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Single mom's teenager disapproves of boyfriend
September 26, 2011 8:01 PM   Subscribe

Single mom's teenager disapproves of boyfriend - does it ever get better?

Asking for a friend:
My friend is dating a single mom who has a teenager (17). They have been dating for about 8 months, and the teenager has made it clear that they do not approve of the boyfriend. No real reason besides being the first serious boyfriend, the ex still in love with the mom, and massive entitlement issues from being the only child in the family. My friend has tried to bond with the teenager, but it was met with extreme anger and resentment, so he gave up. Every instance of them being together, the mom was present - so no issues like he did something that would provoke this. He has had no contact with the teenager in a few months, but the teenager still feels the need to make idle threats, and verbalize their disapproval over dating this particular person. The boyfriend does not live with the teen and mom. However this is made worse by the fact that the mom does not really set a strong stance on not bad mouthing boyfriends, but she doesn't really let it affect the relationship either. The boyfriend doesn't like the bad mouthing, but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available.

My friend wants to get some personal perspectives from others that have either been through it or know of people that have, does it ever get easier or advice to make it easier? Do most teenagers ever realize that while they might not like the person, they make a good, loving couple? I should note that the boyfriend also does not want to become a step father or step into any role like that; he just wants to be cordial and friendly with the teen. Any other advice would be greatly appreciated. He's at the end of holding out any hope if it improving and is dreading that this will continue into adulthood.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This isn't about the boyfriend. I'd bet the teen can't even recognize the boyfriend as an actual human being. Instead, I would guess, the teen sees the boyfriend as just a symbol of all these terrifying, uncontrollable, and painful things happening in their life.

I've been that teen. In some was, I still am the teen. I can't describe just how painful being in that situation can be.

Can the mom get the teen to therapy? It would be incredibly helpful if the teen could find better ways to feel, express, and do something with the extreme anger and resentment they're feeling. Right now, it sounds like the teen is feeling incredibly lost and confused.
posted by meese at 8:13 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here are my answers to your questions, based on my experiences as one element of a very similar situation.
No, it's never going to get easier for mom, because teenager sees boyfriend as mom's selfish indulgence toward happiness that has nothing to do with teenager, or the life they all led in the nuclear family.
teenager has no interest in whether mom and person teenager doesn't like are a happy loving couple.
Teenager does not need a stepfather, teenager is close enough to adulthood that this should simply become an adult relationship and come what may.
Teenager and mom would very likely benefit from counseling.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:07 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I too have been that teen. Of course in my case, the boyfriend and later stepfather turned out to actually be a total asshole (my mom and he are divorced now), but giving your friend's boyfriend the benefit of the doubt, this is not likely something to be solved by pushing. To be honest, even therapy may be limited in its effectiveness. This teen is just that, a teen. They may have grown up bodies but their brains are still immature, and it's likely that that coupled with the pain and fear surrounding the demise of the parental relationship, makes this a pretty fraught situation. Also, if the bf is not living with the mom, I'm not sure why statements like, "The boyfriend doesn't like the bad mouthing, but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available" are coming into play. That kind of thing is certainly not helpful and is actually likely to exacerbate teen's insecurity and dislike since it suggests that at some point this bf/interloper may have control over the teen's relationship with mom/living arrangements/etc.
posted by katyggls at 9:12 PM on September 26, 2011 [14 favorites]


This attitude that he's a spoiled kid who just needs someone to give him what-for, well, if that's coming across in the way your friend presents itself (it totally did to me when it happened to me and guys pulled the macho man "You have to respect me" routine), no wonder the kid reacts with hostility. I mean, this is not being a spoiled kid that leaves clothes everywhere or won't pick up his room or whatever.

So here's the thing from my perspective because I've been that kid. My family was torn apart. Nobody really cared to talk to me about it or really what I thought about it. And my situation actually wasn't as bad as this one because I was glad they got divorced, but still. It's terrifying because your entire life is out of your control, all these traumatic things happen, and everyone expects you to be okay and move on. Imagine you were in a plane crash, you walk away from it mostly intact, but nobody wants to acknowledge there's a plane on fire behind you and if you point it out, you're The Bad Guy. And yeah, teen angst, but still. It's very real to them. Adults just try to put it all in the past and move on and start dating and building new lives, but teenagers aren't adults no matter how much bad facial hair they grow.

Not to mention the guy is seventeen and being seventeen is inherently terrifying. Puberty, driving, dating, college, girls, all those weird physical changes, all the stress, then his mother's dating some guy and his father's hung up on mom and he still doesn't know what the hell is going on. It's all a lot to deal with and the kid probably could use someone to talk to about it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:14 PM on September 26, 2011 [12 favorites]


I should note that the boyfriend also does not want to become a step father or step into any role like that; he just wants to be cordial and friendly with the teen.

The boyfriend doesn't like the bad mouthing, but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available.

These two statements sound seriously incongruent to me. If boyfriend really wants to pursue a relationship with this mom, then boyfriend needs to understand that the relationship between mom and her kid (and the welcomeness of her kid in her home, by the way) is not his to dictate. Boyfriend trying to control so many things about this situation is not only going to be ineffective and pushing weird boundaries, it's likely going to further aggravate the negative feelings from the teen's side. Boyfriend should be concentrating on the relationship between himself and mom, and consider the teen, teen's relationship with mom, mom's parenting of teen, etc. none of his beeswax.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:41 PM on September 26, 2011 [24 favorites]


Not to mention the guy is seventeen and being seventeen is inherently terrifying. Puberty, driving, dating, college, girls,

the OP does not seem to have identified the gender of the teenager in question.
posted by sweetkid at 9:51 PM on September 26, 2011


True! My mistake. Boys are also terrifying.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:56 PM on September 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


"The boyfriend doesn't like the bad mouthing, but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available."

Wow, I'm not sure about everyone else, but I think the teenager, angst and hormones aside, has very good and legitimate reasons to be upset at their mother and hostile to this new stranger who appears to be determining access to home, parents, and what should be safe harbor. At the very least 16-17 was close enough to an adult to have at least some small say in whether or not the teenager got a new housemate, since, you know, your friend is not a step-father.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:58 PM on September 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I should note that the boyfriend also does not want to become a step father or step into any role like that; he just wants to be cordial and friendly with the teen.

The boyfriend doesn't like the bad mouthing, but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available.


The situation has potential to get better, but first the boyfriend really needs to drop the attitude that leads to these two statements. He's stepping into a delicate situation here. This is not just some meddling friend or neighbor, this is her flesh and blood. It's clear the mum does care about not alienating her son while still seeking some happiness of her own. Kids (and this teenager is technically still very much a kid) have a knack for smelling out insincerity. So unless your friend is willing to remember he's still the boyfriend and put some sincere work into getting the teen over to "cordial", he's probably best off cutting his loses now. Harsh but true.
posted by arishaun at 11:18 PM on September 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems like eight months is not a very long relationship, and the boyfriend may be expecting way too much from the teen, the mom, and the whole dynamic at this early stage. If the boyfriend has not had contact with the teen for "a few months" that's about half the time that the couple have been together. From the teen's perspective, here's this guy, then he's not around for whatever reason (mom's choice? boyfriend's?), and then he is back and demanding "respect". It just seems like a lot to expect from a kid, and from the mom too--if she's anything like me, she's trying to accommodate everyone's needs in this new dynamic, (including her own needs, ideally). No one can tell him if it will "get easier" but I imagine that things might improve if boyfriend backs off and demonstrates more respect for the mom-teen relationship and avoids his urge to be judgmental about the teen's behavior or attitude.
posted by gubenuj at 11:22 PM on September 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


The teen is 17. Perhaps the boyfriend may consider not coming over to the mom's place at all - that way it's all up to the mom to come over to the boyfriend's place and the boyfriend neither invades the teen's space, nor "takes away" the mom (since it is the mom's choice to *go* to the boyfriend, rather than being taken away by the boyfriend). This way, contact is minimized and so are chances of a in person confrontation. It would be a year till the teen is 18 - a full year of the boyfriend keeping a respectful distance and leaving it all up to mom and mom's relationship with her kid. Once the kid turns 18, the boyfriend, having proven his good will as well as seriousness of intent for a lengthy period of time, can expect the 18 year-old to act like an adult. This would be the time for the boyfriend to be able to come over (with the agreement of the mom) to mom's place, no matter what the teen thinks - of course, boyfriend should always be respectful and never impose himself on either the teen or the teen's relationship with his mother, i.e. leave it up to the teen to take the relationship with the boyfriend anywhere he wants to. Should the teen at that point still express unprovoked hostility, well, s/he's 18, an adult - tough luck, s/he can take a hike as far as the boyfriend is concerned - he'll just carry on as if nothing's the matter. Once you're an adult, the world doesn't care - it expects you to play by the rules of an adult, or face the consequences... because ultimately the boyfriend's relationship is with another adult - the mom, and the other adult (18 year old) will have to deal.
posted by VikingSword at 12:13 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


but has stated that no matter what - as long as the teenager is respectful, they will always have a room available.

A lot of people seem to be taking this to mean he's trying to dictate access to the mom and the mom's home. But they don't live together, of course he'll always have a room available at his home. I take this to mean teen will always have a room at boyfriend's home if he wants to stay over when his mum does.
posted by missmagenta at 2:18 AM on September 27, 2011


Boyfriend needs to take a big step back. I agree with everyone who's pointed out that it's pretty rich for Boyfriend to be demanding "respect" just for the achievement of having dated Mom for 8 months.

I understand the bit of his not having seen Teen for some months, but nonetheless being bothered by "bad-mouthing", to mean that while Boyfriend has wisely taken the relationship offsite, Mom continues to report on the "bad-mouthing." She should stop this, it's not helpful; and Boyfriend should stop asking.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:05 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm the mom in this situation, and your friend has the situation backward. The question is not will it ever get better for your friend and his girlfriend. The question is will it ever get better for the son. Here's whose needs have to be met before everyone can move forward in a healthy way, in order of importance:

1. Kid's needs need to be met. Nobody but the kid gets to define what those needs are. The kid is the only one who hasn't chosen his circumstances. Mom, dad, and boyfriend are adults and in charge of their worlds. The kid isn't in control of any aspect of his life so it's up to the adults around him to make sure his needs are being met before they rock his boat even more by bringing new people into the mix.

2. Mom's needs need to be met. Mom needs to wrap up the ex issues & make sure co-parenting is going smoothly, take time to be on her own before getting into a new relationship, make sure her work/friendships/support network/finances (which also benefits the kid) are all strong, make sure she's getting enough rest/exercise/sleep, make sure her relationship with her kid is steady and secure.

3. New guy. He was doing fine before he met this wounded family, and his needs as an independent adult take a back seat to theirs. Maybe this isn't the right time for him to get involved in their lives.


I would also echo other posts that say new guy needs to back off from demanding respect and thinking of the kid as an entitled brat. Because no kid deserves a stepfather-figure like that.
posted by headnsouth at 4:37 AM on September 27, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh and I should add that the responsibility for making all of this happen is completely on mom. She needs to tell boyfriend "love me, love my kid" and mean it. And she also needs to tell the kid to behave respectfully even to people he doesn't like.
posted by headnsouth at 4:39 AM on September 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


An odd solution, but maybe watching the movie "Cyrus" might give them all perspective on their situation?
posted by MangyCarface at 6:02 AM on September 27, 2011


I was sort of that kid. Yeah, I was probably a dick, but at the same time my mother's "guy picker" was obviously rusty and out of practice, and the first guy or two that she dated were such obvious turds that even now I would be hard-pressed to be polite to them. And on top of that, even great guys can really struggle with how to both date a woman and interact with her children -- the lines everyone above has quoted about the pseudo-available room are exactly the kind of clumsy interaction that I mean.

I don't mean to cast any aspersions on your friend; I am sure he is a great guy, loving, etc. But it's a complex situation, and I think he needs to be able to take the high road at every opportunity, even if that means taking things slower with the woman, not being around when her son is visiting, etc, for as long as that takes.
posted by Forktine at 7:07 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I should have been more clear about the room statement - that's my fault. The boyfriend is in no way trying to limit the relationship between the mom and teen. The relationship is serious enough to consider buying a home together after the teen is gone. The comment was made to the mom, not the teen. The reason it was made to the mom is so the mom knew that the boyfriend accepted as the teen and holds no grudges or bad feelings about the current situation. They do not live together so the boyfriend has no say in discipline or coming between the relationship. Actually, that's one of the reason they don't own a house currently as both thought it was a big possibility that the teen would hold resentment towards the couple living together. However at the same time, the boyfriend believes that while the teen will always have a room available, and be welcome in the house the couple buys together, a level of common living together decency is needed. Again, this is all after the teen is gone to college, military, peace corp, job corp, whatever they decide.

In terms of co-parenting, that is impossible since the parents do not get along due to delusional ex (still in love with ex, won't accept divorce, etc.). This is/was being fought in court, so yes, the teen is the one being caught in the middle with split loyalty. The ex was so bad that a limited contact order had to be put in place to stop the harassing contact.

I forgot to mention in the original post that the boyfriend does not come around when the teen is present, and generally does not see the mom when she has custody. No sleep overs or anything of that nature unless the teen is not there.
posted by mathowie at 9:23 AM on September 27, 2011


massive entitlement issues from being the only child in the family.

Uh, wonder why the kid doesn't like this guy.

I would think the one with entitlement issues is the boyfriend who expects the kid to be anything beyond "not violent" to some guy who managed to date their mom for eight months.

He's the interloper, not the kid. He needs to tread a lot lighter.
posted by spaltavian at 9:30 AM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is/was being fought in court, so yes, the teen is the one being caught in the middle with split loyalty.

Mom needs to table the new relationship until the drama is over and the kid has had time to heal (mom too).

However at the same time, the boyfriend believes that while the teen will always have a room available, and be welcome in the house the couple buys together, a level of common living together decency is needed. Again, this is all after the teen is gone to college, military, peace corp, job corp, whatever they decide.

Even in the best of circumstances, even when an adult child has been away from the family home for decades, it can be traumatic to see your childhood home and all it represented, sold to strangers. Mom and the boyfriend are contemplating selling the kid's house and moving to a home of their own as soon as he leaves, and he knows it. And the only reason they haven't done it yet is because of him, and he knows that too.

What makes it exciting and positive and safe for a kid to leave home for the first time, is the knowledge that that home is still there for you if college/military/peace corps/job corps etc. doesn't work out. It's not enough that this kid's world has been turned upside-down by his parents' divorce and ongoing drama, but now here's mom and the new guy watching the clock until he's 18, so the last of his safety/security/refuge can be removed as well.

But it's ok, because the boyfriend will let him sleep in the guest room if he behaves himself.
posted by headnsouth at 10:01 AM on September 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


If the relationship is that serious, is there any reason they can't hold off for a year or two on the home buying? That's a long time when you're 17 and maybe long enough that it doesn't seem like the boyfriend's chomping at the bit to get rid of Teenager. Two years is not so long when you're 40. The great advantage adults have over children is that time is shorter to them.

I agree that if I were 17 I would hate this pushy boyfriend, too. The boyfriend may not actually be pushy- maybe it's Mom- but Teenager can't afford to vilify his Mom when his world is so shaky.

What's the rush? Slow down.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:57 AM on September 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


To an extent I have had the perspective of the teen, so I'll try to comment (and keep it short).

Let's assume that the boyfriend is a decent guy.

Do not force the situation. The teen sees the boyfriend as a threat to whatever is currently OK with the family situation, and only represents risk. The only solution is that the boyfriend has to gradually, over time, demonstrate that he's not a threat.

It reminds me of (I don't know the exact terminology) gradual exposure therapy that is sometimes applied to PTSD or phobias.

The boyfriend and mom just need to accept that there will be some acting out, some attitude from the teen, probably for some years, and they have to not take it too personally, not respond with anger. Maybe the teen will act out in really unacceptable ways, for example, yelling in public. It needs to be communicated to teen that he's entitled to his opinion, and to be able to express his opinion in certain ways (e.g., he doesn't have to be buddy-buddy with boyfriend if he doesn't want to) but that some behaviors just aren't acceptable.

... and, this relationship might not work out. Only at 8 months? Maybe that's soon enough for mom and boyfriend to consider buying a house, but too so for the teen to expect boyfriend to be around forever.

If the boyfriend is really such a great guy he just has to demonstrate it over the next few years. I recently re-read the "shrodinger's(sp?) rapist" thread again; you can kind of think about this situation as "shrodinger's(sp?) ass-hole step-dad".
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:59 AM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I wonder if not ever hanging out together is part of the problem- does it turn the boyfriend into one more unknown life-rending boogeyman? I can almost see him sounding like a threat if everytime Mom brings him up, it's with some terrible consequence looming, like selling the house.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:59 AM on September 27, 2011


The answer to the question 'does it ever get better?' is: only a little, after a long time, and only when there is no choice. I've seen this many, many times.

Do most teenagers ever realize that while they might not like the person, they make a good, loving couple?
NO. Children of any age, including middle-aged children, usually loathe the idea of a parent in a new relationship, and have the greatest difficulty accepting it, sometimes even when it would make their own lives easier. So even though it sounds as if the needs of this teen are being treated with great respect, the adults can never, ever, ever expect permission from the teen--no matter how many years they wait. S/He will NEVER give up the fantasy of his parents getting back together, maybe even not with the help of a therapist. S/He will always feel disloyal to the father for even smiling at any man who "takes" his/her father's place. Multiply murderous jealousy/envy by any number you like for a child who hasn't even had to compete with a sibling for the mother's attention. Therapy might help--if the teen were actually interested in going. That can be a big if.

However this is made worse by the fact that the mom does not really set a strong stance on not bad mouthing boyfriends,
He's at the end of holding out any hope if it improving and is dreading that this will continue into adulthood.
My guess is that the bf asking for respect ( a request which seems to have riled many on this list) is simply him asking for common courtesy: i.e., not being called a "fucking shithead" to his face, for example, because he had the gall to walk into the room. I agree with cupcake1337 that all of the teen's feelings are legitimate, but he doesn't have the right to act as he pleases--because no one does. Sure, he should be allowed/encouraged to say he is unhappy, he wants things to be the way they were, he hates to see his mother with any man but his father. But it really is up to the mother not to allow the teen to call the bf vile names or heap abuse on him.

Of course the teen is angry. Of course the new couple should wait a lot longer before moving in together--of course. But they can give up on the idea that one bright day the teen/young adult will 'accept' the bf. S/he will do everything in his/her power to make the "interloper' go away--and this includes long long after the teen gets a life of her own.
posted by uans at 2:50 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


No real reason besides being the first serious boyfriend, the ex still in love with the mom, and massive entitlement issues from being the only child in the family.

The divorce was relatively recent, it sounds like? I think this is impossible to answer sufficiently without knowing what the details of the divorce were (and I don't think you necessarily should share this). It could be a number of things: if it was not an amicable split; if the daughter is on the side of the ex; if she's forced to live somewhere that she doesn't want to be; if she held out some hope that her parents would get back together; if she thinks that her mom was responsible for the divorce; if it feels that the mom is moving too fast -- any of these things could be triggering this kind of response. Or, she could just be an entitled teenager, and using this as leverage against the mom. And to be honest, without more information, she might be somewhat justified in her anger, but it's hard to say without more details. For any of these, though, this isn't always something that time would necessarily resolve. To assume it will may cause more damage in the long run, if it's a festering issue that is carrying over unresolved from the divorce. The best thing is family counseling, perhaps with just the mother and the daughter, to see where the anger is coming from.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:49 PM on September 27, 2011


It sounds like boyfriend needs to back off. Teen is going through some crazy amounts of upheaval: parents fighting in COURT, their entire concept of their other parent crashing down, being a teen and everything that entails, career/school decisions... and then boyfriend comes along and starts talks about selling the house - the one thing left in teen's life that isn't going bonkers - and how boyfriend is willing to welcome teen into boyfriend's house (no longer teen's house)... it's no wonder teen is a bit cranky!

For what it's worth, I really felt ambivalent about my mom's boyfriends after my parents' separation. They were dudes, she was dating them, I rarely saw them. But then one of them lent me a movie and I watched it and my mom gave it back. He then made a huge stink about how if I respected him, I should've somehow gone to his work/home to return it myself (huh?). We were completely fine up until this point but it soured both my relationship with him and his relationship with my mom.

Don't try to take a position of power over the teen. Realizing the pecking order is teen then mom then you is really important. Don't talk about what you're going to do once the teen is gone, that's freaky and unwelcoming. If you aren't saying this outright, check your body language and assumptions when interacting with the teen. It's easy to forget these things but they are monumental when navigating a potentially tense situation like this.
posted by buteo at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


One more thing. People, including myself, have been kind of piling on Boyfriend here. Boyfriend is probably not a bad guy; that's not the point. The point is that this situation is not going to get significantly better; and that it's unrealistic for Boyfriend to expect that once kid goes off to college, the problems will be over. They won't be over. At "best," i.e. if she decides to come down on Boyfriend's side, Mom's relationship with Teen will suffer greatly. At "worst," their conflicting interests will tear her up and the relationship will end in bitterness.

If Boyfriend were my friend or brother, I would strongly advise him to move on.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:53 PM on September 29, 2011


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