Dear Prudence: My significant other’s two boys stay with us every other weekend. He has been divorced from their mother since they were very young, and they have not been taught good hygiene practices.
Although we have finally gotten hand-washing after you use the bathroom down, they come from their mother’s house in absolutely filthy clothes and usually haven’t showered in a week. I’m pretty sure they sleep in their school clothes most nights and rarely change.
The 9-year-old’s (this is really gross, sorry) underwear are so dirty we usually just throw them away. He is also a chronic nose-picker and doesn’t cover his mouth when he coughs. The issue comes from the fact that I want them to shower and change immediately when they come over Friday nights, and I spend a large part of Sunday afternoons after they have left on cleaning and washing the blankets where the nose-picking and coughing has happened.
My significant other complains that we are making his kids feel dirty and that it makes him feel like I don’t like his children. I do like them. They are sweet kids. He does remind them to use a Kleenex and wash, but as soon as he leaves the room, it’s the finger right up the nose. I have repeatedly reminded the child, but I don’t want to be the wicked girlfriend, so I usually just go somewhere else.
Should I just relax my standards, or is this unacceptable for the majority of parents?
Prudence says: Your boyfriend is the one who needs to clean up his act. His sons are neglected to a point that borders on abuse. Sure, many kids resist getting in the tub, but children who sleep in their clothes and have underpants that are so filthy that they need to be discarded are kids who are living with a mother who is not up to the job.
I can only imagine that their classmates refuse to sit with them because they stink. The nose-picking could be some kind of compulsive behavior or a form of self-comfort.
This is not simply an issue of teaching the kids good hygiene — and good for you for stepping up — but of addressing with your boyfriend his responsibilities as a father. He’s got to stop sweeping the real issue under the rug, which is not how nice you are, but how hurting his children are.
Once he recognizes what’s going on, it could be that he needs to consider whether he should have primary custody. This means some serious talks ahead for the two of you.
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