Let me post in sympathy, as I am also the step-mom of a 12-year-old boy, who also lives with us; whose mother has also historically seemed to be on a different planet from my DH in terms of parenting. My DSS has also had issues with lying, which also seem to stem at least in part from trying to deal with the divorce and what he thinks everyone wants to hear from him, particularly his mother wanting to hear negative things about his father and me. By the age of at most 5, it was evident that he had learned to just say whatever makes a situation more comfortable for him to endure and it simply did not matter what the truth was, or even who might get unfairly hurt based on what he said/did. And it was heartbreaking, to know some of the ways he came to be like that. You could scarcely blame him!
The good news is, slowly things seem to have really improved with him! So there's hope.
No matter how easy solving your problems may seem to others, I know that it is incurably difficult, to be thrust into a maternal role, when you can't be Mom. I assume it must be doubly difficult, with 50-50 custody:
* If he only saw you guys EOW, it might be easier (for you, perhaps not for your DH, his actual parent) to accept that you don't have that much influence over how he turns out, and to try to enjoy him without worrying so much about how he's parented at your house. But if you're acting as Mom half the time - just as much as his Mom is - of course you're concerned with how you're raising him!
* We have the opposite extreme. DSS spends the vast majority of the year with us and mostly just vacations with his mom. Although George Bush and Saddam Hussein could probably agree on more, when it comes to how he should be raised, DH's and my thoughts on that subject (which are very similar) are largely unchecked simply because Mom isn't around. As much as I think the best situation for DSS would be to have more access to both parents, as long as Mom chooses to keep her distance, I have to admit it is easier for DH and me - and less confusing for DSS - than if we had 50-50, like you do. But it STILL requires a lot of care and thought on my part, to fill all the practical, day-to-day parts of the Mom role...AND remember that DSS does not think of me as Mom...AND not trample in any way on his relationship with her, regardless what I tend to think of her privately. I get it! It's never easy or obvious, figuring out how to do all that!
By and large, you've gotten sound advice from the PPs. I just hope you're not feeling judged by it. It's always easy to figure out the right way to handle things, when you can take time to think about it. We ALL have times - plenty of them! - when we handle things the best we can in the moment, then later realize, "I should've done it this way, instead."
Also, just because you're venting about struggles with DSS does not make me assume you never do anything fun with him. We don't have the same need for support from other moms, about having fun with our kids!
The only things I'd add, advice-wise:
1. Pick your battles carefully! Whittling down the list of what you "put your foot down" about - to just the super-important stuff - actually gives you more influence. When teens feel like your answer is an intractable "no" to nearly everything, they lump all your answers together and fail to see when you have a darn good reason for saying no. They also tell themselves the only way they can "ever" do "anything" is to lie and sneak, because you "always" say no. Examples:
>>> All our kids' friends started getting FB accounts earlier than we had planned to let them. So, we let them. But we friended them. We know their passwords. And we periodically check their accounts, to see if they've friended anyone inappropriate, if they're discussing inappropriate things in public, if their accounts have been hacked and they need help fixing it, or if their privacy settings are still appropriate. It has become a nice way to keep up with what's going on in their lives, with their friends (who will all be happy to friend you, to increase their friend lists!) You gain access to a lot of conversations you wouldn't otherwise be present to hear. That sounds like eavesdropping, but that's not what I mean. FB feels like the fun, friendliness and comfort of having your kid hang out with all his friends in your family room, versus going out somewhere with his friends while you wonder if everything's OK until he gets back. FB doesn't have to be bad, at all! And you can't appropriately supervise his usage, if you're inadvertently pushing him to get an account in secret.
>>> Movies are an obvious analogy for a lot of things, in pre-teen life. As DH's and my kids get older, we can't control everything they see at their other parents' houses; or with friends. If the list of what we expect them not to watch is long, we increase the chance that they'll sneak and disobey us...and learn how easily they can get away with it. We exert "control" in smaller ways - watching movies together; or being the ones to take them and their friends to movies. We thereby participate in the choice and can say, "No, let's not see this-or-that movie. Here's why." But when they happen to come back from Mom's (or, in my kids' case, Dad's) having watched something we didn't want them to see, it's not a big power struggle where the kid "disobeyed" us. We talk about what they liked (usually that the movie was funny) AND what made us think it was inappropriate. (Now that they've watched it, can they see our point? Or do they think if we saw the movie, we'd change our minds? Why?) That chance to talk to them like grown-ups...and help them make a grown-up analysis of what they saw...can be as valuable as if we'd been able to shield them from seeing it.
Since they don't feel like we're going to make a federal case every time they see something we'd veto, they have respected it, when we said, "Absolutely no 'Saw' or 'Hostel', no matter what."
2. I think you have to be more concerned with fairness in a blended family, than you would if all your kids had the same parents.
I totally get the difference between having a new kid over when your house is a mess, versus a kid who seems like part of the family. But it would've been better to EITHER:
>>> Tell your daughter her friend couldn't come over (explain, "Sometimes I don't mind having Katie over, when I'm busy. But I'm not ready to host two kids today, so it's not fair to your brother if I let you have a friend and not him. I know you would be sad, if I let his friend come over, but said no about Katie. If you kids both help get stuff done today...or play nicely while the adults work...you can each invite a friend to do something tomorrow."
>>> Tell your DSS the new kid couldn't come over, with the house the way it was; but offer to host a different friend, with whom you're more comfortable. Even if he pouted and said he didn't want anyone if he couldn't have the new kid, at least you would've shown that you cared about being fair.
Both options would be a pain, for you (either restricting your daughter in a way you wouldn't do, if DSS weren't there; or making the extra effort to host a second kid). But that's kind of what's required of you, when you decide to enter into a blended family. In a nuclear family, there can be days where one kid gets something and the other kid doesn't and you expect them to deal with the fact that life isn't always perfectly fair. It's one thing, for kids to accept that from a parent, when they both have the same parents. They're not REALLY going to think the underlying problem is that one of them is more loved, or cared for, or more a part of the household. It's quite another thing, when your daughter lives in your house with both of her parents; and your DSS is only there half the time and only one of you is his parent. The adults chose the family structure, so it is incumbent upon you and your DH to make a show of fairness appropriate to the structure you chose. Putting that philosophy firmly in place, in your mind, may change your view on many situations that spring up.
And it will not hurt your daughter at all, to occasionally be inconvenienced by considering the feelings of her half-brother, and asking herself how she'd feel, in his position. It will make her feel more like he's her brother - family - someone she's expected to put first and care about, not just a part-time visitor.
Edited by VocalMinority - 10/23/11 at 7:04am