Should I help my lying and abusive adult son?
I’VE always had a strained relationship with my eldest son, now in his mid-20s.
I was in an abusive relationship with his father, which ended before my son was two, but the intimidation and abuse carried on for some years afterwards.
My behaviour probably didn’t help him, either: I drank a lot and had relationships I’m not proud of.
But I turned my life around, got a job and met a lovely man (now my husband) when my son was five — and he’s always supported him.
My son has done awful things in the past, but I want to try to help him move on, though he’s never fully acknowledged the bad things — they’re always someone else’s fault.
I tried to get him help as a child, but the NHS wasn’t very helpful. It was only when I pushed for a proper assessment of him that they came back with ‘conduct disorder’, but I think it’s something more serious.
He gets very angry when I suggest he consults someone. He doesn’t think he has a problem, but is very angry and disillusioned with everything. Family members and friends have cut him off; he’ll have no one if I do the same.
He regularly texts me abuse, saying I’m an awful person and have never supported him. Just some of the things he’s done: stealing from family members and my vulnerable neighbours, then lying when the evidence was there.
Intimidation and breaking things in our home if I was doing something he didn’t want me to do. In the end, I had to ask him to move out when he smashed my TV and broke a window.
He has children he doesn’t support and resents me for being involved in their lives. I worry he’s going to have a mental breakdown or hurt himself because he’s so isolated from society and, as his mum, I feel so anxious and worried for him all the time.
Am I being weak? I could be putting my own mental health in jeopardy by constantly trying to help him.
I also have younger children and a lovely husband who need my support. I wasn’t a perfect parent, but why should I be in an abusive relationship with my child? DENISE
Aline of script in last Monday’s Broadchurch on TV jumped out at me. The character Beth said: ‘ You can’t rescue someone when they don’t want to be saved.’
every therapist knows the truth of that. Still, i’ve always acknowledged how hard it is to step away from your own child — it’s all very well to counsel ‘tough love,’ but you have to ask what if this were your son.
As this unfortunate young man’s mother, you are honest in accepting that his childhood was damaging. You realised something was very wrong and clearly needed more help than you got.
Your unedited letter gave more
examples of his destructive behaviour, once involving your mother. To an outsider, it’s no wonder the rest of the family turned their backs on him, because there is only so much violence and abuse people can take.
Your son has fathered children for whom he takes no responsibility, lied, stolen, abused and blames others for his miserable, angry life.
it’s certainly possible to feel pity for him, yet at the same time i always think of those brought up in terrible circumstances who manage to triumph over adversity and construct admirable lives.
it takes us back to the old question: how far can you blame the world for your moral deficiencies? Yet his mental health sounds very fragile.
Conduct disorder (‘ a mental disorder diagnosed in childhood or
adolescence that presents itself through a repetitive and persistent pattern … in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate norms are violated … often referred to as “antisocial behaviours” ’) has symptoms that fit the descriptions of your son’s actions.
I’m also wondering at what age this all began — under ten? Also whether he has taken drugs (I’d almost bet on it), because that could certainly contribute to his mental problems.
It won’t surprise you that I hesitate — because though he needs help badly, I do not see how you, his desperately worried and unhappy mother, can force him to seek it.
I wonder if your husband, who has known his stepson for so long, might be able to intervene? Perhaps he has already told your son that abusive texts to you must stop. I hope so.
Your son’s first male role model was terrible — but that doesn’t mean other men in his life have to tiptoe around his problem.
I could never tell you to walk away, but could you step back? As you say, your own mental health is at stake. The crux comes when you ask yourself whether you can sacrifice the well-being of your husband and other children for the sake of your ‘lost’ first child.
No one can answer that for you, but I certainly suspect your husband could be the key — and should perhaps take charge here, to relieve you of the burden of choice.