Hello, I always seem to come here for sound advice and I really think we need some right now. Background: Dss 12, lives with us half time, Dh and I have been together for 11 years so DSS doesn't know any different. WE also have two children together 7 and 1.
We have always had issues with dss lying. He has always played the survival game with his mom, lied about things we didn't do (I think she got pleasure from thinking we were terrible parents, he has lied about me MANY times saying I did all kinds of things I would never do) and lies to us about things she does as well...since dh and her have been getting along better I Thought things were getting better as they seem to be closer to being on the same page. Here are the two issues we have been having:
We just moved and while we were working on our new house he was arguing some with his little sister. Sometimes he gets in more trouble than she does when they argue because we expect him to stop antagonizing her and continuing an argument when it's very childish. He also asked a friend to come over and we said no because we didn't know him and wanted him to come over at a time we could meet him and get to know him not when we are working on a chaotic house. DD had a friend over, but she is well-known and at our house all the time. We explained this to him. Anyway, he argues with his sister and then goes in another room and without us knowing calls his mom and asks her to pick him up. I know that kids do this but this was the first time he did this, and he lied about it when I asked him what he was doing. (his mom called dh and told him he called, so that's good) I was home with him so I had a long talk with him about expectations/age differences etc and we hugged and he seemed happier but my husband and I were still very upset that he did that. I just don't know the right way to handle it! Should he have consequences for doing that?
Yesterday he told us he didn't have a facebook account. WE asked him because someone else saw him on there and told us. Turns out he has had one for months even though we told him he wasn't old enough, we wanted him to wait until 8th grade or even 9th. He said his mom made it for him and he didn't know about it.... (she has done' that before to pad her friends' list) so we had him log on and he has been on there for months...so he lied a bunch of times in the matter of minutes. We have always said that lying about something is worse than what will happen if he just tells us what he did. This wasn't even a big deal but he lies like it's nothing and shows absolutely no remorse about it, he just says "yeah I lied" and that's it, it's like he doesn't care one bit. IT's so frustrating!!!
We would love some suggestions on how to deal with this, it's hard with his mom because she lies about what he gets in trouble with at her house too. She also seems to have a dysfunctional relationship with him...like she thinks he's her boyfriend or something. That sounds weird but when she was married her husband was the center of the universe, but they divorced and now he is again and it's like she wants to be a friend not a parent. So when it comes to discipline we are not very strict but she makes us look like Army Boot camp officers and we are afraid we are going to push him away and his teen years will get really scary with no rules or even him wanting to live with her etc. because she is "fun." We absolutely do not exist when he is with her, yet when he's here she texts him constantly, it seems out of insecurity. One of us is almost always home and he is a latch key kid at her house, spending a few hours every day alone. (which is also fun to him I'm sure)
Personally I feel like there is no respect, like the years of her telling him we are not important has actually worked. That's why he could care less about lying to us. I know lying at this age is normal but it just seems second nature and we just aren't sure how we should handle it because what we have done hasn't worked. We are considering family counseling.
Any suggestions, please?!
Artist, teacher, wife and mommy to DSS, DD1, DD2 and surprise baby girl on the way, 7/12!
Sometimes he gets in more trouble than she does when they argue because we expect him to stop antagonizing her and continuing an argument when it's very childish.
I don't think this is fair to him. She's 7, she's old enough to pull strings just to watch him get in trouble. IMHO they can be held equally responsible. I'm the youngest, I gotta say, I would never ever assume the younger child is guiltless.
He also asked a friend to come over and we said no because we didn't know him and wanted him to come over at a time we could meet him and get to know him not when we are working on a chaotic house. DD had a friend over, but she is well-known and at our house all the time. We explained this to him.
Again, I don't think this is fair to him. He's only there part time, but you justify why your dd gets to do things he doesn't. It's really not fair. I don't blame him for wanting to leave. I do understand your side, that you weren't up to the unknown, but if you can't get yourself up for the unknown, I don't know why you are surprised that he wanted to leave.
Yesterday he told us he didn't have a facebook account. WE asked him because someone else saw him on there and told us. Turns out he has had one for months even though we told him he wasn't old enough, we wanted him to wait until 8th grade or even 9th.
I'm not a fan of setting kids up by asking them questions that we already know the answers to. Being angry when they lie afterwards seems a little pointless to me, you really set him up.
The facebook thing really is about having different sets of rules at different houses. Although it does seem quite within your rights to not allow him on facebook at your house, I don't see that you have any power over it when he is at his moms. Being angry at him for doing something when he isn't in your care that is allowed at his other home isn't reasonable, it will only hurt your relationship with him. Lying is often about wanting the conversation to end. I wonder if he's tired of negotiating the alternating sets of rules. You didn't want him on facebook and he knew it. Exactly how big of a deal it would be to you isn't something that he knew, so he tried to avoid it..
we are afraid we are going to push him away and his teen years will get really scary with no rules or even him wanting to live with her etc. because she is "fun."
My advice would be to work on really building a relationship with him not based on power over him, because you don't actually have any. The amount of you time you have left that he HAS to come visit is short. The 50% of time thing doesn't seem to work well for teens, who start getting their own lives. Not allowing his friends over, being angry at him because mom's rules are different, and expecting him to take crap off his half sister like a door mat isn't going to get you there. Figuring out was to have fun with him is IMHO, more important than figuring out what to do when he lies to you. May be his dad could take him camping, just the two of them, for a weekend. May be you could spend time playing board games. May be he would like to learn to cook. But figure out how to have some fun with him -- or he isn't going to be there lying to you for much longer.
It sounds to me like this kid has been through a lot. You guys had a baby last year, and his mom is divorced (again).
but everything has pros and cons
Yup, everything Linda said. I would have been annoyed and felt slighted if I had been in his shoes and couldn't have a friend over. Also, I heard an interesting take on kid's lying that has to do with risk and benefit. If a kid has done something he knows he will get in trouble for, before he answers there's a risk analysis going on in his mind. If he says yes, he for sure will get in trouble. If he says no, he might get away with it. If he gets caught lying, it doesn't really matter because he's going to be in trouble for the original transgression anyway. In for a penny, in for a pound. If you want to change the lying behaviour, you have to change the risk-benefit equation.
It's the same for adults. Think about it: we lie all the time, and there are usually no consequences. Kids see this and mimic.
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.