Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Children Need To Learn Manners; Step-Mother Needs To Learn Tolerance

Dear Tazi:

I am a step-mother to two children, ages 7 and 8. Although I never planned on being a Mom to any child, let along someone else's, I am adjusting to my new role. My one big issue is the fact that my husband's children have the most atrocious manners I have ever seen.

"Billy" (the 8 year old) and "Lisa" (the seven year old) will eat with their fingers instead of utensils, burp loudly without covering their mouths, and wipe their mouths on their sleeves and their hands on their pants - even though they are instructed to use a napkin. After every meal I must vacuum the floor beneath the table because of all the food these two drop around them. Getting them to wash their hands and faces before bed is a major chore, and stopping them from digging through the trash for sweets is a lost cause. Whenever I enlist their father, they just whine that they don't have to do it at Mommy's house, and he caves because he doesn't want to be "the mean parent".

If I did not keep Billy and Lisa's bedrooms clean they would be uninhabitable. They are both sullen and rude, not only to me but to other adults as well. Quite honestly, I am more than a bit embarrassed to claim them as my step-children! I am at my wits' end and have reached the point where I dread visitation days and weekends because I know the headaches that are going to occur. Short of taking off for the spa every other weekend can you think of how I can make this situation more manageable?

Not A Step-Monster, Just Particular

Dear Not A Step-Monster, Just Particular:

Are you sure you are not a step-monster? I am wondering that myself, considering your "embarrassment" over claiming your step-children as your kin and your reference to them as your "husband's children". How do you think this makes the children feel? If I were Billy or Lisa I would resent you, too, and would act up in every way possible in order to make you feel miserable.

Divorce is never easy on young children, and a parent's remarriage to someone who "never planned on being a Mom" is a difficult adjustment for them, too. To make matters even more difficult, a child does not have the emotional maturity needed to deal with the situation. You cannot expect a young child to be the adult in this situation; you must suck it up and accept the fact that you married a man with children, which makes you a parent whether you want to be one or not.

I suggest that you start to lay down some ground rules that the children are to follow. Enlist in the help of your husband in enforcing these rules, and tell him that he cannot allow his children to emotionally blackmail him. One of the first things children of divorce learn is how to manipulate their parents by pitting them against each other. He and his ex-wife need to work together to present a united front for the mental and emotional health of their children.

And that means setting an example!
Children learn from what they see!

One thing all children know is that the rules in one house can be different from the rules of a different house. The next time your step-children arrive for a visit, their father and you need to sit down with them and explain that there are rules at your house that must be obeyed - just like there are rules at school, and rules at friends' houses, even if there are no such rules at Mommy's house. Then, you let them know that in your house everyone eats with utensils, uses a napkin, and washes properly before and after meals. You tell them that everyone must clean up after themselves; that beds must be made and that clean clothes are put away while dirty clothes go in the laundry. Point out that you and their Dad must obey these rules, too, so it is not like they are only rules that children must obey. Explain to them that rules may seem unfair, but that they are there to make things fair for everybody. Following rules is part of being a good person and a good citizen!

Your husband may want to have a talk with his ex-wife, as detestable as he may find that; she needs to know that the children are shaming her with their poor manners and he needs to know if this is the sort of behavior she is allowing. If it is, you and your husband may need to look into taking physical custody of the children due to neglect. Digging through the trash for sweets? That's for the dogs!

I believe that you and your husband would both benefit from parenting classes. I suggest you see if your local community center offers them, and sign up for some ASAP. Once you learn how to parent you will see your stress levels recede.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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