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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a dad, but this looks like a good place to ask questions, so here goes ... in the summer of 2014, my girlfriend and her 2 sons moved in with me. My kids (a little younger, boy and girl) seem to be handling things very well, but hers ... not so much.

Her oldest child felt isolated and out of place in his new high school, but after some therapy and a transfer into a new smaller high school, he has really found his groove. The younger (12 years old), while it seemed like he was adjusting ok initially, has taken a turn for the worst this year. He, too, is in therapy, but it doesn't seem to be helping much.

He has a lot to be angry about, their dad had some issues with drugs, alcohol, women, and wasn't the most present dad. But, I fear he has picked up some of his dad's worst traits. I find him disrespectful and very much unaware and/or uncaring of how he impacts the people around him. He is also very manipulative.

He claims to feel isolated at school, ridiculed, and bullied at times. He tells his mom he has no friends and has no motivation to do anything with anyone. However, my son attends the same school and reports that he hangs with friends and appears to be having a good time. His teachers relay the same story.

At home, however, he has my girlfriend tied up in knots. He has been violent with her on one occasion because she was humming to herself in an elevator and it was irritating him. He is loud and disrespectful to all 5 of us when he doesn't get his way. He has confided in her that he finds enjoyment in others' pain. He doesn't want to do his homework and tells her he just can't do it and that he feels the world is working against him. He also turns down all invitations from other kids at school to do things.

I have no doubt that he is in pain. The past 3 years were pretty tumultuous. However, he is killing his mom, and I think he knows it. I have no tolerance for him making my children or me uncomfortable in my own home, but I know that because his mom blames herself for his pain, I can't respond as harshly as I would like to unless he steps out of line with me or my kids.

I think they're in an unhealthy cycle, but I'm not sure what I can do about it. He acts out, she blames herself, cries, and offers him comfort and attention. I think that's teaching him to act in very inappropriate ways, and teaching him ways to exercise power over his own mother.
 

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Some of this could be his age. Turning down invitations to do things could be a sign of depression or anxiety. Aggression is one of the signs of anxiety, especially in males. These things run in the family and it sounds like his dad might be dealing (poorly) with these kind of issues.

My kid is 13 and has acted out similarly to what you describe. He's not currently in therapy but he sees the counselor at his school... she's got a service dog just so the kdis who see her have an animal to give attention to and that one thing has made such a huge difference to him. Animals don't judge, they just want scratches and treats, they are a super calming presence... so I don't know if there's a counsellor around or a program that involves animal in your area but that might be a good option for your stepson.

You're right that they're in an unhealthy cycle... she can't allow his manipulations to work. Being more harsh isn't the answer though either, a healthy response is holding firm to boundaries and keeping him accountable, while trying to find ways to help him up and out of the dark place he's in.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes, I think you're right about both depression and anxiety - his doctor and therapist and mom are collaborating on that front. Unfortunately, I think that "holding him to firm boundaries and keeping him accountable" is going to be viewed as "harsh".

I called him on his behavior recently when he stormed up the stairs ready to jump down my kids' throats. He didn't know how to handle being held to boundaries and being held accountable for the impact he was having on others around him. He stammered a bit, turned around, and walked away, and ultimately kinda "shut down" for the rest of the evening. He hid on the stairs for a while then ran to his room to avoid us. I'm sure he feels it's unfair and that the world is against him and I only reinforced that view by responding the way I did to him screaming "FUCK FUCK FUCK" at the top of his lungs before running upstairs ready to take on my kids.

I don't think that was "harsh", but I know he did. It was firmer, more deliberate, and much less conversational/nurturing than his mother would have been in most situations. I told him that he needed to change his attitude and that he needed to think about how his actions and words affected those around him. "Harsh", indeed.

His mom has been in a tough spot. Since she was basically abandoned by her husband for most of the younger child's life (he was living in the house, but not very present or involved), she took it upon herself to try to fill in for all of the gaps in his parenting. She tried to do everything, and as a result, both kids look to her for everything, and they both act inappropriately when she tries to reinforce boundaries. She blames herself for that, too ... I tell her not to, that she was in "survival mode" doing whatever it took to get by and try to keep things somewhat "normal" for her kids ... but trying to reinforce boundaries and accountability after years of just getting by is tearing her apart inside because of the way her kids are responding.
 

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I would recommend if you aren't already in counseling that you and your wife see a therapist - possible the one also treating her son. The boy needs consistent boundaries, accountability, and a system to help build a craving for positive reinforcement. And your wife needs a professional who can help her break out of the cycle she's currently trapped in with her son.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I would recommend if you aren't already in counseling that you and your wife see a therapist - possible the one also treating her son. The boy needs consistent boundaries, accountability, and a system to help build a craving for positive reinforcement. And your wife needs a professional who can help her break out of the cycle she's currently trapped in with her son.
Thank you for your response. Yes, I agree. I have offered that. If his therapist agrees that would be productive right now, I'm certainly willing. My girlfriend is also in therapy and her therapist made a similar suggestion.

They had an interesting blow up tonight. Long story short, he felt slighted and his mom was trying to deal with him in a calm manner. That made him even angrier, and he teamed up with his older brother to try to convey the idea that she was parenting poorly because she was staying calm, and what she was really doing by staying calm was acting like she was better than they were and belittling their issue.

That was highly manipulative and very telling of what they came to expect in their previous environment. Interestingly enough, her younger boy once told her he didn't like me because I didn't get angry and yell. To him, that meant I didn't care. We are doing everything we can to consciously create more stability and peace at home, and it's unsettling to them ... therefore it's bad.

I'm here because I feel helpless doing that alone, and basically sitting on the sidelines and watching. I'm not their dad and don't want to replace him, but they're not going to respect me or allow me to parent them if they barely allow their mom to. I've been in their lives for a couple years now, but I may never get there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks.

Thank you for your response. Yes, I agree. I have offered that. If his therapist agrees that would be productive right now, I'm certainly willing. My girlfriend is also in therapy and her therapist made a similar suggestion.

They had an interesting blow up tonight. Long story short, he felt slighted and his mom was trying to deal with him in a calm manner. That made him even angrier, and he teamed up with his older brother to try to convey the idea that she was parenting poorly because she was staying calm, and what she was really doing by staying calm was acting like she was better than they were and belittling their issue.

That was highly manipulative and very telling of what they came to expect in their previous environment. Interestingly enough, her younger boy once told her he didn't like me because I didn't get angry and yell. To him, that meant I didn't care. We are doing everything we can to consciously create more stability and peace at home, and it's unsettling to them ... therefore it's bad.

I'm here because I feel helpless doing that alone, and basically sitting on the sidelines and watching. I'm not their dad and don't want to replace him, but they're not going to respect me or allow me to parent them if they barely allow their mom to. I've been in their lives for a couple years now, but I may never get there.
 
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