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LoveOneAnother, Therapist
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 33
Experience:  13 years experience working with individuals in various capacities including counseling, leading, and teaching.
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Im struggling with my girlfriends kids

Customer Question

I'm struggling with my girlfriend's kids and their behavior. We are both in our 40's, are divorced and do not live together (although we live a block apart). She has three young kids - 5, 7 and 9. She has them about 75% of the time. I have a 13 year old daughter who lives with me half time. Our parenting styles and "living" styles are very different. She parents without punishments and/or rewards and shares a family bed with the three kids. She has no plans to move the kids into their own beds. She encourages full expression of the kid's feelings and incorporates little in the way of rules, boundaries, schedules or routines into their day to day lives. The kids are also home schooled and the house is often trashed and chaotic. Their father's home is very rigid and punishments and rewards are huge part of his parenting style. The kids seem to struggle between the two homes. My house is pretty organized and parent with a philosophy of responsibility/accountability and earned freedom. My ex's home is a bit more high pressure, but our parenting styles are pretty similar making for an easy transition for our daughter. The struggle I'm having is that the kids are out of control when they come to my house. This has been a pattern since day one and I've felt my girlfriend hasn't taken control of the kids to ensure they act appropriately. This is also an issue with caregivers and other friends. I moved to a new house about six weeks ago and my gf asked me what rules I had in the house. I simply said two rules based on safety and respect. The first is that there will be no wrestling, fighting or hitting allowed in the house. Second is that the kids need to respect our stuff and to ask before touching or playing with things other than toys. Things have not gone well and the kids repeatedly ignore the rules, ignore the reminders of the rules and things are now starting to be broken. The other day, the boys took one of my daughter's trophies and broke it while fighting about it. I was upset and let my gf know that I wasn't happy and was concerned that the kids couldn't follow the rules and that she wasn't supporting them. That evening, her 4 year old boy pushed over a table and attempted to break my daughter's painting easel twice because he was angry. I didn't find out about the easel until they left and my daughter told me she felt she couldn't keep her art supplies and paintings in the art room because the boys have access and are very disrespectful and destructive. I approached my gf and we were going to meet to discuss the situation. In the meantime, she met with her kids and they said they weren't following my rules because they didn't create them. So, the solution was to have the kids come up with rules and agree to them. I told her that I didn't agree with that approach because it feels like we would be rewarding poor behavior and a lack of obedience by granting additional freedoms. I was pretty upset about my daughter feeling that she had to change the way she lived here because the kids couldn't be trusted. Sorry, but that's BS to me. I told my gf that I really felt it necessary for me to take back the control of my home and write very specific rules and boundaries for the kids to follow here. I will politely remind them if they are breaking rules and then ask them to leave if they continue. Because there are no rules or boundaries at my gf's house, this makes the situation extremely hard to handle. I feel that I have been taking on the burden of worrying and dealing with my gf's kids' poor behavior because she is very defensive about her parenting style. Have I gone overboard with my response to "draw the line" on this kind of behavior and set clear rules/boundaries and consequence? With my gf's request to have her and her kids set the rules at my house, if I choose to compromise is it fair for me to say that then the rules they set (and I have input on) would also apply to their house? Then, there would be consistency and maybe a better chance of success. Am I smoking something thinking this might work?

Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  LoveOneAnother replied 4 years ago.
Hi there,

You sound a good deal frustrated with the current situation which is quite understandable. Here are the questions you asked:

Have I gone overboard with my response to "draw the line" on this kind of behavior and set clear rules/boundaries and consequence?

No. I think you have to set clear boundaries especially in light of the broken items and chaos that is occurring in your home when the children are over. However, as you know, just because you set specific rules does not mean the children will follow. From what you have described, the expectations you and your girlfriend have set for the children's behavior are drastically different and, generally, it will take some time for the children to adapt even if they want to change. But, from what you are describing, it sounds like they don't want to play by your rules, but want to create their own and not respect you or your daughters items.

With my gf's request to have her and her kids set the rules at my house, if I choose to compromise is it fair for me to say that then the rules they set (and I have input on) would also apply to their house?

This would be best to enforce consistent discipline in both environments. Otherwise, as said previously, it will be difficult for the children to adjust to two vastly different cultures, if you will, and sets of rules.

Am I smoking something thinking this might work?

You have two options. You can either give it a try or not. It sounds like you care for your girlfriend a lot and may be willing to experiment. Am I correct on this? Ultimately, it is your call.

Think of how you react when you experience two sets of different rules or culture in an adult situation. There is always a cycle of grief and adaption to go through to adjust. This process is even more difficult usually with children because they act in a behavioral fashion and have less capability emotionally in the majority of circumstances to deal effectively with their emotions.

Hope this helps!