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Birthday frustrations

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 

One of my twins (16) bought himself an iPod Touch with money he earned last summer.  All the kids love it; they're under $200 now; and DSS's 13th birthday is in a week and a half, so DH and I planned to buy him one.  We knew he'd be excited about it and were really looking forward to giving it to him.


Earlier this week, DSS told DH he wanted a Touch for his birthday.  DH says he acknowledged it, but told DSS he wasn't going to tell him for sure what we were getting for him.  We generally make gifts a surprise.  I know this is a marked difference from what DSS was used to with his mom.  Even now, she may send him photos of unwrapped gifts weeks in advance, to make sure he's excited about visiting her and receiving them.  But he has lived with us for 4 and a half years now, so it's not news to him that, A) We keep gifts a surprise, but B) We still usually get the kids what they ask for, if they tell us they want a particular, affordable thing.  Last year, he was dying for a Kindle.  We didn't definitively tell him in advance that we'd give him one, but that is what we gave him.  He was surprised and thrilled.


DSS says he took DH's statement to mean we would not get him a Touch for his birthday.  That was not a very reasonable way to take it.  But I do understand that he's a kid and he's really excited about this.  So I would have understood it, if he'd also told his mom he wanted a Touch, to double his chances of somebody giving him one.  


Instead...a while ago, his mom gave him a debit card so when he wants things (last time it was $150 sneakers), she can put money on his card and he can go online and order them for himself without having to involve DH or me in any way.  Yesterday morning, DH and I found out he had ordered himself a Touch and had been bragging about it to the twins and the neighborhood kids for a few days, but didn't tell us.  To be clear, this is not a birthday gift from his mom.  This is simply another expensive impulse buy he made for himself, facilitated by Mom.  A week and a half before his birthday.


I feel really upset about this and am struggling to sort out why.  How would you react to this?

post #2 of 6

I would ask yourself some questions and really get to the heart of why this is bothering you .

Do you you feel robbed of the opportunity to surprise him?  Are you upset that he made an impulse purchase?  Does it upset you because you feel the mom undermined you?  Are you bothered that he hid it from you?   

I think if you ask yourself some questions about what this is about, it will help you realize why it is bothering you and then you can address that. 

post #3 of 6

I'd focus on the fact that asking for a gift and then going ahead and buying it before your birthday is rude. The details aren't really important, that's what it boils down to.


If the details are another problem, you can address that at another time. Maybe refuse to sign for any unexpected parcels that come to your home. That's probably wise anyway, right?

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 

Thanks, Mummoth.  It sounds so simple, when you put it like that.


MsChatsAlot:  yes, yes, yes and yes!  DSS's mom often behaves in very dishonest, underhanded, manipulative ways.  Crafting different stories for different audiences, to get what she wants - and creating confusion and conflict between her different audiences, while she looks like an innocent victim, stuck in the middle - is her stock in trade.  Sometimes she has blatantly encouraged DSS to do this, or sympathized with and rewarded him, when he's done it on his own.  Since DSS has lived with us, we've made good progress in guiding him not to act like that.  The way he has handled this feels like a real back-slide.  


If he had told us, "Whoops!  I wanted a Touch so bad that I asked you and Mom for one.  I didn't stop to think that I might wind up with two.  Well, she already ordered one.  I'm really excited!  But I wanted to let you guys know, in case you were going to get me the same thing.  I'd also love a new bike..."  that would have been fine.  I'd still be disappointed, but I couldn't complain about his behavior.  It's not his fault his parents are divorced and can't communicate enough to coordinate who's getting him what, for his birthday!


Instead, he asked us for a Touch...couldn't stand to wait...ordered one through his mom...bragged to his brothers and friends in our neighborhood (not just about getting one, but about having ordered it himself)...and kept it a secret from DH and me.  When we heard about this and asked DSS about it, he said he didn't know anything about a Touch being ordered and still wanted us to get him one, for his birthday.  He was startled to learn that we knew about his bank card from Mom, because he wasn't supposed to tell us about it.  A few days later, when the Touch was delivered to our house, he still denied knowing anything about it.  We were supposed to believe it was totally coincidental that "his mom sent him one for his birthday" and at the exact same time his best friends all conspired to lie about DSS telling them he ordered it himself.  Unfortunately for him, we weren't born yesterday.


Mummoth, as you said, the bottom line is, his behavior was rude...and when you hide and lie about things, it makes you seem sneaky and dishonest - and in this instance, he could've gotten exactly what he wanted - from either parent - without the slightest bit of sneakiness or dishonesty!  My husband communicated that to DSS pretty well.  And when the "surprise" package arrived, DH very calmly and reasonably said, "Since you say you didn't order this - that it's a birthday gift from your Mom - you need to wait and open it on your birthday."  DSS is frustrated as heck, but he spin-doctored himself right into that corner.


My problem is that so much else is going on (major frustration with Mom over current conflicts and going back to court; DSS slacking off at the end of school and getting bad grades...which Mom will shortly be blaming on DH and me, in court...; and DSS starting puberty, with all the normal snatches of attitude and boundary-testing you'd expect).  I really felt the issue about the iPod needed to be addressed, but I was struggling to keep my reaction to that separate from all the emotions I'm feeling about everything else...which don't all need to be dumped on DSS.  So, between DH and you two, I'm looking at it in a much more level-headed way.  Thanks!

Edited by VocalMinority - 5/26/12 at 4:08pm
post #5 of 6

If only things were as simple as they seem typed on a screen! It's usually a whole other story in action. 


Making him wait until his birthday to open it.. perfect response. 


One thing that occurred to me is, DSS is becoming much more aware of when his mother is being manipulative or dishonest with him, right? Maybe he's seeing that kind of behaviour everywhere, from everyone, to some degree right now. I know when I left my marriage, I saw red flags of abuse all over the place for a while. So maybe when he was told that he had to wait until his birthday to find out if he got a Touch or not, he ballooned the feeling from being in suspense for an innocent and supposed-to-be-fun surprise into feeling kept in the dark and toyed with, so he bought the Touch to win the 'head-game' he thought was being played with him. If that's the case, he's just having some difficulty separating the normal situations from the not normal ones. 


When things are in flux at home, DS has a really high need to know what the plan is for the evening or the weekend, and we pay dearly if the plan should change. He feels best when he can predict what is going to happen next...  XH was prone to really erratic behaviour, we never knew what to expect out of him, and as a result things like surprising the kids with going to a movie on the weekend or something like that brings out some negative behaviour. It isn't a nice surprise to him, it's a blind-side. It sucks, because DH is the type of person who likes to get in the truck not knowing the destination and make an adventure out of the day and it took a while for him to understand that that just. isn't. fun. for DS some of the time.


That doesn't mean you do anything different, he still has to be held accountable for his behaviour and he has to figure out how to desensitize himself. Just, it's not necessarily a back-slide... it could be progress. 

post #6 of 6

I think the way your husband handled it was perfect. Lying didn't work, and even if he denies knowing any differently, he knows that you know the truth... pressing him on it is probably just going to make him defensive and force him to dig his heels in and keep holding onto the lie... but he still knows that you guys know. The bottom line is that his manipulation of the situation didn't work for him, so it wasn't rewarding and that helps decrease the chance that it will happen again. 


One other thought I had was that in situations like this, you could remind him how being truthful would have worked out better for him. We have always, since my step-daughter was a toddler, tried to make sure that telling the truth was a better option than lying or being manipulative (that's a harsh word when applied to a very young child, but you know what I mean). And, since (as you know) her mother has many similarities to your step-son's mother, we have also done loads of processing situations out loud for her so the differences between two situations are clear. For example, if I feel like she was hinting at something she wanted rather than just asking for it, I might say, "If that's something you wanted, you needed to say so. People don't always understand when you hint at things. And sometimes when I feel like you are trying to get me to do something without coming out and asking me, it actually makes me less likely to do it than if you'd just asked. This time you didn't get what you wanted, so next time I would encourage you to come right out and ask for it. I might still say no, but we'll be able to talk about it." We also take note of times when she is straight-forward, when she handles something appropriately, or when an opportunity arises for her to try out a different behavior that we'd talked about. We point her behavior (or someone else's if it is a good example) and point out the positive outcome, or point out the opportunity then let her decide how to handle it and let her deal with the outcome of her choice. We (the adults) also make sure that we model being straightforward, asking questions or for help when we need it, talking through "tricky situations" and asking for help in handling them... basically modeling the behavior we are asking for from her (for all the kids, actually... she's just the one who has a different model of behavior). 

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