Dealing with an Older Stepson

Written by Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Trying to survive my blended family marriage.

Question: My husband and I have developed a serious conflict over how to handle his 19-year-old son (my stepson). The son recently left college and moved back home, and he now seems determined to live his own life. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t show respect to me and in fact is often hostile. Yet he expects me to provide his meals and clean his clothes. Whenever I talk to my husband about the problem, he takes the side of his son. In my mind, the son is old enough to make it on his own. The situation has become so tense that I have told my husband that he needs to make a choice of whether he wants to keep our marriage going or not. What should I do?

There are a lot of issues here. The first is their marriage covenant. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, part of the vow says, “Forsaking all others.” That means the husband and wife will give preference to one another—even in a blended family situation. Kids need to know that there is one relationship in that family that transcends all other relationships and can’t be toyed with. They need the security of knowing that this husband and this wife are still going to be committed to one another, regardless of what happens.

I’d suggest that the husband consider taking his wife away and devising a game plan for how they will deal with this issue. He may need to ask forgiveness for failing to protect her in this situation. They need to talk through the situation—perhaps the husband fears that he will lose his relationship with his son if he cracks down.

Barbara: It may be that this 19-year-old young man sees that Dad is on his side and the stepmom is not. As a couple, they really need to get together and present a united front. There have been plenty of times that Dennis and I have disagreed in handling the kids. But we’ve tried to keep our mouths shut when the kids are there and talk about it later privately. We don’t present two totally different opinions in front of the kids so that they can play off one or the other.

Dennis: The wife is right—it’s time for that young man to grow up. The husband and wife need to agree and clarify to the stepson what’s appropriate and inappropriate for how he relates to his stepmother. She needs to be protected. If he doesn’t comply with your guidelines, tell him that he will need to move into his own apartment. Even if he does comply, they all need to come to an agreement about when this young man should get a job and move out on his own.

Barbara: I’m reminded of a situation that we faced as a family years ago with a child in the neighborhood who was a bully to our children. One of my thoughts at the time was, “I wish this child didn’t live near us.” But he was there, and I knew as a Christian, I had to love that child too. I began to ask the Lord to give me love for him. So I began to miraculously give me a genuine compassion for the child because of God.

In the same way, I can see how a stepmom could wish this child wasn’t in the family. But the God of the universe can put love in our hearts for people who are unlovely. Children in blended families are going to feel like they don’t belong, and they often take it out on the stepparent. So that makes it harder for the stepparent to love in return. I would encourage this mom to try to love the son as much as possible. If she is a Christian, I encourage her to take this issue to God and pray for a genuine love for the stepson. She should get to know the stepson and see what the real needs of his heart are. That doesn’t mean that she has to go soft on him. But if the stepson and her husband see she genuinely loves and cares for the son, that will go a long way toward resolving the problem.

Copyright© 2005.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

Ten Ways to Support Your Wife as a Stepmom

A Stepmom’s Journey Out of Resentment.


116 Responses to “Dealing with an Older Stepson”

  • steve says:

    thanks for the input Jamie, but thing with Marriage counselors all parties need to be in agreement, that would not work with me, I just can not feel towards her son the way I would if he were mine, I cant forgive his behaviour, the kicked in doors, the holes in the walls he has punched in, the disgusting foul language and threats towards me, his mother just seems to forgive and forget within a few hours, and she expects me to do the same, I just cant, I have no bond, no feelings towards him, all I feel towards him now is hate. I just want him out my life, and sadly I feel the only way to do that is to go my own way, otherwise all this resentment inside me will explode towards him one day and i will end up doing something i regret..

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    I agree that the first priority needs to be working on your marriage first and unifying your position towards children before there is much hope of remedying the relationship with your step children. Family and Marriage counselors can be a huge help in bring an objective perspective to the family dynamics. When husband and wife are agreed upon how they will set and reinforce the boundaries for their kids then they can work as a team towards helping to guide their children towards healthier ways of dealing with each other.

  • steve says:

    well Fedup it seems we are both on the same wavelength, I have put up with this situation for 3 years now, and I have always said to myself I will never date another woman with kids, but given my age, that would be hard, so I will just never date a woman who had kids living at home with her. Which is a shame because my 2 lads are polite, hard working young men.

    I have had real thoughts of leaving, just to be happy and feel at ease in my own little place without been on edge ALL the time, it cant be doing my health any good having all this resentment building up inside of me. I hope you find the courage to find happiness and calm in your life, and I hope I have the courage to, I have been hoping now for 3 years things will get better, but they just keep getting worse day by day.

  • Fedup says:

    It sounds like your wife has chosen her son over you. While that seems natural, it’s not right. I finally got the courage to speak to my SS about his behavior and my spouse defended him, right in front of him! I’m done. I told my husband I’d rather be alone on my own than supporting this situation. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Sounds like you need to do the same. And I will not date someone with kids again…. ?

  • steve says:

    I have been reading these threads, and I am glad I am not alone, My stepson is almost 18, and I am generally a guy who gets on with most, but I really hate him with a passion.. He is the most vulgar, foul mouthed lazy person I have ever known.. He has no respect for anyone, he has got kicked out of 5 colleges.. he swears and shots his mom, and recently I had to call the police out to him as he was smashing things up and threating me. Not the first time I may add.. I have not spoken to him the past month but the atmosphere is terrible in the house. I want him out the house but my partner always sticks up for him and forgives him, which ends up in us arguing about him, which usually ends with my partner telling me to leave! I love her, but the situation is no good for me, so I really don’t know what to do for the best..

  • Fed up says:

    Boy can I relate. I have 18 yo SS who graduated from high school and doesn’t do anything. He won’t get a job, he does the absolute minimum around the house and he is here full time. His mother is mentally ill so she is not an option. The other day SS got mad and punched a hole in the wall! I’m so fed up and my husband just buries his head in the sand. Does it ever get better? I have my own 14 yo son who is delightful but is watching all this horrible behavior. He asks me why I stay in this marriage…not sure I have an answer.

  • Bonusmom says:


    Thank you. Your insight and relation to your own personal experiences gives me a much different perspective. My husband just isn’t seeing things the way you or I do. But, I certainly want to try to work on my marriage and overcome this situation if possible. If nothing else, I have learned that I do need to learn to love myself and accept my own shortcomings and work on myself and being a better person. I know that I love my husband and hopefully that will be a good starting point for us both.
    Thank you again for your advice.

  • Claire says:

    Bonusmom, you deserve respect, not only from your stepson, but from your husband as well. It is time you step your foot down and tell him the way it is going to be. I don’t normally recommend it, but you need to tell your stepson, “Buy your own car. If you are going to be disrespectful to me or say you hate me, then you do not need to be using my car.”

    I’m sorry, dear, but you are too easy on him. You know, love is one thing, but if you are not happy and don’t feel revered, then it is time you take matters into your own hands.

    I, finally, told my stepson that I no longer want him in my life because he didn’t do anything but hurt me. Yes. I love him, but I refuse to live my life around a person who has no regards for my feelings. He says I have been mean to him and that is just not true. I married his father, not him. So I started concentrating on him, not his son. As a matter of fact, I stopped talking to him altogether.

    You want to know something? My husband is on my side and understands that his son is an overbearing Narcissist, who thinks the world revolves around him. I just found out, recently, I have some physical problems and we are not telling him. You know why? Because he would make it all about him and how he doesn’t want to lose me. Yet, in texts, he was telling my husband that he needed to put his foot in my bottom, to make me behave the way he wants me to and to accept his lifestyle or his behavior.

    You, my dear, need to respect and love yourself, then watch how things turn around for you. And, if your husband doesn’t want to work on your marriage with you, I hate to say it, but maybe it’s time to move on.

    Before you do anything, regarding his son, I suggest you read up on Narcissist and what they do and how to deal with them without causing problems for yourself.

    The best to you. This is your life. It is too short to always be upset and hurting because someone decides to treat you with such disdain.

  • Bonusmom says:

    Jamie et all, Thank you for the reply. Quick update, that night my stepson decided to pack up his stuff and move out. This was somewhat of a shock, but not entirely as he has threatened this before in the past.

    To answer your question, my husband is not providing much support. He has issues with guilt and his son is everything to him. I am more concerned about where my son is going when he leaves with my car and when he will be home. I am also shocked when he tells me instead of asks me if he can use my car? What is it with kids today? They act like they are so entitled to everything.

    Where I need some help from you the readers is with how to deal with all of this. I feel very alone and am at times struggling to find my strength to smile.

    On Monday my stepson wanted to pick up some remaining items he left. We agreed to have him stop by the house that evening. He had been texting with my husband on and off that day about college and his classes etc., so the two were communicating. But, my husband didn’t mention the episode regarding his moving out and honestly, I believe it is easiest for my husband to simply act like nothing is wrong and continue on as normal. So I offered for us to sit down and discuss the situation with my stepson that evening when he stopped by to get his stuff. I explained to my husband we should confront the issues and deal with them as a family so we can clear the air and then move on and create better communication between us all. We are a family and I love my stepson. He agreed and I thought this was a good approach.

    When my stepson came home he gave me a cold shoulder and refused to speak to me. We said we wanted to speak to him together because we love him and don’t want to ignore the issues or pretend nothing happened. My stepson refused to want to speak to me, he said he would talk to his dad but not me. He said his dad was his bio dad and I am not. So he didn’t feel he had to speak to me if he didn’t want to. After we explained that we are a team (my husband and I) and we are a family and we will work through this together as one. We pressed him and with some convincing he finally let the onslaught of feelings flow. He proceeded to tell me I am selfish, I do things because of the wrong reasons, I call him names, such as mooch (this is true and it happened one time, when he refused to help or make any money to help pay for gas for everyone shuttling to and from his basketball games). Truly people such as neighbors and friends were starting to feel the lack of appreciation from him. He proceeded to tell me I treat him like an Ass! Not sure where or why he feels this way, and I asked for some examples but he lacked any he could provide at the time. I admit I am sometimes tough on him, but the kid lives a charmed life and seems to think he is entitled to everything.

    I refuse to agree that I treat him this way. He said many mean and hateful things to me that evening leaving me wrought with emotions. The things he said I believe, are not his feelings, but rather his mothers feelings towards me. She truly can’t stand me and it is very well known her feelings for me reach the level of hate and resentment. My stepson and his mom are very close and I know he has been confiding in her for the past couple of years.

    So, help me Power To Change readers, I am hurt and feel as if my husband heard what his son said and he immediately took this information as the truth. My husband feels I am tough on my stepson, but he has never said I am treating him badly or disrespecting him. I can be hard on him, but it is with good intentions and no ill will. I thought this is what parents and even stepparent a do…I apologized to my stepson that night and said I didn’t want this to be how he felt, but in the end he basically told me he hated me and he hugged his father and left.

    Is divorce in my future? Will my husband ever support me or see the sacrifices I have made to support him and his two kids? Why do I feel so bad? Why do I feel so alone? Should I realize I did nothing wrong? Is this typical behavior of an 18 year old? I cannot sleep and I am so upset about this…. Please provide any recommendations you have. Thank you.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Watersmom, do you feel like your husband supports your attempts to deal with your stepson’s disrespect? How do the conversations go when the two of you talk about the home environment? It must be very confusing for your stepson to have different standards in the homes that he lives in, but most kids can figure that out and deal with the differences. Do you think he would prefer to be full time at his bio-mom’s home? Could that be why he is acting out at your place?

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Kelly, I would suggest that the first step needs to be between you and your husband working out a united front so that his son does not pull the two of you apart. If your conversations always turn into a conflict it is a good idea to look at meeting with a marriage counselor to help the two of you come to an agreement. If you two are divided there is no way that you are going to be able to set boundaries with your stepson that will be observed.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Bonusmom, what does your husband think about the way his son treats you? Have you guys been able to come up with a united front to deal with his disrespect? Is your concern that his use of the car conflicts with your need for it, or are you more concerned about knowing where he is with your car to be sure he is not taking it into dangerous situations? I would suggest that clear boundaries are important for any teenager using a family car and you do not need to feel guilty about reinforcing those boundaries.

  • WatersMom says:

    I have a 14 year old step-son and can also relate. Although he is not old enough to leave the house on his own, it is a very tense and difficult situation. I have always treated him like one of my own. I have been in his life since he was 8. He blatantly disrespects me in front of the other children. He has come to purposefully destroy items that are mine or brought with me to the marriage; ie. couch and chair. Tells his father “I didn’t do it”, “it was that way when I got here”. It’s not true. I am at wits end. Doesn’t respect either myself or his father at all. Sits and “tunes us out” when we try to speak to him about situations. He only wants to be with his mother who lets him “be the adult” at her house as she has no significant other. He is 14….not a man….should not expect that that type of behavior will be allowed in our home where we have husband, wife and three other children. His treatment of the other three children is not appropriate as well, including his own biological sister. Very controlling/nasty attitude towards the other children. Biological mother tells him that we are being ridiculous and that “there is nothing wrong with your behavior”. Fed up!

  • Kelly says:

    I have a20year old stepson and I can relate. His not helping at all in the house. I leave work at 6:15 in the morning and only coming home at 17:00. His at home but when I get home the house is a mess. His on the internet or doing his hair. I spoke to my husband but his not doing anything. I will bring application forms from work for him to fill in but no Mr don’t want to do that type of work. He does have gr12 but he is picky. I told his is only until he finds what he’s looking for but no. His mother put him out of her house because his lazy but I must sit with him now. He going to bed after 12 and only get up after 12. I took leave for 2 days and i wanted to go back to work. He showers for more then 15 minutes and i ask my husband to talk to him. I cant take it anymore, i fight with my husband. When he was small we want him to stay by us and we took her to court because she was unfit mom and we won but our lawyer said we must give him back beause she wanted to kill herself and now she cant take it either.( she told my husband) i cant cant take it anymore. I have 2 other kids to support and i loved him as my own and treated him as my own but the other day he introduce me as “his fathers wife”

  • Bonusmom says:

    Darn spell check…Reposting: Thank you so much for this post. I am dealing with a similar issue. My stepson seems to think he is entitled to take my car whenever and to go where ever he wants. When I ask him when he will be back, I get the proverbial, “I don’t know”. Then he will often throw in, “I am going to stop by and see my mom before I head home.” This leaves me feeling guilt ridden and foolish as if I am being a bit overbearing. But, it is my vehicle and I feel these are not inappropriate questions to ask someone who is using it. Plus, I would never tell him he could not see his mother. In fact I believe this is why he handles my questions the way he does. What frustrates me is the tone he responds in and the disrespect he showers upon me when I inquire about where he is going and when he will be home.
    Any recommendations from anyone?

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