Family Rules – Rewards and Consequences.

All parenting advice says you should reward good behaviour. I’ve tried star charts and naughty steps, they never worked out for me.  Then you find the things you did when they’re toddlers just stop working as they get older, probably because you expect different standards of behaviour as they get older.

Throw into this the complications divorce and blending families brings.  When OH set up on his own seeing his 3 kids he didn’t create a new home following their mum’s rules, he based his set of rules on their mum’s but they were less rigid, they were adapted to suit him and how he wanted to parent.   Then I come along with my set of rules and way of doing things with DD.  When we moved in together I had to adapt my rules to suit some of his and he adapted some of mine to suit his and over time we have come together and set up standards of behaviour we expect by our 3 children in our house.  I do not expect to be living by his ex’s rules, I found that hard to begin with.  I do not want my daughter living by his ex’s rules.  I appreciate for my step kids they come from one house with one set of standards/rules and into another with a different set.  But that’s a learning lesson for life, different schools, different friend’s houses, different workplaces, different countries, all have different rules and laws that when you are there you need to abide by.  You need to be flexible and adaptable, something they have not been taught.

Why do my step kids find it so difficult to abide by our family rules?  Why are our rules not worthy of as much respect as their Mother’s?  I hate our rules being compared to how their mum would do it. I hate how little respect they afford us.

This has been a problem for a while.  Earlier in the year after reading ‘The Parenting Puzzle” we sat down with the kids and established between us a set of family rules.  They aren’t much, general manners, tidy rooms, put washing away etc.   Then we created a set of rewards.  To earn the rewards the book recommended tokens, we decided to use pasta.  We set aside a Tupperware and a bag of pasta and it was to be filled up at the end of every day.   Once it was full they could choose a reward off the list.  Each rule had a value of pasta assigned to it, so if it they did it, they got the pasta.  Simple.  Except, it’s actually hard work remembering to fill up the jar everyday.  Counting out 3 pastas for this, 0 for that.  It was also more complicated by the fact that my step kids aren’t here all the time.  Another complication is that half of the rules are basic standards of politeness and cleanliness that my step kids lack and DD just does.  So she’s getting rewarded for being herself.  I still had to have a system in place if she did something wrong, which is generally early nights, no TV or loss of a toy for a week.   This works for us, but doesn’t work for the step kids as they may not be here for a week.

Pasta jar has been a disaster. My step kids won’t do any of the rules because they aren’t getting the pasta and they are disrespectful , blaming us not giving them pasta for the fact they aren’t doing anything.  Arggghhhhh!!!! I hate disrespect.  So we needed a new plan, one that we as busy grown ups can actually find time to keep track of.   The new plan has improved family rules with a lot more emphasis on manners and cleanliness (the main issues my step kids have) and some of the bad habits DD is growing into that are annoying the hell out of me!  We are going to adopt a 3 strikes and you’re out policy, so if they break 3 rules they lose their pocket money for the week.  We’re keeping pasta jar and if we feel they have been good we’ll put a handful of pasta in at the end of the week.  When it’s full they can select a reward.  But it is up to us to decide if they deserve it or not.

There are still holes in this plan. I can’t pick the step kids up for the rule they’ve broken if they’re not here when I find it. I’ve got to try and remember the petty thing they did or didn’t do until next time I see them. Plus it means they have to have their pocket money every week, which they can’t be trusted with as they sneak it out the house and back to their mum’s house, or spend it at the snack bar in school!!

The main problem I have is that they cannot respect us enough to obey a few simple rules. There has to be something in it for them.   I’ve always been rubbish at the rewarding good behaviour thing, even with the dog. Yes I praise, when it is deserved, but I also shout and lecture and dole out punishments when my child has been naughty.  My step kids have been brought up with the strict routine and rewarding good behaviour thing, I think, to be honest I have no idea what weird and wonderful methods their mother employs.  The problem with rewarding is that they expect something for very little all the time.  I feel it creates an attitude of “what’s in it for me if I do this?” rather than “I’ll be in trouble if I don’t do this” or “I’ll upset/hurt someone if I don’t do this” personally I think the latter is better.  Does it not teach kids to think of others and teaches respect for others rather than just self obsession?

I’m not sure whether the new methods will work but they’re worth a try.  Under new methods SD has already lost this week’s pocket money and she has only been here one night this week.    It may encourage them to obey the rules to get their pocket money, but how does it teach respect for the rules?  How do other parents/step parents cope with this? What methods do you have for enforcing rules?

We haven’t even got to chores yet, they’ll be getting some of them introduced soon.  I don’t even know where to begin with that one!!

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Parenting Dilemma – Advice needed.

I have recently been placed in a difficult position by my ex husband, the father of my daughter.  I do not know what to do for the best and could really use some advice.

Briefly the problem is that he has been bad mouthing me and my daughter’s Step Dad regularly to DD.  He has also been changing contact arrangements with DD and not consulting me.  He has also been discussing increasing his contact with her, with no discussion with me.

The background you need to advise me: (skip to problem if you don’t want to read this bit)

DD is 7.  Despite being married, for the first 12 months of her life we lived separately (80 miles away) for reasons too complicated to go into.  DD rarely saw her Dad.  When we finally moved in together we were in an established routine. He did nothing but question me and go against my rules and routines.   This continued for 3 years.  He was in and out of jobs (never full time), I tried to juggle work around being a full time mum and support us all.  He was jealous of all I was achieving always had been.  He would look after DD if I had to work or to go to an exercise class for an hour, but I was made to feel guilty and informed that he would baby sit for me as long as I took my turn sometimes 😮  There is more emotional abuse I could go into but suffice to say I married a pig.

When DD was 4 I plucked up the courage to end our marriage. I asked him to leave, he refused. His mum told him as soon as he leaves the house he’ll get nothing so he stayed.  The arguments were so bad our 4 your old daughter would cry when anyone remotely raised their voice.  Eventually he gave in and moved out. The relief I felt I cannot put into words.  Then ensued a few weeks of very nasty arguments, physical fights, theft from the house to the point I called the police to come and remove him from the house and changed the locks. I didn’t press charges even though I was given the chance to but there is a record of domestic violence against him or at least the complaint.

From early on I was adamant he saw his daughter and quickly established  a regular routine of weekday overnight and EOW weekend.  He had a problem with me not his daughter.  He was living with his mum, I had no problem with the time being at Nannas house.  I was aware she was privy to conversations she should not be hearing and that they were mostly derogatory about me. But what do you do? She needs a relationship with her dad.

This continued for 7 months then he abruptly announced he would not be seeing his daughter any more than every other Saturday between 10 and 6. No overnights as is wasn’t fair she had no bed.  Fine OK if that’s what he wanted. It wasn’t an ideal situation. A decent dad might actually try and get his own place so she could have a bed, or try and find a way to get her a bed at his house.  It transpired in later conversations he couldn’t cope with her tantrums and hearing her talk about me so he gave up his contact.  He also told me he was not prepared to babysit for me whilst I was at my wild parties!!!!  (There were no parties – I went to the MTV awards once he convinced himself OH was a rock star, I guess I should be flattered)

For two years now he has only seen DD every other Saturday. Occasionally I get a demand that he is having her overnight or for a weekend.  I’m never asked.  I always just say yes despite wanting to tell him to F*** off because my daughters needs come first. He has managed to increase contact by 2 hours, not by asking but by being continuously late or early.  If I dare confront him about this I get so much verbal abuse it’s pointless.   Drop off/ pick up are not pleasant, he comes full of animosity at best we blank each other, at worst he kicks off about something and we havea big row in the driveway.  I limit this by only opening the door and letting DD come and go herself.  You can feel his aggression though, which is unpleasant. DD most often comes back in tears.

She has struggled to cope with his decision to not see her.  She’s incredibly sensitive and emotional and attached to the past. If she were different this may not have been quite so hard. She talks about how her Dad has broken her heart. I took her to counselling which gave us methods to cope, but didn’t solve the problem of her missing her dad.  I have to sit with her after he has had her overnight (rarely) whilst she cries so hard she makes herself sick. Generally it is not helped by the fact he doesn’t put her to bed, lets her watch films/tv way too old for her so she has bad dreams and then she gets up at the crack of dawn as she’s so excited to be there, so she gets no sleep.

There’s the background – now the problem:

DD had stopped sleeping suddenly and her behaviour had changed.  She’s extra sensitive and has been more snappy with me.  I kept trying to get her to open up but she wouldn’t. I started to gleam snippets that Dad was talking about increasing his contact time with her.  After dropping her back late again he has told her he doesn’t want to talk to me so won’t be letting me know they’re going to be late. Bless her she tries to be the adult in their relationship and he is just a child.   I often get told he follows something up with “don’t tell mummy she’ll shout at us.” I’m not the strictest mum in the world.  I also find out his mum is buying him bunk beds for his room so DD can have more sleepovers (again how old are you ?– the man is in his 40’s).   With further talking she told me he says mean things about me and her step dad all the time, some make her sad and some she ignores.  She could only remember one.  They may not be that bad, but she should not have to listen to him undermining or saying bad things about me and my partner when she lives with us 7 days a week and we do everything for her.   At first mention of these bunk beds DD said he wanted occasional sleepovers.  Last night she said he wants to pick her up Fri night and drop back Sun night.  NOTHING has been mentioned to me.  She was scared I would say no.  I have now had to have a far more adult conversation with my 7 year old daughter than I should be having. She is far too young to have to deal with her own contact arrangements.  He has done other things recently and she has refused additional contact with him (then let me know days afterwards she’s said no). Last night she refused to answer his phone call as she was too upset to talk to him.  She hates her Saturdays with him apparently and really wants to spend full weekends with him like her step siblings do with their dad.

The conversation I had to have with her is that her Dad has to discuss this with me not her.  That I am the one who decides what is best for her.  I don’t know if I can trust her dad to not start seeing her again, decide she’s not as easy to look after as he thought and give up again.  I can’t trust him not to leave her completely exhausted for school. I can’t trust him to do homework or listen to her read. I can’t trust him, because for 2 years he hasn’t had any of these responsibilities.   I have the problem of him bad mouthing me too. I don’t know whether I want her to be subjected to more of it.   Bless her she sat there and said Dad’s like a roller coaster I may be up here with excitement that he’s seeing me and then a few months later down here in my heart break that he’s stopped.  I’m also not sure of the longevity of the arrangements, how long will she want to share a bunk bed with her dad?  She said as long as she gets to spend a couple of years doing it it’s OK.   But this is why a 7 year old cannot decide her own contact arrangements.  They can’t see the bigger picture.

My problem is this. I want to do what’s best for my daughter, but I don’t know what that is.  Two years ago it was without doubt seeing her dad regularly and having a relationship with him. But he gave that up.  What if he can’t stick to it this time? I witnessed the heartbreak in my child. I have worked really hard to help her get over the hurt he caused her.  We’re still not there.   Then he just wants to swan back in and start seeing her again.

It’s not just that that has made me angry, it is the way he has gone about it.   He has put me in a position where I can’t say no.  I know why he has done this because back in June I suggested to DD she ask her dad if she can have a sleepover, I said he may have plans and say no, but maybe ask.  I realise I was wrong to do this and vowed I would never do it again.  It caused a whole heap of grief.  This is revenge for that. This is how he works.  His life is all about getting back at me for whatever it is he thinks I’ve done to him.  Now we are not together the only way he can do that is through DD.

I really don’t know what is best for my daughter.  I’m so confused I’m not sure if I’m listening to my heart or my head.  Part of me thinks the best thing is to let her see her Dad, but I’m scared that isn’t the best thing for her.  Part of me wants to make him have supervised contact till he can behave like a responsible father, but really I know that’s anger talking.

Bearing in mind I have not been approached by him and nothing is happening until I have been I do not even know how to play it. I can’t ignore it DD knows I know.  But I have the words of a 7 year old, I don’t know what he wants. He may only want occasional sleepovers and it is DD’s wishful thinking coming up with the rest. Either way he has gone about things so badly and once again created hurt for his daughter.

If he does want to increase contact though I’m thinking one overnight once a month first and see if he can ‘cope’ with the school responsibilities.   If I get lateness, over tiredness, if I think DD is getting too upset, if I think her school work is being affected it stops. But then is that worse?

Arggghhhh I just don’t know what to do for the best.

Bit of honesty to end it off and this is about me and not me trying to put DD first– I don’t want her going. I’ve got used to our relaxing family of 3 weekends. It’s nice spending time with just my daughter. I would miss it. I would also be hurt that after everything I’ve done the last 2 years he can just swan in whenever he fancies and pick up where he left off.   Then on the other hand, it would be lovely to have regular weekends just me and my partner I could really, seriously enjoy that!!

If anyone can advise please, I would appreciate it.

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Escaping The Murky Pit

A little over a month ago I wrote about how life felt like I was stuck in a murky pit.  The path my partner and I wanted to take was shrouded by obstacles that we felt powerless to overcome.  The view of our path was distorted by a thick fog.  Then suddenly, a couple of weeks ago we started to make progress.  The fog began to get patchy, holes developed where we could actually begin to see a brighter outlook.  We began to feel almost positive we could get passed these obstacles now; the grip of the murky pit began to feel less engulfing.  But we told ourselves not to get carried away, this had happened before only for us to get knocked down back into the pit.

And then my partner went to his FDR hearing.  There we were stood looking at the path we want to take, the sun shining on the horizon, but we were far from confident today was the day we would reach it.

On that day we learned that miracles can happen.  After 5 hours of waiting heart in mouth the most wonderful phone call arrived “I’m free, she’s done”.  In one phone call my partner lifted us both out of our murky pit.  The fog evaporated, the restraints lifted, we floated out to look clearly for the first time at our view of the future.  All the mountains we can climb together and separately were now visible, a horizon lit up with possibility.  We looked at our view and watched his ex wife drive away down her path into the storm clouds and we held hands, we kissed and we smiled.

Then we went and got roaring drunk, celebrated our freedom and talked about our future J A future that can no longer be controlled by a hateful, greedy woman.  And the great thing is she didn’t destroy my partner, she didn’t destroy us.  The law was not on his side and it cost him a lot of money to defend himself and get close to an equal split.  She has done very well for herself, but the outcome could have been worse.   She didn’t win, my partner didn’t financially win, but he won by the fact we are now free to move forward and not be continuously pulled back by someone else’s greed.

To anyone out there going through a similar thing, stay strong. Even when it feels most hopeless, be assured one day it will be over, it is possible to be free and it is possible to find a happy ending.

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IF you can do this you will survive divorce

I sent this poem to my partner 2 1/2 years ago.  I was reminded of it over the weekend, it was hanging on the wall in a friends house.  I was hit with how the words I had sent at the beginning of our journey to provide strength, were even more pertinent now.  In particular the first verse, to me the words emphasise why I hurt, why I get angry, why I get frustrated and why I already have scars.  IF we can hold this in our hearts and try to remember to live by the words, we’ll find the strength to get through his prickly divorce with perhaps a few less scars.  

IFRudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

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