Differing Parenting Styles - Challenging BM Approach HELP!
We are presently working through some challenging behavioural issues with my SD9, and would appreciate some help!
Some background - my partner has two children - SD9 and SS7 from his former marriage which ended 5 years ago. We have been together for 4 years, and will be getting married next year.
SS7 is a pretty solid kid - very much like his father with respect to personality ... easy going, makes friends easily, does well in school and extracurricular activities, etc. He has had a few bouts here and there of acting out and testing boundaries, however all seem to be very normal and age appropriate.
SD9 on the other hand struggles a bit more... she seems to have a hard time being empathetic towards other people, is very "self focused", is very needy and clingy, needs a lot of attention, very moody, and has numerous issues with behaviour. Don't get me wrong - I love this kid with all my heart, and all we want is to be able to help her grow and mature into a happy and healthy young girl.
Recently, SD9 has been getting into trouble at her after school program for severe emotional outbursts (yelling and screaming at teachers, throwing fits, occasionally getting physical with teachers and other children). The care providers feel as though some of her behaviour is staged as a temper tantrum to "get what she wants" (we tend to agree), and have given us an ultimatum that it needs to stop. We were told that SS7 has even taken to begging staff to "give her what she wants" just to get her to settle down.
Our understanding is that both kids are also a handful while at their BMs home.
We initially struggled to understand this as for the most part both kids are well behaved when they are in our care (we have custody every other weekend plus each week Monday, Wednesday and Friday from after school to just before bedtime). SD9 had a year or so of being quite emotional while in our custody (mostly at bedtime) about two years ago. At the time she saw a therapist who deduced that she was struggling with a lack of attention from her BM (who had a third child with her new partner), and that her emotional displays at our home were her way of trying to gain more time with her BM (much like a temper tantrum so that we would send her to see her mom... we didn't do so, so she eventually grew out of it and has been great since). Other than this period, the kids listen well, help out, do chores, are polite and respond well to boundaries and discipline.
In trying to understand what is going on and how to address it, we have learned a lot about parenting styles (Authoritative, Authoritarian, Permissive, Uninvolved).
We feel as though we are very authoritative in our parenting style... we clearly communicate expectations, have definitive boundaries, and impose appropriate consequences for both good and bad decisions. We positively reinforce good behaviour with the kids and use appropriate discipline poor behaviour. Admittedly, when times are challenging, we can sway a wee bit towards the authoritarian approach (we NEVER use physical punishment and rarely if ever yell or shout, but on occasion have implied the "because I said so" route).
BM on the other hand is a TEXTBOOK Permissive parent who seems to sway quite strongly towards being an Uninvolved parent when under stress (which has been most of the time over the last 2 years). She appears not to have any structure or rules in her home, rarely disciplines the kids (the handful of times she has disciplined them have related to times where they have specifically crossed HER as opposed to acted inappropriately at school or elsewhere, and even then the consequences are superficial... other times blatant misbehaviour is dismissed with a "free pass" as she puts it). She lets the kids weigh in on decisions that are largely outside of their maturity to decide. They are not expected to (and therefore don't) help out with chores at her home. She does not prioritize normal routine like proper hygiene (they frequently go 4-5 days at a time without baths, wear the same clothes/underwear several days in a row, have issues keeping up with dental hydgiene, etc.). She does not do any homework with the kids (she says "she doesn't believe in homework" - BS in my book). It feels to us a borderline neglectful, which is understandably upsetting for us.
Lately BM has been lashing out particularly at SS7 when confronted by my partner about blatant issues ... she accuses him of "getting her into trouble" with her ex and seems to encourage the kids to lie to us.
Note - BM and SD9 are very similar in their personalities - they like being the centre of attention (whether good or bad attention), have a propensity to being overly dramatic and a bit narcissistic. They seem to have an unhealthy co-dependency.
Needless to say, our impression is that life in BMs home is much different than in our home (in her words it is "chaos"). She often says that she is exhausted and overwhelmed, however is unwilling to consider any sort of advice that would require her to change her ways (ie. implement boundaries, enforce with consequences, etc.). As a result, she often withdraws (ie. when her life gets "busy" she spends little to no quality time with the kids by sending them to spend time with relatives when in her care, ignoring them - does not acknowledge them or say hi to them when we drop them off as an example, and encourages an exceptionally high level of screen time with TV/tablet).
We think that the kids are in a tough position moving between two homes with polar opposite experiences and we are ultimately worried about the long term effects of inconsistencies between the two homes. We have thought about fighting for full custody, however know that it will be a battle that we will likely lose. We don't really have the means to do so.
With such different parenting styles, how should we approach parenting the kids when in our care? Do we keep doing our thing regardless of what is going on in her home and just hope our efforts are imparting proper skills as they grow? We don't think BM will ever change her ways, and we aren't sure how to move forward.
Thanks in advance for the help!