or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Archives › Miscellaneous › Dads › I Can't Be The First Guy With This Problem...
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

I Can't Be The First Guy With This Problem...

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 
I'm the boyfriend.

It's very serious, though, and S has a six-year-old son (H) who I love dearly and who appears to be very happy about me, too. I have no kids of my own—we're both 38—and I'm a little awestruck at just how much and how quickly H's affection has come to matter to me.

The situation is as complicated as you would expect: Dad lives in the neighborhood, he's nice but a slacker, and H spends a lot of time over there, especially during the summer. I can tell how long it's been since he saw his dad by how long he can go without mouthing off.

So the problem is this: despite the fact that I spend a great deal of time with them, the relationship is not yet so mature that I am comfortable pushing the envelope S has established with H in terms of discipline. Yet while he is generally well-behaved, I get the DISTINCT impression that H has begun a deliberate exploration of the boundaries of MY envelope, generally by acting in an exaggeratedly defiant manner that would be hilarious if I saw it on YouTube, happening to somebody else

My concern is this: while I'm honestly not much of a let-it-slide guy, I think we might ALL be more comfortable in the short run if I let THIS stuff slide. Besides, I fear there's a limit to how much you can correct a six-year-old before he just quits paying attention altogether.

On the other hand, if I let him mouth off with impunity NOW, on what basis will I establish any authority LATER? Even in a place with "commune" in the name, I have to imagine parental authority has some redeeming value.

Anyway, as I said before, I am VERY new at this, and I want very badly to get it right. Any help?
post #2 of 34
Have you talked to S about it? I think that her opinion about your role is probably the most important factor here. Find out what she's comfortable with and go with that...
post #3 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jscroft View Post
On the other hand, if I let him mouth off with impunity NOW, on what basis will I establish any authority LATER? Even in a place with "commune" in the name, I have to imagine parental authority has some redeeming value.
The thing is - you aren't his parent. This is really something that your gf needs to deal with, at least for now. I suggest bringing up your concerns with her.
post #4 of 34
Maybe post in the step parenting thread. Good luck!
post #5 of 34
I began my relationship with my DH when my son was almost 6, however, there was no "dad" in the picture which made things a bit different.

My DH and I really struggled with this. In the beginning (think first two years or so), I parented pretty much alone. If my son was disrespectful, mouthed off, etc, to my DH, I handled it. It took a long time for DH to feel comfortable parenting, not to mention for our parenting styles to mesh.

At this point, as you are not his "parent", I would talk to S about how you feel. I don't mean to demean your impact in his life in any way. It can be a touchy subject, but I think every family is different. I have a friend whose bf was disciplining her two kids within a few months.

Good luck!
post #6 of 34
I think it depends on, well, a lot.

I'm newly married and my DH is not my dd's biological father (but is very much a father to her).

In the beginning, he was not a parental figure and he respected that very much. However, he is a person with feelings. If dd were to say something rude to him, it was and is, totally acceptable for him to respond as one would whenever one is confronted with rudeness or disrespect. Something like, "Hey, that hurts my feelings. I know you are upset, but the way you are expressing is hurtful (or rude or disrespectful, etc)." Or even the very simple, "Hey, that was NOT cool."


But, I'm a person who has always given my dd a lot of credit to handle interpersonal relationships and I don't use punishments or discipline. So it's never bothered me when someone else has called her out (respectfully) on ill behavior because that's life: if you're rude or inconsiderate, people around you might feel upset or hurt. Your partner might feel differently or might have a really different style of parenting that involves specific consequences for specific actions. If that's the case, you'll probably need to leave it up to her for now.

But, really, just talk to her. Maybe bring up a specific instance of something that happened directly between you and H and ask her what she would have done or if she has any suggestions for what you might do next time something like that happens. If you have some ideas that you think could be helpful, let her know (NOT in the moment though) in a respectful way.


Good luck!
post #7 of 34
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the replies... neglected to subscribe to my own thread, so didn't realize I was getting any!

S and I do talk about it, and openly.

To some extent, I think she has been doing this on her own for so long that she isn't aware of what she isn't seeing. BUT, she's honest enough that when I point out H in the act of playing her (or me) for a fool, she gets it. And I think she's really beginning to appreciate having some backup, and even not always having to play bad cop.

We're so close to being on exactly the same page that I'm not at all concerned about whether we'll wind up in sufficiently the same place. What DOES concern me is the question of whether too much caution here at the outset will undermine my authority with H in the long run. I probably spend some time on either side of the line, wherever it is, but I have to admit I'm biased against screwing up the best relationship of my life, and I worry about any conflict between that purely selfish desire and what I conceive as my duty to be a father to H in ways that his own slacker dad appears incapable of being.

H calls me Dad sometimes. Usually I can tell that he's firing for effect, rather than experiencing a slip of the tongue, but either way the sensation has a very Old Testament feel to it.
post #8 of 34
It is awesome that you and S are on the same page. I think starting to help out at this stage is better than waiting (at least in my experience). We waited so long that it was a real issue. My son had a really hard time accepting correction or discipline from my DH.
post #9 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eclipse95 View Post
It is awesome that you and S are on the same page. I think starting to help out at this stage is better than waiting (at least in my experience). We waited so long that it was a real issue. My son had a really hard time accepting correction or discipline from my DH.
Wow. How old was your son when you guys started getting serious? And how long did you wait, and what were the, er, milestones?
post #10 of 34
I do not think there is ever anything wrong...no matter whose child it is or what your relationship with the parent is.....to express to a child who is speaking to you disrespectfully that you do not like it. You can say this in a respectful way. You do not have to be forceful or authoritative. You are not taking charge or administering discipline. You are not overstepping any appropriate boundaries by doing this. You have a right to speak up for yourself when a child or anyone is speaking to you in a disrespectful manner. If this child wants a friendly relationship with you (and it sounds like he does) then he will probably take your feedback into consideration when deciding how to act towards you.
post #11 of 34
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by llp34 View Post
I do not think there is ever anything wrong...no matter whose child it is or what your relationship with the parent is.....to express to a child who is speaking to you disrespectfully that you do not like it. You can say this in a respectful way. You do not have to be forceful or authoritative. You are not taking charge or administering discipline. You are not overstepping any appropriate boundaries by doing this. You have a right to speak up for yourself when a child or anyone is speaking to you in a disrespectful manner. If this child wants a friendly relationship with you (and it sounds like he does) then he will probably take your feedback into consideration when deciding how to act towards you.
Okay, this is useful.

A couple of points:
  • I'm okay with addressing H in a forceful or authoritative manner. His mom's okay with that, too... presumably she has her limits, but I'm careful not to stretch that envelope much.
  • I'm also okay with taking charge & administering discipline... again, to an ill-defined point that I have a vested interest in not pushing very hard.

Now, I freely admit that I don't know much about kids... but I also have my doubts that a six-year-old is equipped to "take my feedback into consideration." My (still relatively short) experience with him—which squares with my gut—tells me that he is more inclined to register whatever portion of my feedback lies in line with whatever the heck he wants to do and simply ignore the rest. Example: he doesn't say please & thank you because it's the civilized thing to do, but because doing so is more likely to help him achieve the object of his desire.

Having said that, he DOES want a friendly relationship, no question. It just appears to be very low on the priority list compared with important stuff like getting a handful of chips or not having his toys taken away.

Call me naive—after all, I am that—but obedience seems to me to be a desirable quality in a child, both in the interest of domestic peace AND the kid's own safety. I really don't want to have to wonder if he is going to decide to rebel at the precise moment when I can see the dump truck bearing down on him and he can't. As I see it, one of his jobs is to OBEY... and seek explanations only after he has done so, if at all. MY job is to exercise that authority with a light and nuanced touch... in other words, to be a grown-up about it.

I make H eat things he doesn't like because I know that it's essential to the neural development that results in a very useful breadth of taste later in life. That development will occur whether or not he thinks I'm just doing it to be a bully, and frankly I'm not convinced there's anything I could do to convince him otherwise. Same goes with the math workbooks and a million other things: that he DOES them is far more important, in a real-world sense, than how he FEELS about it.

Not that I wouldn't rather he enjoy all those things! Of course I want him to have fun... it just isn't my top priority, and I can't imagine any experienced parent would suggest that it should be.

What you appear to be suggesting is that I should reason with H and come to a meeting of the minds on every point of contention. This strikes me as something akin to reasoning with [pick the tin-pot dictator of your choice]: he only appears interested in negotiation to the extent that it gets him closer to exactly what he wants, and he will make ANY deal with every intent to break his word the instant keeping it becomes the very least bit inconvenient. Plus he has the attention span of a sea monkey... not very conducive to rational argument.

Have I misunderstood you? Is there a strategy there that actually works in real life? Anybody else interested in weighing in?
post #12 of 34


There are folks here who might suggest something similar to what you thought I was suggesting ! However I can't take credit for anything that well-formed....you got more out of it than I put into it And, in case it comes up, I don't practice CL (consensual living) with our kids so I would not suggest it.

All I meant was, you seemed unsure in your original post of how far across some line you wanted to step with the child.....I was not clear on where the line was, or how you felt about being an authority to the child, or how his mom would feel about it.....and just wanted to throw out that in all cases, to me it is never overstepping any kind of reasonable boundary to respectfully stick up for yourself when someone, even a child, has spoken disrespectfully to you.

I'm not saying that alone is enough to get a child to behave how you want all the time when you are in the position of being an authority figure in his life. (At least it's not enough for mine).

Really, all I meant is that when someone is unsure of crossing a line with disciplining another person's child, voicing your own feelings in a respectful way about being spoken to rudely is never overstepping anything.

And I do think that when a child wants a friendly relationship with an adult, there is a chance that they might consider the adult's feelings about how they are spoken to when those feelings are pointed out to them in a non-disciplinary way. I have seen my MIL (retired teacher) do this with our DS, and I have seen the teachers in his park district classes do it as well. He has a babysitter who does it too. He is five and he does seem to consider it when they tell him they didn't like something he did or said. He likes these people and wants their approval and for them to like him. Having information about how they feel about his behavior seems to be useful to him in choosing his future behavior with them.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jscroft View Post

What you appear to be suggesting is that I should reason with H and come to a meeting of the minds on every point of contention. ......

Have I misunderstood you? Is there a strategy there that actually works in real life? Anybody else interested in weighing in?
post #13 of 34
I see wayyy too much emphasis on asserting your authority and having control. And I'd be having a serious talk with the mother about her parenting philosophies. At our house, all this obey and authority stuff wouldn't fly in the least. And I was a single mom when I met my dh. He had a lot of baggage from childhood modeling of parents as the authority figures and the need to control kids. My dds bio dad wasn't and isn't in the picture and I met my dh when dd was a toddler. Gradually dh learned what consentual living was and came to enjoy having relationships based on that instead of power plays. Our dd is 18 btw.

I highly suggest you visit the gentle discipline forum.
post #14 of 34
Quote:
Now, I freely admit that I don't know much about kids.
you might want to check out books about child development...you can't punish a kid into being more mature.
I still rail against anyone who tries to assert authority over me...I've been like that my whole life and my mother is quite proud of it.
post #15 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by eclipse View Post
...you aren't his parent...
Ouch!! He's trying to be a parent figure and he's trying to do right by the child. I think he's taken a huge step in the right direction by joining "MOTHERING" dot com! Good for you OP! Don't we have any book suggestions on child behavior and discipline book idea's for him instead of putting down his efforts from the get-go?

To the OP: Hello, and welcome to MDC!

Quote:
Originally Posted by crazyrunningmama View Post
Maybe post in the step parenting thread...
Click here to get there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arduinna View Post
...I highly suggest you visit the gentle discipline forum....
Click here to get there.

Also, check out "The Childhood Years" forum. These forums are rich with awesome parenting tips for you and your partner to explore for the better of your family.

I think you're entirely on the right track to being a good parent to this child. It's also very good that you and your DP have good communication. It's obvious you care a great deal about both of them.

From my personal experience; I find with my DP (who is not my oldest sons bio-dad; but who's been in his life since he was 1.5 yrs old); is more respected than I am in parenting terms. If I tell DS he can't talk to me like that (for example); it holds far less weight than when DP says "hey, you shouldn't talk to mommy that way." and explains why "we need to respect mommy because she does a lot for us". DP spends a lot of time playing with DS; so DS sees him more at his level and listens to him more; where I'm more the disciplinary and 'task manager' for our family. DP is also selective about what he speaks up about, and I believe this is why DS is more receptive to him.

Keep trying new things until you find what works. Persevere, and you'll establishing a good solid parent-child bond; and a good healthy family with your DP.



post #16 of 34
I have been amazed to watch my daughter grow and discover the ways in which all humans work in a fundamentally similar way. As you began to describe it, young humans pursue their current desire. The place where I can't agree is in assigning them more complex behaviors to the point of manipulation, or more simple behaviors to the point of narrow-focused pursuit of a single desire.

Recently my wife and I discovered that the more we spoke firmly to our daughter, the more she would mirror our behavior as she perceived it and increase her opposition to what we were directing her to do, or increase her volume in yelling back at us (whether we had been yelling or just speaking firmly/scoldingly). Thankfully, it didn't take long for us to realize she was speaking harshly because we were speaking harshly. I thought about this for a while, and realized, as so many parents do, that I sounded very much like my father, who I constantly heard as "flat wrong" when he would speak to me in a commanding tone, to the point that I found ways as a young adult to prove him wrong and undermine his authority because he was so forceful.

My personal experience recently has taught me that pursuing obedience is a losing game. The more I speak clearly with my daughter, making sure she understands either what I am saying or the intention of what I am saying, the better each situation is, and the less I experience her yelling back what I've just said, because I'm not just berating her or attempting to force her to do something. She listens, as you pointed out, because it may well serve to her benefit in what she's trying to achieve, but she also listens because I am not attempting to herd her in a direction she doesn't like from the outset.

The other thing that has worked well recently is to reserve firm tones for times when there is the possibility for danger. When voices raise, she knows there is a reason to be scared. This works whether she is pulling something off the counter, getting herself into a bad balance situation, or attempting to pummel the cat with a foam soccer ball.

As many have mentioned already, you'll have to suss it out with your partner and make sure you are both clear on the tacks you'll take and which battles are worth fighting. All I can really suggest is that you listen closely to how and what you expect to say to him by default, and imagine someone saying that to you. Regardless of age, I believe that all humans respond in a similar fashion: if what you are about to say would make you angry if someone said it to you that way, I suggest finding another way to communicate your sentiment.

Best of luck! Kudos for asking and working on finding a better way.

Man is this unlearning thing a challenge.
post #17 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arduinna View Post
I see wayyy too much emphasis on asserting your authority and having control. And I'd be having a serious talk with the mother about her parenting philosophies. At our house, all this obey and authority stuff wouldn't fly in the least. And I was a single mom when I met my dh. He had a lot of baggage from childhood modeling of parents as the authority figures and the need to control kids. My dds bio dad wasn't and isn't in the picture and I met my dh when dd was a toddler. Gradually dh learned what consentual living was and came to enjoy having relationships based on that instead of power plays. Our dd is 18 btw.

I highly suggest you visit the gentle discipline forum.
::
definitely check out the gentle discipline board
and talk with your partner.
post #18 of 34
Thread Starter 
Wow! Thank you—ALL of you—for your advice & encouragement. Not only were they useful, but they helped me past my new-kid jitters.

Uh... okay, first things first:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arduinna View Post
I see wayyy too much emphasis on asserting your authority and having control.... the need to control kids.
Hm. If you recall, the issue that prompted my post in the first place was a certain defiance on H's part. So your "too much emphasis" is sort of my "sticking to my point." Besides, are you seriously suggesting that only a power-drunk totalitarian would insist that a six-year-old eat his small helping of carrots? It isn't like I'm holding him down and forcing him to fill out an absentee ballot for John McCain.

I'd never heard of "consensual living" until I posted here. I still don't know much about it, but I don't think I'd be going TOO far out on a limb to file it as a parenting technique under "experimental." I admire any attempt to expand the scope of human knowledge—I'm a scientist myself—and I'm sure there are kids (and parents) who naturally gravitate to that kind of thing. But I don't think they live at my house, nor at S's.

Anyway...

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmankono
My personal experience recently has taught me that pursuing obedience is a losing game.
Now THAT's interesting! It sounds like a Zen koan: to find the Buddha, seek not the Buddha. I get it. I'm going to need to ponder that principle a bit before I have a clear idea of how to apply it, but thank you!

llp34, I get it, and thanks for the clarification. I have often wondered how I might leverage H's desire for a good relationship with me—trading on my approval, Arduinna, haha! —to get him to toe the line. (Man, that's hard to resist!) I imagine that leverage will grow over time, but for now either my approach is wrong or there just isn't enough useful material there to work with. I'd be interested to hear some specific scenarios so I can more clearly see the techniques involved.

Good point, also, about reserving harsh tones and the rest of it. Nobody likes a one-note band. S very rarely spanks H, and that's essentially why not: where do you escalate from there? In the Navy (don't ask me why) we used to say, "Don't waste your silver bullets." Same principle.

On the other hand, though, H is a smart kid, and he's figured out that he can pretty much do whatever he wants UP TO the point where voices get raised. Sure, we can talk about it—whatever the "it" of the moment happens to be—but frankly argument is the one exception to his sea-monkey attention span. He can belabor a point for HOURS, until either we trot out the big guns or we throw up our hands and give in. And he's PERFECTLY aware that, as long as he can keep us talking, those carrots are staying on the plate.

So. I'm getting that the solution lies somewhere between "seek not the Buddha" and "if there are still carrots on that plate by the time I get to ten, the Batmobile is getting flushed down the toilet." Success stories, anybody?

Incidentally, I've checked out a number of parenting references. We Jews have a saying: two Jews, three opinions. The same principle appears to apply to parenting books, in spades. That's why I'm here: the authors of those books can't ALL be right—not globally, anyway—so I find I'm much more interested in hearing about what actually works than what some lady thinks OUGHT to work if only dogs and cats would burn scented candles and share sensual massage with one another. Or if Marine boot camp were an appropriate environment for a six-year-old.

I've been there. It isn't.

I will have a look at the other forums (thanks for the links), and I'll close with a final question: does anybody have a link to a page that might decode the crazy alphabet soup you guys use? DD, DH, DS, etc... I'm sort of figuring it out by context, but I feel like I'm missing some nuances.

Thanks again for all the help!

J.
post #19 of 34
Quote:
Besides, are you seriously suggesting that only a power-drunk totalitarian would insist that a six-year-old eat his small helping of carrots? It isn't like I'm holding him down and forcing him to fill out an absentee ballot for John McCain.
Many of us don't make our kids eat things they don't like or want to. Many of us provide healthy food all day long so small helping of carrots is not going to affect anyone's health but letting them choose to eat what they eat and how much will give them sense of of their own bodies and that food.

Also you may want to be aware that calling a very infrequent spank a "silver bullet" will not go over around here.
I know you don't know and are willing to learn but on the GD board and all along in these foums discussions of PRO spanking are not allowed.
You can discuss alternatives with the willingness to want to learn a new way.

See you on the GD board
post #20 of 34
i think that in these situations, a lot of 'unconditional' love is really valuable.

after reading Alfie Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, i am even more convinced that this "obedience seems to me to be a desirable quality in a child, both in the interest of domestic peace AND the kid's own safety is actually incorrect, as demonstrated by this behavior "he DOES want a friendly relationship, no question. It just appears to be very low on the priority list compared with important stuff like getting a handful of chips or not having his toys taken away."

in typical discipline structures of punishments and rewards, the focus does shift from good relating and internal emotional consistency and self esteem to avoiding punishments (not having toys taken away) and receiving rewards (getting chips).

what i think everyone really wants from their children is not obedience, but a good, trusting relationship which creates an environment in which an individual wants to relate in healthy, happy ways. instead of choosing to do things to avoid punishment or seek rewards, children do things because of their desire to be helpful, to relate, and because of the internal moral/feeling compass that they develop.

i was basically raised in this unconditional way (as described by the book), so i do know that it works well. i had a very happy childhood overall.

i think that these practices of unconditional parenting can be particularly helpful for the "non-parent" in these sorts of situations. instead of being involved in being authoritarian, disciplinarian, or whatever else, you actually simply become involved with the child and develop an unconditional love based relationship that builds on mutual trust.

it doesn't require punishments or rewards, but it does require presence and communication. as a PP mentioned, if you are hurt by an action, instead of punishing it as "wrong" simply assert that you are hurt. i find that most children respond to this among "other" caregivers far better than whatever punishment/reward system the parent has set up (i do a good deal of baby sitting, so that's where i practice).

anyway, it's an option. i do recommend the book highly.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Dads
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Archives › Miscellaneous › Dads › I Can't Be The First Guy With This Problem...