Dealing with an Older Stepson

Written by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

stepsonQuestion: 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.

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6 Responses to “Dealing with an Older Stepson”

  • B. Miller Brenda Miller says:

    Thank you so much for your comments, WickedStepmother. Your insights are much appreciated, and I completely agree with you when you say that “it must be the biological parent who delivers and enforces these messages. Otherwise, the stepmother is just being set up to be the permanent wicked witch.” However, I believe that the timeline for any action must be mutually agreed upon, and that, once a couple begin to speak as one to the “child” in the relationship, the possiblity for change is great. That is, the view of the step-parent as “the wicked stepmother” or “the wicked stepfather,” has tremendous potential for positive change. The critical factor is for the children in the new family unit NOT to be able to split the parents down the middle and play them off against one another. If one or the other parent is struggling with deep issues with guilt or other emotions that are preventing him or her from effectively disciplining his or her child from a previous marriage, then counselling may be necessary in order to learn how to overcome this and approach parenting in the new marriage as a team. It is only when approaching the children – including adult children – as one person – a team united as one in Christ – that success in parenting can be accomplished. Giving in to the indulgent wishes of the children, regardless of how old they are, is never an option leads to a successful, godly marriage.

    David, I pray that you have found help in coping with the manipulation of your step-son. If not, I suggest counselling for you and your wife to learn how to effectively cope with the problems that he is presenting and how your wife and you together can extracate yourselves from his tactics of manipulation. I also recommend to you a book and workbook called, Stop Walking On Eggshells, which you can find at the following links:

    I pray these resources provide hope and help for you, and that the Lord blesses you all richly in your marriages.

  • WickedStepmother says:

    By all means love that stepson, but stop providing a meals and cleaning service at once. Can you and your husband together decide how long his son will live with you (my feeling is that another 10 minutes to facilitate his packing might work well)and what the ground rules are while he is there? If your husband tells his son that he expects the son to contribute market value rate for the room, buy 1/3 of the groceries, do all his own laundry,and clean the house including bathrooms and kitchen every other time – and makes it stick when the resistance starts – I confidently predict that your stepson will move out promptly. In my experience, it must be the biological parent who delivers and enforces these messages. Otherwise, the stepmother is just being set up to be the permanent wicked witch. There must be reciprocity in every relationship, and love the stepson as much as you can, but do not injure yourself to demonstrate that love. This has very long term implications for the health of the marriage and any chance at all that the stepson and stepmother can achieve a healthy, mutually affectionate relationship.

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    Number1, I’m glad you commented here, I’m not sure how the previous comment got passed us. We’re usually pretty quick to delete a comment like that.

  • Number 1 says:

    To Nick, Sounds like you have some Mommy problems. A real man can protect his wife as well as his children at the same time. If a man sees it fit to put his children above his wife at all times then he has no business getting married. The husband in this posting needs to Man-up as do you. Name calling and placing blame only shows your immaturity.

  • Nick says:

    [Comment removed. Please refrain from name calling and vulgar language.]

  • David Gurley says:

    Thank you Dennis and Barbara,
    Hope springs eternal in a parent’s heart.
    After some twenty years as a single father of two young men, I married a woman coming out of a bout of breast cancer. She claims that her four cancer cures were, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and a divorce. Her first marriage was thirty years of mental/emotional abuse from an adult victim of a sexually abusive childhood. she spent most of her latter years in that marriage wedging herself between her hostile husband, and her youngest son, his chosen target for animosity.
    Now, years later, her son is thirty-something, unable to retain any kind of normal, healthy interpersonal relationships. He expects negativity from me, and, thus, ‘twists ‘ any of my statements of opinion, or, offerings of positive advice, into verbal attacks. He interrupts with astoundingly unreasonable oblique references to an imagined animosity on my part. And, just yesterday, tried to instigate a physical altercation with me,(cursing,posing, verbal goadings…),knowing that his mother would fall into her traditional role of his protector and place herself between us.
    Through much prayer empowered with praise, combined with a single father’s experiences in life and family therapy, I am made to think that my step-son is indeed congenitally, and mentally impaired.
    He is a convicted felon,(drug sales), unrepentant, and full of anger. I can only pray for his serenity and Salvation from a distance, as he is unatainable to me.
    I cannot sleep at night when he is in my house. He has broken the air of serenity and spiritual gratitude that Jesus has blessed us with…
    Your reminder to us as married man and wife, having forsaken all others to come together, is apreciated.
    I hope that you might have more suggestions as to how my step-son and I can free ourselves from this animosity.
    Yesterday, when step-son was “trying to start a fight”, I sensed as I observed his and his Mother’s actions, in positioning of themselves, and how he waited until he was safely squared off with his mother between us before his verbal hazing became more profane and less respectfull,(ahem…), that they were going through a series of motions that they had been practicing for a long time with ‘someone else’. Later that evening when the boy wasn’t around, Jo Anne,(MOM), confirmed my suspicions. Now, I am made to think that this young man is a manipulator with a plan for agitation, taught him by his father.
    I also am made to think that thirty years of standing between two people that one loves more than all others as they rage hatred at each other can cause cancer. Jo Anne’s first husband, is out of the picture, but I’m here, and step-son only knows animosity in a father-figure, so, he will attempt to enrage me, so MOM can show him that he’s still ‘her little boy’ when the “Three-in-a-row Screamers” are lined up.
    I’m afraid that avoidance will be the only tool that help me get along with my step-son, Forrets.

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