I have been married to my wonderful DH for a little over a year now. He has two children from prior marriage, V - girl, age 9, and R - boy, age 6. I have a daughter from a prior marriage, S - age 7, and we have an infant son together. When we first started dating and later got married the family situation was fine. The kids were all actually excited to have new siblings and two houses. DH and I tried very hard to instill into the kids that divorce is never the kids fault, and that having step-families means there are more people that love you. However, his ex/BM (who had & has a boyfriend but is not remarried) was very bitter that DH remarried and was having another child, and she said a lot of awful things in front of and to the kids. She also moved 1 1/2 hours away, moving the kids to a different school and eliminating school-day visitation, so we only see the children every other weekend.
I have had concerns about the welfare of the children, and some things that go on are IMHO borderline neglect. The children do not receive a bath most days (V told me they take a bath every other day or sometimes 3 days), they have come over for the weekend with clothes that were dirtier than a child would make them in one wearing, V gives R a bath at their house because BM is "too busy", both of the children have been mildly sick (i.e. coughing) for months at a time before their maternal grandmother will finally take them to the doctor, and they sleep on a mattress in the living room floor of their grandmother's house (where they live with their BM). I investigated these matters and was told by social services that these are "parenting choices" and not neglect. But this is just background information so that you can understand the situation with the kids...
Both V and R have been lying almost constantly while at our house. I know all kids lie sometimes, but their lying seems to be on the verge of pathological. They sometimes lie to avoid consequences, but most of the time they are lying about things that really don't matter. Sometimes they will lie to have a "one-up" on someone else's story--for example, I was telling the family a story at dinner about how S climbed on top of the refrigerator when she was 2 to get some candy I had hidden. V then said, "Well I climbed on top of the refrigerator to get some jewelry my mom hid and I was only 1." Other times the lies seem to be a psychological trick to make the kids feel better about something--for example, R still wears pull-ups to bed, and he told his Dad that he didn't wet his pull-up when he really did. V also told her dad she was taking art lessons after school, and he found out she was not. This post would be impossible to read if I recited every lie they've told in just one weekend.
We try to do a lot of family activities, especially while they are here, but they are so competitive and such sore losers I dread playing Wii or a board game with them. They are both try to cheat at games and are very sore losers, but R is the worst, and he expects everyone else to let him win. I try to emphasize the point of playing fairly, being honest, and having fun whether you win or lose, but it never sinks in. When one of them lose, particularly R, it becomes a nuclear meltdown, with crying and tears and tantrums.
I don't know what to do about this behavior, particularly the lying. I don't feel like it's a good idea to go along with the lies, or to ignore them, but I don't want to embarrass the kids or make them feel even worse (because it seems like most of their lies are some kind of coping mechanism to make them feel better). But I also want to stress the importance of honesty and social skills to ALL of my children. My DH tends to just ignore the lie because they are only here every other weekend, and he wants them to have a good time while they are here. So do I, but I think they need to be accountable for their behavior while they are here. Can someone please help me?
I'm listening in on this too... A LOT of these behaviors are exactly like my 8 year old stepdaughter, who I've known for 3 years. The lying, trying to cheat at every game (so it gets to the point of not being fun), telling all kinds of stories. I've always wondered if these were just normal kid things? Because I only have a 5 month old so I don't have experience with this age child... Do you notice similar behaviors with your seven year old?
With the lying I also feel the same way... it shouldn't be tolerated. Especially because BM has a long history of pathologically lying. so, we really try hard to emphasize how lying to people causes them to not trust the things you say over time. How the truth is always the best!
Also, like you said, the waterworks... over anything, cutting a cucumber (her ' friend') , a broken shell, not being allowed to have a stuffed animal in a professional pic with her little sister... all kinds of things. And not just a little crying spell, going on and on and pouting and acting depressed for what seems like too long. She also stomps her feet like a two year old. Im not trying to come across as mean by saying that, its the way it is, and it makes me worry...
also, our lo is only with us 3 weekends a month, and her mom is always on the move, and there are definitely concerns about hygiene, sleeping arrangements, etc because they don't actually have a place to call home right now. We often ask her where she is sleeping on Sunday night as we are taking her to meet her mom, and she replies she doesn't know. so sad.
I don't have much to offer you, but our situations are so so similar, I had to post.
If anyone has any thoughts on this, Im curious too...
My best friends step son lies ALL THE TIME- about everything. I am subbing to see replies for her. One day her son and her step son were here- her son had my sons shirt on and I said is that ds's shirt? He said yes. I said ok just make sure you take it off when you leave- her step son pipes in and says no it's not ds's shirt- its his!!!! After her son just said that it was my sons.
Why did he feel need to lie about it? No one was in trouble. This is just one example. It is maddening.... WHY DOES HE DO THIS?
I think there is a part of this stuff that is developmentally appropriate, but for whatever reason this can be pushed beyond what is considered typical, age-appropriate behavior. From a developmental, mental health perspective, kids' behavior is meeting (or attempting to meet) some unmet need... to gain something (intangible like attention or tangible like food or a toy), or to avoid something (a situation, a punishment, etc). If there is something that has had a negative impact on their development (trauma, neglect, attachment issues, etc) sometimes the connection between the need and the behavior seems a lot less logical because their brain is wired in a way that doesn't necessarily make sense to someone whose development and life experiences have been more typical.
When kids grow up with inconsistency (two homes, inconsistent parenting, neglectful caregiving, etc), sometimes the behavior you see isn't so much about what is going on NOW, but what went on when their brain was developing or what goes on at the other house. So even though they are lying in a situation that makes no sense HERE and NOW (because they wouldn't get into trouble for telling the truth) their life experience may be telling them that is is safer to LIE than to tell the truth, and so they start to lie compulsively, even about things that don't matter and in situations where telling the truth might actually be the better option.
So, as an example (this is not what I am saying the case is, just an example to explain), say when they are at the other house and they wet the bed they get spanked. The next time they are going to say they didn't wet the bed. Say that parent checks and discovers they did wet the bed and so spanks them anyway. The next time they wet the bed, they evaluate: If I say I wet the bed, I will definitely get spanked. If I say I didn't, they might discover I am lying and spank me or they MIGHT not discover it and then I won't get spanked. Telling the truth is *definitely* going to result in a spanking. Lying *might* result in a spanking, but there is a chance it won't." So, obviously, they lie because it is the only chance they have of avoiding punishment.
We go through the same evaluation as adults: "I didn't finish that report yet, but if I say so my boss will reprimand me. If I lie, she might discover it and reprimand me, but I can probably finish it right now and she'll never know." The difference for most of us as adults is that we have all kinds of other factors to weigh in, like how we'll feel about ourselves if we lie, what this particular person's reaction is likely to be, the difference in consequences between a misdeed and trying to cover up the misdeed... For kids they don't have as much experience to go on, so they go with whatever they've got... which is usually just the response of the primary caregiver(s).
If someone goes through this in enough situations (tell the truth = definite punishment vs. telling a lie = my only chance at not being punished), they are going to lie about most things. And they are probably going to start lying about things that don't seem to matter. And they are going to lie even if *you* know they wouldn't get in trouble for telling the truth, because their experience has wired their brain to believe that lying is the only chance they have at avoiding punishment or some other negative outcome.
Again, I'm not saying this is what has happened, but it's something that is not uncommon for children who have grown up with inconsistency in parenting or care giving.
I'm not sure I have great advice because I think counseling (particularly developmentally-sensitive, trauma-informed counseling) is the best option to get to the root of it and help kids figure it out with someone to help them. If private counseling isn't an option, you might be able to talk to a school social worker or psychologist at the kids' school about the situation, but you might also be able to find a therapist who would see them every other weekend when they are with you.
I would do your best to make sure the kids know they are safe with you and that telling the truth always is the best option. When my step-daughter was young and started telling me a lot of things that weren't true, I told her "it's important for me to know the truth because I love you and I want you to be safe. You won't get in trouble for telling me the truth." Sometimes that was a hard promise to keep, but it was more important to me that she learned that telling me the truth was always the right choice. I thought giving her that was more important than any consequence for doing something wrong. But it was still hard to switch from "you did something wrong, this is the consequence for that" to "this is the choice you made this time, here's why that might not be the best choice, here's the choice I'd like you to make next time." But she continues to lie to her mom and tell us the truth (and often she comes clean to us about lies she has told her mom), so I think it was worth the investment of time and energy.
I also work hard not to put kids in a situation where they feel they needed to lie-- for example, if I came into my step-daughter's room and there was a giant mess, I wouldn't say "Did you make this big mess?" I would say, "There are so many toys out I'm afraid someone will trip and get hurt. We need to clean these up before we can go play." There's no reason for her to lie because I didn't ask her a question, I just described something I saw. If I don't know what happened, I just describe what I see and what needs to happen without placing blame, "There are dirty dishes all over the sink and those need to get cleaned up before you watch TV. Everyone please help out, whether they are your dishes or not. I'll help, too."
If it were me, I would also take every opportunity I could to give them messages of love and safety. If they lied about a climbing on top of the refrigerator when they were 1, I would probably say something like, "we would love you even if you *did* crawl up on the refrigerator when you were 1. We love you when you tell us silly stories. We love you all the time, no matter what." I would take every opportunity to tell them that they will never get in trouble for telling you what they need or how they feel, and that your job is to keep them safe and make sure they have the things they need to be safe and healthy. Kids who have experienced (or continue to experience) inconsistent caregiving need those messages WAY more than other kids because their early experiences may have taught them otherwise.
Sometimes my conversations with my stepdaughter sound a little strange because I respond to what I think she needs rather than what she actually says. One day she had just gotten off the phone with her mom and she had a meltdown because I told her she couldn't have a cookie... it probably would have seemed like a bizarre and random response if someone else had overheard me say, "I love you and you're safe. I want to help you." But I knew the meltdown wasn't about the cookie, it was about something else and what she needed was to know that I was there for her if she needed me. I would venture to guess that your step-kids need to know that you guys love them unconditionally, they are safe and cared for with you, and that you will be there for them when they need you.
aricha: Amazing response, and so right on ! this has given me great perspective on how to help my stepdaughter in the future... thank you!
I am showing this to my friend- sounds right on to me!