As a parent of a child who lives with his mother and not with me, I’m faced with a number of challenges when it comes to instilling values in my son. It’s a subject I’ve touched upon before.
Unfortunately, it looks like it is a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.
A little background. Dinner time is a big deal for our family. We all eat together, sat around the dining table. We chat about the day, or sometimes play silly games while we’re eating. Whatever we do, though, we do it together.
My son, J, now comes over once a fortnight. It used to be twice a week, then just on a Friday. He’s 13 now, though, so he wants to spend more time at the weekend with his friends and playing with the PS4 at his mum’s house.
This makes the times that he comes over all the more precious. Our dinners are a great time to catch up and for his little sisters to see him.
A couple of weeks back, his mum was meant to drop him off at my work at 4pm so I could take him home. Perfect timing. It means we hop on the train and get home in time for dinner. J is a really fussy eater, so Emma has to plan stuff around him.
I get a text from J’s mum, just after 3pm, telling me that they’ve just finished having a huge lunch and that he probably won’t want to eat any dinner. Now, any normal person will see how inappropriate this is. I only see J once a fortnight now, so these meals are a big deal. Besides, who sends a kid around to someone’s house for dinner with a full belly?
When I pick up J, I can’t bite my tongue. I ask what she was thinking. Why give a child a very late meal of burger, chips and a dessert knowing full well that we had made a meal especially to cater for his tastes. She shrugs and doesn’t think there is a problem. Tells me to get over it. What’s worse is that she’s doing this all in front of J.
The thing is, we don’t like waste in our house. We hate to throw away food. We put the effort into making healthy & tasty balanced meals. I know J doesn’t get that at his mum’s house. When I ask him about food, it’s all red meat, processed food or takeaway. J’s mum is happy just to let him leave food if he doesn’t like it and make him a second meal. As well as being a complete waste, it’s instilling the wrong values into J.
It reminds me of a time when I spotted a huge bag of chocolates under his pillow when he visited. I asked him where they came from. He said his mother had given them but had told him to hide them, eat them himself and not share them with anyone.
On the way to the train, I talk to J about it. I don’t blame him. I know it was his mum. I also suspect she knew what she was doing. She’s done it before and I’ve asked her not to. Worryingly, though, J just can’t see what was wrong with what happened. He keeps telling me its not a big deal – it isn’t a problem.
I try to make him understand that telling us at the last minute that he doesn’t want dinner which was made especially for him is a waste of Emma’s time, the food & money. He doesn’t get it.
And it hits me. It’s his mother’s words coming out of his mouth. Very little appreciation for the efforts of others. Despite years of effort to balance out the nonsense that his mum is teaching him, I’ve lost.
J also doesn’t like being told that he is wrong. He has a serious problem with it. There’s a little ‘victim mentality’ going on whenever he’s told off. Again, this is because he is never disciplined at his mother’s house. Never has been. He’s been allowed to do what he wants for 13 years. He’s an only child at his own house but has to share with his three step-sisters when he visits. It can’t be easy for him.
The only child thing comes to the fore when we play board games too. He can’t handle not being the winner, accusing people of cheating if he doesn’t win.
Don’t get me wrong. He’s polite and great with our two young girls. He’s intelligent too. He just seems to have inherited his mother’s complete disregard for the feelings of other people.
On this occasion, he was so reluctant to accept that his mum hadn’t done the right thing that he said he didn’t want to come to my house and wanted to go home. That was deeply upsetting.
He’s 13. All 13 year olds have issues. I suspect that the next few years are going to be rocky as our values and his mother’s values continue to clash. Wish me luck.