How can I make it better with my 13 year old son?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q: My marriage was falling apart, my husband was telling me to “make a plan” for years, as he was leaving. To my knowledge, my 13 year old son did not hear our often “heated” discussions, but possibly did. My husband was demeaning to me, he had no other interpersonal relationships as he is a very angry person, angry with his family (mother and brothers), angry with me about everything, it was all MY fault and this is what I heard for years.

I decided I had to get out of this relationship as I was starting to drink a lot at night, alone, cry a lot, worry a lot, etc. My husband and I had been in separate bedrooms for three years, I felt no love there. So, I told him I was leaving, he freaked, begged, etc., he decided to leave as my family was coming to help me move and he didn’t want to face them..he left..I moved with my 13 year old son. We had discussed the fact that we were splitting with my son and told him he could decide which of us to stay with (this was before his father left in a panic). My son decided he would stay with me and I told him that I preferred it that way, as we were pretty close. We moved to another state (where my family is).

Then, his father, not knowing what to do or where to turn, went to live with his mother which happened to be in the same city which I had moved to. Then his father started meeting with me, trying to get back together, etc., which I did meet with him, but did not, and still do not, want to do. My son then went to stay with his father for a weekend and decided he wanted to stay with him, and, as we had said we would let him make the decision on where he wanted to stay, I obliged and he went to live with his dad (and grandmother) just across town. I stayed in that town for a few months and then moved about 45 minutes away, near a girlfriend, and closer to my parents.

My son soon became very angry with all of my family (his grandparents – my parents, my sister, etc) as my husband would call them, hoping for some support I believe, and they, of course, not wanting to get involved in the situation, did not return his calls. He said he didn’t understand why all of his dad’s family loved him (his dad) one minute and turned their back on him the next. He took this quite personally and says he feels they do not love him either, “if they dont love my dad, they dont love me”. During this time (about 6 months now) I have called my son, and each time he is angrier and more hateful than the last toward me. He blames me for “ruining his life”. He becomes very disrespectful and condescending to me (just as his dad has done for years). After each conversation with him, or taking him to dinner, whatever, I become very despondent and break down in tears that he feels this way toward me.

In our last conversation he told me that “when he grows up and gets married, if he ever does, that he will have a family and that he will stick with it and make it work, and not fail as I have done”. I have not, and have told him I will not, talk about the issues of my relationship with his dad, as I do not feel he needs to know them at this time. I don’t want to tell him all of the downright UGLY things his father has said to me, as I don’t want to ruin his image of his father to him, I just say, I want to be happy and in order to this, I cannot live with your father any more. I tell him I love him. He laughs and says, “yeah, right”. This hurts — bad.

So, since our last conversation went so wrong, I have not called – it has been 6 weeks now. He hasn’t called me, nor have I called him. I feel terrible. My husband, however, did call me and left a message with a few very nasty things to say about me not calling, and I mean nasty – he likes to use guilt and anger to “play” me, which I won’t respond to anymore. So, I didn’t return his call either. Now I don’t know what to do. So much time has expired, if I call now, I know what it will be, “you dont care about us, thats why you havent called”. After reading some of the articles on this site, it was confirmed to me that I cant just leave it this way…I can’t. I have to show him I love him, yet, he seems to hate me so much, I don’t know what to say to make it right with him again. I know that he is living in a situation where, both his father and grandmother are very negative people, very negative, and this is rubbing off on him, he says he hates everything.

To further complicate the issue, in the mean time, I have found a man who is very caring, loving, attentive to my needs, etc. We have recently moved in together and I feel so wonderful with him. He has helped me to stop drinking so much and actually enjoy life for the first time in a long time. He is very supportive and caring. Of course, my husband, nor son, know of this. I am afraid, if my son finds out, he will hate me even more, may never forgive me, as he had said in one of our conversations, “what if you start dating or if dad does, that would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me”. I do plan to file for divorce and have told my husband this, but he doesn’t believe it or, rather, doesn’t want to. Just another tidbit about my husband, so you can hopefully fully understand the situation, he doesn’t keep jobs, he gets angry at something and ultimately quits. I have been the main supporter in the family for years and years. Therefore, they are still living with grandma, which is obviously more of a stressful situation than if they had their own place to stay. I am sending money each week to help with the expenses for my son, but of course, my husband says this “isn’t enough for THEIR existance”. I feel my husband needs to pick himself up and be a man, support himself and his son with my help of course) and quit blaming others for his shortcomings. Again, I can’t say this to my son.. can I? I need to let my son know I love him… I want to spend time with him, but he is so hurtful to me, I let him vent his feelings on me, and, for some reason, don’t stop him from doing so (again, just like his father, only I don’t let him do it anymore, or try to anyway) no matter how hurtful he becomes. How can I talk to him and reason with him without hurting him (and me) more. It has been too long, six weeks since Ive spoken with my son, I feel horrible inside about it. What can I do to repair this relationship with my son? Please, your advice is very welcome, very…

A. I know that you have gone through a stressful period with your marriage but I cannot support the decisions that you have made. Your husband did beg to stay with you and that leads me to believe he might have been willing to get counseling. With counseling, you might have improved your marriage or at least made life bearable. If that were the case, you could have provided a stable home environment for your son until he turned 18. You should not have given custody to his father and you should not have moved away. You should be physically close to your son, sharing custody at a minimum and visiting him at least 3 to 4 times per week. Your son feels like you abandoned him and it appears as if that’s what you have done. He has lost his home, his friends, his school, and his neighborhood. If you were my client, I would have done my best to keep you and your husband together until your son was 18. If leaving your husband was an absolute necessity, then you should have made arrangements to ensure your son had frequent access to both his mother and father, and not just by phone. I can well understand your son’s anger, resentment and the feeling that he is not loved. It’s not too late to get family therapy, and do what you can to restore your marriage or at least improve the life of your son. Doing so will involve sacrifice on both you and your husband’s part but it is the right thing to do as parents.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Mar 2005

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2005). How can I make it better with my 13 year old son?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2005/03/28/how-can-i-make-it-better-with-my-13-year-old-son/