So many angles... what's yours?

imamommySeptember 30, 2009

I'm wrestling with how to deal with the ongoing problem with SD and school. She just started 5th grade and her first week, all was well. By her 3rd week, she had two C's and 2 D's. We were concerned & talked to the teacher, who said the same thing as last year's teacher... SD is out of her seat & talking to others a lot during class and therefore not paying attention. She may or may not understand the lesson if she is talking... some of her work is A's and B''s... but all of her tests are F's. She got 0/100 on her last math test and in science, she got 20/100... but the rest of her assignments are 90+ percent. The test scores and losing points for turning in her work late (she only gets 50 percent credit for late work, yet it's done on time.. she just isn't turning it in) have caused her grades to drop even further this week. She now has an F and three D's. We've called a meeting with her teachers & the Principal. I've arranged for her counselor to meet with her today. DH has sent numerous emails over the last two weeks to BM and all have been ignored. He has no input or involvement whatsoever from BM, even though they have joint legal and she needs to be involved in any decision making. Since she is ignoring his emails and doesn't seem to want to be involved, it is really left up to him to decide and he may have to go to court to sidestep her consent. I'm offering up my insight and he is also relying on the school & counselor to decide how to handle this. I thought I'd ask for any input from here, since there are lots of others in similar situations and some are also educators. The options DH is considering:

1. Getting a private tutor. He isn't sure about that because she does really well on some work, getting A's... so she understands what she is supposed to be doing so he isn't convinced a tutor will be worth the cost.

2. Private school. Again, comprehension isn't the problem but she would get more individualized teaching in a smaller class. He cannot afford this and it would fall on me since he hasn't even been able to collect his $216 in child support from BM, nor anything else. She apparently quit her job because she's pregnant.

3. Putting her back in 4th grade. This is the least likely option, but his philosophy is that if she cannot keep up with the demands in 5th grade, she isn't ready to be promoted to 5th grade and she will just get further behind. This is the one that got her attention the most, she says she will be teased if she is put back in 4th.

We started out the year, putting her in dance classes & swim lessons to encourage her to keep her grades up to play. She wanted to participate in these things, so we thought it was a good incentive. She has missed the last two weeks because her grades have dropped so dramatically & I told her the first week, that if her grades didn't go down, she could go back to doing these things. Her grades dropped way down so she missed last week too. She just doesn't seem to care. DH took her TV out of her room when she got a low score on her spelling test. He gave her a pretest at home and she only missed 1, so she knew the words. She doesn't seem to care about anything... rewards didn't work, taking things hasn't worked, not even the fear of going back to 4th grade. (we only told her that was an option that we are going to discuss with the school, not an empty threat because we don't know how to handle this) It is so frustrating.

My opinions on WHY she is failing... first, I wonder if it's on purpose.

1. Is her mom telling her to fail so she can take DH to court to say we are not doing a good job with her education? That is what her platform was on her last custody request.

2. Is she failing on her own, thinking it will result in her mom getting custody? Her mom has said that if she lives over there, she can help SD with her work and SD will do well.

3. Is she failing for attention? Is she upset that BM has let her down so much.. not coming to get her but sending her grandma to get her.. when she is supposed to be with her mom, she was being left with grandma, hours away from her mom all summer.. when she is in the same town as her mom, she is left with BF's parents (last week, BM was home while BF went to pick up SD when it was time for her to go back with us) so BM isn't really seeing SD when she is supposed to... and now there is a baby on the way. SD says she's excited but it must be hard for her to not have her mom very involved in her life and then have to know her mom is making a new family that she isn't really a part of very much. There is so much going on at BM's house, it's hard to tell what aspects are affecting SD, but all of them probably are:

BF was backing away from his relationship with BM when BM's mom moved to their town. BM's older daughter (a teenager) is now [supposedly] living with them. BM, who was only working part time for minimum wage, wasn't making enough to keep BF happy. He was complaining that he can't afford to support her and her kids (this was during summer when SD was supposed to be there) and he had called off any wedding plans (not sure if he knows BM is still married to her first husband) and THEN she announced she's pregnant and promptly quit her job. BF's DD8 tells her mom that BM quit her job BECAUSE she's pregnant... not high risk, just pregnant. (BM has never held a job for more than a few months) Add to the mix that SD spent most of her summer with grandma, not her mom as she wanted. And add in that BM was telling her all summer that custody was going to change and SD would be going to school over there this year.. and then she saw her grandma and sister move up there but she came back here and went back to the same school where she had told all her friends "so long, i won't be back next year... I'm moving to my mom's"

It is SO damn frustrating! I feel like I've aged so much in the 3 short years my DH and I have been married because of all the stress. I have gained 15-20 lbs and just lost 6 of it... and feeling better about that and relieved the court crap is over until BM pays for the evaluation.. the evaluation that became necessary after she lied her ass off and got SD to lie her ass off to the mediator.

I can tell myself that it's not my kid, not my problem but the reality is that she lives with us and I DO care. SD has a mom that cares when it's convenient for her.. when SHE wants. I guess I need some encouragement to get through this... it's so hard, as a mother, to watch another mom do this to her child.

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Ima, I am glad you care. You care enough to try to make a positive difference and that is saying a lot. In many ways I do see a lot of your SD in my younger self. All it takes sometimes is just one person to change a kids life around, just one.

This paragraph you wrote "It is SO damn frustrating! I feel like I've aged so much in the 3 short years my DH and I have been married because of all the stress. I have gained 15-20 lbs and just lost 6 of it... and feeling better about that and relieved the court crap is over until BM pays for the evaluation.. the evaluation that became necessary after she lied her ass off and got SD to lie her ass off to the mediator." --- you wrote down ways this has all affected you, you recognize the stress and toll it is taking on you personally. Kids are affected too. For me, school was my one and only thing I could control. I couldn't control what I ate, what house I slept, how I felt about the new people in my life, what I could say, nothing. I felt out of control much of the time. My feelings, my true feelings, by nature of being in a step situation I was not supposed to voice. So school, was the one thing I did not have to do.

I had too much on my plate. As you've seen negative consequences and have lost some control over your life by gaining weight, SD is going to have consequences too when things are overwhelming. I was told that I was lazy, but the real truth was that I didn't have the energy or mental space to care about school.

IMO, there is some truth to statistics. Children do better on all spectrums of behavior, school etc when both parents are together. They do better when their parents remain single than when they remarry. There are valid issues that comes with these territories for children. I don't think it is personal to the stepparent or that it is personal to you Imamommy as I think you do a lot in your sitch. And maybe that is where some of the frustration comes in, just how much you do for SD.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 4:32PM
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This girl is lucky that you care so much about her. She reminds me of my SGS 8 1/2, obviously younger than your SD, but also having ongoing problems at school with his intellect and ability to do the work when HE WANTS TO not being among them. With him, and it sounds the same as your SD, it's all about when they want to do well.

That is my angle, that I have seen a lot of what you describe in my step grandson. Got the brains but between his chaotic parents and personal emotional problems he does not do well at school.

1. What does the school recommend? They have seen every kind of student especially if it's a public school. I would start with their recommendations.

2. Yes, in private school SD would probably get more individualized attention. However, private schools do not have to deal with discipline issues and many will not for long because of the other parents who are paying tuition. If she is having discipline issues, private school may be the riskiest move in that kids are often asked to leave, even if you are paying tuition. Plus, if you have to pay for it youself, forget it!

3. It sounds like your first stop should be with either the school psychologist or a private psychologist. Before changing schools or holding her back to the 4th grade.

4. Tutoring is always helpful whether a student is remedial or even if you want them to get ahead. But, tutoring won't cure discipline issues in the classroom.

5. Unless she is flunking, sending her back to 4th grade seems extreme and the most negative option.

For what it's worth, I think you should take the step back and send this girl to the school psychologist or a private one or both. Find out what's eating her and making her act this way. Then start looking at changing her school environment or not. Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 4:53PM
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I took SD to her counselor and she admitted that she has been failing her tests because she thought it would help her mom get custody. It was pretty clear to the counselor that her mom put her up to it. I wasn't sure but that was his opinion.

We will meet with the school on Friday and so far, her mom has not responded to DH's request for her involvement. We don't expect her to get involved... especially if it's true that she put SD up to it.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 9:22PM
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Has anyone asked the child whats going on? I think thats your best approach...See what she says.

God Bless

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 9:49PM
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I seriously JUST went through this porblem with my SD who is in 6th grade. she had D's until two weeks ago. The habits that you are describing are exactly what my SD was doing. (So it makes me wonder if some of it is not normal preteen rebelion) I got an email from her teacher in Performing Arts that she right now had a D in her class because she wasn't turning in her forms at all. OMG WHO gets t a D in drama class!!!!!!! SO I will tell you what we did, I may get reamed by some as being mean, but it worked, she has brought up all grades to A's and B's in two weeks!!!!!!!!
Drastic times call for drastic measures and I had flat out had enough..this is what I did:
I went in her room while she was at school and removed everything (tv,DS etc..) including clothes, but her bed, dresser (that i took everything out of), comforter, pillows,sheets, some posters on the wall.... I put it all in the guest room. On her bed I layed out 5 pair of jeans,undies, tshirts and socks and one hoodie. I picked the ugliest tshirts I could find (one of them said "im the big sister" imagine wearing THAT to middle school! When she came home we sat her down, and told her that we are required to provide her with a roof over her head, food, basic clothing etc.. but WE WERE NOT required to give her electronics, the latest fashionable clothes etc....To us those are privelages, and as of today she had none because of bad grades.... her grades were her responsibility, and obviously she didn't care enough about her grades so we would help her care. We told her it was all up to her she could either sink or swim, We told her that it was now her responsibilty to make sure work was turned in, that homework was complete, and the whole 9 yards, that we were there if she needed help but we WERE NOT going to hound her any more. then we took her to her room, and told her that she was going to need to earn her cool stuff back and her cool clothes by gettint good grades or she would forver live in her room just like this, and wash and wear the same five pairs of clothes that we had provided for her. We told her that for every good grade she brought home she would get an item that she picked back. (with the clothes, we gave her like 5 items for a good grade.) and if she brought a bad grade home we were gonna take something else away. She cried in her room for like an hour (i am sure she thought we were the worst parents on the planet) low and behold, it is two weeks later and she has not brought one bad grade home. She has also earned all of her stuff back. I think the biggest thing for her, was that she needed to want to get good grades for herself, SHE needed to find the motivation within herself to do good for her. Have you ever heard the expression you don't know what you have lost until its gone? sometimes, you have to lose everything to figure out what needs to get done. So that was what we did, and I absolutely don't regret it one bit. She has busted her butt not for us but for HER. don't get me wrong, it was hard to see her cry, and I did feel a twinge when she went to school with the big sister shirt on, BUT it was tough love, and I don't forsee her EVER bringing home a bad grade unless she can help it..she now knows we mean business. The main thing though is if you do something drastic like that you have to be able to really stick to your guns and not was hard to convince hubby to do this, he was worried she would feel like the red headed step child, but he also realized we had pretty much tried everything else, and if things didn't improve she was going to he agreed and now has no regrets either. We also grounded her permanently until all her grades were c or above...

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 10:45PM
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My SD is in 5th grade and not doing well. She spends most time at BM's, 9 out of 10 schooldays a fortnight BM is taking her (or not..).
Therefore we can't help SD to do better, we jsut sit and watch. It's awful because I'd like to go out of my way for her, but there's nothing I can do, simple as that.

I used to post as Liesbeth and I think you probably remember a bit about our situation. BM is a sellfish person who we think has a personality disorder (BPD). She truly doesn't see that she's doing the wrong thing by her own kids, always putting her own needs first.
SD lives the most irregular and chaotic lifestyle; BM hardly ever cooks a meal, does not make lunch for SD and wants SD to stay up till midnight so they can watch shows together. BM doesn't want to be alone, she actually says that to SD, so SD's life revolves around BM's needs. (And this BM is also having another baby this month, it's amazing to me how people who don't like raising kids keep popping them out, but that's a different story).

So back to the school performance. My SD has low self esteem and has decided that it's better not to try than to try and fail. So her grades are bad, she never hands anything in on time, and I'm still surprised that she keeps going to the next class, she's not even on a spelling level of a 4th grader!

But what can we expect? She's not in a routine, she's sleep deprived, she's not eating healthy or enough (see my response at JNM's post) AND she's been programmed to not care about her own needs.

That is the similarity with your SD I think, she also tries to look after BM and please BM, sad but true.
Combine that with Nivea's response (which is a realy good insight I think) and there you have it. At this stage I wouldn't do too much about it. SD's life is already so complicated, tutoring or private schools will add pressure that she doesn't need. I'm not sure there's anything much that you can do to be honest. SD has too much on her plate, and you can't make that go away; therefore you can't fix it. Her education will suffer as a result of it. I hate to say it but with my SD I just don't see great things happening for her, but there's always adult-education.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 11:39PM
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I know that you have mentioned sd's weight before. Do not pull her out of all sports. Maybe tell her she obviously does not have time for both and just keep her in one activity. But research shows that exercise is important, especially for children. It can also help them with memory and concentration!

I agree with the poster who said take other things away. If she is not doing well at school take away the computer, television, etc at home. Make her study extra for all those tests she is failing.

As for bm I would have dh send her a certified letter stating when the meeting is and mention in there about no response in the e-mails. Document it all so if she does try to fight dh for making educational decisions he can show she did not try to get involved.

It is great that you care so much about sd!! Maybe there are strategies her teacher could implement in class too. Like moving her seat away from her friends and other distractions??

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 9:54AM
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That's a tough one Ima -- and I want to come back after I've given it more thought, but my first reactions were:

-- What about learning disabilities? Do you have any reason to suspect SD may have ADHD or dyslexia? Even very bright children can have learning disabilities, and the most common outward symptoms are not turning in assignments, getting up and talking, and extreme variations in performance. Testing for LDs and tutoring would be good in that case -- otherwise, not IMO.

-- I had to ask about LDs. But in all honesty, that's not what it 'smells' like to me from what you've written -- and I'm prone to suspect LDs, having two kids who both have them...

-- What's your core feeling about how much of this is due to the following. (And I'd ask her teachers the exact same question, encouraging them to be completely honest with you.)

- I'm doing it on purpose
- I'm too lazy (or too depressed) to care
- I'm too scatter-brained to keep track
- I'm overwhelmed and can't cope

If you honestly feel that she's substantially doing it on purpose and is capable of doing better, then IMO, FiveInAll's suggestion is simply brilliant. Simple and drastic, with the promise of 'immediate reversal' in a way that's totally within SD's control. She can 'undo' the punishment and redeem herself at any time, simply through her own hard work.

Of course, if you feel her emotional health or learning disabilities play a significant role, then the same tactic simply becomes cruel.

Whatever the reason, I'd give her lots of positive attention for the schoolwork she does well on.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 3:12PM
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She admitted she is doing it on purpose.

Yesterday, I took her to talk to her counselor. She asked that I remain with her and then started telling him how she wants to go live with her mom and that she thought if she got bad grades, her mom would get custody so her mom can help her get her work done.

The counselor did an excellent job of explaining why that won't work and how the family laws work. He told her that her mom chose to move away and that it would be unfair to her dad if the court allowed her mother to take her away from her dad... just as her dad cannot move away and take her from her mom. He explained the differences between how the court views a 10 year old compared with a 14 year old in weighing her preferences. (and told her that she does not get to decide, even when she is older... that the court will consider her preference and probably give it more weight when she is older, is doing well and has logical reasons for wanting things to change.. not just because)

I think it helped her to hear it from him because her mom keeps telling her that she gets to decide and she started out the session repeating her script that she wants to live with her mom. He told me that he thinks her mom put her up to failing. We meet with the school tomorrow. BM has not responded to DH's emails so she won't likely attend. If it's true that she put SD up to failing, it's beyond my understanding. SD will probably never throw her mom under the bus so she'll say it was her idea... in a way, it's easier than trying to understand how a parent can WANT their child to fail for their own selfishness. Sadly, we are not likely to ever know the truth one way or the other.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 4:36PM
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Unbelievable! But sadly - not.

How can parents be so short-sighted as to apply such extreme 'ends justify the means' approaches to basic childhood issues like doing homework, doing well in school, listening respectfully to adults, telling the truth...

Why is it so hard to imagine that a child will extend it's OK to lie when Mom wants you to into it's OK to lie when child feels like it?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 5:38PM
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@fiveinall, I clapped when I read your post with your solution. A lot of these kids need reality checks as to what is important and what's not. I have a friend who did the identical thing with her sons some years ago, stripped their rooms of everything extra, no movies, no tv, no electronics etc. Don't think she took the clothes but the same idea. Turned them around in about a month! It's old school but it's effective.

@imamommy, good for you for going to the counselor. It wasn't great news but at least you know what the real deal is and now, so does your SD. Also god that the counselor broke down the family laws so she'll now know she can't manipulate the situation in such a stupid way.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 7:52PM
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One of the things I' like best about FiveInAll's solution was how easy it was for SD to 'undo' by changing her behavior!

I love giving kids a chance to redeem themselves -- the correct their mistakes. Sure, not every mistake in life can be corrected. But what a nice way to get over the 'bummer' of being reprimanded --

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 9:15PM
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I understand she said she might be doing it on purpose... But she was always a struggling student one way or the other.

My take on it is...Even if she is doing somehting on purpose...SD needs to be tested to determine if she has disability, deficit or whatever else. From what you described she has some disability plus possibly ADD (can't pay attention and is out of her seat). Let me tell you... plenty of struggling students would tell you that they do it on purpose. i would still like to know what are her abilities so you know what to expect...

Trust me, I have a very long expereince in education...i heard it all. i know students who said they do it on purpose, but testing would show their IQ is 75. It is so above their head that it is easier to make up less embarassing reason...

just to add no matter what is the outcome BM is crazy. i would charge her for neglect.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2009 at 12:20PM
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