"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Do What You Can Do

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My stepsons are 12 and 14. We also have a 4 and 2 year old. Their mother has been generally uncooperative and at times hostile to us, and treats the boys very differently. She doesn’t seem to like the 14 year old. He can tell but is otherwise mature, sweet, requires mild correction, and a good kid. The 12 year old is outgoing and generally upbeat, but is immature for his age and has an almost desperate need to be praised and at the center of attention. His mother had him on a pedestal. She will go after teachers, coaches, and us for daring to correct him, and tells him only she understands him and we are not “his tribe.” However she is getting increasingly frustrated with his lack of discipline (messy, doesn’t do chores…) and curses at him and calls him names, but still attacks others for correcting him. We have the boys on weekends which makes it difficult for consistency. Recently I found a barely visible “f—- life” carved on his blinds. We haven’t indicated we found it but I chatted with him about life and what’s been happening (I’ve been deployed the last 6 months) and he was engaging and happy to talk - nothing flagged to me as concerning. He tends to be eager to please as well, telling us what he thinks we want to hear (his mother loves that and it seems to reflect in all of his interactions) - no signs of aggression or anything, just needy. I just found “f—- you” carved on my car and we are pretty sure it was him - matches the other. He has also carved similar at his mother’s house but there it set off a flurry of talk and discussion from her and sending him to a psychologist. How do we approach this when we see him? Should I be concerned with his influence on the younger ones? Summer schedule is week on week off, though in a few months we will be moving for work and there will be a significant custody change though what it’ll be I have no idea other than longer stretches of time between swaps, allowing for the ability to have more consistency.

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