Stepmom is at a breaking point

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 15, 2012 06:00 AM

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[This letter has been condensed, BFM]
Barbara,

I feel like a terrible person that I have such anger and resentment ... toward my stepson. My husband and I are late 40's and have been together for 5 years; his son has spent summers with us, and he is now 19. His mom is remarried and lives 1000 miles away. He came to stay with us last June and ...enrolled at our local community college.

Fast forward to the end of the semester, and he failed all his classes by simply never attending (while pretending to go off to school each day). Add to this, that this boy has never done a single chore in his lifetime; he is the only child of a stay-at-home mom, and has never been expected to lift a finger. My husband and I both work full time, and we come home exhausted to a kid who sits around playing video games and texting all day, and we can't even trust him to walk the dog, take out the trash, or do anything around the house.

The past year or so his attitude has become increasingly angry, sullen and combative. He calls his mother and father terrible names, complains about everything, posts disrespectful vitriol on Facebook, rarely emerges from his room, has violent outbursts (punched holes in walls on several occasions) and is mean to our pets.... We pay for his cell phone and give him a generous allowance for basically doing nothing.

His parents never punish or discipline him....not once have his parents so much as given him a stern talking to. This is what causes me the most resentment of all, even more than his behavior. Their tacit approach to discipline is sending the message that his behavior is acceptable for a pseudo-adult! In fact, Daddy keeps giving him money and buying him video games, throwing good money after bad. I have no problem with my husband supporting his child, or having a chance to spend time with him; what bothers me is the persistent permissiveness in the face of the boy's increasingly bad behavior.

If I even suggest that he be expected to help around the house, be taught to manage his money, or, GOD FORBID, get an actual paying job, I am routinely ignored. I realize that I don't have children and therefore can't be expected to know how to raise them, but it seems to me that there should be a modicum of common sense applied to this situation.

...This is the ONLY issue my husband and I disagree or argue about, but I am at my wit's end. I am in the middle of this bad situation, yet I am not allowed a "vote" on anything.

Do other parents of teenagers simply continue to lower the bar of expectations until it finally sinks to the level of their child's behavior? Is this what passes for effective parenting nowadays? How can I find any remote redeeming value in this kid so that I don't end up hating him? Is it too late for that? Is this going to ruin my otherwise wonderful marriage????

From: Frustrated in DC

Dear Frustrated,

In spite of your long email, I'm going to give you a short answer: Get professional help. All three of you need it.

Many parents of teenagers struggle with difficult behaviors but, no, what you're describing is not typical and it's not what passes for effective parenting, not even "these days."

The situation you describe is not healthy for anyone, least of all this young man. The relationship you describe between him and his parents has been dysfunctional for a long time, his acting-out behaviors sound like a textbook example of a teenager crying for attention and age-appropriate limits. It may have started because he was angry about the divorce (which is typical for most kids of divorce) but now it's blossomed into full-fledged fury, depression -- who knows what else? -- for reasons he probably can't even identify. I suspect only therapy will help.

Your husband sounds like he needs help dealing with his own issues, not the least of which is why he's permitted his son to walk all over both of you for all these years and why he's ignored you when you beg him to change the dynamics.

You need help to deal with your anger, and you and your husband need counseling to figure out how to keep your marriage together. In the meantime, for your own sanity, I suggest you set some minimal expectations with your stepson. Be sure to make them about you, not about him. For instance, instead of saying, "Can't you at least say thank you?!" tell him, "I'm happy to include you in our dinner, but I feel like a servant when you leave the table without saying thank you. Could you please do that from now on?"

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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2 comments so far...
  1. It's easier for some parents to give their kids money and hope they go away, than to actually spend TIME with them. The previously set paradigm for time your stepson spent with his dad is summers, when most expectations for kids are pretty loose. It doesn't sound like your husband has had much experience with the structure and discipline of a child and his activities during a school week and/or weekend. Your anger is understandable but this is mostly your husband's problem to solve, with your support. In addition to counseling, I suggest that he figure out what he and his son can do together for fun that does not include you. I feel they need to repair their own relationship first, in baby steps. You have an important support role to play for both of them and it will be helpful if your stepson does not perceive you as the bad guy and does not feel 'ganged up on' by his father and you. Don't give up.

    Posted by Donna Dudley March 15, 12 09:06 AM
  1. Professional help makes sense, but by the tone of your letter it doesn't sound like your husband would be willing as he sees nothing wrong with this messed up situation. Perhaps you can see a therapist alone, but eventually it sounds like you will simply have to play the bad guy to straighten things out. Obviously your husband has no backbone so you have no choice.

    Even though his age ends in "teen", I would not consider him a teenager at 19. He is an adult whether he acts like it or not. The fact the he does not have a job, attend school, or even have basic chores, is just ridiculous. We have men his age defending our country for crying out loud! I know you want advice but I think you already know what the answer is. Good luck.

    Posted by Dad March 15, 12 09:10 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. It's easier for some parents to give their kids money and hope they go away, than to actually spend TIME with them. The previously set paradigm for time your stepson spent with his dad is summers, when most expectations for kids are pretty loose. It doesn't sound like your husband has had much experience with the structure and discipline of a child and his activities during a school week and/or weekend. Your anger is understandable but this is mostly your husband's problem to solve, with your support. In addition to counseling, I suggest that he figure out what he and his son can do together for fun that does not include you. I feel they need to repair their own relationship first, in baby steps. You have an important support role to play for both of them and it will be helpful if your stepson does not perceive you as the bad guy and does not feel 'ganged up on' by his father and you. Don't give up.

    Posted by Donna Dudley March 15, 12 09:06 AM
  1. Professional help makes sense, but by the tone of your letter it doesn't sound like your husband would be willing as he sees nothing wrong with this messed up situation. Perhaps you can see a therapist alone, but eventually it sounds like you will simply have to play the bad guy to straighten things out. Obviously your husband has no backbone so you have no choice.

    Even though his age ends in "teen", I would not consider him a teenager at 19. He is an adult whether he acts like it or not. The fact the he does not have a job, attend school, or even have basic chores, is just ridiculous. We have men his age defending our country for crying out loud! I know you want advice but I think you already know what the answer is. Good luck.

    Posted by Dad March 15, 12 09:10 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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