit, clothes, shoes, toys. That way his stuff isn't moving around all the time and getting lost. Why doesn't your DH have a swimsuit for him that just stays with you guys? That would eliminate the driving, finding, fetching, etc.

post #7 of 15

This boy has 3 homes. I truely dont think its unreasonable that he forgets things. Wouldnt you?


If the bathing suit is at his mums house and he is at his Gramms house, why should he not swim b/c they adults in his life can not come up with an actual parenting plan that has what he needs available to him?




post #8 of 15

My sons are 15; their Dad and I get along great, but things  STILL frequently get left at the wrong house and must be retrieved.


Reason should prevail:


* If it is not terribly inconvenient to retrieve something, do it.  Remember that the kids did not ask for their parents to be divorced, nor to have to always know at which parent's house each of their possessions currently is and which possessions need to switch houses.  It's great, if you were perfect about remembering these things when you were a kid, but not all kids do it well.  Some adults always know where their car keys are.  However, I - who do a pretty good job of keeping track of the possessions of 6 people - NEVER know where my own keys are.  Luckily, I only live in one house, so there's only one place I have to search, to find them...  Catch my drift?


* If it is a great inconvenience to everyone to retrieve something, don't.  But be compassionate about it.  This is a learning process for your step-kid.  "I'm sorry that we don't have time to pick up your swim trunks.  I know you're disappointed that you won't be able to swim.  It takes time for everyone to get good at remembering to bring along all the things they need.  You'll get better about it.  And this isn't the last time we'll go swimming!" might be better than, "Tough luck!  I always tell you to bring things and you never remember!  This is what happens!"


* If your DH or his ex are willing to drive around and retrieve things, let them and stay out of it.  If it starts to bother them, they'll be motivated to put more effort into helping your SS learn to keep track of his things...or at least to double-check, themselves, whether he has what he needs.  But do you need to be irritated at them about it, if you're not the one shlepping around?


* If your DH IS asking YOU to drive back to his ex's house and pick up what SS forgot, depending on the situation/urgency, it's probably reasonable for you to say, "Look, based on my  experience, growing up, I believe that kids can remember this stuff, if their parents let them suffer the natural consequences of forgetting.  You see it differently.  That's OK.  You're SS's parent.  You can handle it how you want and I won't give you a hard time.  But put your money where your mouth is and drive over there and get his stuff yourself.  If that's too much of a pain for you, then ask yourself whether my take on things is right - don't just dump the job on me."


* If you've promised a trip to the pool and SS doesn't have a suit, it's a real hardship on a kid, to be the only one not swimming.  So that type of thing should be avoided, if at all possible.  But let's say you guys bought him a PSP and let him take it to his Mom's, but he forgot to bring it back.  What's the worst that can happen to him, if he doesn't get to play with his PSP until he returns to his Mom's?  That sounds like a great opportunity to teach responsibility with some natural consequences.  But again, you can be nice about it.  Let him remember that he was disappointed with himself for forgetting his PSP (then he'll be more likely to remember it next time), rather than him mainly remembering that you got mad at him for leaving it at his Mom's.


* And where there's a simple solution...USE IT!  Buy swim trunks for SS to use at your house (or on outings with you and DH), that never get sent to Mom's or Grandma's!  Swim trunks can be as cheap as $5 at Wal-Mart or 50 cents at a garage sale/Goodwill.  If the swim trunks he forgot the other day WERE the ones you bought him...buy him a new pair and start over, keeping them only at your house.  If SS has other special clothes at your place, that you like him to wear to church, have him change out of them before his Mom picks him up!  There are endless useful applications to the Keep-it-Simple philosophy.

Edited by VocalMinority - 6/5/11 at 2:33pm
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies. Yes he should have what he needs at each house but doesn't. I buy him a lot of what he needs (or DH does) but his mom and grandma don't. He will bring things over there without telling us. I have tried talking with DSS and with DH about leaving things at our house but DH acts like I am being unreasonable. For church clothes I do have him change so they stay here but no one else seems to think about things like that. He had two swim suits (one at my house one at grandma's) but I don't know what happened to the one she has. He told me he brought the one from our house to mom's so that is why I asked him to bring it back. Mom should buy him one but doesn't. The same thing happens with pants too. 


I have been step-parenting for 5 years but lately the expectation that we will drive all over the place has gotten worse. I think by 10 he should have a bag with all his stuff but I seem to be the only one that thinks that. I have tried! I also think he should be taught how to manage his things and do not expect him to remember everything but they don't seem to think he needs to remember anything. I agree that some things should have consequences but no one seems to back me up on that. I know when my biological son forgets something or doesn't tell me about something until the last minute he has had to deal with the appropriate consequences. 


As far as impact on me usually DH gets him. During the summer DH works out of town a lot so I get more calls asking if I will bring something over. Last time it was something I specifically asked DSS to leave at his grandma's and I was at work with a deadline. It bugs me because I look like the unreasonable step-mom who is unwilling to help. I tried explaining that I would be able to get home in time but grandma did not understand. She asked me to "swing by" a place totally out of the way. DH does not speak up about it and gets upset with me because he says there is nothing he can do about it. He said he is trying to teach DSS how to remember his things but I feel unless he gets grandma and DSS's mom on the same page DSS will never learn. 


Thank you again for all the replies. I think more than anything I just needed to vent with step-parents that understand. The hardest part for me being a step-parent is not having any control or say in how DSS is raised. There are things I would do (like have a bag for him, show him how to be organized, etc.) that I can't do. I find that it isn't worth the argument with DH so I need to let it go unless I am asked to drive all over the place. Thanks for listening to me. 

post #10 of 15
Originally Posted by matty02 View Post

During the summer DH works out of town a lot so I get more calls asking if I will bring something over. Last time it was something I specifically asked DSS to leave at his grandma's and I was at work with a deadline. It bugs me because I look like the unreasonable step-mom who is unwilling to help. I tried explaining that I would be able to get home in time but grandma did not understand. She asked me to "swing by" a place totally out of the way. 


Something that has worked for me is to say that you really WANT to do it, that you WISH you could do it, and that you unfortunately aren't able to. It sounds pretty much the same as it would if someone was offering me last minute tickets to something that I am not able to use because of a prior commitment. "Oh, no, he forgot his swimsuit? Oh, I wish I could run it over there. Unfortunately I have this meeting that I can't get out of. That's really too bad, I wish I could." Then you don't sound unreasonable and you still don't have to do it... and it leaves the door open if there is something you CAN and WANT TO help with (like discovering he only packed one soccer cleat or his English paper fell in the boy's room sink or something).

post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 

I just realized I wrote "would" instead of "wouldn't" in that I "would not be able to get home in time". I think I need to feel comfortable saying no even if everyone else says yes. I just feel like the one mean person but really I am not being mean. 

post #12 of 15

I think I actually wrote a very similar post to this a while back!  I find that it is really hard for me to balance wanting to teach personal responsilibity by enforcing natural consequences of forgetting things against making allowances because the kid didn't ask to have two houses and drag stuff back and forth.  So I can totally empathize!  We have duplicates of most everything, but some things it just isn't practical to have two of (musical instruments, sports uniforms, schoolpapers, etc.) so inevitably there are things that get forgotten in the shuffle and it can be really frustrating to have to deal with at times.  Even if it is dp doing the driving, it is still taking up time that otherwise could have been spent doing something else, KWIM?

post #13 of 15
Thread Starter 

So today I before driving DSS to his grandma's house I asked what he needed to bring. He said he needed his swim suit because mom was going to take him swimming. I said we really need to get you another suit because I thought you had two. He said, "Oh yeah! I do have two! I have one here!". He just doesn't like that one as much but guess which one he chose to bring with him to mom's? The one he doesn't like as much! I guess that teaches me to look better for his things.


I know what you mean about some things are just not practical to have two of. We cannot afford two baseball uniforms, two sets of cleats, etc. 

post #14 of 15

Telling him to be prepared is probably not enough -- he needs help learning what that looks like.


My 10 year old boy does things like pack for camping trips. He gets a list. He follows the list. He comes and ask if he doesn't know what something is, or if he can't find it. But I don't do it for him, I don't stand over him while he does it, and I don't drive out to give him things he's forgotten.


Yeah, it's tedious and feels silly. But it's a good life skill, to have a methodical way of looking ahead and planning. It's just not something that comes naturally for everyone.

post #15 of 15

My DD is only 5 and lives between here and XP's house.


In general terms it's easier to have 2 (or 3) of everything possible - clothes and shoes and swimsuits included.  And i buy 2 identicals of a thing she needs wherever possible, so there will be no neglected unfavourite item getting stuffed in a forgotten drawer while we run the other, favourite version, all over the town!


For more expensive items which cannot be duplicated then have you tried a wall chart/checklist?  Like each day of the week, the stuff he does, and the things he'll need?  So you could do him 4, one for each house and one he can carry with him, and then only enforce the natural consequences if need be after he's had that system up for a number of weeks?


If you feel that goes above and beyond what your role is, then i would simply start not helping out with the driving of objects, using the polite and emphatic i WISH i coulds described above.

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