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How Do I Stop My Husband From Rescuing Our 18 Year Old Son?

My husband has never been able to set limits or enforce any discipline with our son, who is now 18. I always had to do the disciplining and enforcing, and I still do.

Unfortunately, my husband doesn't understand the importance of consequences, so he likes to step in and rescue my son from the consequences I've given him! And when I call him on it, he and my son gang up on me and accuse me of all kinds of negative things.

Several psychologists have informed my husband that what he is doing is harmful to my son and the family, but it never sticks. He does it all unconsciously, because that's how he was raised. He actually believes he is helping him.

I'm between a rock and a hard place. Our son is abusing drugs and alcohol and lacks confidence.

Comments for How Do I Stop My Husband From Rescuing Our 18 Year Old Son?

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Son Needs To Develop Internal Discipline - Part 1
by: Annie Desantis

Hi,
Wow that's a hard one, because really you can't change someone else. It is very difficult when there is such a difference in styles of discipline, because you are ending up feeling unsupported by your husband, and he is probably feeling you are being too tough.

And of course your son is able to play you off against each other, and as you say gang up on you.

You didn't say anything specific about what your son does that you feel needs discipline, so I can't offer specific ways of dealing with that.

I'm actually going to come at your issue from a different perspective from the psychologists you have seen. I'm not sure how long ago you sought their help, but since you say your son is 18, then I am going to base my suggestions on his age now.

At 18 you really have to let go being the disciplinarian. I know this is not going to be easy for you, you are obviously concerned about him, and care very deeply about his welfare. But the more you are the authority in his life, the less he has to take responsibility for his own choices, and yes, his own mistakes.

He needs to stand on his own feet and test things out, and with some kids it does mean they dabble in drugs and alcohol. Often this behavior is more in response against parents that want to hold the reins tightly. When he knows you don't trust him to make good choices or to be responsible, then he might as well just do it. Also since he knows Dad will be the soft option and rescue him, then he is not moving into adulthood.

It isn't easy as a parent to watch our kids when we are scared they are not equipped to deal with temptations like drugs, alcohol, sex etc. But the most important thing is to keep good lines of communication open, and build a positive relationship with your son. If you have always been the policewoman in the family, then it will be you he has to rebel against the most. And the tighter you try to control him, the more you risk damaging that relationship.

Part Two Follows

Son Needs To Develop Internal Discipline - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

Kids change enormously as teenagers and he needs to have his own internal guidance and self discipline, and it is time for you to ease off. The role of the enforcer will be a very familiar one for you and it will be a challenge for you to
develop a new role with your son. While you have your policewoman hat on, you keep him as a naughty boy. You don't give him space to grow up.

Of course that doesn't mean he has the rights to abuse you, or disrespect your property or home, and he should be contributing to the running of the household.

Now back to your husband, I suspect in a way your husband also feels a bit like a naughty boy who is not doing it right, so he also rebels by not supporting you.

And in a way, if he doesn't have a problem with your son's behavior, then the problem is yours. However, there may be some areas that you agree on, like contributing to household tasks for example. Find the things you both agree on, and work together to find ways to deal with it. Keep in mind, the more you treat your son as an adult, then the more he will respond as one. The less you trust him and the more you boss him, then the more he will respond as a rebellious child.

I imagine you are spending a lot of energy in worrying, being angry and frustrated with them both, and justifying your rules. And it is making you unhappy, and probably your son and husband also.

Try to switch focus a bit and put some of that energy into looking for positive building blocks with your son. Trust that he will have absorbed a lot of your values and ideals over the years and you can relax a bit and let him work things out for himself.

Find out what he is interested in, ask him about his music, what magazines he is reading. Do a bit of research yourself, or listen to something with him. Even if it is not your taste, find out why he likes it. When you show you value his ideas and opinions then he is more likely to trust he can talk to you without being told off, or judged.

Part Three Follows

Son Needs To Develop Internal Discipline - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

You say your son lacks confidence, and I am not surprised. If you have been the backbone in the family then he has not tested himself and gained the confidence of challenging himself and succeeding, or trying something out and making a mistake, or fixing his mistakes up. If you are the one who tries to MAKE him fix things up, then it is coming from outside him, so he has not developed the internal belief in himself.

Your sense of self belief and what is right is very strong, so it tends to dominate. He will not necessarily turn out the way you would like, but he will be a more rounded young man when he learns to develop his own guidance and make his own choices about what is right and wrong. That may well incorporate a lot of what you have taught him, and he will probably make some silly decisions as he works out what feels right to him. You can't be with him guiding him every moment, so he needs to develop the internal confidence that he can succeed, and he can make decisions and fix up his own mistakes.

Both you and your husband have parented the best way you knew, and as you say, a lot of it is unconscious and based on how we were raised.

You have done a great job, albeit with very different parenting styles, and your care and concern with wanting your son to grow into a confident, successful young man is clear. Take the time now to shift into a new kind of relationship with him, and start to see him as the confident, successful young man he will become (he may be more like you than you realize!) Your belief in him is a very powerful force, and will have a much more positive impact than sticking with the parent/child punishment role.

All the best,
Annie Desantis

Thank You
by: Anonymous

Dear Annie,

How can I ever thank you enough? Your answer was so brilliant! Here I had thought that I was going to have to find a top-notch therapist and try to force my husband to go with me in order to get "straightened out." But no! It's over with, done.

I did my best under unbelievably trying circumstances. I've worked to strengthen my relationship with my husband instead of divorcing him, and now I can just try to have fun with my son and rebuild our relationship. It so happens that I'm planning a trip for the two of us to New York for his birthday in two weeks.

I feel so relieved! There are many things about my son that reflect all that I've done for him these many years and I believe he will get it together.

You have a lot of insight understanding and compassion.

Again, thanks so much!

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