When to call it quits? What to do?
Here’s our situation, please tell me if you can suggest anything.
Our family consists of myself and my husband, my biological son 16, and my stepson, 17. I also have two biological adult sons who are living on their own. My husband has a biological adult daughter who is also living on her own. The problem is that my SS has many issues that have caused us a lot of tension, fighting and stress in the home.
His bio-mom has phone contact with my SS son but has hardly taken him for visits and never for an overnight or a weekend since he has been with us. He came to live with us a little over four years ago. The problems are related to smoking, drinking, drugs, school, sex, work and his disrespectful and inconsiderate attitude to the home and to me. I have had enough and have threatened, demanded, kicked and screamed at my husband to take control and stop allowing him to be so verbally abusive and destructive in our home. He does not follow any of the "rules". He has stolen from us and has been caught with drugs and alcohol in the home.
He is destructive and breaks things whenever he is confronted with his behavior and no consequences or punishments have made any difference. He has cost us money for many things including fines and tickets as well as auto insurance that he was supposed to be paying. As much as I am suffering with health problems now due to the stress in the home, my son, it has just came to light, is also suffering with depression and recently alluded to suicide. I am now getting my son counseling and they are treating his depression with medication. Although the reason has come out that a lot of what he is feeling is caused by the stressful home environment, my husband does not seem to understand the urgency of resolving the problem of having my SS continue to live in our home.
I understand he is months away from being an adult, but I have to be concerned with my own son at this point. We have tried many different approaches to deal with my SS. He was in outpatient drug counseling, he was in inpatient drug counseling, he was in counseling, and we were as well. He was treated with medication, which he ultimately ended up abusing.
It just goes on and on. I have threatened to leave with my son, but financially that is a very difficult situation, since we bought this house four years ago to take my SS in. The house has dropped in value and we wouldn’t even be able to pay the mortgage back. Anyway, I don’t know where to turn or how to handle this situation any more.
Thanks for any insights you can offer,
“At the end of my rope.”
Dear Sister Stepmom,
Reading your letter, I can certainly understand why you would feel upset after living through all the traumas you have lived through, especially having tried so hard and putting up with so much for so long. So many women in our position give and give and give to help the men we love and all the kids involved so everyone can feel happy.
What can be hard to except (what I know I resisted letting in for the longest time) is that some people don’t want to get along. Some kids are just so filled with anger and emotional wounds that they are unmoved by kindness or what’s right or what’s good for them. Accepting that there’s nothing we can do to change, to “fix” things is very hard. This is when the Serenity Prayer can offer some consolation -although even knowing the serenity prayer, many of us keep trying and trying hoping that if we try long enough and endure all the pain, things will somehow work out.
We can even feel that if we ever stop trying, we are quitting and while that’s not true, it can feel that way and keep us trying long after it is good for us to do so. Note: if you’d like more about the issue of ways for dealing with frustrations in healthy ways, please see my relationship article about “Turning Frustration into positive actions.”
Now back to you:
It sure sounds like you are at, what I call, a “choice point” in your life. While it’s often a despairing, scary and infuriating moment, it can also bring an infusion of freedom from a tremendous burden and the hope of good changes when we consider something that was previously out of the question.
Since you’ve already spent so much energy, time and money on your SS, let’s see what we can do for you, your bio-son and your hubby. See if anything here makes sense for you and your complex situation.
1. Re: Your bio-son: What about having your son go live with one of his brothers for the rest of the school year, maybe the summer, to give him a break from this truly stressful situation AND the security of being looked after by an older brother? I know this could be hard for you, but it struck me it may also help you to not have to worry about him while giving him a peaceful daily living situation. Maybe your parents? a dear Aunt or uncle? Sounds like he needs a big change right now to avoid some serious consequences.
2. Re: Your relationship with your Stepson: Can you give yourself some emotional, energetic space from your SS even though he is in your home? I say this because it sounds like your husband isn’t willing to draw the line and creating a safe boundary/buffer from the impact of your ss’s action. I found that devastating to admit. How would it feel to give yourself permission to completely ignore the issues associated with your ss, when it is NOT directly impacting you? I’m not suggesting that you take any grief or disrespect, but that you do whatever you can to avoid direct contact with him, as if HE was invisible.
If you haven’t read the “Stop trying, how to lovingly detach from your stepkids” post, please do so as it may give you some ideas you can customize for your situation.
Please read the Smommentary about “dealing with rude teenage skids” for another approach to reclaiming your power and your sense of well-being around a rude teenager.
From what you’ve said, he is hurting deeply and lashing out at all the good in his life. If you’re interested in understanding more about what might be causing this dynamic, the book, “The Drama of the gifted child” gives a detailed idea of how a child’s upbringing, rejection, neglect or separation from parents and early years can impact a child, later our every choice of behavior. I’m not suggesting you do ANYTHING more for him unless you want to-just FYI for the future. It’s there if you ever want to know more. If you can find a therapist who understands the work of Dr. Alice Miller, (author of that book) that would also be very helpful.
When I had to take the “stop trying” approach, what I realized was how many times my ss’s disrespectful behavior was a direct result of me trying to connect with him, trying to teach him, trying to influence him in some positive way. It was as if he had a “stepmom zapper” that reacted to any attempt I made to connect. It was as if he was only satisfied when he knew that he had really hurt me.
At one point, he was angry at me for treating him so kindly and NOT being his mom therefore making him feel guilty that I was doing more for him than his own mom and he felt too guilty liking/loving me. It was eaiser to be angry at me(the disposable parental unit), than to be angry or hurt by own his mom. I believe he had to distract himself from these very uncomfortable feelings by staying hateful and angry at me so he wouldn’t feel guilty or disloyal to his bio-mom. (That was a long sentence, did it make sense to you?) I was shocked when I realized this but I’ve found it true time and time again.
3. Re: Your hubby: I understand your housing situation AND your desire to be away from the constant and caustic stress. If your hubby is not willing or able to do whatever he needs to do to provide a peaceful home for you right now, can you find other places to stay for a few nights here and there? Can you give yourself some time to heal? Can you create some forms of rejuvenation to help you find your inner strength and sense of well-being?
You’ve been under so much stress that you’re probably (you, your hubby and your son) suffering from post traumatic stress and that’s nothing to mess with. Some people think that this approach is abandoning a husband. My view, (just my view) is that your husband has emotionally abandoned you every time he has allowed his son and/or anyone to mistreat you.
Just because your hubby has found some ways to handle, deal with, endure your ss’s behavior, he is still responsible for standing up for his wife. Many divorced dads, suffering from divorce guilt, years of divorced fears and ex-wife traumas are indeed in “emotional emergency mode” which usually hardens their hearts and vanquishes compassion for anyone who can’t endure the kind of pain they’ve been forced to endure for years and years. They lose their empathy because the pain is too much for them and they don’t know what else to do.
I feel these divorced men we love, need lots of support and yet if he is in a defensive “endure” mode he is not likely to be open to getting help or to let in any lovingkindness for fear he will fall apart, look weak or go postal. This is typical of a guy under years of duress. It sounds like he is in survival mode and therefore unable to help himself and his own wife. Some part of him sees this but it is often too painful to let that in, so they go deeper into denial, avoidance and distraction mode.
If this seems to be the case for your hubby, he’s probably not going to be able to help you in the ways you need help right now. You’re going to have to find ways to support yourself, until your hubby can join you. This may seem disloyal but my view is that you owe it to yourself to help yourself so you can regain your strength and therefore be more able to help your husband, if/when you want to. No judgments either way.
Leaving the house, doing whatever creative activities that will feed your Soul, energize your Spirit and soothe your heart would be terrific. Put on your creative thinking cap and see how many ideas you can come up with. Weekend retreats? Visiting family and friends you’ve been meaning to visit? Taking in the sites and pursuing something that you’ve always meant to do/see/learn/taste/try/hear can be very helpful.
I don’t advocate threats or ultimatums. It’s one thing to threaten to leave, it is another to take actions that help you after your husband has been unwilling to help you in the ways you’ve asked for. It’s empowering to realize that there are ways we can take care of ourselves, even if our husbands are not crazy about the idea. Who would want to be left alone in a nightmare experience? If you leave, even for the night, there are less distractions from the reality of the situation. Who is indeed responsible for handling the situation? If he’s not going to help you (or himself) by drawing healthy boundaries, then isn’t it empowering (and every adult’s right) to take actions for ourselves?
I wish there was a magic pill we could give the men we love so they could “wake up” to the way they’ve been manipulated, tormented, blackmailed and held hostage by their kids and ex-wives. I wish there were magic words to release the hold their unhealed past has on their good sense and their otherwise powerful personalities. Sadly, many men have been so manipulated that they’ve become numb to the tactic and/or just give up. I have tremendous compassion for these divorced Dads and believe that the more aware we are of taking care of ourselves, the better the chances are of them waking up to the reality of the situation, realizing just how much pain they are in, just how much they love and miss us and the steep price they are paying to stay in “defensive” mode.
With all that, what creative, self-caring choices do you have the ability to choose? The more choices you can come up with, the better you will feel, even if some of the ideas are silly, stupid, unreasonable or long shots. At least having a list of choices will help you resist any tempting urge to feel like a victim of the situation. I know this temptation. I also know feeling like a victim, blaming and judging doesn’t change anything, ever!
You have a right to feeling safe in your own home. You have a right to protect yourself, your son and your property, even from relatives...so does your husband. People can wake up, but that is not the reason for taking care of yourself and making tough choices to create some happiness for yourself and your son.
When you KNOW that you have the right to make choices for yourself, you will start to feel better right away. Given the reality of the situation and that you have tried everything that you can think of and are not getting the support of others in your world, if you don’t make the choices for change, who will? My coach taught me, “People change for two reasons, to seek pleasure and/or to avoid pain.”
I hope you will explore some choices and make some changes that will bring you more pleasure/peace and less pain. I’m so sorry for the years of pain and difficulties you, your son and hubby have been through. Maybe one day things will turn around, bit by bit or in a big way.
I hope this will trigger your thoughts and ideas in some helpful way.
My Best Wishes,