After days of agonizing over this "parenting thing", I'm feeling a sense of calm and control in how I process the situation. Almost immediately after my last post, I started changing my own language towards M & S. Saying things like "I expect" before telling them something (as in "I expect those dishes will be cleared by the time I count to 10" instead of "clear your dishes"). That has made a difference.
I've also explained to them some "non-negotiables", like lying. So, when I caught S in a lie Monday, I made it very clear that I "expected" her to tell me the truth and that lying was not going to be tolerated by either J or I. I also expressed that I would almost always be more mad if she lied to me than whatever it was that she wasn't being truthful about. On Tuesday, she lied again so I reinforced the lesson and said "I've talked to you about this two times. If it happens again, you are losing something from your room and not getting it back". Wednesday rolls around and low and behold, there is a lie. So, I take a handful of shells from her dresser and reiterate why I'm taking them. Haven't given them back and haven't been lied to since. Mind you, these are not big lies...they're the "have you brushed your teeth or made your bed" variety, but a lie is a lie.
The best development though came last night when J and I sat down for a "parenting brainstorming session" and I think we really identified some things that we can address. We have a list of "rules", both for us and for the girls and agreed how important it is to provide a unified front, defend each other and have consistent expectations for the girls. We were on the same page and both committed to making the changes.
So, I've written out our game plan and we're going to mull it over for a few days before presenting it to the girls in our first "family meeting". It feels really good to have a plan (shocker for me...the planner) and my hope is that if we can get these "building blocks" into place when they're young, we'll at least stand a chance during the tween and teen years. Fingers crossed.