theMy Step Daughter's Mother Doesn't Keep up on Her Hygiene.

Updated on April 27, 2014
A.S. asks from Indianapolis, IN
21 answers

My 4 year old step daughter is with us every other weekend.Every time she coomes over her clothes look like shes worn them for a week, her hair is greasy, she smells and this weekend her underwear was stained beyond belief. Her ears are always packed with wax and she says she doesnt brush her teeth at home. Is this considered neglect? I know it's hard to keep kids clean but for her to be that dirty from just body oils and pure lack of basic hygiene is nuts.

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So What Happened?

LI understand things can be stressful takung care of a child every day. But she does get a break every weekend and her parents take the child a couple days a week. So she actually only has her three day ou of the week. Her mother was just given my husbands full tax return check for child support so she is capable of buying her the new clothes. She gets new outfits frim grandparents on both sides of the family every week also. So its not a case of needing new clothes. When she takes a bath here we wash her hair for her and then guide her through the rest. We also tell her to yell fir us when shes done using thr potty so we can make sure she wipes well. I just feel once she goes home shes left to fend for herself. We've tried talking to her mother but she's too hotheaded and just yells at my husband that she's a good mom and he shouldn't worry about it. So no, he not being neglectul and letting this continuem He has tried talking withher about it. I also want to add the we don't talk bad about about her mother around her, I know a few of you haveexpressed concern about this. We both grew up with parents who did that and we make it a point not to.

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answers from Tampa on

I agree with the other posters to an extent. It does not sound like her Dad is as involved in her life as he should be. Can you be the example and start teaching the 4 year old about hygiene and how to keep herself clean? Buy her a new outfit or two to send her back in... Maybe buy her some little girl soaps and stuff to use when she is there and buy her some to take back with her. It would be hard to prove genuine neglect, but you can do what you can to teach the little girl about being clean...

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Along with sending her back with clean clothes, keep some clean clothes and underwear for her for when she is with you.

Having some special outfits for just at daddy's will also be a treat for her.

6 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

Does mom need some help? I ask this because for we had this happen in our family with some youngsters for a while. The mom was clinically depressed and suicidal, barely taking care of herself and overwhelmed between some mental health issues and caring for three youngsters. I don't know what the custodial parent's situation is like, but anything you can do to HELP the kids (without exclamations of "I can't believe" or talking about it to others in front of the child) would be great. Clean, new clothes would be helpful, sure, and just loving on the kid- so necessary. There isn't anything much worse than to go visit a parent or loved one and hear them just complaining how bad your primary caregiver parent is--and how you are a living testament of that bad parenting.

I'm not saying that the mom is on top of things-- obviously she isn't. But I would be more concerned about 'why' than being concerned if it is neglect or not. Think for a minute-- so, if it IS neglect, what does that mean for the child? Is your husband prepared to fight for 50/ 50 custody? Think very carefully about how you are expressing this to the child as well. She needs a LOT of emotional support, not judgment (or hearing negativity about her mom) right now.

ETA: I really feel like this is necessary to add, since some later posters brought this up: I personally have NO bad sentiments about stepmoms. Zero. My stepmom has been my surrogate mother and did everything she could to make my life better in the ways she could. For those of you saying "shame on them"- please, check your head. There isn't so much a bias against stepmoms here as there is a question of "seriously, if you are worried that this is a neglect situation, go to court and get custody."

17 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

well, she's 4, so keep that in mind when she tells you how often she brushes her teeth, especially since there's probably disgust in your voice when you ask her.
it *could* be neglect, but you don't see this child very often, and we don't know what's going on in her life. we don't know what challenges her mother is struggling with, nor how this little girl's overall life is unfolding. if she's got a mom who's working 3 jobs and trying to keep body and soul together, but is providing her kids with a roof, food and plenty of love, then a little ripening is no big deal (and the mom may well feel that since you guys only see her twice a month you can jolly well do her laundry or buy her some clean underwear.) but if the kid is hungry, spends too much time alone, or has health issues from neglected teeth or ears, that's a problem.
i hope you're not projecting your disgust onto the child.
the parents should be communicating with each other, and not just in a criticizing manner. what are they saying to each other?

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Maybe the mother is TIRED since she is taking care of her daughter for 26 days out of 30.
Maybe you could help out by having her take a bath and launder her clothing.
Some people don't clean out ears. I do, but not everyone does. Not neglect not to stick things in your kid's ears.
Maybe she needs some new clothes.
Maybe DAD could BUY HER SOME. Then she wouldn't need to be in stained underwear. Which, stained doesn't mean dirty. Just means stained.
Sorry, you guys don't get to sit in judgement. Your boyfriend/husband (I don't know which he is) and you do not get to judge her. He is barely in her life!!! Geesh.
I am always saddened and sickened when dads (or mothers) try to say that being with their child 4 days out of a month is enough.
That's pathetic. He is teaching his daughter that she is not worth it. And then for you to be critisizing her clothing, ears, hair...ANYTHING to this poor child the very few days you see her.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Or the mother could be experiencing a serious depression and not fully taking care of things in general. Is there a way to find out what's going on?

I'm a child of divorce so I'm going to be a bit bit blunt.

Do your husband and her mom not communicate? If they do, do they act like adults and consider the child, or do they just go off on each other? You don't mention your husband at all in this, so what's going on there?

Somebody has to act like an adult and think of the child, and it might be you in this case if her bio-parents are too busy being mad at each other to take care of their child. You're a co-parent now, and that's what all of you should be doing regardless of marital status.

Teach the child how to take basic care of herself. She's old enough to change her own underwear or clothes. Teach her to brush her teeth as much as she can. Make sure your husband is stepping up to the plate.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I agree with the others. Perhaps her Mom is overwhelmed. You don't really know, so don't judge.

If you and her Dad care about this little girl, and she has obvious needs, just take care of them. She is 4.

Wash her clothes. Buy her some new clothes together. Buy her some fun-kids shampoo and a new toothbrush. You have an opportunity to be a loving example of good hygiene. Make it a fun, positive experience for this little girl.

Whatever you do, don't badmouth her Mom or whatever doesn't happen at home. She may be a great Mom who just doesn't uphold your same standards of hygiene. I wouldn't call that neglect.

I hope her Dad sees her more than every other weekend. I think lack of time together is more neglectful than poor hygiene. Maybe you can encourage him to be more involved, that you two could together, have more time with her. Good luck

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

After reading the question a few minutes ago and moving on, I came back and now I see your SWH. You SWH puts another spin on the entire post. I pick up that you are angry that the mom got "your" tax refund and you feel like you know how she should spend it.

Blended families are HARD and this is why so many of them fail. You must work as a team with your hubby and not against the bio mom to get things done. As much as you may hate the bio mom, she and your hubby made a baby together a short time ago. I don't know how long they have been separated but you are in the picture pretty fast. Did you know your hubby had a child when you started dating and got serious and married? Now step up to do your job as step mom. This little girl needs stability.

Take this opportunity to establish a relationship with your little step daughter. At 4 yrs old, she has to be confused from being shuffled from mom's, to grandparents, to dad's all the time. It sounds like she has no stability. Use your time to bond, teach hygiene routines, communicate with her and love her.

I can't see where mom is neglectful, kids get dirty. If you approach CPS with this, then CPS will see you as someone trying to make trouble. It is clear that you don't like the mom but she is mom and you married her ex. You and your hubby need to help this child.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Reading on

The only time I've heard of an entire tax return going for child support is when the child support is in arrears. The is nothing about your SWH that changes my original response. You sound bitter, she sounds mad, and maybe she is with good reason. And the fact that she takes less than 6/7 of the responsibility doesn't make your husband sound better. It just makes it worse for the girl. I feel sorry for the child.


I liked Birdsfreakmeout's answer, to be honest. Sorry - I'm sure that's not what you want to hear. I've never been divorced, but if I were and if my ex and I were on very bad terms, I might just let my kid ripen a bit right before it was his turn to have her. Probably not smart from a custody standpoint, but seriously, the mom has the onus of responsibility, while the dad is on permanent vacation. My brother is that dad - he can pick up and go on vacation with his girlfriend whenever he wants. Child care never crosses his mind. Everyone pats him on the back for being such a good dad because he calls them every night, if he can, but honestly, I can't take his complaints about how she raises the kids seriously. He chose to leave, not her.

Yes, maybe there is neglect going on. But maybe she'd just like him to take more responsibility than less than 1/7th of their lives.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Ditto Nervy Girl.

To rephrase your question: is dad being neglectful letting this go on? Why hasn't HE addressed this?

There is a lot of information that has been left out of your post.

But as everyone else is pointing out.... The step daughter and mother need your empathy right now. Not your judgement.

By the wording of your post it sounds like you are out to get the mother, not really concerned about the step daughter.

Just saying.

Edit after SWH:

I would continue to make these visits as special as possible knowing that educational/self-care issues may be largely coming from these visits.

I would also document the evidence of your concerns, how you have addressed them, how you (the father) have addressed them with the mother, and her response so that when you have a change of visitation or custody you can show why. Just make sure you keep it focused on the child, not a criticism of the mother.

None of what she is doing is neglect. However if there is a pattern of her needs not being taken care of over a period of time it will suggest that perhaps custody arrangements need to be revisited.

Do the grandparents also notice this? If so, they might provide some support for you if her mother cannot work with the father. Good to hear that both sets of grandparents are involved. Are they involved to help her with child care? If so, then perhaps this is the best the mom can do. This will just need to accept this of her, and that you and your husband needed to play a bigger role in her life for the fact that she needs this, not to one-up mom (or let your feelings of mom decide things). I think you have a very uphill battle ahead of you.

Seems like a sticky situation :-(.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I would suggest each time she is with you and dad, you all talk to daughter about how she can clean her own body and hair (this mostly in the future) .

Give her 2 really cute plastic buckets or holder and place in them cute wash cloths, soap, toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo. And tell her one is for her home with you all and one if for her home with mom.

I recall as a child, my mother had the same routine for baths every time. SO when it was my time to bathe myself, I naturally followed her routine. When I was ready for my hair to be washed and back scrubbed, I would call her in (I had super long 1960's straight hair").

She would always start with washing my hair, then my face, then my neck and ears, then my trunk, she would do my back, then my bottom, then legs, feet (remind her about between the toes). . Start from the top and go to your feet. So one night you totally bather her, the next night let her do it, but you sit there and guide her and praise her.

Remind her, that now that it is getting warmer, she will need to bathe every night. If her mom will fill the tub, daughter can pretty much wash herself.

Help her with wiping. This is one of the hardest things to teach children. They have a hard time reaching, so work on this with her. Wipe until there is on more poop on the paper "if you need help" "ask me or dad to help you".

A child that is not well cared for, shows signs of a depressed, over worked or distracted parent. (Or, she is doing this on purpose to upset you and the ex) I know you are concerned. I would document these incidents (do not make it a big deal, do not tell her in case this is just a momentary lapse).

It is ok every once in a while for this to maybe going on, but if it is truly every week, your husband may need to ask his ex if everything is ok? Maybe she needs a break?

Decide if you are willing to keep this child for a few weeks. Make it an offer, because you are concerned, not a threat with judgement.

Try to be calm about this, no drama for the mama!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I am shocked at almost everyones' responses! For them to think that bio mom is not neglecting her baffles me. In my opinion, what you describe is the epitome of neglect! I think people need to re-read your post and zone in on your words, which were: "Every time she comes over (not once in a while or sometimes, but EVERY TIME) her clothes look like she wore them for a week." Every time is unacceptable! Then you said she smells - YUCK!!! No child who is not going through puberty should smell (I am going to assume it was an extremely offensive smell, such as a stench). And even if a child is going through puberty, that child still probably wouldn't smell so badly! Then you said her underwear was stained beyond belief. YUCK!!! To me, stained beyond belief means that her mother puts on the same dirty underwear several days in a row! I'm about to puke, that is so gross! Then you said her ears are always packed with wax. The key word here is "always." Doesn't her mother see that there is wax growing out of her ears????? What is her problem??? And then, your poor neglected step daugher told you her mother never brushes her teeth at home. OMG!!! That sure sounds like neglect to me! Again, I want to vomit.

For the record, I am not divorced. I am married with three kids, and I am on your side (you, the stepmom). You are looking out for the well-being of your step daughter, so good for you!!! Something must be done about this. I would call CPS, actually, and have them make a surprise visit to her mother's house so they can see for themselves how this girl is living. There are many forms of neglect, everyone. Neglect is more than dropping off a child on the side of a highway and driving off. Neglect is also what A. described - very poor hygiene is neglect!

I think people couldn't get past the fact that you are the stepmom, so they instantly became defensive. Not all step moms are bad, and shame on them for assuming that about you! I'm not sure why you mentioned something about a child support tax refund, but nevertheless, poor hygiene is neglect! I bet you and your husband could have full custody of her (or joint custody at the very least). I would call CPS. Good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

Cottonelle flushable wipes are great. It's much easier for a child to wipe correctly and actually get clean with them. Maybe you could buy her those and have her take some home with her.

A point others have not addressed is that her mother may be purposely leaving her in stained clothes for your visits. Not out of spite but simply because she doesn't want to send her good clothes in case they get lost or stained.

It's not uncommon for the moms on here to read entirely too much into a question. I imagine you only mentioned that the mother received your husband's tax check to reaffirm that she can afford new clothes.

In a lot of cases the women who receive child support are not responsible or reasonable in how they spend it. Especially with lump sum payments. But society as a whole refuses to acknowledge that, and it's hard to prove.

I think your best option is just to lead by example. Keep her clean during your visits. Have her brush her teeth and hair. Buy her nice clothes to wear and keep them at your house.

I think the mistake most parents make in this situation is insisting to do all the child care their way without any inpute from the other parent. Men often get shafted in this department. But if you've already tried to talk to her about it, all you can really do now is lead by example.

I'm surprised though that many other posters see nothing wrong with a child being dirty. My kids play outside. Tons of their clothes are stained. And they're plain messy. But they bathe regularly. And I would never send them to someone else's house all dirty.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Do you get her Sat AM or Fri PM? kids can get pretty dirty in a day of play and food and fun! but first thing in the AM you would hope she has clean clothes/ I agree with posters who think putting her in dirty clothes could be mom's way of hoping you will buy her new clothes and do laundry. Be careful not to interregate (sp?) the child about hygiene. Ignore most of what a 4 yr old says. Dad should be the one to question mom about ear wax and dental visits-if the dentist says teeth are healthy than it's fine, let the dentist talk to mom if not. I love the idea of sending her back with cute pink soaps.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

My husband is that way. When she has a dad day, she looks like what you describe.

She just came in from a figure skating lesson and was off to a church retreat. I saw her for 2 seconds, grabbed a brush and started brushing her hair, he started hollering that they have to leave.

At least she went to church with her hair combed.

Anyway, perhaps dad can ask to have her more often or taker her back to court to get it changed.

Do keep an eye, but at this point I don't think it is anything the courts would raise a brow about and definitely not a reason for CPS.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I would talk to your DH about both of you teaching your SD more personal hygiene. We went through phases with my SD (who we had custody of) where she refused to do things like brush her hair. It wasn't neglect. It was a stubborn kid.

Even if it is neglect, the question then becomes how is your DH going to address it, both with his DD and with her mom? If she goes to daycare or preschool, does he have contact with them? Can he ask them how she is during the week when he doesn't see her?

When she is with you, you and DH should teach her how to take a bath, brush her teeth, the importance of brushing teeth, etc. Sometimes the way we combated differences of parenting (or lackthereof) was to teach the child. If you notice her underpants are stained, it might just be a 4 yr old with short arms. She may need to learn a new way of wiping if she can't reach well.

I would also be sure she got a bath early in the visit, and clean clothes. Many people will wash what the child arrived in so that is the outfit they return in, so nobody's clothes get lost.

ETA: I totally get being angry and feeling helpless. In fact, most stepmothers, myself included, go through a very angry phase at the start of their marriage railing against everything that isn't "fair". And, frankly, it is rarely "fair". All you can do most of the time is control YOUR reaction to the situation. And if it becomes apparent that your DH needs to go for more visitation or custody, you can support him, but that is his fight.

So for now you have to let go what she does with the CS. We never received CS and it wasn't a fight my DH was willing to fight, and I had to accept that. Did it tick me off that she didn't pay for either kid's braces? Sure. But I could either be angry and bitter over something that I couldn't change or I could say, "It's for the kid. It's not the kid's fault."

I also think that he should work on communication being through email or some other traceable and documentable method, that he should treat her like a business partner and be very to the point and professional with her. He should also express his concerns to the school or daycare so that they know he's aware and wants to fix it.

You have a very tough job. Try to pick your battles and work with your DH. Hang in there.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

Start documenting her condition when she is dropped off to you and use it to try to gain custody for the sake of the child. JMO

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answers from Buffalo on

If the grandparents watch her 2x per week, I'm surprised they don't help bathe her and if they are buying so many new clothes, why don't they change her?
Could you talk with them?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

IMO yes this is neglect. The mother sounds immature. Are her parents (your SD's grandparents, with whom your SD spends time) reasonable people? If you or your husband have a good relationship with them then maybe you can express your concerns and ask if they can help out a bit more with your SD's self care. If she will be going to pre-school or Kindergarten soon you can perhaps express your concerns in light of that...that if she were to show up at pre-school or daycare or Kindergarten the way she shows up at your house, it's highly likely that the teacher would refer her to the school nurse, the nurse would have to have an embarrassing conversation with the mother, and if things don't improve, they would then call CPS.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Richland on

Sorry, not neglect.

Starving, ignored medical issues are neglect, dirty is not.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I'd be calling social services on that mom. I would also assume that the girl isn't fed well and probably doesn't go to bed at a decent time. If this keeps up, the school is going to start worrying about her as well.

The hot head mom seems to just want to GET child support and not PAY child support, since she has you watching the child for part of the week and grandparents watching the child for part of the week. Do the grandparents not wash her or her clothes?

I'd be trying to get custody of this child if it were me...

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