Dear Dr. Meg,
I’m a devoted reader of yours. I love the advice you give, and I am in desperate need of some now.
I have a four-year-old, and his father and I do not live together. In fact, his father still lives at home with his mom and dad. My son’s father is 30 and he has no—absolutely no—motivation or desire to move out. He is the oldest of four siblings, all two years apart, and they ALL still live at home. They don’t pay rent, and barely help their mother out with chores. She works full-time and is going to school.
My problem is that my son’s father works midnights on the police dept, is in FOP, and some days has court. So, he’s either out or sleeping, leaving the responsibility to his parents to take care of my son when he’s over there.
They spoil him to no end. He can do NO wrong in their eyes. My son comes home to my house and tells me he hates me, kicks me, gouges at my eyes, and tells me to “stop looking at him.” He has a potty mouth, saying things like, “stupid this and stupid that” and “f-ing this and f-ing that.” His grandma has the worst mouth of all, dropping the “F-bomb” just to drop the “F-bomb.” It’s a habit for her.
He tells me he has more fun over there. Well, of course he does; he’s the king of the house. He hates me because I show him discipline. Now I’ve found out that my son sits in the backroom with his 28-year-old uncle playing video games. They all feed him garbage, giving him soda pop and fast food. I have asked so many times for them to not give this to my son, but they don’t care. It’s all adults over there, and they couldn’t care less.
I can’t keep him away from there because his father lives there, and he is granted joint custody through court.
I’m so sad and feeling like the way I want to raise my child is taken from me because of his “other” family.
Thank you for listening,
Dear Sad Mom,
You are in a very difficult situation indeed. Unfortunately, you are not alone. Many mothers deal with their children spending time with a father or grandparents who parent terribly. I don’t need to tell you that your son’s father acts like an adolescent and his mother enables this behavior.
The question for you is, what can you do to ensure that your son doesn’t grow up to disrespect you or refuse to function like an adult? The good news is that your son stands less of a chance of acting like an adolescent when he’s an adult because he has a mother like you.
Here are some things you can do:
1. GO TO FRIEND OF THE COURT OR YOUR LAWYER AND EXPLAIN THE SITUATION.
Clearly some of the behavior in your ex’s home is inappropriate for a four-year-old. I encourage you to try and petition for more custody.
2. WORK VERY HARD TO TAKE THE HIGH ROAD.
Your son needs to see you speak well (not swear or use foul language), and he needs rules in your home that are age-appropriate. He should not be playing video games much at all and the ones he does play must be for children. I suspect he’s playing ones geared toward adults or teens at his dad’s home. Also, you must insist that he speak respectfully to you when he’s with you.
Now, when you do these things, he’s going to throw fits until he knows that you are serious. He will say that he wants to be with his father because he does whatever he wants there. You must stay strong and do the right thing for your son. I promise you that when he is older, he will appreciate the order, respect, and lack of foul language in your home because down deep, even kids don’t feel good about life when these bad things are happening.
3. THINK LONG-TERM WHEN IT COMES TO HELPING YOUR SON BECOME A GOOD MAN.
He won’t stop swearing overnight and the video games aren’t going to stop at his dad’s home. You must realize that your job is to raise a healthy 20-year-old, and this takes time. But here’s a truth that I have seen over and over. When kids have one parent who consistently acts like an adult, takes the high road, and insists on mutual respect, the better behaved parent wins.
Your son wants sanity. He wants respect, and he wants to be a kid. You can give him these and over time, he will be very grateful that you provided them.
4. WHEN TALKING TO HIM ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN YOUR HOME AND HIS DAD’S, NEVER TELL HIM THAT HIS DAD AND GRANDMOTHER ARE WRONG.
Of course they are wrong, but if he hears you say this, he’ll become defensive and side with them. Tell him that the rules at your house are different from Dad’s because you are different people.
Be matter-of-fact and don’t put his dad down. Let him figure out how unhealthy his dad’s home is and I can tell you, if you show him better, he will figure it out on his own.
Can you keep him away from the bad influences at his dad’s? Unfortunately, you can’t. Change what you can and don’t worry about what you can’t change.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Hang on and keep doing the right thing. It’s really, really tough, but in the end, you win.