DEAR CAROLYN: My mother has been dating a guy for a few years, and he’s been living with her for over a year. In our small house we now have my mom, her partner, me (14), my two younger brothers (6 and 11), and his two sons.
My mother’s partner’s kids (4 and 6) are, to be honest, brats. One of them we think has ADHD, making him hyper and intolerable most of the time. They throw daily tantrums and make it impossible for us to go anywhere. In fact, as I write this they’re both screaming about wanting cookie dough. Their mother is no help, seeing as she refuses to let one of her children get help for his ADHD, and never tells her kids “No.” My mom is forced to handle most of the discipline, since her partner never does. I can see that she’s frustrated with him.
How can I calmly suggest that the whole group of adults in this situation (my mom, her partner, and his ex-wife) get these kids under control?
– Sick of This In Wisconsin
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DEAR SICK OF THIS: It sounds as if you’re right about the unhealthy level of chaos in your house – so right that I think it’s safe to assume your mother knows (a) that the adults need to work together to (b) get the little guys under control. Meaning, if it were just a matter of being aware, then your mom would have been on this months ago.
So before you talk to your mom, think about what she doesn’t know: that the chaos is affecting you, for one, and your siblings, to the extent you can speak for them. That you recognize she’s the only one trying to hold the line. That her frustration is showing.
These could be useful things for your mom to know, if you relate them to her in an understanding, I’m-on-your-side kind of way. One way to convey that intent is, after you relate to her your frustration with the status quo, to ask if there’s any way you can help.
I’ll suggest one right now: Purge “brat” from your vocabulary. It’s possible there’s a clinical explanation for their behavior, and it seems certain they’ve been badly served by the adults in their lives. There is an age at which their handling of these setbacks will be the kids’ responsibility, but ages 4 and 6 aren’t it. Not even close.
These and all kids need love, patience and consistent limits, and you can make time to give these kids some warm attention. If their motors run too fast for sitting down with a book, then you can make up goofy relays or kick a soccer ball.
You and your siblings, meanwhile, need a mother who holds her boyfriend accountable for providing these things, as a condition for keeping these families blended.
At 14, you lack to power to insist on such adult cooperation, but you do have the standing to say what life is like for you in a home without it.