My husband and his ex have been divorced for about 7 years. When they got divorced, his ex immediately moved 1,000 miles away to live with her then-boyfriend, leaving her 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children in my husband’s custody. Their divorce settlement grants them joint legal and physical custody, with my husband being the parent of primary residence (which means our house is the kids’ legal address). During the first three years after the divorce, the ex-wife lived far away and would come back to the area every few months to visit her kids for a couple of weeks, then go back home. While she was visiting, she was extremely permissive and irresponsible with them; my husband eventually had to refuse to allow the kids to spend the night with her (she would stay at a relative’s house) because she would keep the kids home from school without good reason.
Three years after the divorce, the ex-wife moved back to the area with her new husband. The children alternate weeks between homes; they spend one week at our house, the next week with their mother, etc. Their mother lives just outside the kids’ school district, so while the kids get buses to school from our house, their mother has to drive them to school when they are at her house. Since the time she moved back, attendance has been a problem while they are in her custody. This year, the school finally got sick of it and sent the case to truancy court a couple of weeks ago.
In addition to the truancy issues, my husband’s ex has issues disciplining her children. She grew up in a house with a mother who was clinically insane and, as a result, withholding and cruel. I think because of that, she has decided that she is going to give her kids everything her mother didn’t give her - all the cuddling, loving, snuggling, etc. The problem is, that’s only half of a mother’s job. The other half involves teaching them responsibility and respect. At their mother’s house, the kids kind of rule the roost. There’s very little punishment for anything, and when there is, she is still using time-outs (her kids are now aged 10, 11 and 12). At our house, they are expected to follow the rules: be respectful, follow instructions, help out with chores, clean up after themselves, things like that. Their mother is horrified that we’ve started having the kids do the dishes after dinner each night - she views this as slave labor and extremely cruel. And she calls my husband all the time to complain about the atmosphere at our house, because her kids complain about it (I guess so - what kid wouldn’t rather be at a house where they not only don’t have to go to school, but also get to stay in their rooms playing video games all week long?). She constantly tells my husband that the kids hate coming to our house and think he’s mean. She is very clearly in a competition for Most Popular Parent of the Year, and that is more important to her than actually raising her children to be functional, independent, productive adults.
As a result of all of this conflict, my husband feels that the bulk of the “bad cop” parts of parenting have fallen onto his shoulders. If the kids are to learn how to behave in society, they’re only going to learn it at our house. And the kids have been acting out, breaking rules left and right, being disrespectful (mostly to me) and our house is filled with tension. My husband and his ex have started going to counseling with the kids, but his ex seems more interested in getting the counselor to agree that my husband and I are mistreating her children than she is in actually getting to the root of the problems and learning to co-parent with my husband. (Much to her disappointment, the counselor agrees that my stepchildren are old enough for the chores we ask them to do, and does not seem to believe that we’re being cruel to them.)
For my part, I have a 4-year-old son with my husband. And I do not want to raise my son in an environment where his siblings do not have to follow the same rules he has to. And my son is already expected to clean up after himself, he will be expected to participate in household chores when he is old enough to do so, and he will be expected to show the proper respect to adults.
There are other issues - she does not buy the kids clothes that fit them and they often come back to our house looking like homeless people.
So I guess my question is, how do you co-parent with a mother who complains about the fact that you aren’t allowing her children to run hog wild? I’m not interested in getting the kids to like us or our house more; they have to come to our house every other week until they’re 18, they just have no choice. And I’m really unconcerned about their mother filing for sole custody; first of all, she seems unable to handle having the kids with her 50% of the time as it is, and secondly, a woman who runs off with her boyfriend and leaves her young children behind is not a woman who wants to have them around all the time. What I’m interested in is running my household without their mother’s constant interference, so that I can raise my child without having to adhere to rules imposed on us by my husband’s first wife. I want my stepkids to be good role models for my son, and I don’t want to have to have so much anger and tension in our house all the time. Any advice, keeping in mind that she probably is never going to change her attitude?