HELP! Need advice regarding Adult Step Son.

ssmith4425June 15, 2009

Sorry in advance for the long post. I need advice regarding how to handle a situation between my wife of 6 years and her son who is now 25. She has sons 27, 25 and daughters 22 and 16. I have sons 16, 14 and daughter 13. SS25 is the only one who lives with us full time. SS25 was 19 and had graduated from high school but still living at home when his mother and I got married. When we were dating I noticed a tendency for mom to dote on him (still made his appointments, fixed his plate at dinner, would drop everything go to the grocery store when he was out of his favorite cereal, etc.) and I commented about it then but was met with bristling anger so I backed off. Once we were married, and I moved in I noticed even more pervasive "doting" and I tried to explain to her that she was holding him back in development (the boy did not have many basic life skills since mom always did them). This was our major flash point for fights during the first 9 months of marriage and the more I tried to point out her "stunting of his growth" the more it became about me attacking her son and her parental capabilities. During this time, he was taking a couple of classes of college at the local JC and working sporadically. After 9 months, he decides to move out (with only a part time, summer job for income) into a very expensive apartment with a roommate. Well, the real world bit him badly and 6 months later he wanted to move back home. Later I found out that mom had been slipping him money and gave him our gas card that he charged several hundred dollars on. Anyway, he asks to move back for 2-3 months to get back on his feet and mom says yes (does not consult me, just tells me that hes coming back). Well, that was 5 years ago now. In the meantime, he has tried to do college a couple of courses at a time and he does have a part-time job. However, we still paid for everything and he had no rent or car expense (we bought him a used car before he moved out).

Two years ago, without consulting us, he traded in his perfectly good car, bought a sports car and took out a hefty loan for it (Bio uncle co-signed thank goodness). I got very angry at this and felt taken advantage of (his mom didnÂt see it). We went to counseling and when the counselor tried to point out that she was stunting her sonÂs growth, she got mad at the counselor and we havenÂt been back. Her excuse was that the counselor didnÂt know her son and if she did, should would have been on "her side". At that point I tried to implement a contract between SS25 and us over momÂs protests so that it would spell out our (mostly mine) expectations of him and the parameters of living at home because I was upset that he bought the car rather than preparing to move out or take more classes to get though school faster. Out of this came a schedule of him taking over his insurance, cell phone and he started paying $100 rent. I could not get a "move out" date, only that mom wanted him to stay at home till he graduates. A year ago, he traded in his sports car and bought a twice as expensive sports car ($40k). I exploded over this and his mom and me had a meltdown and almost divorced. She says sheÂs perfectly fine with him doing this since he deserved it for being such a good kid (and the kidÂs not bad, just has a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome). This caused a modification of the contract to include a "full-time" student clause and an escalating rent to eventually $250 (over 12 months). The allowed an uneasy truce between his mom and me.

After this long rambling back story, hereÂs my problem: He only took 9 hours in the spring and heÂs decided to take the summer off since heÂs "burned out" with school (he has about 40 hours left for his degree). HeÂs violated the "full-time student" clause of the contract and the penalty clause is that he has to work full time and his rent goes to $400. I tried to discuss this with his mom and she essentially tore the contract up in my face and said "HeÂs my son and he can stay here for as long as he wants. This is his home, your contract be d@mned." Of course, she threatened divorce if I try to raise his rent or make him work full time. She also called me a shameful, bitter man who has it out for her son. So, interested readers (if anyoneÂs left), should I just lay down or stand my ground and probably end up divorced. Anyone else been in the situation?

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Its interesting she said if counselor knew her son, Counselor would see it differently. It seems to me that mom is not going to listen to you. Any hope in all 3 going to counselor (and by that I include seperate appts with all of you, then group meeting for counselor to try to suggest productive behavior/actions)? Sometimes people need to hear it from outside person. btw, I have also been told that sometimes it helps if counselor is same sex as recalcantriat parent (and in your case, would be best if consunelor was a woman). Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 4:35PM
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Sounds like you're in a pretty tough spot...

It doesn't sound like SS is a complete goof off. Not if he's actually been paying the bills he's agreed to (with this one last exception). That's A LOT better than many adult children. Note: I'm not saying it's good enough or taking your wife's side.

You got her to agree to counseling, and that's a logical suggestion to make again -- though the outcome would likely be the same since it sounds like she's got her back up.

Have you ever asked her: "Honey - Remember when we went to coundeling about this and the counselor said you were codling him too much, and you replied that if she knew you son, she wouldn't feel that way? I'm trying to understand your viewpoint. Could you clarify for me why it is you think SS is different from most other young men his age and would need the different approach?"

Then really listen and see what she has to say.

Consider that you've got a lot of other kids right behind this one in age, so agreeing on a set of financial policies for young adults is going to be an important issue.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 5:35PM
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9 credit hours of college, and taking the summer off because he s burned out? My dad was younger than him and shooting Germans, and boys back in my day were running thru the jungle with AK47s....Moms feeling a little too sorry for burn out boy...I d stand my ground Mr Smith....

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 5:53PM
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Thanks for the replies. I waver back and forth between the two positions offered - I agree that to break the poisonous triangle, DM and I have to be on the same page (read: counseling). I also think SS25 needs to learn consequences and the real world doesn't understand "burned out".

The problem with "contracts" that all these books and counselors recommend is that they are only good if everyone has bought into them. I have strong evidence (torn contract) that DM was never ready to follow through with the contract she signed and did it to humor me which of course, leaves me feeling emasculated (again).

I guess my anger/hurt stems from the "hey, we're only a team so long as my son is not involved. If he's involved, his needs come first." Kind of leaves me feeling hollow that I have to compete with my SS25 for the primary spot in DM's heart.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 6:11PM
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Bless your heart, ssmith... you are in a bit of a spot. I think your comment about contracts is spot on...aren't worth the paper they are written on if all parties are not committed.
Your focus on contracts got me thinking about one important contract...the one between you and your wife, i.e., your marriage contract. I am wondering in the vows you exchanged if there was anything in there about you vowing to help her help her son grow up into maturity?....or were your vows simply about being a good husband and partner?
I don't think the problem is with your stepson...the problem is between you & your wife...and she may very well be infantalizing her son...but it doesn't sound like she is asking for your help on this...either to help her stop what she is doing or to help her recalcitrant son leave the nest.
I agree with, should ask your wife those kind of questions and REALLY listen to her an effort to get to know her better, more might want to know how it is you can be a better partner/husband to her as she parents her son. "Honey, what is it you need from me relative to your son?"
If your issue is finances, then maybe you and your wife need to have a discussion of how to separate things out until her son is out on his own...the two of you can determine an equitable split of your expenses (if she can swing 50% of your joint living expenses and support her grown son, also...this shouldn't necessarily bother you).

If I read your post correctly, this young man was already 19 y/o when you married his mom. You didn't share how long you and your wife dated prior to getting married, but it sounds like the two of them probably considered you "mom's boyfriend" and now "mom's husband." I doubt either one of them actually think of you as a "father/parent" figure when it comes to this fellow...which is why your efforts to relate to him in a parental fashion are failing miserably.

I think you might experience greater success if you can sort out and clarify what your wife wants from you as a husband (and what you expect of her as a wife) than spending your time writing contracts for her son that no one will respect or honor anyway.

Good luck to you.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 6:50PM
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SSmith - I don't see the counseling/talk it out as necessarily different than the grow up/that's life approach, but rather a way to get there. Lets face it -- Mom isnt going to tell him to grow up. Sweeby and I are suggesting ways to get her there. Otherwise, I fear its kaput for you and DW. I hear you are frustrated.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 9:08PM
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Wrychoice1 - very sage advice. I forgot a definition of insanity is to keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome. You are absolutely right that I'm looking at it the wrong way. I'll try the suggestions.

Thanks all.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 2:58PM
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WOW!!! Your story is terrible. The first thing that comes to my mind is the two commedy movies out there, one I think is Mama's Boy, and I think the name of the other is Stepbrothers. In my situation we have a problem with my husands 2 adult daughters stating that they have been neglected and left out, etc (we invite them to everything, they often don't come because my kids and me are there, they want Daddy to themselves). My SDs do not live with us, they are in college and graduate school fulltime, so our problem with them is not like yours. Your SS is a physical drain as well as financial drain. My SDs are mostly an emotional drain on us. The movies might bring laughter to you. I doubt that your wife would watch them with you. She'd probably storm out of the room after a few minutes. They are pretty funny though. My DH and I rented them, and laughed until we almost wet our pants. It sounds almost exactly like the situation that you describe.

I agree with other posters who say that the main problem is with you wife. She does not respect you when she is making these decisions without consulting you. The foundation of your marriage is wrong. The most important person in her life should be you, and pleasing you. The most important person in your life should be her and pleasing her. Major decisions like these should be agreed upon together. It sounds like she has taken leadership of the home, and tells you how things are going to be. You are expected to go along with her demands. She missed the whole concept of marriage.

I give you much credit for all of your hard work on this matter. I do not understand why a woman would choose her adult son's desires over the desires of her husband. I cannot relate to this.

I hope you saved the torn contract. The three of you need to go to counselling together. Take the contract with you.

I have a son who is 17, turns 18 in 2 weeks. I could totally see my son following in the footsteps of your stepson. I have tried and tried to get him to stand up and be a man. Funny thing, he is joining the Marine Corps, and ships out in October. I know that will take care of the next 4 years. But I can totally see him trying to move back home and mooch after then. My husband wouldn't allow it, neither would I. The best thing I can do for my son is push him out of the nest and make him stand up for himself. Some mothers have a hard time letting go. They think that if they do more, give more, that this will help the child. But it only makes the child more dependent and stunts their development as you put it.

My hat goes off to you for all your hard work. Stand your ground.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2009 at 11:20AM
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Best wished to your son. I would be shocked if he doesnt come home a man.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2009 at 11:37AM
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Failure to launch is a common problem. I understand how you feel about that, but your wife does not have to agree. That doesn't make her right and you wrong on the principles of the matter. It only means she does not have to conform to your way of thinking and dealing with her son. You joined this household and claimed yourself a purpose, a rather contentious one. The worst part is you knew how she was and how he was before you married. Got married and decided the situation had to change according to how you wanted. I applaud your wife for standing up to you and standing her ground. She is entitled to her own feelings and opinion in the matter. She can allow him to get away with murder if she so desires. You are wrong to force your beliefs on them, especially that you walked into a situation you knew existed and turned disagreeable a relationship that may be otherwise a happy marriage. This guy is not your son, and it is too late to raise him, but you find fault with everything he does and determine the "contract" then has to change. You are the one keeps changing the terms of the agreement because he does something and you don't like he does it. You never said he did not abide. You only stated that he upgraded his vehicles, therefore you insisted he pay more since obviously he has more. What is it with the car you and DW purchased for him? Was it yours and not his to make the decision to trade it in? Did you buy him a car and still claim it as your own? Well, go ahead and be right if it is so important to you. I prefer to just be happy without all the unnecessary drama.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2009 at 12:28PM
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