Cave to NCP's undermining? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 23 Old 04-03-2015, 09:57 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Cave to NCP's undermining?

Once again, we have overlapping conflicts with my 15-y-o DSS's out-of-state mom:

1) Months ago, she demanded that DH (who has sole custody) get a passport for DSS, so she can take him to Mexico this summer.
...A) For various (very solid) reasons, DH does not trust her to leave the country with DSS. True, DSS is old enough now to be his own advocate to a certain extent, but it's best to shelter him from potentially being forced to do that.
...B) Years ago, in mediation, DH made it clear that DSS will not have a passport or travel internationally while he's a minor.
...C) Mom has promised DSS international trips each summer since then. By the time she tells DH, "Oh, BTW, DSS needs a passport," she claims she - and her entire extended family - have already booked and paid for everything. Mom normally doesn't have much contact with her family and has made all kinds of terrible accusations about them. But I guess it's supposed to sound especially awful, if DH "ruins" 12 people's expensive foreign vacations, rather than only hers and DSS's. But DH has remained firm.

2) In our state, if kids don't take Driver's Ed before turning 16, they have extended waiting periods to get their licenses or drive with passengers under 18. We will eventually pay for DSS's insurance and help him buy a car. DH associates kids driving responsibly with them being responsible in other areas of life. He has linked our willingness to support DSS driving early, with how DSS shows responsibility, mostly in school.

DSS's lazy academic performance does not reflect his abilities (as evidenced by how he blows standardized achievement tests out of the water). He, himself has always cared about going to a top college and being respected as an expert in whatever he does, but (typical for his age, I guess), he has trouble seeing the correlation between his effort and accomplishing his goals. He expects to be "discovered" and for everything to come easily.

Last summer, DH offered to pay for Driver's Ed, if DSS got reasonable grades. (I don't mean straight A's, although DSS would be perfectly capable of it.) DSS only exerted himself the last week of school and discovered to his chagrin, that wasn't enough.

This year, DSS turns 16 at the start of summer break. So he has asked to take Driver's Ed now. The class costs ~$300. His grades were not good, last quarter. DH said he could pay for the class himself and, if his grades are reasonable this last quarter, we'll reimburse him. (After all, he'll be wanting to save up for his half of a car.) I think this is good parenting and am in total support!

Mom pays a hefty allowance into a bank account she opened for DSS, which he accesses with a debit/credit card. Months ago, he bought vaping supplies and DH confiscated his bank card. DSS says Mom has continued paying him, so he has plenty in his account to cover Driver's Ed. Yet, when DH took him to the bank to withdraw the money to register for his class, DSS emerged from the bank saying Mom (a co-signer) had put a hold on his account. He has complained of her doing that before - or of being broke because she cut off his allowance - to punish him for various things.

Later, DSS said he called Mom and - even though he explained why he needed the money - she told him getting access to his money is contingent upon him helping her convince DH to approve the Mexico trip and get him a passport.

Well, that's not going to happen. But we're tempted to just go ahead and pay for his class. However, that would negate the parenting DH's trying to do. If DSS's grades don't improve, DH will never make DSS pay us back for the class. That's just not how DH is. He parents best up-front. If his parenting requires follow-through, he makes excuses not to do it. If *I* do the follow-through, or push DH to stick to it, DH gets defensive, like I'm attacking him and his kid. Our marriage just doesn't need that. So, if we pay for Driver's Ed, that's it. There will be no link between DSS's effort in school and him being able to drive early. And maybe DSS is making up the whole thing about his mom, to accomplish exactly that.

For Mom to use DSS to try to manipulate DH is entirely believable. That's how she is. But it's just as believable that DSS either doesn't want to pay for his class; or has spent all his money and can't, and he knows the surest way to get DH and me to pay for it is to tap into our already-poor opinion of his mother. That, unfortunately, is how he is.

We also offer DSS money. But for a basic allowance, we expect him to do basic things like cleaning his bedroom and bathroom, getting his laundry washed, helping with the dishes...without being nagged. For extra money, he could do things like yard work. But with money for nothing flowing from Mom, he's just not interested. At this point, he couldn't earn $300 from us before he needs to start his class.

If, in fact, Mom is holding DSS's own money over his head, to pressure him to fight with his mom against his dad, that's such a crummy thing to do that - again - we're tempted to just go ahead and pay for his class.

On the other hand, maybe this is a time for natural consequences?

>> If DSS's past stories about Mom cutting off his access to money are true, then he already knew money from her was insecure. He could have earned safer money, from us, by doing reasonable chores. But he didn't want to bother, while he had easy money coming in.

>> We would've sent him to Driver's Ed a year ago - or paid for this current class - if he'd earned reasonable grades. But he doesn't work at school until the 11th hour, when there's some incentive on the line. If he'd applied himself earlier, he wouldn't be in this position of scrambling around trying to come up with $300.

>> And it's not like he'll never get his license. He just won't get it early.

If you've gotten to the end, thanks! Would you pay for the class?

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#2 of 23 Old 04-03-2015, 04:00 PM
 
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Can you go into the bank with him and find out what the real story is? That would be my first step.

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#3 of 23 Old 04-04-2015, 09:41 AM
 
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I'm so sorry you are going through stuff. Again.

I'm going to summarize the situation - please tell me if I'm not understanding it correctly.
You and your DH gave him 3 paths to the opportunity to learn to drive this summer:
1. Make decent grades and stay out of trouble and you guys would pay for it.
2. Earn the money by doing very basic things around the house like cleaning his room.
3. Use the money his mother gives him.

He completely blew off number 1 all year. He was unmotivated by number 2. Now, #3 appears to not be an option, and you guys feel bad about it.
Because he had 2 very reasonable, very simple paths, I think you can let go of the guilt about him not having the 3rd path. The truth is, he could learn a lot from this. He could learn that he shouldn't count on his mother and that he therefore needs to get his act together. He could learn that you guys mean it, and that if he doesn't get his act together with school, he will never drive until he figures out a way to pay for himself. (Lots of people go to work on the bus, and one of the teens in our neighborhood has made a ton of money dog walking and house sitting).

The way I see it, he is a teen who will be better off NOT driving. The ability to drive makes it easier to lie to your parents. It makes it easier to ditch school and not study. It makes it easier to be self-destructive. I think that your DH was right when he linked driving to showing responsibility because driving is a big responsibly.


I also think he was right to not allow DSS a passport until he is of age. I live close to Mexico -- it simple isn't a place for self-destructive teens who lack an understanding of the possible outcomes of their choices.


Whether or not DSS's mom put the money is the account is irrelevant. Your DH has been clear on the passport issue for years, and that isn't going to change. Your DSS isn't bothering to get an education that will serve his future well, or develop the work habits that will help him keep a job. If the money magical appears when you hold firm, great, he can pay for himself, and you guys can pay him back *if* he gets his grades up.


The possible lessons he could learn from you guys holding firm:
1. Life is better for him when he gets decent grades and stays out of trouble. It earns him privileges and freedom.
2. He should earn his own money because he can't count on his mom to give him money
3. You guys mean it when you say things (this will help in the later teen years).


I would bring all conversations about it back to HIS CHOICES. The reason that you guys aren't paying for this is because of his choices regarding his school work. His mother has nothing to do with it.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#4 of 23 Old 04-04-2015, 02:28 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you, Linda! You distilled the issue down to simple, clear parenting. Obviously, DH and I can both get pretty distracted by the emotional issues surrounding DSS's mom and our family structure. (Would I advocate being "so hard on him" if I were his "real mom"? Would DH make so many excuses for DSS, if he didn't feel so guilty about breaking up and restructuring his family?)

Your response was super helpful.

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#5 of 23 Old 04-05-2015, 03:44 PM
 
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I think Linda hit the nail on the head on all fronts.

The only thing I have to add is that I'd encourage DSS to open a second bank account, that he can transfer his money to as it comes in (when his account isn't frozen) so that his mom won't be able to use it as easily as a manipulation tactic.
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#6 of 23 Old 04-05-2015, 10:09 PM
 
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I agree, he had ample chances to get this and blew it all off. He made this bed. Let him lie in it.

I wouldn't want him behind the wheel as he is anyways. You're describing a spoiled child who thinks rules don't apply to him and can't see the consequences of his actions. That doesn't mean he's hopeless, of course not, but is that really the kind of person you want behind the wheel of a car? I don't think he's ready for that kind of responsibility and I'd worry for his well being if he didn't get his act in gear before driving solo. Driving is not how you develop responsibilIty. Driving is part of already being responsible.

I honestly think that if he were your son and you'd been a stable, nuclear family his whole life you would be a lot stricter. A lot of parents wouldn't even be considering letting him take driving classes over either his school performance or the vaping.
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#7 of 23 Old 04-06-2015, 11:16 AM
 
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Yup. You gave him lots of chances to earn the money via good grades or chores. It sucks if his mom is messing with him to get to you, but that is really not the point here.

I'd encourage him to get his grades up and/or earn some money before the next chance for the class rolls around, but I'd hold firm and not pay for the class.
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#8 of 23 Old 04-07-2015, 09:14 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Update

DH and I agreed not to front DSS the money, but DH did email his ex, basically saying, "If you have a conflict with me, let's discuss it. I always respond to your emails. But I don't understand putting our son in the middle by blocking his access to his bank account, which he says you're doing."

Mom didn't write back, but DSS said she "unblocked" his account and he's ready to visit the bank, withdraw his money and register for his class. So maybe DH called DSS's bluff, by letting Mom know how DSS was representing her, and she told DSS to knock it off. Maybe she was blocking his account, but stopped when she realized he was complaining about it instead of trying to manipulate DH to OK the Mexico trip. Or maybe she backed down because she didn't want to put her arguments in writing. (DSS had said Mom wanted DH to call her about Mexico, which is never wise.)

In any event, thanks for the support and clear-headedness. I firmly agree with the concern about a kid who seems irresponsible, self-destructive and/or disrespectful of others being behind the wheel, or simply having the added freedom that a license/car provides. The longer DSS has been in his teens, the less feasible it is, for me to be directly involved in parenting him. DSS resents me, appeals to DH's sympathy, DH feels torn and seems to let "defending his kid from being 'attacked'" distract him from parenting. The disrespect toward me, increased laxity with DSS, tension in our marriage and sense of team-building in our family doesn't benefit anyone - least of all DH's and my 7-y-o, who notices everything.

It's been very difficult and frustrating for me (if you can tell, I'm not one to suppress my thoughts), but I've been trying to discuss things with DH but leave the actual parenting of DSS to him. He is torn between wanting DSS to demonstrate more responsibility before getting a license; and his belief (based on his own teen years, I think) that DSS's attitude and desire to come across as a more grown-up, dependable person would increase if he were given more freedom and responsibility (like having a license and being expected to get himself to school and home on time, or run errands). Perhaps a bit of putting the cart before the horse?

DH has - without me saying anything - begun doing some of the very things I used to advocate doing, with DSS, which DSS and DH both came to resent so deeply: confiscating DSS's cell phone, gaming laptop and PlayStation when DSS doesn't do his school work; and not believing DSS when he makes excuses or says there's been a mistake in the grading. DH's been telling him, "You have no credibility, based on past history. If you really have turned this assignment in, get your teacher to send me an email saying that and you can have your phone back. Or better yet, bug your teacher 'til he updates your grade online!" And so far this quarter, DSS seems to be staying on top of his work more.

So I hope, if I stay in the background and don't make DH feel defensive of DSS, that DH will continue making wiser, more responsible parenting decisions as DSS approaches driving.
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#9 of 23 Old 04-09-2015, 05:01 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Further update

This does seem to be turning into a learning experience for DSS (however crummy) and DH's handling it well.

DSS discovered there's only $100 in his account. According to him, the subsequent call to his mom went this way:

> She "had to" use the rest of his money for something. I don't know if she told him what.

> Unbeknownst to us, for some time she's been promising to buy him a car. Now, she can't. DSS suggested she split the cost of a car, with DH. That made her angry, because she'd thought it was understood that he'd only have a car at her house. (Either he'd finally ask to move back to California, for the car; or his de facto punishment would be owning a car he could only drive 9 weeks/year. )

> And how did she shift focus, when DSS started getting upset about the car? She begged him to "protect" her and her family, by confronting DH and me about "stalking" them online! Nice.

FWIW, DH doesn't look up any of them, ever. I do Google her periodically, for which I make no apologies. Many times, that's been the only way DH knew she moved, changed jobs, planned an international move, lied in court or lied to DH about issues with DSS. Less frequently, I've visited her father's web sites, because sometimes she works for him or lets DSS travel with him and he has posted about both.

I think LinkedIn is the only site where she would know I've looked her up. And her face pops up as having visited my LinkedIn page, as often as I visit hers. I don't think she's "stalking" me. But I suppose telling different stories to different people, as she does, would make a person more sensitive about people looking them up and catching them in a lie...

Regardless, her jab had the intended result. DH assured DSS we don't "stalk" his mother and DSS believes DH doesn't, but remains convinced I do. Naturally, it's more comfortable to join his mom in demonizing his stepmother, than to think about how she manipulates him. Fine. Now he has one more excuse, in his mind, for ignoring me when I speak to him, etc.

Whatever. I've gotten over fearing that my teenage step-son's attitude toward me is an accurate reflection of my worth as a human being. The sad thing is, he has a maternal figure available to him who doesn't manipulate him, or use him to manipulate others; and who has invested a lot in him and his needs, over the years; but he (currently) rejects that whole relationship. But most teens reject something or other, that would benefit them. It's not the end of the world.

IN ANY EVENT, my husband recognizes that DSS may have spent all his money himself and may be wrongly blaming his mom. He remembers that DSS had other ways to get Driver's Ed paid for. He's not giving DSS the money.

DH has also figured out that (until yesterday) DSS had been hedging his bets, keeping each parent from knowing that the other one had offered to get him a car! After Mom retracted her offer, DSS still tried to ensure himself a free vehicle, by asking Mom to cover his half of the car we've talked about buying him.

Although DH feels bad for DSS, about his mom playing with his head, he still expects DSS to come up with half the money for his own car, if we help him get one. And I have not had to be the voice of reason, or dig myself further into the "Bad Guy" hole!
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#10 of 23 Old 04-09-2015, 02:50 PM
 
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Oh, I wouldn't be apologetic about 'stalking' either.

My ex was reluctant to add the kids to his facebook and they told me he was worried I would use their accounts to stalk him. I told them I'm only interested in his so far as they are concerned. If it's a part of his life that doesn't affect my kids then I don't care.

One time he sent the kids a gift, there was a packing order inside with his billing address on it, which I used to get a copy of the land title, showing he was the owner. That was useful for child support enforcement and for having him served. I am super proud of my 'stalking' skills! I don't think he knows that he sent me his address in the first place, I bet he thinks I really did stalk him, ha ha!
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#11 of 23 Old 04-09-2015, 04:21 PM
 
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I'm going to chime in and say I would be inclined to dial it back....it doesn't seem that a teenager with poor grades and who is apparently not trustworthy should be promised a car half paid for in the first place. If it were my child, then I wouldn't allow the driver's ed class until there had been a proven efforts with proven results. Promises don't cut it. That can include everything that goes along with learning to be a responsible citizen.

I feel that if you and DH don't trust DSS to be honest and respect basic boundaries, then he can't be trusted with a car. I've seen too many lives ruined by reckless drivers....who were probably otherwise good people, but just lacked impulse control/self discipline at times. Add in other teens spurring on the speeding and risk-taking, and it's just not worth it, imo.

I agree that mom shouldn't really be a factor in the decisions. But I would be wary of her undermining boundaries, and be prepared for how to handle it when she goes ahead and pays for his driving course and orders his car....
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I really agree with Alpenglow. VocalMinority- have either both of you or your husband alone been to any kind of family counseling? I really do think that he's letting his emotional issues cloud his judgement and it's getting out of hand. This boy has done a lot of things that, on their own, would have most parents refusing to let him drive- and he keeps doing them and piling more on it.

Being permissive to try and win favor or "make up" for the damage of an emotionally abusive mother or "protect" him from his wife isn't going to do his son any favors. I have a lot of sympathy for this boy, I was in a very similar position growing up and I'm still slowly working on unpacking all the damage my mom did to me. My dad responded with a combination of bending over backwards to work with my mom and constantly trying to be the "good" parent who's more likeable- ultimately being a crap parent.

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Originally Posted by alpenglow View Post
I agree that mom shouldn't really be a factor in the decisions. But I would be wary of her undermining boundaries, and be prepared for how to handle it when she goes ahead and pays for his driving course and orders his car....
If she's non-custodial, she shouldn't be able to give permission. IIRC, you need parental permission to get your learner's permit/license when you're under 18. Dad should be able to refuse to give permission even if mom pays for the course or buys him a freaking car. Dad should be double-checking this to make sure, though.

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#13 of 23 Old 04-09-2015, 06:16 PM
 
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Originally Posted by VocalMinority View Post
She begged him to "protect" her and her family, by confronting DH and me about "stalking" them online! Nice.
...Naturally, it's more comfortable to join his mom in demonizing his stepmother, than to think about how she manipulates him. Fine. Now he has one more excuse, in his mind, for ignoring me when I speak to him, etc.

Whatever. I've gotten over fearing that my teenage step-son's attitude toward me is an accurate reflection of my worth as a human being. The sad thing is, he has a maternal figure available to him who doesn't manipulate him, or use him to manipulate others; and who has invested a lot in him and his needs, over the years; but he (currently) rejects that whole relationship. But most teens reject something or other, that would benefit them. It's not the end of the world.

IN ANY EVENT, my husband recognizes that DSS may have spent all his money himself and may be wrongly blaming his mom. He remembers that DSS had other ways to get Driver's Ed paid for. He's not giving DSS the money.

His mom sounds like such a piece of work. It no wonder the kid has problems. I'm glad that you are finding ways to not take it to heart that he is being crappy to you. Some day, he may have a very different perspective on you than he does right now. (That's what I tell my self when my kids are going through stages and thinking I'm mean). I really don't think that any teenager's view of any adult should define their sense of personal worth. His opinion of you when he is about 30 could be quite different than it is right now.


It sounds like your DH is handling things really well. Good for him!!!

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I'm going to chime in and say I would be inclined to dial it back....it doesn't seem that a teenager with poor grades and who is apparently not trustworthy should be promised a car half paid for in the first place. If it were my child, then I wouldn't allow the driver's ed class until there had been a proven efforts with proven results. Promises don't cut it. That can include everything that goes along with learning to be a responsible citizen. ...


On one hand, I sort of agree with you. At the same time, I think this kid needs one parent (and their spouse) who actually follow through and do what they have promised to. I think any promises they've made they should try to honor when he meets what ever pre-requites were set up when the promises were made.


I also think that if mom gives the kid the money for the class, he should be allowed to use it for the class. Refusing to do so is too much of a power play for me, partly because I know that......


Taking a driving class and actually being allowed to drive are different things. First, it takes practice to really learn to drive. Both of my kids needed substantial *time* from a parent between when they took a class and when they were ready to take the test. Obviously, his mother isn't going to take time to teach him to drive, so he can earn practice time (or loose practice time).


Second, even once he has a license, driving is dependent upon his parents. Both my kids drive, and it's a privilege. Luckily, we haven't had to take anyone's keys away, but I would if they broke certain rules (such as driving with any alcohol in their system). Driving could easily be linked to maintaining a minimum GPA. It would work best to require he get his grades up to that level before actually getting his license, but even if he takes this class, there are still several steps before he actually has a license.


Also, on a related note, you might check into summer programs at universities near you for students his age in his areas of interest. One of my DDs did a one week program on engineering a few years ago, and one hour of the week was a lecture on how to prepare to be an engineering major while still in high school. They told her she needed an unweighted GPA of at least 3.5 and to get through AP calculus AB. So, this has been her focus in highschool, which really simplified parenting her. She is now being recruited by engineering schools. She never could have heard that information from us, but in the context of being at a university, in an engineering classroom, she got her focus for highschool.
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It's complicated. On the one hand, yes, the boy needs a reliable parent and his dad should be doing everything he can to keep his promises (including not making promises he can't keep!). On the other hand, if circumstances change or he realizes his son isn't ready for something he'd promised- that shouldn't be ignored.

I don't really agree with you that parents get to decide when their teens can drive. A well-behaved teen will respect their parents wishes, but honestly parents only have as much control over their teens as they let us. Fortunately, most teens also still have a need for their parents approval and also prefer trading some freedom for their parents' protection- but even reasonably well behaved teens have been known to sneak out and "borrow" the car when they knew they weren't allowed to. I've seen some truly wild teens who got up to tons of crap that their parents barely even knew about, not because the parents were neglectful or bad- but because the teens were manipulative and cunning.

At the same time, the promise has been made. If he gets the money, I don't think there's any way to refuse to let him take the course or, if he takes the course, refuse to let him get his license that won't end badly.

The best hope is that the boy won't be able to get the money for the class. And it is possible that the dad is right and being able to drive will help the boy become more responsible. Heck, feeling like he has some control and freedom might help him a lot.

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......Taking a driving class and actually being allowed to drive are different things. First, it takes practice to really learn to drive. Both of my kids needed substantial *time* from a parent between when they took a class and when they were ready to take the test. Obviously, his mother isn't going to take time to teach him to drive, so he can earn practice time (or loose practice time).


Second, even once he has a license, driving is dependent upon his parents. Both my kids drive, and it's a privilege...Driving could easily be linked to maintaining a minimum GPA. It would work best to require he get his grades up to that level before actually getting his license, but even if he takes this class, there are still several steps before he actually has a license.
If I were solely in charge of parenting DSS, we would not be discussing driving until he was working closer to his potential in school and I felt like I could trust him to be out in the city on his own. (I don't know how long it would take, to build such trust.) Or, he could just get his license after he turned 18 and became legally/financially responsible for his own behavior. My (bio) teen sons don't drive. On one hand, it's for different reasons: they have special needs and know how to operate vehicles, but not the skills to handle unexpected incidents safely. On the other hand, if someone else is hurt by my child's car, what's the difference if my child was honestly incompetent, or impulsive and reckless?

But I think my husband hopes to use the incentives of driving: Driver's Ed, practice time, getting to take his test and having use of a vehicle...as motivators for DSS. It's true that between DSS's stubbornness and how accustomed he is to disappointment, it's tough to find things that motivate him. Ex., we took his gaming laptop because he wasn't doing his school work. Instead of working to get it back, he seemed to lose all interest in it and spent more time practicing guitar, or reading. (Not bad, but he didn't spend more time on homework.)

DH thinks if DSS got to the point of having a license and a car in the driveway, there's no way he could muster apathy about getting his keys taken away for bad grades. And ideally, having to work for the money to help pay for the car would be character-building. We do, indeed, need to be watchful of Mom's undermining about that. She is all about trying to be the favorite by giving DSS things for free that we think he should work for.

I don't mean to say DH's only thought is to control or bribe DSS, with driving. He wants to see DSS have all the good things he remembers, from being a teenage boy: freedom, responsibility, self-respect and respect from others, academic success, goals, a work ethic, sports or hobbies he's passionate about... When DSS doesn't seek these things for himself, I think DH's at a loss. He feels responsible to teach DSS a better way, but he's not sure how. Sometimes DH sets up the proverbial cart, hoping the "horse" will walk up from behind and hitch himself to it. You know?

It's easy for me to look in on that dynamic from the outside and tell DH he's doing it all wrong. But I've had a learning curve as a parent, too. I see that DH's trying his best - and that he's more assertive and makes fewer excuses for DSS, when he doesn't feel like I'm taking over.

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Also, on a related note, you might check into summer programs at universities near you for students his age in his areas of interest. One of my DDs did a one week program on engineering a few years ago, and one hour of the week was a lecture on how to prepare to be an engineering major while still in high school. They told her she needed an unweighted GPA of at least 3.5 and to get through AP calculus AB. So, this has been her focus in highschool, which really simplified parenting her. She is now being recruited by engineering schools. She never could have heard that information from us, but in the context of being at a university, in an engineering classroom, she got her focus for highschool.
Thanks. This is a good idea. DSS assumes his impressive test scores will make up for his GPA. DH and I have tried to warn him it may be the opposite: his test scores make it obvious that his grades are those of a lazy student. (In contrast, the twins have poor test scores. They weren't considered by any "good" schools, but the one they got into knew they had to work their asses off for their B's and C's in math, so they'll likely work hard in college, too.) DH has begun planning college visits and showing DSS the range of high school GPAs for kids who've been accepted at the schools he likes. Spending time at one of them - during a summer class - could really be motivating.
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I can't remember- is your step-son in any kind of counseling? Writing off his poor performance as laziness is dangerous unless he's been evaluated for any underlying problems. He's facing a ton of crap that can certainly lead to mental problems. If he's really unable to apply himself and he keeps getting told that this giant difficulty is "laziness"- he's going to take that to heart.

I'm not saying that's definitely the problem. It could also be that having his mom constantly hand him things is making it very hard for him to see why he should bother working for anything. The college course idea would probably really help with that- it'll give him an idea of what he's working for and hearing it from an authority on the subject would probably make it sink in in a way that hearing it from his dad won't.

How much has your husband done to get a good idea of realistic expectations for his son? A lot of parents expect their kids to be like they were (well, like rosey, nostalgia-laced views of what they were) and learning about the variation between kids and what's realistic for their development can really help. Especially because his son is facing emotional abuse and gas lighting, which will seriously alter his development.

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I can't remember- is your step-son in any kind of counseling? Writing off his poor performance as laziness is dangerous unless he's been evaluated for any underlying problems. He's facing a ton of crap that can certainly lead to mental problems. If he's really unable to apply himself and he keeps getting told that this giant difficulty is "laziness"- he's going to take that to heart.

I'm not saying that's definitely the problem. It could also be that having his mom constantly hand him things is making it very hard for him to see why he should bother working for anything. The college course idea would probably really help with that- it'll give him an idea of what he's working for and hearing it from an authority on the subject would probably make it sink in in a way that hearing it from his dad won't.

How much has your husband done to get a good idea of realistic expectations for his son? A lot of parents expect their kids to be like they were (well, like rosey, nostalgia-laced views of what they were) and learning about the variation between kids and what's realistic for their development can really help. Especially because his son is facing emotional abuse and gas lighting, which will seriously alter his development.
These are good points to keep in mind.

I should clarify that, while I did use the term "lazy" in summarizing here, DH and I aren't in the habit of name-calling in our actual parenting. We talk about effort and choices in managing one's time. Granted, repeated discussion of insufficient effort could be taken as an accusation of laziness whether or not that word is used. But if a kid has parents who care enough to know what's going on at school...and he assures them his homework's finished and he's prepared to ace tomorrow's test...then he spends the evening practicing his electric guitar and the next day flunks his test and gets a zero on one or two homework assignments...it's not exactly unfair, if he winds up feeling accused of poor effort and time-management.

In the spirit of "it can't hurt to try", I can't completely dismiss the idea of testing DSS to make sure there's not an organic explanation for his inconsistent school performance. But from a practical standpoint, it's hard to justify the cost of testing (recent educational testing updates for our special-needs twins were $1,000 each), with no concrete suggestion that it's needed.

Since 3rd grade (when DSS moved here with us), he's been in special programs with caring, experienced teachers and lots of parent-teacher communication. Not one teacher has expressed the slightest suspicion of a possible learning or attentional issue. He tests at similarly advanced levels, across all subject matters. (In contrast, kids with LDs often have markedly lower skill-levels in one area, than in most others.) DSS blows standardized tests out of the water, showing an above-average comprehension of the material and that he doesn't suffer from test anxiety. And his effort is "consistently inconsistent": whether he loves a class (Music Theory) or hates it (Latin); whether it's easy or challenging, in all classes sometimes he keeps up and earns As and sometimes he blows off homework, doesn't study for tests and earns Fs. Given the right motivation (like now, with the car issues), he's capable of pulling all As and Bs without any homework/studying/time-management help.

So, possibly testing could reveal a surprise problem. But there's been no logical reason to think one exists. From what I observe, the core issue is that's he's very smart; early on, he grew accustomed to being at the top of his class and being praised for his "hard work" when he really wasn't having to work at all. Then when he reached the point in school where work was required - even for smart kids - he used his brains to find ways around it. And it can't help that he's been used to such major shocks and disappointments in his life. For some kids, getting an F would be the worst thing they could imagine. But he knows what it's like to move thousands of miles from your Mommy when you're only 8.

He's not in counselling now, but I'll bring it up to DH again because you're right: depression (or something else) could affect his academic performance. He's had several stints with different counselors in the past, which haven't tended to seem very productive. He doesn't like counselling and tends to be agreeable, superficial and minimalistic until a counselor concludes he's "remarkably well-adjusted, considering everything" and needn't continue regular visits.

I think DH has pretty reasonable expectations of DSS. DH recognizes he was an exceptional teenager, in some respects. He doesn't need DSS to be like him in those ways, to love DSS. But he does think having a sense of responsibility and drive about school and sports would give DSS more advantages in life. DH doesn't remember being coached by his parents to be that way, so he expected DSS would acquire some of those traits on his own, too. When I point out, for example, that a kid who won't voluntarily do his homework needs an adult to step in and keep him from gaming all night...or when DH comes to that conclusion on his own...it frustrates DH, who expected DSS would seem more adult by this age. Since he has older sons, he feels like an experienced pro at raising them. But the truth is, this is his first time being the "default parent".

Anyway, though DSS is undoubtedly capable of straight As, the goal DH typically sets for him to earn basic privileges is simply not getting grades below a C. For a big perk, the goal may be only getting so many Bs. He doesn't demand straight As.

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I'm not suggesting he has a developmental delay or learning disability. But emotional abuse will screw with your head- depression and anxiety are both possible. Likely a host of other things that I don't know, I'm not a professional, I just know what emotional abuse does to a person.

I'm not sure how easy it is to find a good counselor when you know what you're looking for, but I know that general counselors tend not to be very good at it. Your husband needs to make sure the counselor can handle working with an intelligent teen who's suffered parental alienation and knows how to put on a brave face.

Ultimately, if his son refuses to work with it- I don't know if it'll help. Very much a "lead a horse to water" situation. You may get lucky and get an awesome counselor who's able to help your son open up and be comfortable with the sessions, but it's not easy. But if there are underlying emotional issues that are impeding him, that's still something you need to approach from a different angle than a feeling of entitlement or just laziness.
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To me, he sounds like he hasn't developed a sense that his actions are the primary determinant in what happens in his life. This is common in children / teens whose parents frequently say one thing and then do another, such as his mother's promises and then not following through. The term is "learned helplessness." It means that the person stops trying to take actions that will better their situation because they've had so many experiences that there isn't a correlation. Getting straight As for no work while being told he was a hard worker didn't help -- a lot of gifted kids choke when they get to the point in school where they have to *think* because it messes with their sense of self. ("I'm supposed to be so smart that I don't have to try. Therefore, if I have to work at it, I'm not smart, and possibly not lovable or valuable, since smart is what people value about me")


I think that the hope for him lies in his learning that his mother doesn't follow through, rather than thinking that this is just how life is. Which is part of why I think it is extremely important for dad and step mom to be super consistent on following through with results for his actual actions. He really desperately needs to learn that his actions drive his life. Currently, everything that his mother is doing undermines this.


I don't know that therapy is helpful for this -- I think a different set of experiences would be. Hopefully, something will click for him, and soon.

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Good points. I can relate to dss in school having been easy with lots of reward and identity in being 'smart'. I suddenly found myself failing a class in senior year because I just didn't give it the time needed. Being allowed to experience the consequences of that was a valuable lesson in learning that hard work is needed for results.

Silly sapling has good insights about the emotional abuse aspect. Gaslighting messes so much with your head, and it can impact attention/concentration.
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..."learned helplessness."... Getting straight As for no work while being told he was a hard worker didn't help -- a lot of gifted kids choke when they get to the point in school where they have to *think* because it messes with their sense of self. ("I'm supposed to be so smart that I don't have to try. Therefore, if I have to work at it, I'm not smart, and possibly not lovable or valuable, since smart is what people value about me")

So well-worded! I perceive that this - exactly - is one thing he struggles with.


I think that the hope for him lies in his learning that his mother doesn't follow through, rather than thinking that this is just how life is. Which is part of why I think it is extremely important for dad and step mom to be super consistent on following through with results for his actual actions. He really desperately needs to learn that his actions drive his life. Currently, everything that his mother is doing undermines this.

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As long as mom is reaffirming the status quo, consistency alone will be very slow to work. I believe that his dad has been fairly consistent and straightforward with his son (from what I remember the OP talking about, his dad has tried very hard to be a stable force) yet he still has this problem.

This is a very delicate area. Dad can't force his son to see the damage mom is doing (it might be considered parental alienation and he'd likely start defending his mom) and it's very hard for a child to accept their parent is hurting them- especially when that parent also helps them. Even if he had accepted it, it's hard to stop the damage while he's still constantly exposed it. Of course he feels helpless and like his actions aren't a big factor in his life- his mom is demanding visitation schedules that Do Not Work for him and refused to bring him back when he needed to last time.

Which is why someone with experience working with teens who've faced this could be very valuable.
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"The term is "learned helplessness." It means that the person stops trying to take actions that will better their situation because they've had so many experiences that there isn't a correlation."

My husband used that exact label for me when I insisted that it is OK to let the dishes go for a day or two because when I wash them they will just get dirty again. Now I can explain to him that if he would just quit using them they would be clean (LOL).

In all seriousness, I have battled this exact thing with my DH and my DSS. DH insisted getting DSS a vehicle was because he did so for older child and it would lead to DSS acting more responsible to maintain driving privileges. I wish I could explain to DH that just because he helped raise a responsible young adult from a previous divorce does not make him an expert.
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