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Appropriate discipline, boundaries for a 14-year-old
February 10, 2013 10:18 PM   Subscribe

My son, 14, splits his time between my house and my ex-husband's house. About two years ago, my son's bed at his dad's house was taken away - he's been sleeping on the floor ever since. I am increasingly upset about this but unsure whether or how to intervene.

My ex and I divorced 12 years ago, and both of us married other people about five years ago. My ex and his wife have a young daughter. My husband and I have no children together. My ex and I share custody 50/50 and have since our divorce. We've had a relatively peaceful relationship until about two years ago when our child-raising and disciplinary approach apparently diverged.

My son has always had minor behavioral problems - he's a B student when he's applying himself, and a C student when he's not, but he has always been a kid who gets in some trouble in school for things like being disrespectful, disrupting class by talking to a friend, etc. Usually nothing major, but enough that he lands in detention 2-3 times a year. He spent time seeing a counselor in 5th-6th grade, then when he seemed to be doing somewhat better behaviorally, we discontinued the counseling. In 8th grade, responding to more behavioral issues, we brought him to a psychologist, who we've been seeing every 2-3 weeks since. My son does consistently better for a few months, then will do something outrageously stupid and get into trouble, restrictions on his behavior tighten up for a while, he toes the line for a while, wash-rinse-repeat.

In 8th grade, at the same time as the psychologist was engaged, my ex-husband decided that a good way to handle discipline was to go full-lockdown - no TV, no game console, no outside privileges, and - the kicker - no bed. This was in reaction to my son stealing a combination lock from his science classroom, resulting in a day of in-school suspension and loss of the 8th grade class trip. The duration is basically 'until (ex) feels he has earned back his stuff'. My son was also grounded at my house, but we never had game consoles, he doesn't watch TV to speak of at our house anyway, and he still has (and will always have) a bed at my house.

My boy is in 9th grade now. He got into some moderate trouble shortly before Thanksgiving, and as a result he lost internet privileges at both houses, and lost a hunting trip with my family. He also lost his *shoes* at my ex's house - they took away his 2 pairs of moderately stylish shoes that he'd bought with birthday money, and replaced them with one pair of poorly-fitting shoes from a discount store, which his stepmom bought and brought home for my son to wear, without my son having even tried them on.

So, I've been aware of the bed thing for several months, and became aware of the extent of the shoe thing yesterday during a trip to the shoe store. I've been keeping my thoughts about the discipline at the ex's house mostly to myself with some unease, but I'm starting to consider whether it's time to engage in a discussion around modifying the custody agreement. I don't think it's acceptable to have a child sleeping on the floor over there, and I don't think it's acceptable to purposefully shoe your child in shoes 2+ sizes off as a punishment. I also feel like punishment should have a reasonable end date. That said, interfering in discipline at their house has potential to inject a lot of unpleasantness and drama into a situation that's been fairly stable until recently.

So, am I overreacting or underreacting? In my place, would you be seeking advice from a lawyer, or would you be keeping focus on your own household?
posted by webwench to Human Relations (110 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you talked to your son about how he feels about the bed and shoes situations?
posted by Dansaman at 10:25 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would react the same way. This is not reasonable discipline a child like this. The shoes thing is totally out of hand.
posted by quince at 10:27 PM on February 10, 2013 [57 favorites]


Regardless of the unpleasantness and drama that may result, I think you need to have a conversation with your son's father. You should be on the same page and have the same disciplinary procedures. I think taking away a bed and the kids good shoes is incredibly over the line and in my family would be considered borderline abusive.
posted by kittensofthenight at 10:34 PM on February 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


What does the psychologist say about your son sleeping on the floor and wearing shoes that don't fit him as part of a nebulous and never-ending punishment?
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:36 PM on February 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


Dansaman, I have. He's been very upset about the bed, and has the sense that he'll never earn his bed back. He's upset about the shoes that he bought with his birthday money being taken away, but he expresses more anger about the bed, with some frequency.
posted by webwench at 10:36 PM on February 10, 2013


I don't think you're over-reacting. It sounds abusive to me and rectifying that should be worth some unpleasantness because it'll be for the good of your son. You might try going back to your son's psychologist for a qualified opinion.
posted by bleep at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would most definitely seek advice from a lawyer, because depriving a child of a bed and clothing is child abuse.

This is your business because your son's welfare is at stake. Don't let this slide. Who knows what other depredations a thorough investigation will reveal.
posted by Pudhoho at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2013 [94 favorites]


Yeah the shoe thing is completely unacceptable. The bed thing is weird and inappropriate too.

I'd be seeking advice from a lawyer, and anticipating a conversation with the psychologist as part of a custody renegotiation (or at least a come-to Jesus with your ex.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:38 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


A lawyer? No. Getting lawyers involved seems like a very quick way to create the 'unpleasantness and drama' that you don't want.

I think forcing a child to wear ill-fitting shoes and sleep on the floor indefinitely is draconian, verging on cruel.

So no, I absolutely wouldn't ignore it. But there are many steps between 'say nothing' and 'lawyer'. Why not schedule a sit-down discussion like civil adults, first?
posted by Salamander at 10:39 PM on February 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


You should have had this conversation a long time ago. You don't take away a child's bed for behavior. Good grief, that is ridiculous. Nor do you put a child into shoes that don't fit his growing feet. Both of those are beyond ridiculous and not punishment, but neglect if not abuse.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:39 PM on February 10, 2013 [95 favorites]


A child has to have a bed. This is not punishment, it is abuse. Your lawyer and the state should get involved if the father does not get a legitimate bed back for the son _tomorrow_.

Putting a child in purposely small shoes is abuse as well. This is designed to cause pain and shame. He needs correctly fitting shoes there as well.

Forcing a kid to sleep on the floor and wear painful/ill fitting shoes is a recipe for making that kid act out. As do punishments that have no clear way of ending.

You need to be the defender of your child in this situation and make it clear to his father that he needs to fix the situation asap, and that you will be watching out for the best interest of your child.

That said: The father may feel legitimately scared that his son is growing up to be a screw up or someone who ends up going to prison due to poor impulse control and theft and is trying the only way he knows how to try to prevent this. He needs to have more tools in his toolbox to work with his child. Family therapy for all of you?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:40 PM on February 10, 2013 [28 favorites]


These 'punishments' are insanely demeaning, disrespectful, humiliating, demoralizing, disproportionate and ambiguous. They're also incredibly unhelpful in terms of regulating and building up self-esteem, which is critical in establishing a healthy self-confidence and appropriate behavior.

This has to stop, now. Your household includes your son, who is being harmed by these punishments. Step in for him, please.
posted by barnone at 10:41 PM on February 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


He's been very upset about the bed, and has the sense that he'll never earn his bed back.

That's because sleeping on the floor is something, in the West, that animals do and people do not. It's an incredibly degrading punishment, plus it comes with actual physical discomfort to boot. That's the combination your boy's dad is hitting with the shoes, too- degrading and physically uncomfortable, with an added dollop of "nothing is yours; I can take anything you earn away from you at any time."

In other words, this is fucked-up.

I'm sorry, I don't know exactly what you should do. You have to parent with your boy's dad, or you have to go through the emotional upheaval for your boy of getting his dad out of his life, which might not work and which he might ultimately not want (especially because it will mean he can never get his dad's approval. Even though he will never get his dad's approval anyway.). The best thing I can think of would be maybe a family counselor who is experienced with child abuse. I don't know. I'm sorry. This is a shit situation.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:42 PM on February 10, 2013 [76 favorites]


Hang on - OP, please tell me he's sleeping on a mattress, right? Not directly on the actual floor?
posted by Salamander at 10:45 PM on February 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, if your boy is getting in trouble in school, he might have a behavioral issue that punishments won't rectify.

For instance, if he has impulse control problems- say he blurts out inappropriate remarks that get him in trouble, things like, "Boy, you sure look fat in that jacket!" or touches/plays with things that don't belong to him, like picking up a Game Boy that isn't his and playing with it until its owner intervenes having thought it was stolen- then punishments after the fact won't help. All they teach him is that he's bad and in addition to being bad he doesn't deserve anything good. A behaviorist- your boy's school district's special education department will refer you to one, or you can google for someone local- might be able to help with this.

If he struggles with executive functioning- forgets homework, doesn't do big projects, skips class- he might have ADD. In your shoes, with the behavior issues, I would get him evaluated by an educational psychologist for possible learning disabilities or other stuff going on that could be getting in his way.

You should probably continue working with the behaviorist or whoever you end up with even after your son improves, because he will need help for a good while to make sure those habits stick. I'm talking like a year. When you want to end the relationship with the professional, make sure you have written down somewhere a list of tools your son is going to use to monitor and correct his own behavior.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:51 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Has he sleeping on the floor for two years? In addition to the psychological issues others have mentioned, I can't imagine how a young boy (or anyone, for that matter) could get the basic rest and rejuvenation his mind and body needs, not to mention the confusion that comes from switching back and forth. This has to stop.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:52 PM on February 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


It sounds more like a prison than a home. I worry what will be next? Are they treating their daughter like this? I think if/when your son's teachers find out what's going on, they'll call Child Protective Services.

So yes, I'd call up a lawyer if I were you.
posted by Houstonian at 10:53 PM on February 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


He has always been a kid who gets in some trouble in school for things like being disrespectful, disrupting class by talking to a friend, etc.

I can't tell from your post if this is the kind of thing your son is still getting in trouble for, or if he's doing more worrisome stuff like bullying, using substances, stealing or fighting. If it's still that kind of pissant stuff, ask the educational psychologist about attention problems.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:54 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you for your reality-checks and validation that the situation isn't right. I will open up a face-to-face with the ex about this tomorrow, and I will seek a consultation with a lawyer as soon as possible. I shouldn't need that validation... But I'm scared of the upheaval that will come with rocking the boat. I should be braver than that and need to be a better advocate for my son. Thank you for this.

The ex has been open with the psychologist that the bed has been taken away. I have been open with the fact that he will always sleep in a bed at my house. Our psychologist expressed no judgment about the situation. And yes, he is on the floor over there, not on a mattress on the floor, not an air mattress or a camp pad, but a carpeted floor. I feel pretty crappy that I let this go on this long.
posted by webwench at 11:04 PM on February 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole your ex is! Yes, advocate for your son. No good will come from treating him like an animal.
posted by LarryC at 11:12 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, if you're psychologist is down with this, you all need a new psychologist.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:13 PM on February 10, 2013 [160 favorites]


Don't beat yourself up for not fixing it sooner. It's ok. You've done a good thing letting your son know he will always have a bed at your house. Now you have some ideas on how to proceed. Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 11:18 PM on February 10, 2013


Oh wow...I did not in any way expect you to say he was on the actual floor.

Yes, it's fucked up. Take action immediately. Good luck! :(
posted by Salamander at 11:29 PM on February 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


That is flat-out batshit insane. What do his bed or his shoes have to do with his infractions?

> That said, interfering in discipline at their house has potential to inject a lot of unpleasantness and drama into a situation that's been fairly stable until recently.

I get that you are trying to act in good faith and respect your child's father and not disrupt your kid's life any more than necessary. I'm guessing that you feel guilty about the instability of him going back and forth.

Forgive me, I'm going to shift into tough love mode for a minute here. You need to stop ignoring your instincts for the sake of alleged peace. There is already plenty of unpleasantness and drama. This has gone on far too long already. You are running the risk of implicitly condoning their discipline at a very impressionable time for your son. Why on earth should your son respect authority?

Okay, more gently, I've gotta say that something about your concerns about your "interference" are raising worrisome thoughts that you feel intimidated. If you can afford it, proactively lawyer up now, just in case.

Regardless, start with your ex by objecting to the outrageous terms of this discipline, which you enumerated nicely above. Remember that this isn't about "feeeeeelings," this is about appropriate parenting of this child, which is the responsibility of you and him, period. Your ex-husband needs a reality check that this is not appropriate and that you don't approve and that you need to confer on disciplinary measures before they're enforced.

And the kid gets his bed back NOW. No ifs, ands, or buts. Right now. Check. Seriously. Not negotiable.
posted by desuetude at 11:37 PM on February 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


> Our psychologist expressed no judgment about the situation.

Should have previewed to say that you need to talk to the psychologist about why the HELL they are not commenting on an adolescent boy sleeping on the floor as a punishment for two years.
posted by desuetude at 11:40 PM on February 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think you might need to get all four of the parents in a room together to discuss discipline and consistency. You are parenting this boy together and you and your ex have obviously diverged wildly. I'm sort of disturbed that your ex would even come up with these ideas and his wife seems to be complicit. If he had purchased the shoes for your son, maybe I could see taking them away but he earned those himself. If he wants to have a son in his life, he'll knock off this bizarre tyrant act and quickly.
posted by amanda at 11:42 PM on February 10, 2013


Aside from dealing with the father, I urge to you seriously evaluate your relationship with your son. It took him almost two years to tell you about his sleeping situation? And, after he built up the courage to do so, you did nothing for months? It may take a lot of work on your part to get him to trust you again. I was abused by one parent as a child, but actually the parent who I hate the most is the sane one, who knew better but didn't intervene to protect me. Please help your son, and don't take his word for it that things are improving, since he clearly doesn't have a history of telling you what's going on.
posted by acidic at 11:51 PM on February 10, 2013 [28 favorites]


It wouldn't surprise me if chronic poor sleep was contributing to his behavior issues.
posted by ostro at 12:02 AM on February 11, 2013 [72 favorites]


I will open up a face-to-face with the ex about this tomorrow, and I will seek a consultation with a lawyer as soon as possible.

It may be appropriate to do the face-to-face with a family counselor mediating the discussion. That changes the dynamics from the old ex-fights-with-you to neutral wizened-mentor-therapist saying :"Ummm, no, growing boys need a mattress to sleep on. And setting aside the wisdom of punishing a kid, doing the same thing for 2 years isn't punishment, it's borderline abuse."

But before the face-to-face, you may want to talk to the lawyer first and sort out a strategy. The lawyer may be able to suggest a family counselor.

Our psychologist expressed no judgment about the situation.

Your psychologist seems incompetent on this issue.

My son has always had minor behavioral problems

Does your son have one sphere of activity which is self-affirming, like cabinetmaking or something? If he just has generic high school classes grinding down his ego because he's not excelling at them, and he doesn't have an activity where he feels he can achieve something meaningful, that may be a drag for him. A craft or something may be good for him.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:17 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Good lord. One more voice to say these punishments are ridiculous, humiliating and cruel, and that I would hope a family court would help you intervene and make sure this stuff stops immediately.

Full disclosure: due to poverty and lifestyle chaos, I've slept on the bare floor for brief periods. It sucked. It hurt. It was cold. It left me with joint and muscle aches. It interfered with my concentration and work performance. It is absolutely not a thing you should do to someone as a punishment, and an absurd, horrifically counterproductive thing to do as a way to improve their behavior or school performance.
posted by shattersock at 12:28 AM on February 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


You are grossly underreacting. Please see a lawyer about your abusive ex, and please, if you have the money, seek counseling for yourself, your son, and your husband (not ex). Your son is not acting out because he's outrageously stupid, he's acting out because he's miserable.
posted by facetious at 12:37 AM on February 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


That's fucking unbelievable, as in, it sounds like the Harry Potter stories where the kid doesn't get a bed and gets poorly fitting clothes because the people looking after him actively hate him and will not give him any more than the bare minimum they have to. How old does your son have to be before he is allowed to stop spending time with his father? Does your son know his rights around complaining about custody arrangements?

Bringing this up won't be disturbing an existing peaceful, stable arrangement - it'll be standing up for your son's basic dignity.
posted by jacalata at 12:39 AM on February 11, 2013 [42 favorites]


Your ex is setting up your son for a life time of musculoskeletal problems by not giving him an appropriate place to sleep or shoes that fit while his body is going through it's major growth phase. This isn't a transitory thing, this could screw him up forever.

It's not good parenting, it's completely unacceptable to mess with his future health in this way and you need to put a stop to this immediately.
posted by shelleycat at 12:59 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't know why people in here are saying this is "draconian" and beating around the bush of just outright calling this abusive.

This, is abuse. This is exactly the kind of stuff I think of when I think of various abusive parents I've known throughout my life(relatives, friends parents, etc).

Any psychologist, or really anyone else who doesn't register this as abuse is somewhere on the spectrum between inexperienced with this type of stuff and incompetent.

I agree with the idea of getting some kind of mediator. There definitely needs to be a third party affirming the fucked up-ness of this situation especially since you seem to be doubting yourself on that front.

I had a friend go through almost this exact same kind of stuff when I was younger. His dad was one of the more insidiously abusive, and somewhat subtly cruel people I've ever met, and an absolute master of this type of "it ends when I say it does" type stuff.

I haven't seen it elsewhere in this thread, but I really think this is probably the tip of the iceberg, and there's more you aren't hearing about(or seeing, for sure) that might not even register to your son as more than low level static at this point.

I mean think about it, would an otherwise normal person think these punishments were ok and just fire away with them? Hell no.
posted by emptythought at 2:12 AM on February 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


The ex has been open with the psychologist that the bed has been taken away. I have been open with the fact that he will always sleep in a bed at my house. Our psychologist expressed no judgment about the situation.

I am in such disbelief that any psychologist would have no opinion about this, that I wonder: has your ex told the psychologist the whole story? As in, does the psychologist know your son is on the actual floor and not any mattress? Were you there when your ex informed the psychologist about it, or is there potentially a misunderstanding about the very important detail that the kid not only has no bed, but is in fact on the floor? Could you ask the psychologist if they're aware that the kid is on the floor?

Because yeah, nthing that this is abuse (neglect, although a more active version of it since the kid actually had a bed before).

Good on you for getting a lawyer. Having witnessed firsthand the prevarications that abusive parents can pull on divorced spouses (thinking of cousins of mine whose divorced mother had little idea of the horrors they went through at their father's, who lied through his teeth and was backed up by his new wife and our grandparents, UGH), it is a very good move to make at this point.
posted by fraula at 2:16 AM on February 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Just to agree with so many others: oh HELL no!

Punishment is TEMPORARILY taking away EXTRAS like video games or toys. Permanently making a kid sleep on the floor --- and after TWO YEARS, it has to be considered permanent --- is at the very least bordering on child abuse. And taking away his shoes?!? That makes me think of far too many times when abusive parents have done exactly that to ensure it's easier to hold the kid prisoner.

At age fourteen, a lot of states will listen to what the kid involved wants; ask your son, and if he agrees, please try to get full custody. Sure, your current arrangement with your ex has been in place for over a decade, but perhaps it's time for a change --- and your ex and his wife might even prefer it.
posted by easily confused at 2:23 AM on February 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would actually call child protective services as well as the lawyer. The child's father being abusive is something they will take seriously, but also you need to proactively disclose this to them because you condoning the abuse you are aware of will be considered equally abusive if you are hiding it/not stopping it immediately. This also removes you from being the "bad guy" in criticising your ex (he does not need to know you were the one that called in CPS). At fourteen most courts would take into consideration his wishes as to where he wants to live, since his other family apparently does not have the tools to raise him, your son needs to have a neutral third party help hm choose where he will successfully thrive. The delay in him telling you may not because he didn't trust you or anything you did wrong, it is more likely that the abuse is far worse, and subtle, than you can imagine and he has internalised that he deserves it, he is not worthy of protection, and the only attention anyone will ever pay him is negative attention. There is most likely a link between his behavioural problem (which seriously, are not violent incidents and seem really petty and infrequent and not that far out of the norm - especially for a boy being actively abused by his father) and the abuse at his father's house.
posted by saucysault at 2:33 AM on February 11, 2013 [24 favorites]


This is all pretty astonishing. You say his behaviour problems are so bad that he needs a psychologist because he gets detention two or three times a *year*? When I was in school, I was acknowledged by everyone to be almost perfectly behaved, but I still got detention two or three times a *week* simply because teachers would get frustrated with the class as a whole. If your son is only getting detention two or three times a *year* he'd have to have been better behaved than me.

The worst misbehaviour you cite is stealing a combination lock from school. Yes, theft is bad, but then it's ok for stepmom to steal your son's shoes, isn't it? And why a combination lock? Sounds like he was looking for a way to protect his own possessions. Since children don't have their own money (resources, means of transportation, or even shoes to walk in) they have to provide for themselves as best they can. Demonstrably, when he has money to provide the things he needs for himself (shoes that fit), those things are taken away. You put a lot of emphasis on the stylishness of the shoes he bought, but they probably fit him too, unlike the shoes he's being forced to wear.

And now you tell us your son doesn't even get to sleep on a mattress - he has to lie right down on the floor.

Given that nobody you've told about this has reacted in any way to this obviously abusive situation, I think you'll have to tell child protective services. As has been pointed out, you're participating in his abuse yourself, so you need to proactively disclose it if you don't want blame to attach to you.
posted by tel3path at 2:48 AM on February 11, 2013 [39 favorites]


I grew up in a household (with both parents) where there was inappropriate punishment that went on for years. At 14 I felt utterly alone because the people who I should have been able to rely on for protection and care were the perpetrators of the abuse. I can honestly say that this has affected me throughout my whole life - I find it very hard to trust or to ask for help and support, in any kind of situation. I closed myself off emotionally so I could get through my teenage years and that armour is hard for anyone to get through.

Your son needs to know that he can rely on you and can trust you to do the right thing here. Don't leave him feeling that nobody cares about this situation because it'll fuck him up for the rest of his life.
posted by essexjan at 3:17 AM on February 11, 2013 [32 favorites]


You need, first and foremost, a new therapist for yourself to figure out why you let this go on and how not to let this happen again.

Then you need a new therapist for your son.

Then you need to apologize to your son.
posted by yarly at 3:34 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've been reading Ask for years and years now, and this is one of the most upsetting things I've ever read here. Your son is being abused; he lives in an abusive situation. Will you take his side against this, now, please?
posted by chrillsicka at 3:36 AM on February 11, 2013 [52 favorites]


I don't know why people in here are saying this is "draconian" and beating around the bush of just outright calling this abusive.

That was me. And it was before I knew the kid was sleeping directly on the floor.

For what it's worth, I don't think sleeping on a mattress without a bed-base, or wearing crappy shoes, is abuse. Kids from low-income families do that their whole lives.

Being forced to sleep on the bare floor is a whole different matter.
posted by Salamander at 3:38 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


We did lockdown for one of our kids which was similar and in ways even more (all clothes gone and replaced with plain functional clothing etc) than what your ex is doing to his son.

This was a choice between the equivalent of losing the child to further juvie/inpatient therapy or having the child transition to safety in our home over a year. There was a homecheck on the kid's room by two psychologists on the case, on-going in depth therapy and family therapy and it was with very clear goals of the child's personal safety and improved behaviour for very dangerous stuff. It was clear to the other kids that this kids was being parented differently because they had different needs, and it was a Big Deal, discussed and planned carefully.

What your ex is doing for behaviour that is so so normal for a teenager is completely nuts and toxic. It is just way way out of proportion and either your son and your ex are covering up some worrying behaviour of your son's that warrants this (it is possible - but we're talking drug abuse, animal abuse, a serious mental illness - which again, your ex should be discussing with you not covering up!) or your ex and his partner are crappy crappy parents.

Forget about assigning blame for yourself or for them. Concentrate on moving forward and improving the situation for your son.

I would also definitely get your own therapist for your son - either your ex is misrepresenting things to the therapist or the therapist is crappy. With my kids, I've seen a dozen therapists, and a third of them have been either useless or outright crappy. Ask friends or your son's school for recommendations.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:54 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


If your family counselor was appointed by the court as part of your separation/custody agreement, s/he has an inherent bias to make the situation "work" to continue to receive such referrals. I speak from experience as the child. When my custodial situation finally fell apart, the counselor apologized for not intervening herself and wrote off ~$4000 in outstanding bills. Plenty of abuse and frank discussion thereof had happened right in her office; she wasn't ignorant.

Also, YES, assume it is much worse that what you have heard. This is the time to move heaven and earth to remove your son from that situation. And just give him a couple of years to feel safe and become okay. He's very tired.
posted by ecsh at 3:54 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is full-on abuse. You get a lawyer, you call DSS, and you find a new psychologist who is professionally competent. You may bring a malpractice suit against the previous psychologist, as he is almost certainly a mandatory reporter of abuse, and has committed a crime by not reporting physical abuse against a minor.

Everyone who is talking about not causing drama is dead, dead, dead wrong. When your son is being abused, you raise hell itself if necessary to bring about its end.
posted by ellF at 4:08 AM on February 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Just to join the chorus: forcing a child to sleep on the floor for any length of time is abusive and completely out of order. No doubt, no question, no ifs, no buts.

I wouldn't force a child to sleep on the floor for a single night as punishment for anything, but for months on end? This is simply wrong. It's beyond wrong.

The shoe thing is fucked up as well. All of this is fucked up & I would beg you not to tolerate it for a second longer than you absolutely have to.
posted by pharm at 4:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Aside from this being abusive - I agree with the comments upthread, and also I agree with tel3path that the theft of a combination lock was unlikely to be an accident - treating him like this is 100% more likely to make him act out more because he's so miserable and angry at home. I have seen many, many kids rebel against restrictive home lives (the Jehovah's Witness who reacted to having her romantic/social freedom severely restricted by getting pregnant at sixteen, for example) because if you are fourteen, the only form of protest available to you is bad behaviour or running away.
posted by mippy at 4:29 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I used to work at a juvenile outreach/family social work organization, and denying a child a bed when the family could otherwise afford one was one of the things we were mandated to report as abuse or neglect.
posted by Benjy at 4:35 AM on February 11, 2013 [50 favorites]


Please consider what has been said above-if you don't report this to child abuse authorities yourself, they can and probably will consider you culpable. Plus the psychologist should be, as a mandated reporter, in trouble for this as well.


Please, do something about this. Protect YOURSELF while you are at it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:40 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]



You need, first and foremost, a new therapist for yourself to figure out why you let this go on and how not to let this happen again.

Then you need a new therapist for your son.

Then you need to apologize to your son.


All of these and also some time in therapy for you and your son to talk this through and repair your relationship, because he probably feels like he doesn't really have anyone to turn to. Regardless of how the legal aspect works out, or how his dad reacts, you and your son have a lot of talking to do about parenting and mistakes and fairness and repercussions and who's got his back in the world. He needs for all sorts of reasons to firmly believe that person is you, not least because it's clearly not his dad.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:45 AM on February 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yes, let me reiterate my suggestion that you report this. By reporting this, you're also likely to get competent help much sooner.

Therapy might be a good idea for you in the longer term, but this is an urgent matter which can't wait for you to find a random therapist and mull over your behaviour for a year or two until you gain the insight that perhaps you may possibly need to change things. It's possible that reporting this will get you connected with a therapist who understands abuse issues and can show you how to protect your son the way you want and need to.

The authorities can take things away from you, too, if your behaviour doesn't meet their standards.
posted by tel3path at 4:49 AM on February 11, 2013


I will open up a face-to-face with the ex about this tomorrow, and I will seek a consultation with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Lawyer first and document everything you can then talk to your husband under the attorney's guidance. Even if he capitulates immediately your ex won't suddenly become the kind of guy who wouldn't make his kid sleep on a mattress. He'll do something other things.

The ex has been open with the psychologist that the bed has been taken away[...]'our psychologist expressed no judgment about the situation.

Fire that asshat.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:49 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


One of the first things we got our DOG when we adopted her was a bed, and though she's a rambunctious little shit we'd never dream of taking that away from her as punishment. I know it's not the same at all, but my point is that basic comforts are something you provide for the beings you love and who are in your care as a matter of course; they're not a privilege. This question makes me so sad and angry.

Good for you for asking about this and deciding to take action on behalf of your son (and I do hope you'll report it immediately). This really is abuse, and I think it is important for your son to see you risking your own comfortable status quo to protect him and show him he is WORTH protecting. Someday soon he'll be an adult, and he deserves to look back on this and a) know it was fucked up beyond words, and b) remember that he had a mom who stood up for him when he had no power to do so himself.

And yes, please get a new psychologist ASAP.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I was your son, I'd be acting out a hell of a lot more than he is. Either he has the patience of a saint or he has been terrified into submission.

I'd also note, as an aside, that wearing too-small shoes as a child can and will permanently deform your toes. My dad grew up in the generation of "just buy some too-big shoes every couple of years and wear them until they get way too small to wear"- he's shown me his toes. They grew in crooked. He's 63, they're still like that. When your son is 63 do you want him to look at his feet every day and remember this?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:27 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I just want to chime in that I've spent a lot of time in family court as a lawyer. One of the basic questions the judges always, always ask in custody/guardianship cases is whether the child has a bed of his/her own at the parent/guardian's house. Not having a dedicated bed for your kid (even if they are sleeping on the couch or sharing a bed) is a really big deal in the legal system.
posted by steinwald at 5:36 AM on February 11, 2013 [16 favorites]


You're probably a mess right now, blaming yourself and beating yourself up. Don't. As an abuse survivor I can tell you that it wouldn't have mattered when an adult had stepped in, only that they had stepped in to help me. Do what you have to do to make your child feel safe and worthy. Therapy for the both of you with the focus on repairing your relationship will help tremendously. Best of luck, this is going to be really fucking hard and really fucking worth it.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:53 AM on February 11, 2013 [28 favorites]


This is really worrisome. Your son has been sleeping on the floor 50% of the time for 2 years. He's being punished by having his shoes taken away and being forced to wear poorly fitting shoes. This is just plain abuse. There is no point in worrying about how you should have responded in the past -- the question is what you can do now. You can find a new psychologist, for just you and your son. You can speak to a lawyer to change the custody arrangement. You can phone whatever the child protection agency is where you live to find out what your options are for you, your ex-husband and the psychologist who didn't report this.
posted by jeather at 5:56 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd like to chime in to say that my sister and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor when we were kids (we did this for about 2 years). Sleeping on the floor isn't really a big deal, unless it is being made a point of shame. (We thought it was fine and to this day we both like really, really firm beds.)

The issue is that your son has impulse control and behavioral problems, both with you and with your husband. The discipline you are using isn't working.

I went through high school and NEVER had detention or suspension. So you have one big issue in that you and your ex-husband need to get with a counselor and work with your son to determine how best to deal with his behavioral issues.

Your husband's method isn't working and is causing esteem issues in your son, which causes more acting out and more punishment. Your method is more traditional, but that too isn't really effective.

Approach your husband and son from the angle of, "We have a problem, we want our son to exhibit appropriate behavior in school and at home, and right now that's not happening. My methods aren't working and your methods aren't working. Let's meet together with a professional to get a new game plan."

Then follow through with recommendations from the school and from a counselor.

Kids don't come with an instruction book, and you try to do the best you can with the tools you have. I don't think your husband wants to be cruel, but for some reason he's stubbornly refusing to see that his methods aren't working.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have little strategic advice, unfortunately, but I agree with everyone else that making a kid sleep on the floor and wear shoes that are too small is way beyond the pale. The fact that a psychologist is okay with this doesn't mean it is right. I believe they have psychologists on staff at Guantanamo.

As someone whose bunions finally became debilitating in my mid 30's, I'm with @showbiz_liz on the importance of shoes that fit, especially for a growing teenager. I'll spare you the details, but condemning him to a life of pain is not right.

You could sit down with his dad and say you're not okay with the situation and while you don't want to undermine his authority, you want him sleeping on a bed and wearing shoes that fit, and you need to know how you can support your son in regaining those privileges ASAP. Insist that they establish guidelines that are within the realm of possibility and will let him have a bed within a week. If they want to make him wear ugly shoes, that's fine, but they need to find him ugly shoes that fit. They make ugly in all sizes.

Or, you could talk to a lawyer and report your ex for child abuse.

I'd start with the former, though.
posted by amandabee at 6:21 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems that the poster has heard the message, loud and clear, and is planning to take action. Let's try not to pile on with the outrage, as shame itself won't help her go back in time, and won't necessarily help her take the next steps.
posted by barnone at 6:28 AM on February 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


I'd say screw even talking to your ex-husband about this. If this is his solution (for TWO YEARS) to your son's rather innocuous hijinks, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess he's not the most reasonable person.

File for full custody immediately. Your ex-husband obviously has no idea how to properly parent a child and, in my opinion, should be in counseling with supervised parenting time. Jesus.
posted by mibo at 6:29 AM on February 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


I know this is marked answered, but I wanted to say that my first thought, when I read about your kid's continuing minor-yet-stupid behavioral troubles at school, is "how much of those troubles derive from or are reinforced by your ex's bad parenting and your kid's feelings of helplessness around the situation?" If I didn't have a bed to sleep in* and could be forcibly reshod like I was some poor victim in a reeducation camp - and if, as I suspect, your ex's discipline methods were pretty lousy before this situation, because you don't get to there from a good place - and if I had to go through this shaming in front of a woman I did not know who had in a sense "replaced" my mother and in front of another child I did not know, and if no one was helping me - fuck yes, I'd steal a goddamn lock. I'd mouth off to teachers. What would I have to lose? (Well, my winter coat, my meals, my ability to speak, my glasses, god knows what would be next - which is yet another reason to intervene, before you find out that your kid has "lost" dinner privileges or "gained" kneeling-on-dried-peas privileges or something)

I bet that this all crept up on you - it seemed normal at first and you didn't notice how off-the-rails it was truly getting because things got worse in stages and outside of your view, and I am glad that you are realizing it now.

*I loved sleeping on the floor as a kid/young teen, parents routinely snuck around late at night to make sure I had not moved from bed to floor since they wanted me to sleep in the bed. But sleeping on the floor was my choice and I had a perfectly good bed not five feet away.
posted by Frowner at 6:31 AM on February 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


You could sit down with his dad and say you're not okay with the situation and while you don't want to undermine his authority, you want him sleeping on a bed and wearing shoes that fit, and you need to know how you can support your son in regaining those privileges ASAP. Insist that they establish guidelines that are within the realm of possibility and will let him have a bed within a week. If they want to make him wear ugly shoes, that's fine, but they need to find him ugly shoes that fit. They make ugly in all sizes.

I'll make my position here really clear. Fuck that.

What this child's father is doing is unacceptable. This woman does not have to do anything to "support her son in regaining those privileges" because having the chance to sleep properly and wearing decent footwear are not privileges for the offspring of a family that can afford those things: they are things the child should have as of right. If I were in this position, this would not be negotiable, it would be a statement of fact.
posted by pharm at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


In my place, would you be seeking advice from a lawyer

Yeah, and also some counseling for myself. Setting aside your kid for a moment, this is a pretty harsh thing for you to go through, and it doesn't sound like you're in a great position -- scared of upheaval, feeling crappy, etc.

The psychologist needs to go; sounds like having perceived authority give the appearance of signing off on this stuff has exacerbated everything. So Dad's a scumbag, okay, but why are you going along with the notion that escalating punishments is going to effect desired behavioural changes when it is so clearly not working?

It doesn't even sound like you have a "bad" kid -- he gets into trouble every few months? THAT'S A NORMAL KID. You're not telling us he's setting kittens on fire or something; sounds like pretty routine shenanigans, 'routine shenanigans' seems like a healthy response to the crummy situation he's in, where nobody is his advocate. I think by this point in the thread you grok that your ex crossed the line long ago, and various factors made it challenging for you to address this stuff, and my intention is not to shame you here. But between both of you responding to what may be 'cry for help' behaviours with punishments, and no advocacy... Your son needs some serious empathy at this point. He's been abused, he's been acting out, you've been punishing. The whole situation is heartbreaking.

Re-evaluate the idea that you are disrupting a 'stable situation' as whatever was workable about the arrangement ended at least a couple of years ago. Cannot stress the benefits of counseling for yourself to deal with what will probably be a period of upheaval and transition for all of you; it's important to take care of yourself so you can take care of your son.
posted by kmennie at 6:38 AM on February 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would keep your son with you until he gets the bed and shoes back. If your husband wants to go after you for custody violation, let him. He's not allowed to abuse his son and retain privileges with him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:40 AM on February 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


You should file for full custody right away.
I understand you completely, because I've always gone out of my way to have a good relationship with my ex. But when our daughter was 14, she began having a multitude of problems at school and at home, and I eventually took her to a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist because there is a record of mental illness in ex's family. Psychiatrist was very clear after one or two sessions alone with our daughter: she needed to live with me, at my house most of the time, with only 4-6 days a month at her dad's house. He was/is unfit to raise a child and I should have seen it.
I should have seen it, but I didn't, because I was doing my best to make things work.
What happened was the psychiatrist helped me talk this through with the ex, my daughter came home most of the time, and she had like 6 sessions of talk-therapy. Then she insisted on changing schools, to get out of of the bad-girl roles she had taken on herself, we also found a new after-school activity, and she has literally been happy, confident and open ever after.
You obviously don't need a psychiatrist, but help from someone professional who knows the law and what is good for kids is a good thing.
posted by mumimor at 6:49 AM on February 11, 2013 [29 favorites]


Nobody has yet made a very important point.

It is very unlikely that the abuse you are aware of is the only abuse that your son is enduring. Anybody who is willing to treat a child with this much cruelness is almost certainly abusive in more ways than you know about. This is the kind of abuse that CPS intervenes with for a reason.

I do not intend to shame you, it sounds like this totally crept up on you and was tacitly approved of by a incompetent professional and you are now trying to figure out how to do the right thing. I just worry that you still aren't taking this seriously enough, I think "talking to dad" will only remove the most apparent signs of neglect. This is very, very serious.

I know this was not your intent, but you wanting to keep the peace is effectively choosing a relationship with your ex-husband over choosing a relationship with your child.
posted by zug at 6:50 AM on February 11, 2013 [36 favorites]


I just want to make a point here that I hope will help the OP.

She was married to someone who is acting in abusive ways towards their child. The people I have known who abused one member of their family didn't stop there -- they abused the other members as well. OK, maybe it's the stepmom who's instigating this. Or maybe it's the dad. If the dad is abusing the kid, it's not a far jump to assume he was abusing the OP when they were married. Emotional abuse can really screw up one's view of what's normal and what's acceptable. Yes, personal experience on this. So OP, if there's a chance this was occurring, I commend you for getting some confirmation on your gut feeling about this. Keep listening to your gut because it's telling you the right thing.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:53 AM on February 11, 2013 [42 favorites]


DoubleLune is right - folks who have been traumatized by someone often want to 'keep the peace' in situations loooooong after their direct authority ended. Webwench, you are waking up to the severity of the situation, and it's going to take a long time to get yourself and your son sorted out. But this is NO way to live for either of you. There is no peace to keep. There is currently no stable situation which can be disrupted. Only a better road ahead.
posted by barnone at 7:03 AM on February 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know plenty of people have already said this, but not providing a bed to a child is abuse. This isn't a 'wait a fortnight until I next meet up with my ex-husband'. It's a call-the-authorities-now situation. It's a horrible situation to be in, OP, and I sympathise with your position since you probably feel a sense of residual obligation to your ex-husband as far as letting him discipline his way.

As you say, ‘[your son] still has (and will always have) a bed at my house’. That alone would be bad enough, but taking away your son's shoes? As jacalata says, this reads like something out of Harry Potter. I know this chorus of strongly-worded advice may seem like an overreaction, but in situations like this it can take a long time to get perspective on what's going on, so don't feel guilty. You're absolutely doing the right thing by seeking advice. There are plenty of borderline situations where it would be totally understandable and justified to avoid involving the authorities (getting the cops involved if a friend had a drug problem, for instance), but this isn't one of them.

Have you got any close friends you feel able to confide in about this topic? This sort of thing is never easy to navigate, but if you do that can make things a little easier. Good luck with whatever step you decide to take next.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:11 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been keeping my thoughts about the discipline at the ex's house mostly to myself with some unease, but I'm starting to consider whether it's time to engage in a discussion around modifying the custody agreement.

Damn skippy. You've got to do something to give this kid some faith that people are looking out for him.
posted by BibiRose at 7:45 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suspect the bed and the shoes are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I suspect your sons behavior has a much better chance of improving if his father's abusive influence is limited or eliminated. Ideally, a boy will have a relationship with his father, but ideally a boy doesn't have a sick twisted bastard for a father.
posted by Good Brain at 7:48 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Coming in late, but as a stepmom your situation sounds a lot like some of the horror stories I've seen in step-parenting forums. A new spouse comes in, they have a baby together, and it's like Cinderella - they feel they have to put the original kid in his place or make an example of him as a way to protect their own baby from 'bad influences' or because of the new spouse's insecurities or jealousy of the parent-child bond that preceded them. A bad step-parent can put a lot of pressure on the bio parent to go along with excessive punishments like this by presenting the child as a threat to their own family's stability.

I'm not saying your ex's wife is the bad guy - clearly any parent who allows or goes along with this abuse is equally if not more culpable. But if (as I suspect) you are contending with two jerks rather than one, it makes your case trickier. Pushing for full custody may help you get your son out of this situation and will make his life better, but it could just as easily be seen as another threat to their family because full custody means you get an increase in child support - anything involving lawyers could be seen as a money grab rather than protectiveness on your part. So I think you have to try talking to both of them first, framing it in a way that is nonthreatening to their new family (such as "I see he is making things difficult for you, especially with the baby around..." and offering to take him as a favor to them) - and then once you have him and he's safe, you can start legal proceedings. Or if you can afford to do without an increase in child support, be ready to give it up and promise to stay out of court if that helps you get your son out (though I really don't recommend this).
posted by Mchelly at 7:53 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm sorry; I think I've added to the shaming aspect of it and I agree with people who point out that you've been very stressed over a long period of time. Making things right with your son will be a way of taking care of yourself too.
posted by BibiRose at 7:54 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is going to sound cruel.

Your child took two years to tell you about the abuse he is enduring at the hands of his father, and you haven't done anything yet. That kind of behavior implies to your child that what his father and stepmother is doing to him is acceptable, or at the very least, his welfare is not worth disturbing the peace.

If it took him this long to tell you about not having a bed, isn't it fair to assume there are a lot of other things that are going on while he is at his father's house that he is not telling you about?

Your question seems to focus on your child being the problem--you took him to therapy to solve his behavior issues, he's disrespectful, he needs discipline. You took him to therapy until his behavior was "fixed" and then it was discontinued. He has been spending half of his time with a father and stepmother that are abusing him. His mother is not being an advocate for him or recognizing the fact that he is being abused.

Please find a new therapist for your child. Could anything convince a child more that no one gives a shit about him than four adults (his father, mother, stepmother and current therapist) forcing or allowing him to sleep on the floor because he doesn't deserve a bed?
posted by inertia at 7:54 AM on February 11, 2013 [23 favorites]


When I answered upthread I had no idea you meant "on the floor" rather than "on a mattress." Ugh.

Ok, just one more thing that nobody's said - I think this needs to start with a talk with your son (well - lawyer first, then son. Both today.) Tell him you've been thinking about things and have sought some outside opinions and you're realizing you should never have gone along with the crazy shoe business and the bed business. Tell him that you were trying to keep the peace, but you realize now that was a mistake and that his welfare comes before any peace. It's ok to tell your kid you were wrong and to let him know that you're changing course.... and in fact, with the adults in his life having been acting this bizarre way until now, I think it's important to let him know that you're disavowing the insanity now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:05 AM on February 11, 2013 [35 favorites]


Ok, just one more thing that nobody's said - I think this needs to start with a talk with your son (well - lawyer first, then son. Both today.) Tell him you've been thinking about things and have sought some outside opinions and you're realizing you should never have gone along with the crazy shoe business and the bed business. Tell him that you were trying to keep the peace, but you realize now that was a mistake and that his welfare comes before any peace. It's ok to tell your kid you were wrong and to let him know that you're changing course.... and in fact, with the adults in his life having been acting this bizarre way until now, I think it's important to let him know that you're disavowing the insanity now.

Yes yes yes. Your relationship with your son in the future absolutely hinges on this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:18 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to provide a /slightly/ different view, but mostly the same.

A child going without a bed is not the end of the world IF THE FAMILY IS POOR.

I know people who have slept on the floor, in sleeping bags or blankets, because they simply did not have enough money for a bed. That's a very different thing.

Your ex might have told the psychologist that your son doesn't have a bed at their place, but implied it was due to circumstances, rather than due to will, which might explain the failure to call it out as abuse. Tell the psychologist it is a "punishment" flat out and see what they say, be ready to start looking for a new psychologist.

For him to sleep on the floor because he doesn't "Deserve" a bed, however, is pretty vile and crazysauce, and just because he's not hitting doesn't make it not abuse.
posted by corb at 8:22 AM on February 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I used to work at a juvenile outreach/family social work organization, and denying a child a bed when the family could otherwise afford one was one of the things we were mandated to report as abuse or neglect.

I just wanted to repeat this. What your son's father has done is not reasonable. You have a duty to act.

I would keep your son with you full time and report his father to children's services. You should not allow your son to live with him until it is clear that it is a safe and healthy environment, which it clearly is not at present.
posted by jb at 8:37 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am trying to wrap my head around how they think getting poor sleep and having painful feet is at all conducive to to getting better grades.

I grew up with kids from homes like this. By 'this' I mean abusive, because that is what 'this' is. When their clothing was taken away they learned to steal. And since his part-time parents are not exactly giving him a living situation he'd want to stay in, if it continues, I can promise you he will be running away as soon as he find the right group of kids to hide him. Why fight to stay in a place where you don't even have a bed? Why try for parents who have pretty much left you to fend for yourself?

Please help your son. If you don't I fear that C's and an occasional trip to the principal's office will be the least of your worries.
posted by haplesschild at 8:51 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


Please, do not let your son return to his father, Ever. The father's behavior is unbalanced and has nothing to do with discipline.

I was your son's age when I was sent to live with my mother's boyfriend. My grades weren't good was the reason. It was very regimented, study etc. however, there occurred an incident. I wasn't clear whom to ask for money, which I needed for public transportation to go to school. I asked my mother for it and the boyfriend, both gave me money. Before I could bring this issue up, the boyfriend accused me of stealing. I tried to explain myself... to no avail. The boyfriend was yelling at me, while in the bathroom and shoved me so hard against the wall, I broke the towel rack with my back, which was mounted on ceramic tiles!

A short while later, I told my mother I was done with staying at the boyfriend's, not giving the reason. Much later, my mother broke up with said boyfriend, stating he'd been violent. That's when I told her why I didn't want to go back to the boyfriend's. Btw, he was an MD. Turns out he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Be strong and stop this child abusing father!

The psychologist needs to be reported to authorities because they are delinquent in their duties to minors. They should have reported the abuse instead of perpetrating further abuse.
posted by alicesshoe at 9:03 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


If the dad is abusing the kid, it's not a far jump to assume he was abusing the OP when they were married.

The OP states that this started "In 8th grade, at the same time as the psychologist was engaged, my ex-husband decided that a good way to handle discipline was to go full-lockdown - no TV, no game console, no outside privileges, and - the kicker - no bed."

It sounds like this is one of those cases where someone's action's are so out of character that there is a period of denial or self-doubt when assessing the situation. The OP said that her ex and his new wife have a young daughter. I think it's more likely than not that this is related to his apparent change in attitude.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is the stepmother attending any of the family sessions?

It seems like she has a disconnect on childcare that's pretty essential to how things are working at your ex's house, and, while it's his responsibility to put his foot down for the well-being of his child, I'm wondering if she has been involved at all in the approach to dealing with his behavioural issues outside of home and school. It just doesn't sound like she understands healthy child raising at all.

It is definitely worrisome, as so many others have pointed out, that the psychologist didn't intervene in these ridiculous, harmful punishments when they were mentioned. I would absolutely recommend finding a different therapist for son and family - preferably, an individual one for him focused on his personal feelings and coping, and one for the unit.

Agree with the others, also, that you should contact lawyer first, then have big, open, loving, forgiving conversation with son, then and only then talk to ex, depending on the lawyer's advice on what type of conversation, if any, to have with him.

I wish you strength and the ability to navigate these steps with clarity and resolve.
posted by batmonkey at 9:17 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


They took away his BED? Seriously? I'm all for strict discipline (and have taken a full ration of shit for it around here) but that's WAY WAY WAY over the line. Your next call should be to your state's child protective services office. Seriously. Holy crap.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In cases of stepchild abuse, it's not uncommon for things to amp up once the step-parent has their own biological child—who is, it's percieved, in competition for resources both tangible and intangible. Given the timing, it seems possible that's a factor here.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:35 AM on February 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


I spend a lot of time discussing kids with behavioral issues, on-line and in person, and I haven't run across any parents admitting to making their children sleep on the floor for years or taking away shoes and deliberately replacing them with painful ones. This is beyond discipline.

> In my place, would you be seeking advice from a lawyer, or would you be keeping focus on your own household?

Lawyer. And a therapist for yourself, because you're going to feel like crap when you realize how bad this is. I'm sorry, and I don't mean that in a "You should feel guilty!" way, but I know how awful it feels when you realize you've let your kid be in a bad situation for so long. You're going to feel guilty, and you're going to work through it, and you're going to come out a better mom and a better protector of your son.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:36 AM on February 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Another thought: your therapist is virtually certainly a mandated reporter, and the "mandate" is pretty strict. If your therapist understands that the kid is sleeping on the floor, I am surprised that this did not trigger a mandated report - it would at my therapist's - particularly if your son mentioned anything else that seemed off. When you leave this therapist's practice, you might want to send a letter either to the practice itself or to the state board.

Does your son get to see the therapist by himself, or is a parent always present?
posted by Frowner at 9:48 AM on February 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


(I guess I should clarify - "if your therapist understood that your son is sleeping on the floor as punishment" - as is pointed out upthread, not having a bed because you are struggling to stay afloat financially is really different and you would hope a therapist would grasp that (and recommend some social services resources for obtaining a bed, at least that is what my therapist, who does super-duper-social-justice-oriented-sliding-scale, would do.))
posted by Frowner at 10:07 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Your son is 14. I think that's about the age when a kid can choose which parent to live with. Are you open to full custody? Is your son? If so, it may be a lot easier to accomplish if it's the child's wishes.

I mention this because the idea that his dad will change his fucked-up, abusive behavior seems like wishful thinking to me. The kid's only got four more years until he's a legal adult—even if his dad started correcting his own behavior now (which is unlikely), that's not enough time for it to have enough benefit to offset the damage that his dad's already done to your son's upbringing.

Being a good parent means saving your son from this shitstorm. Yes, even at the cost of your stable relationship with his dad. You're likely to only have to deal with your ex on this level for another four years anyway.
posted by homodachi at 11:06 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Don't let him go back there, even for one night. He stays at your house, and file for full custody immediately.

And since he bought those shoes with his own money, you need to go over there and demand that they give them back. Or go to the shoe store today and let him pick out a pair he likes.

Apologize to him for letting this happen.
posted by amaire at 11:11 AM on February 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


I knew a family that slowly but surely took their childs luxuries away depending on behavior. At the end of it all the kid was wearing basic clothing, nothing designer or fashionable; no video games, internet, and limited TV with the family, no bedroom door, and last the kid was sleeping on a military cot. The premise was that the kid was to earn back any luxury with good behavior, good grades, etc. Mind you this was at the suggestion of Social Services/Tough Love and both parents were living at home. This is as extreme as I've heard, but no bed is harsh.
posted by PJMoore at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


As the mother of three now-grown sons, not one of whom was perfect, I agree that these punishments are too much. The psychologist should be sued for malpractice and your ex and his wife should be reported for abuse, and hit up for serious child support when you have full custody, which you will definitely have unless they've brainwashed the kid so badly that he refuses to tell a judge about the shit they've been pulling. Judges do listen to kids this age, by the way.

On another note, my sons often slept in sleeping bags or on quilts on the floor, not because they didn't have beds but because they enjoyed sleeping like that. They also liked sleeping in tents and cars. They all have fine backs, so don't worry too much about that.
posted by mareli at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would also like to reiterate what other people have said about shoes: ill-fitting shoes can cause permanent damage to someone's feet. Your son needs proper shoes immediately - they don't have to be fashionable, but they should fit.
posted by jb at 11:37 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Teacher here: when I have a student that gives me enough behavioral problems that I have to call home, more often than not I discover that the real problem is the parents.

It's time to lawyer up. CPS and everything if necessary. Your son's father is probably a huge component in his behavioral issues at school. Your son is angry, and regardless of his misbehavior he has every right to be angry--because not being allowed a bed is just wrong. It's abusive.

It's time to fight. The upheaval has already been upon you. The longer you wait or back off, the more your kid suffers and the worse this spiral will get.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, as a teacher-oriented FYI: If your kid told me about this as his teacher, I'd be legally obligated to file a report on it.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Definately say that taking away the bed and purposely ill fitting shoes is beyond normal punishment and is abuse--physical, psychological and it is illegal. Your son actually sounds like a typical 14 year old. Taking away his discretional luxuries like toys, games, vacations are fully expected in good parenting. I sort of get the shoe thing since your son paid for them but they are a clothing requirement. Either give him better fitting shoes or let him keep his and pay back via chores the value for them.

Your ex sounds like an ass who doesn't know how to parent/punish. Probably picked up from parenting done by him.
posted by stormpooper at 12:08 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Have not read all of the comments, maybe 1/3rd. I think therapy for an adolescent with these sorts of issues should be at least weekly.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 1:06 PM on February 11, 2013


Also, as a teacher-oriented FYI: If your kid told me about this as his teacher, I'd be legally obligated to file a report on it.
posted by scaryblackdeath
I just really want to draw attention to this comment here.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 1:59 PM on February 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Before, I didn't want to comment on forms on punishment, because the important thing here is child-abuse. But please folks. There is absolutely no situation where a sane parent will need to remove a child's clothes or toys, ever. I'm not talking ideology here, just effectiveness.
My first real job was working with young offenders. Since then, I've worked with young people from a more privileged position. But all over, experience and science shows: undue harshness doesn't work.
posted by mumimor at 2:12 PM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


My above comment was a bit muddled because I am out of battery. And I'm still not able to find sources online from here. But; the relationship between education and punishment is a complex one, and what we know is that too harsh punisment has very negative consequences.
To keep it simple: if You are punishing your child harder than society would punish a violent criminal, you are doing it wrong.
posted by mumimor at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The advice here to simply not let your son go to his father's house is well-meaning, but could have serious negative consequences for you.

DO NOT DENY CUSTODY OR VISITATION WITHOUT TALKING TO A LAWYER. It could go very, very badly for you and your son. It could be used as evidence that you're "irrational" or that you're trying to alienate your son from his father. It could irritate an asshole judge who doesn't think that the treatment is really all that bad. It could ultimately make it more difficult to keep your son in a safe and happy environment.

Talk to a lawyer.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:34 PM on February 11, 2013 [25 favorites]


From the ages of 7 to 18 I lived with my mom with visitation to my dad's. My dad was basically broke forever and every time I visited I ended up sleeping on the floor because there was no bed. It was never done as a punishment though. In fact during the times when there was a bed to sleep on, by choice I invariably took the floor instead. I'm not sure why exactly. I guess I just liked the firm surface. If I was denied that choice at my mom's home as a punishment though, that would have been seriously demeaning to me. I mean think about it, we give murders beds when they're in prison and your son doesn't get a bed because of relatively minor behavior problems?

Story time. One summer day when I was a kid, before my parents had split up, my brothers and I climbed to the roof of our school on a ladder that was sitting out. It was probably only 2 stories up the roof, but at the time it seemed like it could have been a skyscraper. We explored the roof, getting tar all over our skin and clothes. When we went to leave we found that the ladder had been moved or had fallen down. We were stuck. Eventually some official-looking person arrived through a hatch-like opening of the flat roof. He drove us to our home where he looked like he was about to yell at our dad for letting his kids wonder around unsupervised. Out of nowhere, our dad starts to yell at HIM. How dare the school leave a ladder up where anyone could just climb up it and then move it, leaving his kids trapped on a roof? My dad had our backs even if we didn't make the smartest choices that day. Then he had us wash off the tar with gasoline...

The point being that it's really important to show your son that you have his back even if he doesn't make the smartest choices with his own behavior. Taking his bed, besides being needlessly cruel, doesn't seem to have helped anyway. You can still come up with punishments as appropriate, but they have to be appropriate and not abusive.
posted by Green With You at 4:37 PM on February 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Where do you live? In some states, there's a defined age at which children can decide which parent they want to live with.

I think this is clearly "cruel & unusual." I recommend you document it, by sending email to your ex, stating what's going on. "I asked Son why he was wearing CrapMart shoes, and he explained that his nw shoes were taken from him, due to %behavior. The new shoes are size 14, and Son wears size 12." and "I checked with Son, who says that, yes, he is still sleeping on the floor, due to %behavior. Son does not know what would be required to earn back his bed." You may end up going back before a judge.

Part of my concern here is that this isn't an effective form of 'discipline,' nor does it resolve any problem. It's punishment, with no explanation of term(sentence) limit. Your son might benefit from being assessed for ADHD. He may also really need more attention. Recurrent medium-severe behavior issues in an adolescent male are not unusual, but there could be more going on. I recommend Parent Effectiveness Training, and there may be better books, but there's definitely got to be a better way.

My son's stepmom didn't cope well at all with my son's adolescence, things got nasty, and they now have an icy, civil relationship. A stepparent can be a great resource, but they're in a bad position - they have to deal with the crap, and they don't get the benefits. If the psychologist can't give your son and you some help here, it's time to find someone who can. I think this is worse than you seem to think it is. Sorry, that sounds more harsh than I want. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 5:18 PM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It might help to remind yourself that you are not disrupting a relationship that is "relatively peaceful" or "fairly stable" -- you are intervening to save your child from ongoing physical and mental abuse.

Go be the fierce advocate this boy needs. This shit absolutely cannot continue.
posted by beandip at 6:03 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Before firing the psychologist, I recommend talking one-on-one to him/her about these concerns. The psychologist may see value in having the dad on board for discussions, or may not fully understand the situation, as others have suggested. You can probably ask them to phone you.
It's helpful that they know a lot about both of you and about your kid. (And there could be some risk the dad may be uncooperative with switching.)

Ask their advice. If after that (or if already) you really don't trust their competence to help, then change, but I think a 1-on-1 conversation would be important to assess them (relative to what's invested now.)

(hmm, would it be too much to point them to this discussion. perhaps. although having them read the question itself may be helpful.)
posted by spbmp at 8:19 PM on February 11, 2013


File for full custody and increased child support payments. Your ex and his wife don't like the boy. I'm betting they would be glad to get rid of him, even if it cost them some money. And even if you can't get the extra money out of them, get full custody if you can.

Or does your current husband also not like your son?
posted by pracowity at 1:57 AM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: "just because he's not hitting doesn't make it not abuse."


This is the crux of the matter.

I hope everything is going well, webwench.
posted by deborah at 10:59 PM on February 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm scared of the upheaval that will come with rocking the boat.

I appreciate you not wanting to cause "upheaval", but upheaval is already here for your son, from having to swing between being treated with love to being treated like a Dickensian Orphan depending on which parent he stays with.

Your choice isn't between "causing or avoiding upheaval", your choice is between "stopping upheaval or letting it go on." It's too late to prevent any upheaval.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:06 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hope things are going better for all of you.
posted by barnone at 3:08 PM on March 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Update when you can!
posted by KathrynT at 12:52 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


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