How do I respond to this?
December 2, 2013 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I just received a probably inappropriate and drunken, certainly meddling message on FB from someone I don't know, but who has connections to my family.

I am a stepmom. My stepson is 17, and going through a mildly tough time. (Meaning he will not graduate from high school on time, has no job, he is drinking on occasion and probably smoking pot.) To avoid consequences or being told what to do in our household, he spends most of his time at his alcoholic and permissive mother's home and at his girlfriend's. Alcoholic Mom's roommate is a distant cousin who is also an alcoholic. Stepson has little respect for either of them, but uses them to his own ends. There is no doubt that he is openly disrespectful of Distant Cousin Roommate.

There is no custody arrangement, and we've done what we can do at this point to guide his behavior. We help him when we can and when he arrives at home, but we are aware that aside from keeping him safe, there is little we can do at this point. He has no access to a car, for instance. (We don't have the money or interest in incarcerating him, since his illegal acts are minor.) We communicate on a regular basis, and he doesn't hate us or disrespect us. He just wants to do his own thing, and he knows we disapprove.

Last night I received what was probably a drunken message from Roommate Cousin. I don't know her, have never met her, and only know of her from the children's reports of her behavior at Alcoholic Mom's home. They dislike her, mostly because she is encouraging Alcoholic Mom to party and drink even more than she would normally, and she has inserted herself into the family in a way they find off-putting. She is only the latest in annoying, drunken roommates of mom's.

Our relationship with Alcoholic Mom is distant but civil. We communicate as little as possible, because she believes she is Super Mom, despite the fact that she provides little in the way of food, finances or guidance for her children. (We both really despise her, but we are excruciatingly polite about it.) We have always picked up the slack. Luckily, during some of their formative years, she abandoned them utterly and moved away. But she's back. Other child is basically grown and spends minimal time visiting with Alcoholic Mom. But Stepson and Alcoholic Mom have a mutually user relationship: he uses her to avoid us, she uses him to babysit her 8yo.

Here's the FB message I just got from Distant Cousin/Roommate:
"I am interested to know if you two realize what [Stepson] does? 2 are. His parents and it doesn't seem like [Stepson's Dad] cares.SOS"

I have a number of responses floating around in my head, ranging from snarky to outright angry. Maybe I shouldn't respond at all. Bleah.

Anyone have any advice?
posted by RedEmma to Human Relations (25 answers total)
Best answer: I wouldn't respond at all. I understand the desire to be angry or snarky. I think you will be more satisfied down the road if you don't respond at all. You can't reason with drunks.
posted by Fairchild at 6:25 AM on December 2, 2013 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Do not engage. I wouldn't answer. She's interjecting herself in a situation where she doesn't belong, and if you can manage it, no response is the best way to go. If she persists, I would acknowledge receiving her message but no further. It's none of her business and you shouldn't act like her opinions have any validity or influence on you. Treat it like spam - delete and ignore, block if it becomes too intrusive or annoying.
posted by lemniskate at 6:26 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Ignore the message, block the user, and move on. No good will come of this kind of manufactured drama.
posted by xingcat at 6:27 AM on December 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

I'm with the other posters. Ignore, Block and move on.

No good comes of this kind of Drama.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:29 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you had some free time on your hands you might ask her what she's referring to just to make sure it's not anything more sinister maybe by just checking up on the 8 year old. But do ignore the FB message.
posted by bleep at 6:38 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would write up a response to her laying out all your honest feelings ... and then not send it. Otherwise your (incredibly valid!) feelings are going to drive you crazy all bottled up inside you. My withering non-sent responses to some of the similar bullshit I have gotten over the years are the only reason I am able to be in the same room as some "mote in my eye, beam in their eyes" people like the roommate I have had to endure.
posted by saucysault at 6:43 AM on December 2, 2013

What is the father doing about this?

I am trying to put myself in the father's shoes and I keep coming back to the fact that if my child was in this situation that I would be doing just about everything I could to make things better for my child. Not necessarily better from the father's standpoint, but the kid's. Is the father barred from action by the courts? Is he not a guardian at all for this kid? It might be better to negotiate a fair arrangement with the son that makes him more willing to be at your place (away from the drunk mother and cousin) even if that means that he doesn't live completely by your rules. I am sure there is more to this than I am imagining.
posted by BearClaw6 at 6:49 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Don't respond. No good will come of it. All you'd do is send the message that she gets to be a part of this conversation.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

To me, the message sounds like it came from a place of concern. As a caring parent, I'd want to know more about what prompted the cousin to reach out without making assumptions.
posted by ms_rasclark at 7:12 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Everything in life is information warfare.

Ask for clarity, but give zero information away; what you know, what you don't know, how you feel about any of the other people. You have no idea how the other side will use this information, and it doesn't sound like a trustworthy person.

When you get a response, ignore future responses. Do not engage, do not give any information of any kind to the other person.
posted by Wordshore at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I dunno, I think if there were genuinely a problem that needed your intervention, she would have just come out and said what was going on rather than being coy. This seems like she's just fishing for drama. My vote is for not engaging with this woman under any circumstances.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:17 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do not respond - it will open a whole world of drama.
posted by Autumn at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2013

Best answer: DO NOT RESPOND. This is an alcoholic baiting you.

She wants you to respond. She is dying for you to respond. And no matter what you say, she is going to claim your response as a "Gotcha Moment."

I have dealt with my share of alcoholics. Their logic is not normal logic. Do NOT let her set the parameters of ANY discussion. You talk about things on your terms and your time.

There is nothing you can say or do that will bring you any good from this. The only thing that can happen is that you make the situation worse by getting her all worked up.

Seriously, do not take her bait.
posted by Flood at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2013 [18 favorites]

Don't respond. Delete and block.
posted by windykites at 8:04 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If there were really something that deserved your attention and this person cared, then they would just come out and say it. I agree that this is an attempt to stir up drama. Block them and move on.
posted by grouse at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with Flood here. As someone currently working to remove an unrepentant alcoholic presence from my life, this is exactly the kind of message I get when they want to engage. Any kind of response opens the door and it becomes immensely difficult to close it again.

Ignore it, and ignore any follow-ups no matter how much you want to respond.
posted by Perthuz at 8:43 AM on December 2, 2013

People come to AskMe fairly frequently when their niece/friend/cousin is doing something illegal/dangerous/concerning and they don't know what to do, who to tell, and whether it's any of their business. This suggests to me that when people do pass on this information, the situation is fraught: they are likely to do it imperfectly and the recipient may be offended. Even a raging alcoholic may know something about your stepson that deserves your attention. I think you should find out what it is before deciding that it's bullshit.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:43 AM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Delete, block, ignore.


In the interest of making sure that kids are OK, address it with Stepson. Do it casually and in a non-confrontational way in person next time you see him. Just, "Hey, I got a weird message from Roommate. Is everything OK over there?" He'll probably shrug and say it's all fine, but it could have two effects: 1, he knows he could ratted for the stuff he's pulling, even at his mom's house or 2, if something shady is going on over there, he'll feel like he can talk to you about it in the future.
posted by mibo at 8:51 AM on December 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

I would not respond to the message, but I think your husband should check in with his son.
posted by sm1tten at 9:08 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ignore. This person has no business in your personal family life. If for some reason stepson is currently confiding in that person, it's unlikely to be for long.

FWIW I highly recommend stepping up the game with stepson if at all possible, as hard as it may be. That diploma is so valuable. My son was on that same precarious perch during his last year in high school and depression played a HUGE role in it. Getting him through high school consumed all the energy in our household for a full year. There were downsides but it was worth it and he recognizes it now. He still has some hills to climb but no matter what he goes through, he knows he was worth that effort.
posted by headnsouth at 9:09 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm kind of with Wordshore and Wordwoman (weird coincidence there, I guess I should change my nick to Word Steady) on this one. I'd respond with something like "Specifically what are you referring to?" and if they don't then give you specific, actionable information, then they are indeed trying to stir up shit, and you can go ahead and ignore/hide/block/whatever. As a parent I'd find it hard to ignore this entirely, in case there was something new I should know about going on.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:10 AM on December 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

Yeah, I'm going with Do Not Respond, and yes, my first instinct is that if she had a real concern, she'd address it clearly.

We had a conversation with other child today about the subject, and she got a baiting text around the same time last night about a completely different subject. (Why do you haaate meeeee?)

We will further consult with Stepson to check in, but we all understand now that the texts were due to an argument between Stepson and Distant Cousin and was in essence her "telling on" him in some way, in an attempt to engage me and piss off Alcoholic Mom. They are (surprise!) not getting along so well.

We are monitoring Stepson's situation closely (as much as is possible). His father believes that his primary reason for hanging out over there is because it's closer to his GF's house, and hence easier to reach sans car. We are always working on ways to deal with making him more likely to be here. (And coming down the pike is an attempt to get him re-engaged in a new attempt to graduate, which he says he wants to do, and will likely have to do from our house.)

There are always sketchy things going on over there, and we are always in conversation with the kids about what's going on and how to handle it. As far as son's behavior, he's only rebelling in minor ways (unless you consider graduating later a Major Deal).

As far as custody--we've gone through discussions over this a number of times in the past, but are basically, with child at 17 and the other (barely) into adulthood at the end of that possibility. (He's got only a few months til he's 18 anyway.)

I have known many former 17yo boys who have fared far worse than Stepson, and we know that mostly our task here is to be open (in house as well as heart) and in helping him deal with his own "blocks" about finding his adult path. Teen Brain is a bitch sometimes, but we're getting through it!
posted by RedEmma at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's easy to demonize and dismiss an alcoholic in the family who "has inserted herself into the family in a way [the children] find off-putting" - but couldn't the same be said for ANY non-biological parent/adult in pretty much ANY child-of-divorce's life? We are talking about a child's well-being here so you need more flexible boundaries around information and your Stepson, which better reflect that reality.

"my first instinct is that if she had a real concern, she'd address it clearly"

Wrong. She's a drunk. Your expectation of "speak with clarity, please, or I shall refuse to hear you" will only keep you from hearing the bad facts. Concerned parents really don't have the luxury of completely ignoring any adult, even a sloppy one, who reaches out to tell us our kid is in trouble. You choose your response, but please do not ignore the message.

Your son is in trouble and you really have no idea how bad it is.

"I have known many former 17yo boys who have fared far worse than Stepson"

Worse? Better? You don't know. Is he trying meth over there? Having unprotected sex? Is the 8-year-old seeing this? You don't know.

As an adult in your child's second home who sees what's happening with the kids, this actually is her business, too - just as it is your business, even though people are often too dismissive of step-parents. These kids are lucky to have you.

Viewed as charitably as possible, her message is saying literally: "S.O.S." - somebody help this boy. If she were someone who did not have substance abuse issues, or had better communication skills, or did not come across as a proverbial pot-stirrer, she might have conveyed her message to you in a healthier way, that you might be more inclined to hear:

Dear Stepmom,
I believe you are the most appropriate adult in this boy's life: that you love him, want the best for him, and are in a position to help him. So that's why I'm contacting you. This is awkward, but I need to let you know that I have seen Stepson doing X, Y, and Z in my home. I'm really concerned and felt you should know, because if it were my own child, I'd want someone to tell me.
Thanks for hearing me out,

Don't shoot the messenger.
posted by hush at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, hush.

If he's having unprotected sex, Distant Cousin doesn't know about it. We have had this discussion with Stepson and know GF is on birth control at the least. He has access to condoms.

He is not using, or trying meth, either over there or anywhere else. We know this because recently he left his FB open and we snooped. It's pot, and it's at least one drunk-enough-to-puke. We have had one discussion about this and will have many more. None of his friends (who we know well) are drug users, and all are more engaged in school than he is. [In his crowd, smoking cigarettes is rebelling enough, along with pot and drinking.]

He is not in any abusive situations, either from his end or toward him. We ask, regularly, and discuss the people who hang out as his mother's regularly.

The one thing we do have is a decent relationship with (fairly) honest communication. We know he lies about some things. But we can pretty much guess what they are.

Luckily, we live in a fairly small town, and we know his friends and (most of) their parents. Things aren't ideal, but they are not terribly dangerous. (Yes, being around drunks is inherently dangerous in any number of ways. They don't take rides from mom, generally speaking, or any of her friends.) Unfortunately, 8yo is at many risks from people at the Alky House, but this is not our primary concern. That may sound harsh, but we have had to put some serious boundaries around our home and theirs for some time now. We are in the process of notifying the child's father of a situation we feel is dangerous there (no, I'm not going into it, but we're objectively concerned), but that is something *he* will have to deal with for his own son's sake.

I will try to take your recommendation that I see her as a concerned adult, but honestly, other evidence doesn't suggest this is a valid belief. She had an argument with Stepson, he didn't (verbally) respect her wishes/rage/yelling and she decided to try to pull me into the argument. (As she did with elder child.)

I know he is frequently a disrespectful asshole. (Verbally.) He doesn't do what she tells him to, and thinks she should be able to tell him off while he stands there and takes it. Neither "adult" in that household cleans or cooks, and then expects the children to "take care of things." Their most common admonishment is to JUST DO IT BECAUSE I SAID SO.

It's not an okay situation. We know all this. However, 17yo doesn't respond to rewards/punishments in any way whatsoever. (Don't do schoolwork? No cellphone. Consequence: He doesn't care, and there is no way to contact him when he doesn't come home/goes off grid.) We're working on constantly maintaining comms between us; that's all we can do at this point. We talk, we reason, we help him make progress in his life. That's where we're at.

We will definitely keep asking questions. But I'm not interested in playing into this woman's roommate drama.

Dad says he will probably ask some questions of A.M., though, as he says, that is not usually a productive path.
posted by RedEmma at 9:56 AM on December 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Consider that he's spending so much time over there because he's parenting that 8 year old. It's very possible he's the only reason said kid eats or goes to school most days and he may feel extreme guilt for leaving the kid alone with the crazy drunk ladies when he comes to your place.

I'd ignore the message too. Drunks lie like rugs. I'd trust your kid over her any day of the week.
posted by fshgrl at 11:46 AM on December 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

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