Teenage stepsons
December 9, 2020 3:59 PM   Subscribe

This is a common remark amongst friends and acquaintances. Yes. I have two stepsons, and I'm not sure I want that anymore. This year has been rough, and generally, I coped, with some ups and downs, till now. And now, I am wondering if I should be in this situation and whether it is better for me to remove myself from it. Which will be heartbreaking and devastating for my partner and myself. The two boys are almost 16 & 19 respectively. One of them is a kinda cliched, selfish, self-absorbed teen who grunts, and the other, well, is quite nice, though has his own issues which can be irritating - and he never leaves the house, though finally he has a part time job.

Here's some context - I met my partner a little over 5 years ago and it was wonderful and amazing, and in many ways still is (we are 2f, late 40s and early 50s). I moved in with her and her boys. I just didn't think that it would be a problem, so in love I was that I didn't consider the fact of living with two boys, and my great need for space, peace and quiet. This relates to my being an introvert, but also having some mental health issues - PTSD, complicated grief, depression, anxiety - which I manage to keep mostly in check, but not lately ( I actually really didn't think a relationship was possible for me, so was astounded that it happened).

Lately, I've had a couple of meltdowns around space and the boys being around when I expected them not to be. I can't seem to relax when they are around and I greatly look forward to them being out of the house. They do visit their Dad at least every fortnight now, though haven't most of the year. Granted I am probably being worn down from being in lockdown most of the year and working from home which has its perks but gawd I'm tired of it. I live just outside of Melbourne (Aus) so we had our serious second wave lockdown, and though it wasn't as strict as in the city, it was pretty full on.

And now I don't know. Will this pass, or did I make a big mistake? I don't want to split from my partner, or move out necessarily, but I'm not sure I can actually cope with having these two teens in my orbit.
posted by summerinwinter to Human Relations (27 answers total)
Before you consider leaving, have you talked with your partner about a timeline for the adult son to move out on his own and the possibility of more shared custody with the father for the younger one? A lot of my decision would be based on how my partner wants to parent. Does she want the boys to stay in the family home for as long as they'd like? Waiting another 2 years for the youngest to be more independent and move out doesn't seem like a terrible wait, but if your partner is happy to have the boys stay well into adulthood, I'd consider pursuing a different living arrangement or breakup. A part time job for an adult who isn't full-time in school isn't what I'd consider a reasonable move into adulthood and I'd be worried that you could end up with 2 grown sons, well into their 20's, still living at home and happy to be supported by mom while failing to start their own lives.

Regardless of how you both come to understand the long game here, I would suggest you rent a space to "work from home" if it's at all possible. Having a place to go where you can have privacy and some isolation would be good. Maybe there's a small office or studio apartment you can rent to work in or maybe your partner's house has room to build an office shed in the backyard. Having your own space away from the boys could be enough to make the balance of the time you spend at home not nearly as difficult.
posted by quince at 4:17 PM on December 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

Hey, while I haven't been in this exact situation, some things came to mind for me.

First, what you're feeling is valid, and I am sorry you are going through it. There seem to be three core options on the table here (well, four, but I am gonna go with three to start.)

1. Total Removal: You break up with your partner and move out with the understanding that you will not be involved in your stepsons' lives again.
2. Separate but Still Together: You move out, but stay in a relationship with your partner. You stay over when the boys are at their dad's (or your partner comes to you.)
3. Vacation: You take a vacation away from the boys and your partner for X amount of time so you can decompress and get the space you need.

In the mix of all these things is something I would recommend you do if you haven't already: talk to your partner and have a serious heart to heart about what's going on for you. She needs to work with you to find a solution. Maybe you do this through marriage counseling in a really structured way. Maybe she goes on vacation with you (out of your house, the shared space that is tainted for you right now) and you use that time to talk.

Whatever you choose, don't do this alone and in a vacuum. I can tell your heart hurts. Talk to your partner.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 4:18 PM on December 9, 2020 [28 favorites]

Get into individual therapy or family therapy to develop coping strategies. Teenagers (both genders) are hard at times and it is exhausting but they become adults and relationships improve. I had one refuse to speak to me for over a year who is now extremely close to me, for example.

You made a commitment to parent as a step parent. That means doing the hard work as the adult of figuring out how to improve this relationship and understand the young people in your care.

Talk to your partner, talk to a therapist. You have a new young family, and adolescence is brief. Think about when they are adults, what kind of parent relationship you want with them.

The kids will always be part of your partners life, so part of your life. You have to invest heavily in them emotionally when they are going through rough patches too. It will be worth it.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:28 PM on December 9, 2020 [30 favorites]

Gosh, I had one teenaged boy, and I feel for you. It's a lot of work, like kids going through their terrible 2's, but now they have big bodies and are going thru it again! It's hard.

I think it's important to designate your own space, and set the boundaries of your own quiet space, within you household. They can't overstep the boundaries. Kids quickly glom onto that. If it's your bedroom, or the kitchen, etc., they will know, and they will pour themselves into any empty space you will give them.

On the other hand, engaging with kids at this age will be rewarding. They can cook for you, clean for you, play with you, and yes, acknowledge your need for space. They are old enough to do that. You can talk to them about it. You don't need to split from your partner, but talk to them and work out what is best for you and them.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:45 PM on December 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

This is a real hard year. This is a year that's got the experts stumped, so it's not just you.

Are you able to take some kind of nearby staycation in a space that can be entirely yours for a few days? Hotel, airbnb, a friend with empty rental property or guest house or caravan you could stay in, just to be able to close and lock the doors and be entirely alone? I understand the lockdown situation in Australia is a little bit uncertain now so I don't know how reasonable or practical or safe that is, but if you could just get yourself a little break so you could step back from the nuclear option for a minute, I think you can probably find some less drastic options.

It's really important to remember, too, especially with kids - this isn't forever. They won't be this age/stage of life forever, we won't be in a pandemic forever, you (maybe) won't be working from home forever, and they will probably move away eventually. You just need to get through For Now, not Forever. (Granted, For Now sometimes includes "leaving the house" being a bad idea, so you may want to rewrite your expectations there to help improve your frustration threshold.)

Talk to your partner. If they are a good partner you should stay with, they should at least want to hear you out and help you find some more comfort. Granted, they're likely the default parent and are doing more parenting and child-management than anybody else here, and MAY have raw nerves of their own so definitely make sure you approach them with a "we are a team with many forms of stress, how can we make it better for everyone" attitude, but if they understand your introvertedness AND they understand pandemic stress surely they will want to work with you on some kind of release valve circumstances to get through current events. (If you get no interest or concern from them, I guess maybe DO consider the nuclear option.)

It's possible all four of you are having your own kinds of burnout and may be able to come to some kind of trade-off so everybody gets a little boost. I don't know that I'd heap a huge amount of hope on teenagers really understanding "summerinwinter needs to be Alooooooone like Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel" and cooperating, but it might be worth a family idea-bouncing session to see if arrangements can be made.

Speaking of burnout, the Nagoski sisters wrote a book about it and have a queer-friendly feminist-oriented podcast about overwork and burnout-related issues, both of which you might find useful and interesting if you're not too exhausted to process it. But you are absolutely describing a form of burnout that we don't think and talk about as much because it's not related to work or school but is 100% still real.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:09 PM on December 9, 2020 [14 favorites]

This is reminding me of a friend of mine, who several years ago called me up to announce that she was getting a divorce. This eventually pretty much turned out to be ENTIRELY because her oldest son, who I think was 14 or so at the time, was driving everyone in the house up the wall. What happened was that the son moved out to live with his father (who lives in the sticks and frankly, there wasn't much the kid could get up to troublewise). Friend is still happily married today and her oldest son has shaped up and become a productive member of society.

If his kids are seriously about to drive you to leave, this is gonna be an awkward conversation to say the least. I hope it's not a relationship-ender for you. I would hope that a temporary moveout might be the most reasonable thing for you if removing the kids part or full time isn't an option.

How does your SO feel about the kids' current behavior? Are they also annoyed, or indulging them, or what? Is the father of the kids possibly able to take them in more often or all the time? I'm not sure from this if the kids are just difficult, or that the fact that teen boys are around is exacerbating every issue you have, or both, or what. Also, what is the 19-year-old's situation and is possibly moving on with his life to move somewhere else for school/work even a remote possibility?

I mean, worst come to worst, they're older teens and I would hope that their life circumstances would change in a few years enough to move them out of the house--you're not utterly fried and dealing with 6-year-olds here. I am kind of concerned that the 19-year-old is home, but these days leaving for college, well. I don't know what his situation there is.

Anyway, I fear that bringing this up with brutal honesty with your partner is the only option here. Maybe moving out for you is the best option and just not break up, or maybe something can be arranged to get the kids out more often. Good luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:38 PM on December 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Wait. Slow down here. You moved into these kids’ house without, by your own admission, giving any thought to them. You have nothing nice at all to say about one of them. The best you can say about the other is that he’s “nice”, and then you complain about him because he doesn’t have a full-time job. (It’s a PANDEMIC. No one has jobs anymore!) Recently you flipped out about their very presence in their own house.

If this question is reflective of your relationship with them, yeah, you should probably move out. If you’re not going to (or can’t) treat these people with a minimal amount of kindness, you should get out of their house and let them live with people who care about them.

Another option would be to treat them kindly, try to get to know them a bit, and see what happens then. Yes, teenagers can be moody. It sounds like you’re pretty moody too, and that doesn’t make you less lovable, less worth getting to know, and less worthy of respect. If you offer them a bit of kindness and respect, I suspect you’d get some back.
posted by MangoNews at 6:12 PM on December 9, 2020 [73 favorites]

This year is insane for everybody and a lot of previously-healthy relationships are ending because people just can't take all this enforced time together. So before you make any big decisions, try to factor in that things are not normal right now so your nerves are probably extra frayed.

You say the one kid hardly leaves the house... But, is that really his choice? Where is he supposed to go right now, when the safest thing is for everybody to stay home? The other kid you describe as a "cliche," sullen teen... Well, is it really so surprising a kid might be moody and withdrawn right now, with everything going on? Maybe he doesn't want to talk to you any more than you want to talk to him! Maybe these kids aren't so bad, and due to covid frustrations you're just losing patience with behavior that's actually pretty normal. Before you make up your mind to leave, maybe you could try to get some time away to clear your head. Obviously a conventional vacation would be nearly impossible right now, but maybe you could rent a cabin or go on a driving trip or something.

In any case, I BEG you to never let on to these kids how you're on the brink of leaving the household because you're just so sick of them. Remember that, in their minds at least, you've been one of their moms for years and years. Kid years are a lot longer than grown-up years, so while from your perspective they may just be these two teenage boys you've lived with for a while, from their perspective you're Mom. I'm an introvert myself and I'm not a parental type, so I can sympathize... but like it or not, you are deeply entwined in the lives of these kids. I'm not trying to judge you and I apologize if I'm making incorrect assumptions, but I hear the emotional distance in your question, the way you talk about them like a burden, and I cringe to think about the lasting damage you could do here if you had a meltdown and said something about how you never wanted these boys. It's OK to feel whatever you're feeling, but please try not to say or do anything that will leave lasting scars.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:16 PM on December 9, 2020 [42 favorites]

The needs of the children should come first. It sounds like you and your partner didn't give enough thought to how it'd be to adjust, which is unfair but it is what it is. COVID is hard for everyone so I feel for you there. Joining an established family is also really hard so I feel for you there! Tbh it sounds like your moving out will be the best option for everyone involved, at least until the sons grow up and move out. This is not a failure on anyone's part: you didn't make a mistake because you were trying your best. It sounds like your partner and her two sons were also trying their best. It just isn't working. And kids should be surrounded by adults who love or at least like them; you can fake it with younger kids sometimes but definitely not older ones because they are very aware. It sounds like they actually like you a lot, which is sweet.

I like the suggestion above to get your place nearby. Your partner can come to you, you can go see her. In fact, even the sons can come join you for a meal occasionally. This doesn't have to be a break up but rather a smart move for all involved. I love teenagers and it's what I'd probably choose in this situation too. Regardless of what you decide, please be gentle on yourself and know you are doing whatever you decide for the benefit of all involved. I think individual and family therapy would be wise, too, to help you sort through it all. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:29 PM on December 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

Will this pass

Yes it will.

Also worth pondering the idea that making highly consequential decisions when not in the greatest state of mental health frequently yields outcomes that later cause considerable regret, and is an action best taken only when absolutely necessary - for example, in order to remove oneself from some form of deliberate abuse.

Teenage boys are usually not deliberate parental-figure abusers; they just lack autonomous adulting skills. As an introvert with strong needs for space and privacy, that can indeed make them not a whole lot of fun to be around. But the thing about teenage boys is that they grow up and move out on a timescale that's comparable to the existing length of your apparently otherwise wonderful relationship.

Making it through lockdown with only a handful of meltdowns counts as coping pretty well, in my book.

My best advice is to file breaking up under options of absolute last resort, and try literally anything else that might get you a regular enough supply of peace and privacy to keep you sane through the next few years. Is there some way you could organize a day or two every week staying by yourself somewhere beautiful and tranquil?

Also, on preview: yes, the boys do deserve a stepmother who reacts positively to their presence; but unless you get your own oxygen mask properly fitted first, you can't be that for them. So it's perfectly fine to make your own mental health priority #1 here.
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 PM on December 9, 2020 [20 favorites]

Can you afford to rent a room somewhere or go to a motel 1 or 2 days a week? Needing stress free downtime is a legitimate need for some people. Especially introverts. It doesn’t make you or anyone the bad person here.
posted by gt2 at 7:04 PM on December 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

(Sorry, I rethought this comment and deleted it. I know this an abuse of the edit window and I apologize, but I didn't want to put potentially harmful advice out there.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:50 PM on December 9, 2020

Boy, did this question make me sad. I can totally relate to wanting and needing your own space and how hard that would be, especially over this past year, but the fact that you are having meltdowns over people being in their own house when you don't expect them to be is really unfortunate. I'm trying not to project, but my mother twice had partners that had serious issues or dislike or the presence of her similarly-aged children in the home (and I would venture as far as to say in her life) and the tension in the house was palpable. We were young, but we were not naïve... and this was incredibly damaging for my relationship with my mother.

I am curious whether you have talked to your partner and teens about your needs. Part of being in a household is working together on issues like this. Have you had any opportunity on your own to recharge? Maybe taking that space, as others have suggested, will provide more clarity on a path forward.
posted by sm1tten at 8:01 PM on December 9, 2020 [16 favorites]

I will tell you that the best part of divorce was kid free weekends, and the fact that one of my kids lived with her dad during some tough teenage years. And you know what? His girlfriend (now wife) did move out because my daughter was awful to her. You have every right to want your own space, and plenty of couples do live apart, and still keep up with their relationship. Plenty of parents resent their kids and wish that they could leave. You are not a terrible person for wanting some of your own space- especially with the way the last 9 months have been. Your feelings are valid.

These terrible teenage years are temporary, they do pass, and young adult children who live on their own and come home for smaller bits of time are so much nicer to be around. This does not have to be an all or nothing decision. It can be for "right now."
posted by momochan at 8:28 PM on December 9, 2020 [5 favorites]

everyone is super sick of everyone during this shit year. I can barely take the sight of my own family right now, and they're the most precious people in my life.

That's not to say you shouldn't move out (maybe you should, considering that you really dislike the kids' presence, and don't really seem to get that they were there first and they didn't invite you) but if you value you relationship with your partner, then first get some breathing room, then think about how to make that work. Maybe you need a larger shared space. Maybe you need your own retreat. Maybe you'd prefer to live separately until the kids move out. But in the short term, recognize that EVERYONE is having a tough time with the current situation, it's not just you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Thanks everyone. Just letting you know, I do make an effort with the boys, and I do like them. I have tried to maintain a positive presence all throughout and kept these meltdowns to myself, and my partner. I care for them - I drive them places, I get them stuff, I encourage. I do really try. Though I get little back. And yes, I know that's teenage thing. Admittedly I posted this after a very bad day, and things seem to come to a head. I will consider all your advice and comments.
posted by summerinwinter at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Most people wouldn't press the Destruct button on a long-term relationship before first trying to address the issue(s) that are making them want to end it. Maybe you have tried to resolve your issues with your stepsons and just left the details out of your post. But right now, it's kind of hard as a stranger to be able to understand where you are with this.

Was there some recent event that made you think it was so bad you want to leave? Have you spoken with your partner about your feelings? If so, what did they have to say? Have you taken steps to get your stepsons to respect your personal space? How did they react? Have you talked through any of this with a friend/therapist/etc.? If so, what did they have to say?

If you haven't done any of these things, then I think it's way premature to end the relationship. If you have, could you update us with more info?
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 9:10 PM on December 9, 2020

And yeah. I woke up in a state (and hungover). Yesterday I really needed them not to be around - it was a death anniversary day for me - and I went out and they were meant to have left for their Dad's by the time I was back, but of course they hadn't. And so I went into meltdown (privately)... and woke up thinking that maybe I needed to get out. It was premature, hasty. I'm at the end of a COVID rope and though things are looking up (things are actually pretty good here now) I can't seem to see the light...
posted by summerinwinter at 9:36 PM on December 9, 2020 [8 favorites]

I hope you don't end up feeling guilty for what you wrote and the judgement some people are directing your way. I think some of it is the white American fixation on the 'sacredness' of childhood, where kids trump all and adults have to fit meekly into the small spaces left over. I havent seen that perspective do many positive things on individual or communal levels. You're allowed to feel how you feel and try to find solutions that work for you. Living apart could be an option for now, while everyone is mostly stuck at home (you can frame it as needing an isolated workspace temporarily). It might help you relax and start over from a better point. Or maybe therapy and the ability to just vent and be honest without fear would really help. Lots of options, and it seems like the problem will work itself out with time, assuming they are going to move out for university. Take the long view, but try to find short term solutions that improve things now. Good luck!
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:16 AM on December 10, 2020 [14 favorites]

It sounds like you might need some therapy to resolve some underlying problems you have. Go and seek help before you deconstruct your life.
posted by 0bvious at 3:07 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Reading your update it makes a lot of sense that you felt the way you did (flight) in the moment.

Those of us with PTSD, especially related to abuse or neglect, often try to muscle through situations and then if our coping strategies wear out -- for example, in the middle of a global pandemic -- we kind of want to run off to our own caves. And that's understandable and maybe all you need is to work with your partner on finding a better cave, whether that's your own place or a shed or a room at a friend's house or a week in a rental.

But it did strike me hard reading the story of your death anniversary (which is an awful day) that there was another option. What if you sat down with the boys and talked to them a bit about that day and what you need on it? You said you needed them not to be there...that's sort of the one thing you have to be super careful about saying as any form of parental figure. But it doesn't mean you can't talk about your experience in other ways, like needing solitude on that day.

What if you said something like "hey boys, can I be real with you for a minute? I was having a super hard time on this day because X person died, and this pandemic is also really getting to me. Some days I feel like I'm going to scream if I don't get my old life back/out of the house/a trip to the beach/a night out dancing in a club. Saturday all I want to do is _____________. Can we work this out?"

Where "X" is listen to a particular kind of music all day, or have a movie marathon, or zone out reading books in bed or having no one talk to you, or whatever. It might be putting a sign on the bedroom door and putting on noise cancelling headphones. It might be asking them to have one meal in their rooms so you and your partner can have one meal together in quiet. Lots of things.

In our house we have a "family support alert" tradition which started kind of as a group hug - when my kids were little anyone could yell out "group hug!" and anyone who wanted to (or in us adults' cases, we just did) would run to that person and give them a hug. Over the pandemic we've gone the other way, as I live with some introverts, and they are all like "introvert alert!" and then we have 30 minutes of silence (or at least, I and my extrovert child go for a walk :)). The purpose of these moments aren't exactly to get it 'right' - it's more just like, we're in this together.

I guess what I'm saying is - if you are a family, there are options besides "get out." Because these are teenagers socialized male in our society, I promise you they will not get it right if/when you ask them to start participating as part of the family support squad. But they may well try -- personally I believe we mess our adolescents up sometimes not giving them the opportunity to try, acknowledging that they are inherently self-centered -- even if they don't get it right.

And sometimes, especially for those PTSD red alarm bells, if you can see that someone is trying, it really helps.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:26 AM on December 10, 2020 [19 favorites]

With any luck, you are just in the last bit before they spread their wings. And, research shows that it tends to be the quality of the relationships people have with their adult children, that determines whether parenting is a net positive to the parents. Get through these next few years with intact, caring relationships with them and there's an excellent possibility that you will reap the benefits for the rest of your life. That just means finding ways to carve out time and space for your own mental health while understanding that teenagers are just not fully formed reasonable adults and setting your expectations accordingly - it's not nothing but it's probably achievable.
posted by plonkee at 4:26 AM on December 10, 2020

Been thinking about this question. I don't have any experience with teenage stepsons, but people have that covered and I do have the unusual experience of both living alone and living with a partner during the pandemic, thanks to an international border that I am now once again able to cross.

I'm a pretty introverted person with engrossing hobbies/job who normally enjoys many aspects of living alone and has managed a LDR for several years now. What I can say is: living alone during a pandemic with a still-uncertain end and (maybe) rising cases, is *absolutely not* going to be a solution to any mental health issues. I think probably very few people are happy with their living situation at this point and each brings its own variety of complaints, but I really cannot fully express to you how isolating and wearing pandemic solo-living is over the medium to longer run regardless of introversion levels; if you are struggling with depression/anxiety I think it's really really unlikely it would get better except perhaps in the very short term. It's really, really different than living alone pre-pandemic. And for me, this was even with very regular videochat contact with my partner, but I can't imagine what it's been like for the people I know living alone without that. This isn't getting talked about as much as other cases for whatever reason, but seriously, do anything you can to avoid it, I just don't see how living with people some of whom are currently very annoying would be net worse from a mental health perspective. (Obviously there *would* be worse things and I don't mean to suggest there would be no reasons for leaving a living situation, and if it was your partner you were having issues with I might have a different take.)

Definitely support the vacation / temporary change in circumstances ideas as a first step. That might also give you some space to think a bit more about whether there are simpler / more structural changes in your current setup that might help. (E.g. to throw out some random suggestions: buying noise cancelling headphones, doing some reallocation of who uses what space, changing how you use outside space given that it's not winter where you are, more extreme things like: rent some coworking space, could you upgrade so you simply have more space, etc.).
posted by advil at 6:07 AM on December 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling better today and have a plan! I wanted to add this: when you’ve formed a relationship with them (and you certainly have!), teens are generally very good about respecting personal requests and boundaries. It’s perfectly OK to say, on a tough day, “Teen, I love you but really need alone time right now because it’s the day my _____ died, which makes me sad. I’ll be in my room but look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Thank you for understanding!” I’m not a step/parent yet but would do this with my students. If I was having a rough day, I’d say “You are working on group projects and excited, which is good, but I’m having kinda a rough day so I’ll be sitting at my desk playing classical music. I won’t be coming around like usual today but please come over to me if you have any questions! We will present our work tomorrow.” You’ve surely given the boys a lot of love and patience and they’d love to step it up for you too. They’ll feel honored and rise to the occasion, I’m sure! One way to help make teens seem more responsible is to give them more responsibilities, not in terms of demanding chores but being the adult in charge — but now an adult who sees them as the young adults they are and believes in their growing maturity.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:12 AM on December 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Also, keep complimenting them when they do something right. For example, when the older son comes back from work: say how impressed you are that he’s working during the pandemic and ask him how he likes his job, how his coworkers are, if he would ever like to be a manager or study/train in a similar field. You can take about the positives and challenges of your first job to show solidarity. You’re not saying “Omg grow up and leave but rather encouraging him to believe in himself so he can feel independent and empowered to do so! Same for the younger son and his schoolwork. So often what we adults see in teens as being lazy or rude is their own fears and issues manifesting in admittedly annoying ways. We can’t change how someone feels about themselves but we can encourage them by noticing all the good they’re doing, which is more motivating than criticism (which I don’t think you’re doing) or not saying anything.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Chiming in a bit late, and I'm really sorry for all the criticism directed towards you. I have two sons about that age. Things are really good in my household right now, but ... it's a lot. Especially with lockdowns. I don't think it makes sense for you to make a permanent solution to what might be a temporary situation (temporary for a few reasons: lockdown; kids change as they age; and the oldest may be moving on soon anyway, with the younger not too far behind). I also had a partner who found it a bit overwhelming to spend time in a house with two teenage boys, and he wasn't here all that often (though at times, pre-pandemic, it would sometimes be several teenage boys because my house was the gathering place, which I thought was great but certainly could be overwhelming to others).

Your stepkids, like my sons, are at a tough age and far less charming when they're not the kids you raised (and even then they are often hard to be around; I'm sure they feel the same about me). And, they're stuck at home a lot more these days too.

I do wonder how much you and your partner have discussed your need for additional space and quiet. I won't presume there's a way for you to carve out some additional space for you in the house, but that's certainly the first thing to do if it's an option. Is there some other space where you could make a retreat of some kind, for work or relaxing? A chair in a corner with a screen with noise-blocking headphones? Does a friend have an empty rental unit where you could work from there? Be creative if you can. Tell your people it's important.

And yes, I definitely think this is something you could work through in couples therapy. This year has been really hard and it's taking a strain on many relationships, never mind complicated stepfamily relationships. I do think it's a concern that you don't feel like you can relax with the boys are in the house. That sounds exhausting.

I suspect your partner might be feeling some of your tension and frustration. With my partner, I good see the tension when he had what I think are similar feelings, even if he didn't say anything. I also have a stepmom and can this in her, around me, too, even as an adult. So a conversation with your partner is a really good place to start. Maybe take a walk so you can move around and have some privacy and not just stare at each other.

Reading your follow ups: I think your partner is in a really tough spot, and I want to nudge you to have some compassion towards her. It is very hard to feel stuck between your kids and your partner, responsible for trying to help all of them meet their needs. So in a conversation with her, you might ask her what she needs right now.

And I want to encourage you to talk to the boys, one on one, and let them know you've been stressed, and you're working on it, and what do they need, and here's what you need. It sounds like you like and care about them, and that's a good starting place. This is your family, and I think you probably need them right now, even as you are somewhat exhausted of them. Take care.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:24 AM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Covid is a massive stressor for everyone, you've been cooped up with young men at their testosterone peak, and this is about the time that the 1st blush of love fades and reality crashes in. Of course you've hit a wall. Whether it's fair or reasonable isn't the point. the point is, you must have some space and better boundaries. Maybe you rent a covid safe hotel room once a week, go car camping, just take a drive somewhere where there's wifi, your laptop, a book, music, netflix, whatever feels like good alone time. park outside a library, Starbux or McDonalds, get coffee, enjoy being alone.

Boundaries. Carve out a space of your own and spend time without interruption. Headphones and music are a huge help. Go for walks alone or with your sweetie; exercise is a stress antidote.

They may be feeling like more time alone with Mom would be good; Mom can schedule alone time with each of them.

Assess yourself for depression; irritation is one of the indicators of depression.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 AM on December 13, 2020

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