Dear Carolyn • My mother has been dating a guy for a few years now, and he's been living with her for over a year. In our small house we now have my mom, her partner, me (14), my two younger brothers (6 and 11), and his two sons. My mother's partner's kids (4 and 6) are, to be honest, brats. One of them we think has ADHD, making him hyper and intolerable most of the time. They throw daily tantrums and make it impossible for us to go anywhere. Their mother is no help seeing as she refuses to let one of her children get help for his ADHD, and never tells her kids, "No." My mom is forced to handle most of the discipline, since her partner never does. I can see that she's frustrated with him. How can I calmly suggest that the whole group of adults in this situation get these kids under control?
Sick of This in Wisconsin
Dear Wisconsin • It sounds as if you're right about the unhealthy level of chaos in your house so right that I think it's safe to assume your mother knows (a) that the adults need to work together to (b) get the little guys under control. So before you talk to your mom, think about what she doesn't know: that the chaos is affecting you, for one, and your siblings, to the extent you can speak for them. That you recognize she's the only one trying to hold the line. That her frustration is showing. These could all be useful things for your mom to know, if you relate them to her in an understanding, I'm-on-your-side-but-something's-got-to-give kind of way. One way to convey that intent is, after you relate to her your frustration with the status quo, to ask if there's any way you can help. I'll suggest one right now: Purge "brat" from your vocabulary. There is an age at which their handling of these setbacks will be the kids' responsibility, but ages 4 and 6 aren't it. Not even close. These and all kids need love, patience and consistent limits, not to mention any remedial intervention they need without regard for a parent's ego or ideology. You and your siblings, meanwhile, need a mother who holds her boyfriend accountable for providing these things, as a condition for keeping these families blended.