Madison and her mum, Moya
Though I am not in favour of pageants, I was interested to meet Madison and her Mum, Moya. Moya had got into huge financial difficulties, partly due to the costs of entering Madison into pageants. Despite all of the clothes and expenses, the pageant experience hadn’t seem to give Moya the kind of relationship with her daughters that she wanted; and Moya was really struggling with Madison’s behavior and attitude.
I was particularly keen to look at the way Moya was mothering her girls and to try to find out where Madison’s attitude came from.
Arriving at this family’s home, it was very clear to me that Moya was a mum who wanted to give her girls everything – all the material things that she had missed out on growing up. But what it seemed to me was that Moya didn’t know how to show her love for her daughters without buying them things.
Moya didn’t know how to be the adult in the relationship. She didn’t know how to say no. She didn’t know how to lay down rules. She did absolutely everything for her kids, but got no respect or thanks back.
It struck me that Moya knew in her heart what was wrong and what she needed to change, but that she needed my permission to change. She needed me say it was right for her to stop what she was doing and start to do something different.
She needed a new set of rules around the house, and she also needed to get to grips with her financial problems. She had been avoiding taking responsibility for money management and she had to shift her priorities – stop spending money on designer gear and start getting on top of the bills that needed paying.
What Moya had done was put a price tag on her love. By her actions she was saying to her kids, “you should respect me because I buy you things”, but that back fires. You get kids who don’t appreciate and respect you, and you get bills you can’t pay. These kids expected material things. I needed Moya to shift her priorities and to understand that it was what she was doing that was shaping the way her daughters would grow up.
I asked Moya what she did around the house and what the girls did, and the answer was the Moya did everything with no expectation that the girls would do anything. Mum was doing everything for these girls, as if they were still only 4 years old. She wasn’t getting any recognition of that, and she was starting to resent it.
These girls were showered with expensive things and they were growing up with a sense of entitlement that they didn’t have to lift a finger. Not only where there no expectations, there were no boundaries and no consequences.
Mum Moya was scared that if she stopped buying her things, the kids would think that she didn’t love them anymore. I wanted her to see that it’s not material things that matter, it’s the relationship between a mother and her daughters that’s important, and the way to get her relationship with Madison back on track was to set some new rules, with consequences, and stick to them.
I asked Moya to:
• decide what chores she wanted the girls to do
• decide on what the consequences would be if they broke the rules and stick to them
• impose consequences for any behavior she didn’t like. So no more tantrums and displays of diva like attitude from Madison
• follow through on the new rules, even if the kids complained
I knew it was going to be hard. Madison had had it her way for a long time, and she was going to kick against the change. Moya already feared that the kids would think she didn’t love them if she stopped buying them things; my fear was that she would start to feel that Madison didn’t love her if she kicked off against the new rules and boundaries – that she would feel emotionally blackmailed into backing down.
I wanted Moya to know that she didn’t have to prove she loved her kids, and that she could be a Mum to them without having to indulge and spoil them.
Bailey and his mum, Louise
When I first heard about this family, the Mum Louise was explaining was that she had a son Bailey who was addicted to the computer. He was playing on it over 35 hours a week in school term time, and in the holidays that could go up to 80 hours a week.
He was eating his meals in front of the screen, but what that actually meant was that Mum was bringing him his meals in front of the screen. He wasn’t being asked to come to the table or to get up from in front of the computer to do something else.
When I went to meet this family at home it was clear really quickly that this Mum was overwhelmed. She had two little girls and was struggling to cope with them and it must have started out as something quite convenient to have Bailey safely in front of the computer so she could focus on the two girls. The computer was effectively a baby sitter.
Louise hadn’t ever made the connection between Bailey’s computer use and her issues with the other two kids. Louise was so stressed out by the two girls she was just trying to get by day to day, and there was nothing in place as an alternative to the computer for Bailey.
To get Bailey off the computer, something else was going to come in to fill the gap – and that was going to have to mean Louise doing things with the whole family.
If I could give Louise some new techniques to help her with the little ones, she would have more time for all of them and for activities that wouldn’t leave Bailey side-lined on the edge of the family.
I wanted Louise learn how to entertain the toddlers and how to set boundaries. And above all she needed help getting the girls to sleep in their own beds at night. I showed Louise how to do the ‘sleep separation technique’ to get the girls sleeping in their own beds and self soothing. If Louise could get to grips with this, I knew she’d find the energy to entertain the kids in the day and take them out so that Bailey would have an alternative to just sitting at the computer.
For me the real turning point was when Louise said ” I know I’m a sh*t mum”. I think she was waiting for me to agree with her but instead I wanted her to see that she had a choice and if she wanted to change the way she parented her kids, she could do it.
Getting Bailey to cut down on his computer time I decided to:
• Wean him off gradually over four weeks, cutting down from four hours a day in the first week to just one hour a day in the final week
• Create a chart so he could clearly see what was expected off him, and to give him a sense of control and empowerment by getting him to fill it in
• Make sure that Mum was part of the same process, using the chart to record what she was going to do to put things in place in stead of computer time
• Make the Mum commit to family outings, so that Bailey reconnected with the family and felt more involved