Misbehaving Step-Children

Dear Sara,

I have been married for six months now. I’m a widower and have two kids a boy age nine and a girl age eleven and my wife was divorced with two girls ages eight and eleven. My kids are well behaved and respectful. My wife’s kids are horrible. They are nasty to my kids, disrespectful to their mother and won’t do anything I tell them to do. Their mother has told me not to discipline them so they do what they want(a lot behind their mother’s back.) The only peace I get is when they go off to their Dad’s house every other weekend. I am seriously considering divorce at this point. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Dear Rick,

With a blended family like yours I would expect a period of adjustment. Different families have different ways of raising their children and maybe you new wife feels that you are too harsh in your discipline. This is no excuse for them to be nasty to your kids and disrespectful of you. You and your wife need to have a serious conversation about this when the kids are not around.

Maybe your wife’s kids think that if they make enough problems that you will leave and their Dad might come back. This is often the way kids think. They love their Dad and want him back. This is a time for family therapy. Look around for someone that you can relate to and insist that the whole family go together. Make sure everybody gets a chance to say what’s on their mind. If you really want to change things then you have to be willing to change as well. I hope everything works out for you.

Son Craves Father’s Attention

Dear Sara,

I am worried about my five-year-old son. His father is out of town on business a lot and when he is at home, he spends very little time with our son. My husband makes really good money, so we have a lot of luxuries because of his hard work. My son craves his father’s attention and most of the time he just gets ignored. I would like to go back to work when he starts first grade, but I feel like he would have no one then. How can I make my husband more involved with his son?

Dear Ellie,

I am not sure if you could change your husband at this point. He seems like a dedicated workaholic who gets a lot of satisfaction from what he does. I’m sure you have already tried talking to him and he has told you how important his work is to him.

You might be able to make up for some of his lack of attention by getting your son interested in sports. There are teams for young children his age where he would be in contact with other kids and men who coach who could be role models for him.

Since you apparently don’t need the money, you might think about joining the PTA at your son’s school and becoming involved in his school activities. He needs one parent who shows some interest in him. Try not to “hover” though because your son will resent you for this. Maybe eventually your husband will realize that he is missing out on an important part of his life.
Good luck.

Worried About Son’s Behavior

Dear Sara,

I am very worried about my twelve year old son “Ben”. I can’t get him to talk to me about this but he is doing some very strange things. After we go to bed at night he gets up and goes around checking the doors and windows, sometimes more than once to see that they are locked. He has to keep things in a certain order in his room and gets very upset if someone moves anything. He also seems to worry about germs a lot. How can I help him?

Dear Holly,

It sounds like Ben may be developing obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD. When someone is affected by OCD they have distressing, intrusive thoughts and use tasks or rituals to try to neutralize the anxiety. This works for a short period of time to fend off the feeling of panic or dread but because the anxiety is relieved this tends to reinforce the ritualistic behaviors.

OCD tends to run in some families and there is some evidence that links it to streptococcal infections.

If these behaviors continue or if Ben has other behaviors that are different or worrisome then he may have to see a child psychologist for help. OCD can be treated best with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.

Good luck.

Grandchild’s Indecent Attire

Dear Sara,

My teenage granddaughter lives with me because she wants to go to high school with her friends. Her parents moved to another state and she wants to graduate with her friends. For the most part she is a good kid but she wears some things that are on the verge of indecent. Some are so short that you can see to the top of her legs and T-shirts are so tight that nothing is left to the imagination. Some things just look odd and make no sense. What can I do to get her to dress more modestly?
-Grandma Julie

Dear Grandma Julie,

It is so important to teen girls to be one of the crowd. I’m sure she thinks she fits in and looks fine and that’s what is important to her right now.

If her way of dressing really bothers you, you might want to take her shopping for clothes and see if you can come up with some compromises. I’m sure that there are stylish clothes that she would like and that you would approve of. Be warned though, teens like the name brands that have a big price tag so you might have to spend more than you thought to get her to wear clothes that don’t offend you.

Good luck,

Sharing Children After Divorce

Dear Sara,

My husband and I have just divorced. I am angry and don’t want anything to do with him but the judge has given us joint custody of our five year old daughter. He has divided up our child’s week so that she spends half a week with each of us. How can I do this without going crazy? -Sharon

Dear Sharon,

This kind of situation is very difficult for a child. If you could put your anger aside and try to discuss the situation with your ex, maybe you could figure out something that could be a little easier for your daughter.

If this can’t be accomplished then try to make things work so that your little girl has a room in each house that is entirely hers and no one else can change it and make sure her special toys are packed for each visit. The schedule needs to be stable so that she will know what to expect. A calendar that she can keep, with days marked for each house can give her a visual idea of how things work.

Try not to argue in front of her or act hostile. This will make things more difficult for her. She needs both of her parents to love her even if they don’t love each other any more. It’s going to be hard for you to control your anger and be civil to your ex but try really hard for your daughter’s sake.

18 Year Old Mother Needs Help

Dear Sara,

I’m eighteen and missed my prom because I was eight months pregnant. The baby is doing fine, it’s me that’s a mess. I have been staying at home and taking care of the baby. My Mom works so she isn’t any help. The baby’s father has gone away to college so it’s just me and the baby most of the time. I was planning on going to college and working to pay for it. Now all my plans are out the window so to speak. I love my baby. However, I am seriously thinking of giving her up for adoption, but that really hurts my heart. I need some advice on what to do.

Dear Kelly,

Nobody but you can really make this decision. It sounds like you are bonded with your baby so it would be really difficult for you to give her up.

Part of the problem is that you are so isolated. At your age you are used to having a social life and being with other people. A lot of young mothers have the same problem so check online to see if there is a group that you could join. You could take classes online if you are serious about your education.

Another option would be to put your baby in daycare and find a job. Without an education your job options will be limited but you would be out in the world and not as isolated as you are now.

If you decide that what you really want is to give your baby up for adoption, try to get some counseling for a while. You will need someone you can talk to as you go through this.

Good luck.

Child Has Imaginary Friend

Dear Sara,

My four year old son talks about his friend that only he can see. He can describe the friend who seem to have black hair, is very short and has a long nose and black eyes. Sometimes the friend has on a red shorts and a blue shirt. When my son goes to bed I can often hear him talking to this friend he calls Jonah. Is this something I should be worried about?

Dear Sherry,

It’s not too unusual for a young child to have an imaginary friend. If this is the only thing out of the ordinary that your son imagines then you probably don’t need to worry. Does he have other children to play with? If not then you might want to enroll him in some kind of preschool program so that he can have some real friends. He may be trying to compensate for a lack of interaction with other kids.

He should outgrow this imaginary friend by age six or seven but if he doesn’t you might want to have him evaluated by a professional. On the positive side he could grow up to be a great writer with this kind of vivid imagination.

Should My Child Repeat 1st Grade?

Dear Sara,

My son is seven years old now and big for his age. He completed first grade last year and his teacher recommended that he repeat first grade. I really think that this would be hard for him socially. He is going to be bigger than any child in his class. Should I go on and let him go into second grade and try to coach him at home or let him go through first grade again?

Dear Karen,

Even though your son is ahead of the other kids physically, he may be immature mentally. He could need some extra time to catch up or he could be struggling through school for a long time. However, a child’s social needs are just as important as his educational needs. It’s really difficult for a child to be the “odd man out.”

You know your own child best. Is he capable of sticking to extra work at home or is he lazy and easy going and doesn’t really care if he does well in school or not? If you think he would be capable of keeping up with some extra work then let him go on to second grade but if you see him as immature, he could be better off in first grade again.

My Son Is Testing Me

Dear Sara,

My seven year old son has to be told four or five times to do something. It’s almost like a game to him. He will be standing close to me and appears to hear me but he just stands there when I tell him to do something. Only when I finally get aggravated will he move. He’s a little immature but other than that he seems normal. How can I get him to listen without getting physical?

Dear Emily,

It does sound like your son is playing with you. You might want to tell him you are going to tell him one and time only. If he doesn’t move by the time you count to three then he will face a consequence.

I’m pretty sure he will test you on this. For a consequence you could sit him on a chair in the hall or place him where you can watch him. Make sure to keep him away from activities for ten minutes.  You could also limit his TV time or some other thing he likes to do. Just be consistent and don’t back down.

There may be a possibility of hearing loss or ADD, so you might want to have him evaluated for these things if you continue having problems.

Leaving Children For Work

Dear Sara,

I have two babies ages two and three (the second one was not planned.) They are very active and into everything. I have to watch them every minute. Even at nap time they will get up and find something in their room to get into like pull things out of the drawers. I had planned to go back to work but have decided to wait a while. I am so tired but I’m afraid they will get hurt if I put them in daycare plus I don’t think we can afford it if I’m not working. How can I get a break?

Dear Alma,

First you need to take care of yourself. It sounds like you could be anemic or maybe depressed. Why don’t you make an appointment with your physician and see if there is a problem that could be helped.

I know that you are afraid to leave them but even a couple of hours a week at a daycare or a mother’s day out would be a break for you.  Also try to get your two little ones out in a stroller and walk around the neighborhood on days when the weather is good. They will enjoy it and the exercise will be good for you physically and emotionally.

All you can do is baby proof everything and do the best you can for now. They grow up really fast.