DEAR AMY: I am divorced and have two young children. Their father and I share equal custody. I have had a boyfriend for a year. He has a young child of his own, and we all live together as a blended family. This man is kind, sensitive, supportive and loving -- everything my ex-husband was not. There's one problem. My kids tend to act up a lot and I'm not sure why. His child NEVER acts up. She's helpful, listens, is easygoing, etc. My kids are the exact opposite! This past year, my boyfriend has really been working with my kids on discipline and setting good examples, and so have I. I am an easygoing person, but their dad is not. I think they get this trait from him. I don't really know what goes on when they're with him. When they come back to us, I feel like we're going backward. My daughter (age 10) doesn't act her age -- she whines like a 3-year-old, is unhelpful around the house and with her younger brother, etc. Now, my boyfriend is showing hostility toward ME because of their behavior. I honestly do my best at disciplining them, but because his child is "perfect," he does not understand. I know I'm trying but he doesn't see that. What should I do?
-- Challenged Mom
DEAR MOM: You should take your kids' behavior not as a sign that they are "bad," but that they are very stressed. Your daughter's regression does not mean that she is immature but having trouble coping.
You should establish consistent routines, make sure they get plenty of healthy food and sleep, and treat them with firm, unflappable, loving kindness. Their routine of switching households is extremely challenging. You, not your boyfriend, should be the primary disciplinarian. Let him teach you how.
Your whole crew could benefit from some professional mentoring. The kids need to see your family as a "team."
Most important, your daughter should get some private counseling with a therapist. Her behavior could be a red flag that there is a serious problem.