My new husband thinks my son is embarrassing
Tell Me About It: He says my son’s behaviour should result in him being asked to leave the home
I am confident my son has not been using drugs, but I have been very worried about his mental health
Over the past six months my 19-year-old son has started to act strangely, initially disengaging from his friends and family life, spending most of his time alone in his bedroom. He has also been acting out of character, being sullen and rude at home and on several occasions he has been very insulting to our neighbours when they have come to visit, which has been most embarrassing. I have seen letters from his college threatening expulsion if his attendance does not improve.
He has had virtually no contact with anyone outside our house for several months, so I am confident that he has not been using drugs, but I have been very worried about his mental health. I spoke to our GP who referred him to a therapist. He was initially reluctant to engage but eventually admitted to me that he was concerned about himself. Thankfully, he is now attending regular sessions.
Following the death of his father when he was five, I reared him on my own until I remarried when he was 17 to someone I knew for only a brief period. I am now a full-time mum to my two young step-daughters.
My new husband is very dismissive of my son’s difficulties and has stated several times that he is an embarrassment and that his behaviour towards our neighbours should result in him being asked to leave the home. I feel very alone and I have started to wonder if I rushed into a marriage with someone who sees me as a surrogate mother to his children but has little or no interest in supporting me in any way with my only child.
Well done on getting your son to see a therapist, your insight and competence in understanding his problem and then getting help for him is admirable. There are more steps however, in that his relationship with his step-father and family remains a problem.
It sounds as though he removed himself from his world and his distress showed itself in anger and resentment. His job now is to engage fully in life again and he will need lots of security and back-up to do this. That you have his back is unquestionable but it remains to be seen whether you feel it is worth the effort to engage his step-dad in this future.
The real question is your relationship with your husband. Both of you have children of previous relationships and unlike other relationships that have time to develop and grow over many years before responsibilities kick in, you have both been capitulated into the middle of family life that perhaps you are unprepared for.
This would test even the best of relationships and I wonder if you and your husband could do with some help and education about this. Family therapy can offer couple only sessions as well as the option of including some or all of the children. What is at stake here is family life and intimacy patterns for all concerned – all the children will need role models for handling crises and trusting that your loved ones will stay, even when there are difficulties.
Commitment and loyalty are all at stake in your life right now. You offer both to your son but feel that you are not receiving these from your husband and in return, your husband might be feeling your distance and questioning of the relationship.
If nothing happens, then this situation is likely to play itself out with your relationship with your husband and step-children deteriorating to the point where leaving is the only option. While this is a very real possibility, the current crisis also offers opportunities for challenge and connection and from your letter it would seem that you are the most competent person to initiate this.
In a crisis, our usual patterns are overcome and we have the chance to take actions that we would usually avoid or ignore. Your son’s crisis has shown that all is not well in this family and there are important things that need to be faced and tackled.
The patterns that have emerged are not working and repeating these endlessly with the hope of a different outcome is not intelligent. Your husband thinks that your son leaving home is the answer – you know that this will create a huge split in your relationship and yet your answer is to also divide the family.
Before this option is taken it is worthwhile taking the risk of committing to therapy for a period of time so that everyone can be heard and understood. Trust your recent experience with seeking solutions for your son and with that determination in your heart, you will get your husband and son on board as they both love and need you. The smaller children are the possible huge losers in this scenario and what is best for them needs to be centre to all discussions.