How to smooth step-childen (sort of) co-habitation?
January 13, 2010 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Not the brady branch: I live in a household with my child and my boyfriend and his two children. We both have our respective children 4 days of the week (split custody with ex-spouses).... even though his kids live here more than with their mother - they do not think of it as "home" which is starting to unnerve me in many ways....

I do not try to assert that this is more "home" than their other home is, but they do not act as if it is anything but a weigh station. His children are 10 and 13. Mine is 11. All three feel the same about chores, but his do not ever self start - no big deal - except they tell me tales of all of the things they do at their mom's house and how it is fun to help her. Here their laundry is piled on the floor, there it is washed and put away of their own volition. While that makes me feel somewhat sore, the part that gets me question my otherwise dreamy relationship is that they refer to their other house as "home" and ALL cool or interesting or useful possessions purchased for them in this household (hair brushes, school clothes, board games, movies, art projects, science kits, toys, bathing suits, OUR HALLOWEEN PUMPKINS, et cetera) end up at the other household - while none remain here. All christmas presents that I or my boyfriend bought them are over there. This is not the case with my child and my ex-husband, what she has here is for here, what she has there is for there. I'd never be ok with her bringing the PS3 over here from her dad's even though it is hers and we only have a PS2 here.

Their other household has a decent income and is already chock full of their things from their mother and her family so it is not a matter of spreading the stuff around to compensate for having nothing there. When I asked why a child was freezing, running from room to room in a towel after her shower last night, instead of wearing the new cozy robe I bought her.... she said "oh - i took it home".

So what, right? Except I feel kind of like I am playing house with people that do not want to play. I provide more of the income than my boyfriend does to this house. I try to make sure his children have the things they need and enjoy here. I do not wish the children to think of me as a usurper of their mother or anything. I am fine with them not thinking of me as anything other than their father's girlfriend... but I wish they would see that this is also their home and they need to be a part of it.

Is it wrong for me to be upset about them taking items that they own (bathrobes and board games, etc) to their other home? How do I express to them that I'd like them to be home here too and that their help is needed at this home as well as their other home? Do I ask them to bring the things back?

No - I have not spoken to the bf about it much. I am not even sure if it is a reasonable thing to be upset about and know that one should not complain about someone's children and create such tensions and divisions unless it is truly needed.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think other relevant facts are needed. How long have you been living with your boyfriend? Is the mother of your boyfriend's children remarried? And if so, how long have they been living together? Maybe they view you as just your dad's girlfriend and project that onto the household as well. If their mother is remarried, maybe they feel it's a more stable home because it's not just their mother and their mother's boyfriend, it's their mom and step dad.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:33 PM on January 13, 2010

...they tell me tales of all of the things they do at their mom's house and how it is fun to help her.

It's a bit of a guess, but I think it's a way of making sure you understand you're not their "real" mom, therefore they don't have to do the things they gladly do for their "real" mom. So I understand how frustrating and disappointing you find it. However, it might also be simple laziness -- and for all you know, they don't actually do these things at the other house, they just claim to.

So forget the other house exists. Stop worrying about what they may or may not do there. Instead, sit down with your boyfriend and let him know you expect his kids to do the same chores etc. that your child does, and that it is up to him to enforce that behavior (and support you when you enforce that behavior.) Otherwise the behavior will not change -- which I assume is all you really want.

Bringing the gifts back is an absolute no, by the way; those things belong to them and they can keep them where they want. However, if they remove things from the house that they need (like hair brushes and such) and don't bring them back, they don't get to brush their hair. That's the appropriate line to draw -- it's up to them to manage their own possessions so they're available as needed, and you're not going to make up the shortfall caused by their poor management.

Finally: when I say "your" I'm referring to your boyfriend and yourself, who need to work together to fix this problem -- so you should be talking to him about this, not us.
posted by davejay at 3:34 PM on January 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

I wish they would see that this is also their home and they need to be a part of it.

No, actually, they don't need to. Why would they? Home is where the heart is. You need them to be a part of it, and I'm not sure that's quite fair to ask of a 10 and 13 year-old. I think you're being sort of weirdly score-keeper-ish about this. Additionally, if something is a gift, the kid can take it wherever; it's no longer in your control.

It just might be that they prefer staying at their mom's right now. If so, so be it. While you might be understandably hurt by it, I truly doubt the kids themselves actually realize that their actions impact you.

However, it could also be that when they're at their mom's, they're telling her about all the cool stuff they're doing at your place. They might be bringing the Christmas gifts, etc., to their mom's house because they're excited about them and want to enjoy them at her place. Unfortunately, attention spans can be short at that age, and the gifts just might now make it back to your house.
posted by runningwithscissors at 3:36 PM on January 13, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'm a child of divorce and a multiway blended family and although I didn't face your exact problem -- home was home, whichever one it was -- something really stuck out to me:

"I'd never be ok with her bringing the PS3 over here from her dad's even though it is hers and we only have a PS2 here."

You're telling kids their own stuff isn't welcome in the house, then you wonder why they don't feel a sense of ownership of the space? If my stepmom were like that, I'd despise her even more than I already did, but she at least had the decency not to tell me to keep my own possessions away!

You've got some weird only-in-your-head rules that you seem to be projecting on to them; maybe you should examine that stuff and see if it's contributing to their attitude. None of that excuses a refusal to do some basic work around the house, but, wow, yeah, talk about alienating people in their own home.
posted by majick at 3:38 PM on January 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

i think davejay is right about them asserting subtly that you aren't their 'real' mom. i also agree with his suggestion on enforcing rules.

i think it's a good thing that they feel comfortable about bringing stuff back to mom's house--my kid would have never done that it's also possible that they're also flaunting the gifts at mom's house, which is why the robe is there. i don't see anything wrong with getting a second robe, or hairbrush or whatnot--after all, they're kids with two homes, and not just visiting.
posted by lester at 3:41 PM on January 13, 2010

as long as they're suffering natural consequences for bringing all the stuff to mom's place (being cold after the shower, not having a hair brush) then there's not really anything else you can do there. it is appropriate to refuse to buy new things because they have decided they'd rather have that stuff over there.

the chore problem is something that is totally appropriate to bring up to your boyfriend and have him enforce it.

they're becoming/are teenagers. they are going to be all manner of annoying and shitty for the next few years. i would guess the "oh it is SO fun at mom's!" is either them making sure you know that you aren't mom or they're trying to see if playing you off of each other is successful. the first one you can't really do anything about - the second one, well, you have to not let them know that it gets to you.

it seems you place a lot of importance on the fact that they live at your place more, but to kids of that age, it probably seems equal. one day per week isn't really enough to tip the scales.
posted by nadawi at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2010

Regardless of what you decide to do, if anyone is going to talk with them, it needs to be their father, not you. Their father should definitely talk with them about doing their assigned chores and helping out without being asked. Whether he chooses to ask them about the other stuff may depend on his relationship with them. You shouldn't say anything to them about any of it.

It's not "wrong" for you to feel however you feel. Feelings aren't right or wrong, and in this case, you're feeling hurt that these children you care for don't seem to appreciate the home you're trying to make for them. That's gotta suck for you, and I'm sorry.

It may help to think about it from their perspective. They have two houses where they live. Any stuff they like has to travel back and forth twice a week. They're probably constantly annoyed that the thing they want to use or play with presently always seems to be at the other house when they need it. They may have chosen to refer to one house as "home" just to make things make more sense in their heads. They may, at this stage in their lives, feel closer to their mom than to their dad. They may just want to feel normal, and pretending that living with you is just a short vacation may feel more normal than accepting the constant moving around. That's all gotta suck for them too.

I think that their father (and maybe their mother as well) should sit down with them and ask them how they're coping, whether they're happy with the current situation (they're old enough to have opinions about the custody arrangement, though certainly not old enough that the final decision should be up to them), and what can be done to make the logistics easier for them. And you should do your very best, though I know it's terribly hard, not to take it personally when they do this stuff. Because the truth is that they're adolescents in a difficult situation, and they're just not thinking about how their behavior and words affect other people. They're not doing it on purpose to hurt you; they're just trying to make sense of what has become a very confusing world for them.
posted by decathecting at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2010 [19 favorites]

You don't mention where your children lived before, how long they've been living in your new household, or whether they've ever lived in another house. So forgive me if I don't exactly hit your situation.

I spent part of my childhood between two homes, and it wasn't easy to make the transition. Growing up in one house, and having it still as your other home where a parent lives, makes it hard to begin seeing another place as home. I had lots of early memories associated with my original home, and still (even twenty years later, and fifteen of not living there) regard it in some way as "home" because of them. I remember thinking my new home was empty and boring, and felt like somebody else's - I was just there for the time being. It took time to get settled in, to build up some feeling for the place, and relegate my original home, where I spent much less time, to second place. If they haven't been in their new home for long, waiting is probably part of the answer. As they spend more time in their new household than the old, it will eventually recognize the convenience of having things there.

In the meantime, I do thing you should talk to your boyfriend, and even to the children's mother about this. I'm sure everybody will at least understand a problem like having two bathrobes in one house, yet none in the other. If she gently suggests they don't need two of X, or to keep Y at her house, it will probably work better in convincing them to spread their possessions out more equally.
posted by Sova at 3:47 PM on January 13, 2010

FWIW, I moved out of my parent's house 8 years ago and I still call it 'home'. Is their mother's home the house they lived in before the split?
You can't force them to be comfortable in your home but I do agree davejay, if they leave something they need/want and Mum's house then they have to do without. Don't buy or offer replacements.
posted by missmagenta at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2010

If I were you, I'd be hurt, too. But I can't see any way to broach this that is going to go over well.

Kids can be really tunnel-vision and tone-deaf about the intricacies of their relationships. I doubt they're doing this to hurt your feelings, they're just reacting to how they feel right now. I'm not sure you can push it with them. I do think that you should find someone to whom you can vent.

I agree that it's entirely possible that they're flaunting your house when they're at their mom's in ways that make her completely batshit. (I wonder if she's wondering why at your house, "dad's gf doesn't make me do my chores right away?")
posted by desuetude at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2010

I think for the children home is where their mom is. I'm sorry it's that way.
posted by Sassyfras at 3:59 PM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

> "I'd never be ok with her bringing the PS3 over here from her dad's even though it is hers and we only have a PS2 here."
You're telling kids their own stuff isn't welcome in the house, then you wonder why they don't feel a sense of ownership of the space?
posted by majick at 3:38 PM on January 13 [+] [!]

Majick, you've got this backwards. The OP is not telling her stepkids where to keep their stuff; this is an example of how she asked her own biological daughter to keep the stuff the daughter's stepmom bought at the stepmom's house- in other words, how the OP hopes her own child will respect her stepmom's purchases by leaving them at stepmom's house. The OP has not told her stepkids anything about where to keep their possessions- she's just hurt that the stepkids are using the OP's gifts to furnish their biomom's house and leaving the step-house relatively barren of creature comforts.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:01 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

At the age they are, I think it's a mistake for you to be trying to take any parent role towards them whatsoever, honestly. At 13? You are and will forever be "my dad's girlfriend" or later "my dad's wife". Okay, there's a possibility that you may someday really attain "stepmom", but that'll happen if/when that child is ready for it, not when you're ready for it. And the 10-year-old is borderline, but is going to follow the older one's lead.

They don't treat your house as home because it's the one they have to share with their dad's girlfriend and her kid. Whereas their mom's house, they don't.

You don't solve this. Your boyfriend solves this because *he's* their parent. It's entirely reasonable that necessary things (hairbrushes, etc) have to stay in the house so you don't have to go get new ones each time they're forgotten (although the no-brushing thing might teach responsibility for that pretty quick) but anything else? It's their stuff, and if their dad is okay with them taking it, it should be okay for them to take it. You need to take this up with your boyfriend, not the kids. And if he's okay with the current situation, you leave it.
posted by larkspur at 4:11 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not wrong for you to feel how you feel. But the feelings you feel are going to cause you to act and react in certain ways, and those actions will affect your relationships with all of the people in the house with you. Talking about it with your boyfriend is a great next step, but I wonder if you might also seek out another outlet that might allow you to deal with all of these feelings in a more constructive way--sitting with this much frustration about the little intricacies of sharing a place to live is only going to harm your relationships with the kids.
posted by so_gracefully at 4:12 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could they be trying to keep any of this stuff away from your child? Just a thought.

Anyway, as I am sure you know by now most kids that age are oblivious little heathens totally unaware that the adults in their lives are people with feelings. Try not to take it personally.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:15 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was eight when my parents divorced, and spent time between houses for years and years. Speaking from my own experience, I would suggest that you try to find a way to let this go, because I don't think that they are trying to hurt you, I think they are just behaving the way kids with two homes do. "Home" becomes more important to a kid when they suddenly have two, and especially if their mother's house is the place they lived before their parents divorced, that will always be "home" to them. My brother lived with my dad for years and went to school in a completely different city, but my mother's house was still "home" -- dad's house was "dad's."

As they get older, you'll probably find that they will get more sensible about their belongings out of sheer practicality, but again, I would try not to take this personally. I don't think that they are trying to take advantage of you or disrespect your home, they are just not really considering anyone else.
posted by ukdanae at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

What majick said. Anyway, the definition of "home" is generally one place. Whatever adults may wish, children do not like to try to split their sense of stability between two bases. That's doing the splits, not having a home. There is only one "home" page on a website and most board games only have one "home" square. Mentally, it's almost impossible to have two homes.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

"this is an example of how she asked her own biological daughter to keep the stuff the daughter's stepmom bought at the stepmom's house"

Which is a bullshit rule, which would lead adolescent me, at least, to think "What the hell? It's my stuff, I should be able to keep it at whichever house I want to." Laying down bullshit rules (even to your own bio-kids) is a ticket for the express train to step-parental alienation, believe me.

My point was that girlfriend here has some pretty wacky ideas of what she thinks the kids should think, and if it extends beyond merely the freaky attitude about keeping the house untainted with anything from somewhere else, yeah, that's going to lead to problems. Anyway, let's not derail the discussion, I'm just suggesting an avenue to examine that goes beyond "hey, preadolescents are grumpy contrarians, you're a step-figure, just bite on a bullet."
posted by majick at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2010

they're becoming/are teenagers. they are going to be all manner of annoying and shitty for the next few years.

This, this, this. As the product of all sorts of shared-custody nonsense, the most important thing I can tell you is that these are kids, and they will do kid things. They aren't fully-grown, high-functioning adults weighing the costs and benefits of their every action to everyone around them. If they want to take a PS3 to such-and-such parent's house, they're doing it because they want to play it. They aren't doing these things to subvert your authority or pick and choose sides and cause you grief, they just have things they want to do and they do them. It's an awkward situation, but kids are by nature kinda dumb and selfish. Remember that and cut them plenty of slack.

And about the "home" thing - that's just how they feel! If you were plopped into a shared-custody situation as a child you'd probably be more likely to pick one house and use that as your home base. I personally went back and forth as to what house was the 'better' one with no warning or concrete explanation as to why. Don't take it personally. They don't want to do chores because no one wants to do chores. They like to do chores with their mom because, well, they like to hang out with their mom, and kids always talk up House A when they're at House B.
posted by soma lkzx at 4:21 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The next gift you give these children should be of a permanent nature. For example, a choice of paint to redo their rooms.

Also: You're questioning your otherwise dreamy relationship because they brought a hairbrush back to their mom's house? Maybe they're stockpiling things at home because they sense your relationship isn't stable, or they don't like you and they're trying to make it unstable.
posted by acidic at 4:23 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Similar situation, but I'm in the role of the dad here. I have a girlfriend living at my house, who is absolutely fantastic. It is my job and my responsibility to notice and take care of stuff like this. My GF talks with me, and I don't have to be psychic about it, of course.

Regardless of what others have said, I do not let my children decide to bring over most things to their mother's house. Possibly I get away with that because they are a bit younger, 6 and 9. Possibly because I never buy "bigger" items and just give them to the kids. When I bought a Wii console and a bunch of games, I said "I bought this for us, won't it be fun?" It isn't theirs. It is "the house's". Critical distinction.

On the other hand, I've purchased things like Nintendo DS game machines for the kids at birthdays and whatnot. They can bring them where they will. I do allow them to bring over their laptop, because I'm nice, they like having a computer, and they *always* bring it back. If they mess up, I'll stop allowing it, and they know it.

Clothes are a tricky subject. In general, I am *not* OK with them bringing clothes other than what they are wearing to their mothers' house. When they do, I reinforce "you need to bring that back next week." Maybe a prick thing to do (judging from some responses here), but the kids see it as normal, and they do bring it back, most times. Their mom helps with this too, and vice versa. We had a bad problem with shoes for a while. Nothing is more annoying than buying a couple pairs of school shoes, only to be told in the morning while getting ready "I don't have any shoes!" Feh, no shoe trading between houses, I *don't care* if they are technically the kids' shoes. They belong to the house.

My GF, a professional clothing designer, has made various outfits for them, and absolutely great animal robes for after bath-time. They may not take them to their mother's. Nor have they ever asked. It is understood. If it wasn't I'd make it clear.

Hairbrushes and things like that moving about would drive me batty. "No. You may not bring them to your mother's. You need a brush here, that's why I got it for you." Perhaps I am being a bit influenced by the fact that when I get my girls, their hair is always rat's nest, and my GF spends an hour combing and braiding their hair. We need the combs. Evidently they aren't used at Mom's.

Same thing with bathing suits. I buy them because I like taking my girls to the pool. They are not allowed to bring them to their mom's place. Nothing wrong with that.

Kids *like* rules. Really. The rules just need to be consistent, and after an occasional test, they are accepted and mostly obeyed. Your BF needs to have you talk to him, and set some rules. He needs to make those rules clear and consistent. Too damn bad if the kids don't like 'em, it isn't up to them.
posted by Invoke at 4:43 PM on January 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Take home out of it and make it about chores.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:44 PM on January 13, 2010

There's a lot we don't know about this situation that could explain some of this behavior from the kids. For instance, if they feel that Dad wanted the divorce but Mom didn't, they may be a little protective of Mom. If Mom is not dating again and Dad is, ditto. And if they grew up in the house where their Mom now lives, of course to them that will always seem like home.

I think I understand why you want your daughter to have some things, that Dad gave her, at Dad's house, and the things you gave her at yours. You want her to feel that she has TWO equal homes, right? It's well-intentioned, but I really think that it just will end up, realistically, making the situation even more divisive. You share your children, they should be able to share their things between living spaces in whatever way makes them feel most comfortable. Majick is right--they need to feel they have something that is THEIRS no matter what. And boyfriend seems to feel it is fine for the kids to move things from here to there, so having different standards for your kid and his kids will only lead to trouble in the end.

What I would do (and I can't say that it is right, just what I would do in your situation), is set up a list of family or household chores with boyfriend and present it to the kids together, as a united team. You are saying, "This is what is expected in this house." I'd consider allowances based on getting the chores done (and do NOT give the allowances unless the chores ARE done!).

Then I would also give the kids ownership of their rooms in your home, if you feel that this is likely to become a permanent situation, by having them, as acidic says, paint their rooms or help decorate or get a pet or whatever.

This has to be a tough situation, and teenagers can be a challenge. You can make it easiest on yourself by being consistent across the board with all the kids. Don't favor biological over boyfriend's, or vice versa.

And try not to get your feelings hurt. I know this is easier said than done. I'm a SAHM, and I have spent hours with my son, who has processing issues, working on his writing homework. But when the day came for him to write about his personal hero? He picked his Dad. I had to go in the other room and cry for a while, but I got over it. And I imagine there were myriad ways I must have tortured my own parents when I was young.

But hey, they're kids, and they don't realize they're hurting you sometimes. Other times, they know exactly what they are doing and are trying to push your buttons. Either way, letting these things go, not keeping score, is the only way to stay sane.
posted by misha at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2010

Nthing what people have said above-- kids are closer to their mothers than their fathers most of the time (this is also part of why mothers tend to get custody, particularly of younger kids-- with kids, closeness tends to equal whoever you spend most time with and even today, that's typically mom) and their home is where their mother is.

You have to realize that to them you are an interloper-- no matter how you came to be with their father. Your daughter doesn't have this problem because you are the mother in that case! Let it go and work on getting along with them, not trying to make their feelings into the feelings you want them to have.
posted by Maias at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hmmm... not a child of divorce so I can't really comment on a kids' notion of what is or isn't home and why that might be. If they grew up in the other house, I can definitely see that. Also, Dads tend to generally be more hands-off. So their Dad is hands-off (maybe, I'm just reading between the lines) and maybe their step-dad (if they have one) is hands-off. Mom's are more on your case and you are not their mom. So, they react to you.

However, I think it is definitely reasonable to suggest that they leave some of the things that you buy for them at your house. My sister-in-law is a step mom and has a similar "home" issue going on with her step-daughter who is 9. When she visits she's soooooo bored because she took all the toys they've purchased for her "home" to her Mom's house. But, I think you're going to have to go case-by-case with this one. "Hey, why don't you leave this game here so that we can play it next time?" or "Do you need another bathrobe that you can leave here? I figured the one I got you could live here?" But, if you make too big of a deal out of it, it'll just be something they can use to annoy you. Think about the gifts you give and if you can't bear to see them gone forever, either don't get them or be specific when you give.

Also, hubs needs to be the chores enforcer and not just in a "listen to step-mom!" way.
posted by amanda at 4:51 PM on January 13, 2010

Your boyfriend's kids are unpleasant and thoughtless. When I was their age and in a very similar situation I was nothing like that. Let them suffer the consequences of hoarding all their belongings at their biomom's house, do not buy another bathrobe etc, however they absolutely have to do chores - they're otherwise being utter pigs. Tell their father he needs to impress upon them the need to respect his home, as it is their home too.

You don't have wacky ideas btw, you just have an expectation of politeness and propriety that has never been instilled in your b/f's kids.
posted by zarah at 4:53 PM on January 13, 2010

Actually, I agree with invoke... if you guys are going to make a big rule change, though, it has to come from all of the grownups. United front and all that.
posted by amanda at 4:58 PM on January 13, 2010

I am an adult. I hate doing chores. Having to do double chores would suck deeply. Who wouldn't try to get out of it?

(Others have made fine, fine points about the psychology of step-families and all. Just didn't want to overlook a simpler explanation.)

May I suggest that the chore chart focus primarily on activities that are unlikely to burden them with extra responsibility just because their parents don't share one household? For instance, making their bed in the morning or washing dishes after dinner shouldn't be doubles, whereas taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn could potentially be.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:53 PM on January 13, 2010

i think it would be good to keep in mind which suggestions in this thread come from the people who have been children in this situation and which suggestions come from (an apparently bitter) parent in this situation.
posted by nadawi at 6:07 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

How much of this is about money? Are you sure you don't feel a little used, and resent being the breadwinner and main income-provider here for nothing? Maybe you really are getting used and need to talk about it with your boyfriend. Instead of focusing on feeling annoyed with the kids, why not talk about what's really bothering you, i.e. being dissatisfied with him? Something to think about.
posted by aquafortis at 6:12 PM on January 13, 2010

Your boyfriend's kids are unpleasant and thoughtless. When I was their age and in a very similar situation I was nothing like that. Let them suffer the consequences of hoarding all their belongings at their biomom's house, do not buy another bathrobe etc, however they absolutely have to do chores - they're otherwise being utter pigs. Tell their father he needs to impress upon them the need to respect his home, as it is their home too.

You don't have wacky ideas btw, you just have an expectation of politeness and propriety that has never been instilled in your b/f's kids.

That's way too harsh, in my opinion. I would give them the benefit of the doubt and assume, as many earlier posters have, that it's a combination of them not realizing how you perceive their behavior, and being somewhat closer to and/or protective of their mom. I can't imagine what a pain it would be to have two households, and constantly have to think about keeping things you like with you. Unless the kids have two identical copies of all their possessions, there are going to be certain things they like more than others and they aren't going to remember to keep those things where you think they belong. Lord, I would hate it if someone gave me a present but wouldn't allow me to decide where to keep it. Please just let this stuff go, but do get your boyfriend to ensure they are doing some chores and whatnot. Spend your energy building a respectful and friendly relationship with the kids, and don't forget how annoying it must be to traipse back and forth every single week.
posted by JenMarie at 6:55 PM on January 13, 2010

Just an aside, but thought I'd throw it in...

Look at it from their mother's perspective. All she hears about is "Look at all the cool stuff Anonamommy gives us. She's so cool."
posted by aristan at 6:58 PM on January 13, 2010

I think I would maybe sit down with them one day and make a list together of all the things they might want to have at the house you share. Stuff like bathrobes and hairbrushes you could point out as being practical items to have in both places. Let them decide if they want to bring back any toys. Then they can each use their lists to find and bring back stuff they need. It sounds like they either expect you to buy them replacements, or that they are disorganized. Make it clear that you will not buy new stuff, and help them be organized if they want to be. Leave it up to them to follow through on bringing over needed items and don't nag- just allow them to make up their minds about it. They will figure out soon enough that not having a bathrobe is no fun, and they are old enough to solve that problem.

Definitely get on the same page with the other adults though. I'm sure their biological mom does not want to end up with twelve hairbrushes and six bathrobes, so it's worth it for everyone to be amicable about this. However if they complain that there are no hairbrushes at your house to her, you want her to b able to say,"let's see if you have one here to bring over there."
posted by oneirodynia at 7:15 PM on January 13, 2010

Hmm. My partner calls his parents' house in Minnesota "home" when he's in NYC. When we're in Minnesota, he calls our NYC apartment "home". Everyone knows what he means.

Also, you're their father's girlfriend, and something about that is unstable. They might feel like at any moment you could ditch and take your money with you. Not knowing how long you've been together or whether you're both definitely in it for the long-haul, I can see them not wanting to settle down in your place.
posted by kathrineg at 7:44 PM on January 13, 2010

And as someone in a similar situation as a child, it was just organizational. One parent was good about helping me pack and making sure I had all my stuff, the other parent was not. So Responsible Parent was always buying me pajamas, or a toothbrush, or underwear, or socks, because Irresponsible Parent wouldn't help me pack and I'd show up without the necessities.

Eventually Responsible Parent just bought a complete, second set of necessities and insisted that it stay in his house. I also had toys and books that stayed there. He made it clear, when he bought it, what was going to stay in his house, and what things were gifts that I could take with me whenever I wanted. Your boyfriend should probably do that, and inspect before they leave to make sure all of their necessities are at your house. This might work for the 10-year-old but the 13-year-old is not going to like it.

If it's not necessities, then let it go. If you don't want to see it at someone else's house, then don't give it to them. A gift is not a gift unless it's freely given!
posted by kathrineg at 7:50 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

What if they took the robe/hairbrush/giraffe "home" to mom's because mom doesn't get them nice stuff??

Who was that divorced Dad above that made it clear things should stay where they are needed? THAT. And yes, it is your BF's job to enforce this.

Gifts can go where they want. Necessities stay in the household. Double the chores suck - check w/ their Dad and make sure this is fair between the households overall (and of course they should be responsible for keeping their rooms clean, but maybe their Dad picks up the slack, not you!)
posted by jbenben at 7:51 PM on January 13, 2010

Do the stepkids get to have friends over to your place? That might make it feel more like home to them. Any chance they may be bringing fun stuff to their mom's to show it off to their friends over there? Maybe having a sleepover at your place (with a week or two notice, so they have time to bring stuff back!) might make your place feel more like home to them.

Decorating their space to make it feel more "theirs" might help, too- perhaps some wall painting or letting them pick out linens or posters might help?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:41 PM on January 13, 2010

It's really annoying to live in two places. Whenever I had to live in two places as an adult (because of long distance relationships and other reasons), and I did the same thing - I picked one as my "real" home, as a default location for my stuff, not because I "didn't want to play house" with my partner, but because its just more convenient to know where all your stuff is! This made living in two places much easier for me.

I imagine It's much harder when you're a kid, and every side wants you to make their side "home" and "be part of it" and all that. It's sucks for them, because - as opposed to adults - they did not make the choice to have two places, it was made for them. (I know that's not your fault, either...)
The least the adults around them can do is accept if they make one of the two places their "real" home and not take it as an offence or rudeness. It might be just more convenient for them. They were put in a really inconvenient situation - now let them deal with it on their own terms.
posted by The Toad at 1:58 AM on January 14, 2010

Help them decorate, and let them stick pictures on their wall (if you don't already). Things that personalise a space make it home, and pictures etc don't get moved. Have them put up pictures of friends, family, their mom, bands, and colour things. If they get it looking really good (to them), they'll feel *proud* of it.
If they've got some sentimental childhood things they've otherwise 'grown out of', see if there is some stylish way to incorporate it into the decor in a 'retro' kind of way (they're teenagers now, as far as they are concerned, childhood is 'retro'). That also anchors positive memories.

And yeah, make sure they realise that they need to have sets of the 'necessities' at each house, and which stuff they might like to schlep from house to house so they don't get bored.
posted by Elysum at 4:35 AM on January 14, 2010

So they have twice as many chores because their parents split up? In my opinion, I think you're trying too hard to make the situation something it isn't. They should be helping with chores, but at your home, they should really do more picking up after themselves. Send them home with a bag of laundry.

It seems really impossible to have two primary homes and to fulfill your vision of a family that isn't a default family. I don't think you're being realistic, but I definitely feel the loss that comes with that. It's really not fair, but it's too hard any other way.
posted by anniecat at 6:47 AM on January 14, 2010

Just agreeing with everyone that if you haven't talked to your boyfriend about this, that would be the obvious first step. They're his kids.
posted by ishotjr at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2010

An aside to Invoke:

Invoke: "Regardless of what others have said, I do not let my children decide to bring over most things to their mother's house. Possibly I get away with that because they are a bit younger, 6 and 9."

I suspect that's exactly why you get away with right now. I don't know how "girly" your girls are, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this end in middle school.

We were a mutually-agreed, successful arrangement of "what Mom's family purchases lives at Mom's house, what Dad's family purchases lives at Dad's house"—until makeup and clothing began to really, seriously, LIKE OMG OMG matter. At that point, duplicating everything was not financially feasible, and then the "correct location" of The One Item that MUST BE HAD for school/sleepover/weekend became secondary to "I'm being a crazy possession-obsessed teen and I need The One Item here with me now, regardless of who paid for it."

It chafed, especially on the pricier items, but we finally acquiesced. The deal is that our household will not entertain "emergencies" around the location of possessions (cold without your robe? can't brush your hair properly? that's a shame), and that if Child chooses to take stuff from House A to House B, it is her responsibility to cart her stuff back and forth, henceforth. We've never looked back.

We no longer acknowledge "necessities," either, when it comes to outfitting the Child. We buy stuff (clothes, cosmetics, school supplies, etc.) a few times a year, in amounts that we deem reasonable for use and depreciation, and the Child knows that once it's bought, that's it until the next "re-up". If you take an item somewhere else and leave it (whether that's the home of another family member, or a school friend or wherever), that's your problem, and while we understand that it probably isn't very pleasant to go without, maybe that will help you remember and make better decisions next time. (hugs)

The benefits to this plan have been legion: I stopped being annoyed over my perception of "our money funding Other Parent's failure to contribute equally to the childrearing".... no one argues over possessions any longer... the Child has become financially pragmatic about allowance and babysitting money (because she now has to contribute to more of her own accoutrements)... but best of all, once we stopped fighting over stuff, stuff became less important. She's much more zen about it all now. "Argh, I left favorite bracelet at House B... oh, well. I'll just get it when I'm there next weekend." It just magically stopped being a household hot button.
posted by pineapple at 6:31 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

« Older what, no fabulous prizes?   |   Aid agencies sending people to Haiti Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.