Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Problem Is...

Hey, all. My cousin Trin is looking for suggestions. Her story/first post is below.

My husband and I recently took the responsibility of caring for my 12-year-old niece (his sister’s child) because she was having problems with her step-father. With a new husband—who resented her daughter—and a new baby, my sister-in-law’s attention to her daughter was a lot less than it had been. To use one example, when my niece arrived, all her clothes were too small. We immediately went clothes-shopping, then went again later, for school clothes. I let her pick and choose what she wanted with some restraints, of course. I want her to feel safe in the knowledge that necessities like clothing, food, shelter, and more importantly for what she’s been through, attention and love, will always be supplied abundantly.

The Problem is….I admit we were very lenient and indulgent at first and handled her with kid gloves. I think she’s beginning to take that indulgence for granted. We bought her a cell phone, talked about using it responsibly, and reached an agreement about usage. The bill revealed there were 1047 texts on her line alone. When I take the phone as punishment, there’s the old ‘smack the lips’ and ‘roll the eyes’ crap I have to deal with. My first instinct was to ground her until December!!! But I refrained, because I knew that was my temper and because I feel that she has been tormented enough.

That is only one example. Suffice it to say, we’re at a point where she actually had the nerve to laugh when I fussed at her about being disobedient!! OOOOOOHHH!! I am so frustrated!! My BFF told me I need to just put my foot down her before I develop hard feelings for her. I don’t want to have these feelings because that would make me just like her stepdad, whom I despise for many, many reasons.

I admit that I may have not started out as Ms. Super-disciplinarian, but I’m determined to make changes before this goes any further but…

The Problem is… my husband is not much help to me on the discipline issues. He still thinks of her as his “little shy niece’ who is still 4 or 5 years old. This is a problem for discipline reasons and because he’s blind to the fact that she’s about to reach puberty.

I don’t know how to tell him that she is already thinking about having sex and was caught talking about letting boys ‘feel her up.’ She actually told an 18-year-old cuz of mine that as soon as we left her alone, she was having “boy company.” I want him to OPEN HIS EYES and help me set some limits. The problem is not that she’s curious about sex, but that I don’t think she’s ready to discuss it fully let alone HAVE it. Then there’s the fact that she talks about it in terms of being passive—letting someone feel her up—and being sneaky—a surefire set up for trouble, in my opinion.

The Problem is… I think she has gotten the impression from other kids in the family that my reputation is not to discipline the kids. Honestly, I fuss and that’s about it. Usually, that’s enough. My six-year-old son knows when I’m serious. The other kids will ‘try me’ but I f I start fussing too much, most of them will at least stop their shenanigans for a minute.

My sister’s kids are the world’s worst about not taking me seriously. My niece, Taia, was actually the accomplice in the incident when they both laughed when I fussed at them. I can deal with Taia by refusing to let her come over as often as she once did if she can’t follow my rules. I don’t feel badly about that because my sister doesn’t really want her kids disciplined by anyone else and our mom backs her up. They’ll discount what I say in front of the kids—another serious problem—but again, I can simply refuse to babysit her children.

But how do I set more consistent rules and consequences for this child who lives with me, whom I love dearly, but who is starting to work my nerves?


RageyOne said...

Is your husband aware of the potential sexual advances? If not, you should be point blank with him to fill him in. It sounds like that may be a bit difficult if he still looks at her like a 5-year old, but you have to get him to open his eyes.

From there, he needs to realize that he has to support you in the discipline of your niece. Perhaps his involvement will help alleviate some of the problems.

Finally, lay down the law. You have to be strict. Although you may have been lax in the past, that doesn't prevent you from changing. We do what we have to do to keep our kids in line. If you have to be come Ms. Meany, so be it. It is better to do so now, than regret it when something terrible happens later on.

elle said...

ragey, thanks for your comments. you always have the most practical, reasoned advice.

Iris said...

I believe most kids feel safer with structure, even though they'll push like hell at the boundaries. Structure doesn't mean being punitive or mean. But it does mean being firm and only saying "no" once.

Having raised a teenager, I've learned that their sole purpose in life is to push all your buttons. They are brilliant at figuring you out -- how to manipulate you, make you mad, etc. What finally empowered me was to realize that this is just what kids do. It's not really personal, even though it feels like it. The most important question is, what does my kid need?

Parenting a teen is a whole new ball game. It takes different parenting skills. I benefited enormously from joining a parents' group related to teens.

Good luck to your cousin!

Anonymous said...

agreeing with ragey and iris. be super strict and tell your husband everything - ie sex etc stuff that concerns you.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...