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How to deal with difficult adult son(19 Posts)
I have an adult DS. He is in his late 20s. Since his teenage years he has treated me and his stepdad with contempt. I thought that he would grow out of it but he hasn't. He will sigh loudly and visibly roll his eyes when speaking to us. He will change and cancel arrangements at the last minute, not answer texts or phonecalls, forget birthdays and not send a card, let alone a present for Christmas. He will however ask for money when he needs it and ring in the middle of the night when he is upset. He is staying with his stepdad (my XH) for a few days and it has been horrible. He ignores us, stays in his room when I visit and turns down suggestions about things to do together.
He has gone through a lot of difficult things through childhood and early adulthood. I have been twice divorced, his father (my first husband) was physically and emotionally abusive, I have serious physical illness and a long history of depression including a couple of suicide attempts in recent years.
We have always done our very best and have supported him emotionally, financially and put him first when making decisions. We are careful not to intrude or question him and give him lots of space. I have paid his debts off twice, paid for therapy, and dropped everything to go and support him when he is upset and he has rung me to go and help him.
He is very successful academically and professionally but has recently split up with his long term girlfriend because of his depression and occasional binge drinking.
To be honest he just seems like a permanently sulky thirteen year old around us and he is the same when alone with either of us. I am at the point where I just feel like not bothering at all with trying to keep the relationship going as it is completely one way. I do understand about mental illness, but his behaviour predates his depression. I feel as if I have failed as a parent.
Any advice or experience?
Not sure why you are financially bailing out a healthy and successful young man. Have I missed something?
He sounds like he doesn't want to see you/be around you e.g. staying in his room when you visit and I think you should take him at his word and not force yourself on him so to speak. You do sound a little over-involved in his adult life, and perhaps he needs the space from you for now. That nursery rhymn ... leave them alone and they'll come home wagging their tales behind him.
Its nice to make some effort but if he's not wanting your company its nicer for everyone to leave him be surely? Keep in contact occasionally, or invite him round for Sunday lunch occasionally, but I don't see what else you can do.
Incidentally, I think one of the best things you can do though is focus on yourself, your health and the enjoyment and pleasurable things in life.
That is just it. I don't try and involve myself. He has made it clear that he wants contact on his terms only. He suggested coming to stay and then stayed in his room.
Unless he is in trouble (which is when he gets in touch and asks for help and/or money) I get one or two texts a month.
I see him a couple of times of year - and even then he is rude and makes it clear that he'd rather be doing something else. That's if he replies at all. I don't put any pressure on him to see him other than a couple of times ayear saying that I am visiting his city and would he like to meet.
your actually allowing to do all this by wiping his bottom when he needs it.
stop bailing him out, don't offer him to come and stay and stop chasing him for contact.
he is your son yes, you are his mother. The contact/love/respect is supposed to be two way.
Attempting suicide is hardly putting him first when making decisions. I can't imagine how that must have felt for him - that even your child wasn't enough.
Sounds like he's had a really tough time growing up, the mix of issues you have described sound like a pretty crap childhood and people with difficult childhoods end up having difficulties as adults. I'm sure that's not what you want to hear but he is the way he is for a reason and it's accepted that childhood experiences, particularly very early childhood, has an enormous impact on personality and future mental health.
So my first point is probably to treat him with as much empathy as you can muster. But you need to set boundaries so that you don't end up completely miserable too. His childhood may have shaped him but that isn't a free pass for him to treat others like shit or for you to wear a hair shirt the rest of your life. As an adult he needs to accept the traumas he has suffered (a parent attempting suicide is a trauma make no mistake) but then take responsibility for his own life and how he treats others. So work out what bothers you most - bailing him out financially? His refusal to do stuff as a family? And then set limits. So perhaps rather than dropping everything to be with him physically when he calls, just offer phone support. Or don't give him money anymore - or if it's easier, give only a little, not everything he asks. You're not going to change him easily but if you set boundaries you are happy with you may be able to feel different about the relationship.
I agree about setting appropriate boundaries. This is something he needs to learn, especially since he's already in his late 20s. Do send occasional supportive texts, without too much expectation of a response, because he needs to know you're thinking of him. But don't jump to rescue him from every crisis, because it isn't helping him - especially around adult responsibilities like money. If he's behaving like a 13 year-old you need to respond like the parent of a 13 year-old: gently but firmly.
Thank you for your advice.
The comment about suicide 'not putting him first' lacks understanding of this issue however. I do not underestimate the effect of attempted suicide on a family. I was seriously ill at the time. It was, in fact the thought of him, that led me to make a call before I died and I was saved as a result. My preference was (is) not to be here however. Suicide is rarely a rational response and although it can be manipulative, it is more commonly the effect of severe, literally life threatening mental illness.
It is also my own guilt about his childhood that mean that I do bail him out, but I am so tired of his contempt and rudeness. If he doesn't like me or blames me for things I would prefer that he just tell me and make his own way. That's (partly) what I have done with my parents regarding my own crappy childhood.
<<If he doesn't like me or blames me for things I would prefer he just told me and made his own way.>>
Yeah but its not that simple is it? Because he's emotionally tied to you and you and his dad have damaged him emotionally. So he no doubt loves you but has enormously negative feelings about you (resentment, fear) too.
Unfortunately you can't fix him, all you can do is set boundaries around how he treats you. And maybe offer to pay for therapy for him, if and when he he realises he needs a shitload of it (possibly never).
Accepting that ye dont have a great relationship can lift the burdemn off you of expecting anything different. Just send him the odd text filling him in on stuff at home and letting him know you are thinking of him.
Your words about the suicide attempt are how it was from your point of view but it will have been completely different from his point of view. Have you ever told him it wasn't his fault? Have you said sorrow he had to experience that?
Also when chatting just say love you at end of every chat as he needs that affection from you.
Remember he is sufffering from same depression as you so do what you would have liked your dps to do to you. He is emotionally stunted due to trauma so maybe expect him to act younger. Be interested in the successfful areas of his life eg his job and resist urge to treat him as a victim.
Maybe have some counselling yourself around him . Break the cycle in the family by maybe doing a few things differently. Things wont change immediately but give it time.
@junebirthdaygirl. Thanks for a really helpful post. Genuinely.
I have talked to him about my attempt. I have also written to him and explained, said how sorry I am for many things, offered to talk, answer questions and listen to how he feels - saying that I understand he may feel angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad, afraid. Of course I expressed all of that in a more nuanced way and less imposing way.
I do say I love you at the end of chats, and texts - as does he, but sometimes it feels ...mechanical.....Could be depression I guess.
For a while I thought I had accepted how things were, but the recent visit opened it all again. So it is back to the beginning again I guess.
Anyway thanks for the reply.
The comment about suicide 'not putting him first' lacks understanding of this issue however. I do not underestimate the effect of attempted suicide on a family. I was seriously ill at the time. It was, in fact the thought of him, that led me to make a call before I died and I was saved as a result. My preference was (is) not to be here however. Suicide is rarely a rational response and although it can be manipulative, it is more commonly the effect of severe, literally life threatening mental illness. I have some experience of this from your son's point of view. As an adult, I completely understand what you've just said. If the same situation were to occur now, I'd understand that it had nothing to do with me. But your son wasn't an adult when it happened. He was a child who would have been asking himself why his mum didn't love him enough to stay. That stuff stays with you. I doubt very much that he would have connected your phone call for help with your love for him. I really hope you don't think that I'm attacking you; I'm really not. I'm just trying to explain from your son's point of view. Depression makes people see things from a very particular point of view and if you've got two people who both see the other person's behaviour as the problem, neither of you are going to understand where the other person is coming from.
It is also my own guilt about his childhood that mean that I do bail him out, but I am so tired of his contempt and rudeness. If he doesn't like me or blames me for things I would prefer that he just tell me and make his own way. That's (partly) what I have done with my parents regarding my own crappy childhood. I think that this is what you have to do. He's not responding to your attempts to fix your relationship. All you can do is tell him you love him and that you'll be there if he feels like he wants to have a conversation.
I didn't explain properly. The suicide attempts were when he was in his mid twenties and had left home (not that it makes it much easier to deal with). He has had his own problems with mental health so I think he has an understanding of the complexity; although I totally get that at an emotional level it feels very rejecting. It takes a lot of work to hold onto the thought that it isn't a rejection of you, but is a result of severe illness.
I don't always manage it myself and when my DP made an attempt this year my first response was everything you don't need or want to hear from your loved ones. It took several days and a lot of work for our relationship to recover from that.
I think the last piece of advice (which echoes earlier posts) is good, thank you.
I didn't feel attacked by your post.
Although I'm learning that you don't post on MN unless you can cope with feeling attacked 😉
Have you ever looked at joint therapy for the two of you?
When my son was really struggling we had an agreement that his therapist could call me at any time and I would drop everything to go there. We called it "the kill switch". Just the knowledge that I prioritised him above literally everything else did wonders for him.
He is now 22 and has recently moved back in. You may need to renegotiate your boundaries on a diffeerent level. Whats appropriate for a damaged 15yr old will not work on a damaged 22yr old.
I can't give advice re: your son but sorry to hear you have been suicidal, I do understand what that's like as I've been there, hope you have got the help you need for your own MH problems
Thanks both of you. Family therapy did cross me mind, but he lives in a different city.
My son came up again last weekend and we had a long talk. He shared how he has been feeling and how it relates to me and our relationship. It has been better since.
Very good news about the talk! And I'm glad to hear that things are better. It's never easy when things have been strained, but it does sound like you're both willing to work through it, which is great.
So glad things are improving op.
You've got off relatively lightly on your thread op - most threads like this don't go well
the parent gets ripped to shreds. Nigh impossible for posters to resist projecting, sadly. Which is a shame bcs you, and others like you who have posted in the past, very clearly love their adult child and very much want to find a solution.
I think situations like this need specialist support. Have a look at Joshua Coleman's work. American psychologist, so allow for that, but very good nonetheless. He predominantly deals with estrangement but has some very sound things to say about difficult parent/adult child relationships in general.
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