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LilCosmo's avatar

Parents of grown step children, how do you handle it when the kids are disrespectful to your spouse?

Asked by LilCosmo (1799 points ) December 25th, 2013

My husband’s kids are fairly regularly disrespectful to him. They take advantage of him and when they are having a rough time with things in their lives they tend to take it out on him. They consistently ignore his birthday and Father’s Day. They all got together today and no one bothered to invite him, much less wish him a Merry Christmas. He never mistreated these kids. He fought for six years to get custody and kept them out of foster care when they were taken from their alcoholic, abusive mother. The way they treat him infuriates me and makes me want to tell them off, but I know this is probably not a great idea. Does anyone have experience in this area? How have you handled it? Any advice would really be appreciated.

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15 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

My adult step children and their father (my former husband) have had serious ups and downs over the years but they talk about it. If my ex has or had issues, he dealt with them. I stayed neutral. Ditto when I had issues with my children; my ex (their step-father) kept out of it.

Has he felt disrespected? Has he talked to them individually about what is going on? Do the kids present a united front or do they have individual beefs? It does get very complicated, particularly when one party has some vulnerabilities.

For years when my step-sons were teen-agers and young adults, they blamed amost everything on me…the wicked step-mother and Jezebel. Eventually we sorted things out, primarily because they grew up and had families of their own.

I’m not sure how helpful this is.

hug_of_war's avatar

Any words should come from him, not you. As a child of divorced parents, a stepparent trying to rectify me, an adult woman, would not accomplish anything the stepparent think it might. Adult relationships with children are different, it can take a long time to settle down into a comfortable pattern. Of course you see things from his side, but I’m guessing things are a little bit more complicated than black and white. My newly adult cousin has recently moved out of her father and stepmother’s house to her alcoholic mother’s. They have not given her some big talk about how bad of a decision that is. She has to figure it out for herself, and now that she’s an adult that is her right.

I’m certainly not saying your husband should grin and bear it, but he has to decide what kind of interference he wants to run, because those are his children, and you are never going to have quite that same feeling towards them.

creative1's avatar

My step-fathers children are or where much the same, even though they were adults when their parents divorced. It seemed they took it out on him for the divorce, what ended up happening is when he married my mother we (my brother, sisters and myself) became very close to him and he became to depend on us more. His son is still distance but his daughter has slowly come more around after seeing how close we were to him.

I know at times it breaks my heart when he says if something happened to my mother what would happen to him because he thinks we will disappear like his children did. Even though we won’t and I have told him this.

The difference between us accepting him and my mothers relationship is our father died where as their parents divorced. I don’t think some children even adult children can handle it when their parents divorce even if they could see their parents were not happy together.

DWW25921's avatar

Oh for the love of… Tell those brats off! It may make a mess of things but you can mop up later!

funkdaddy's avatar

My parents were married for a long time and divorced long after I was grown and moved out. I felt fairly close to both of them and tried to establish separate relationships with each. My mom and I talk quite a bit, my dad and I haven’t really reestablished anything that isn’t slightly awkward. We’re on good terms, it just doesn’t flow like it used to and it’s usually a lot of phone/email tag to get each other on the line. It’s complicated.

My dad got married again and so I have a stepmother. If she spoke to me about missing some important date or some perceived slight on my father I would assume that it was a conversation they’ve had and he wasn’t sharing. I would basically assume she’s speaking how they both feel, but he’s too polite to say.

If that’s not your intent, you should probably let him speak to them unless you have something good or very specific to share. If you felt something needed to be done, perhaps remind them kindly before the next big holiday how much it means to him when they take a few minutes and call. Or organize something and invite them.

His relationship with them is complicated too and no matter how many of the details you know from your husband’s perspective, you don’t know how they perceive their childhood. It sounds like a lot happened.

They’re adults now, and if you want a relationship with them (which takes both sides), you should treat them as peers rather than brats.

LilCosmo's avatar

I asked pretty much knowing that it is just not a great idea for me to tell these kids off, so I totally understand the responses saying as much. I have a stepmother (whom my father married when I was grown and out of the house) so I have some personal experience on both sides.

I am having a tough time getting past the fact that these are young adults disregarding basic respect and common courtesy for another person – a person I happen to care a lot about. I know it hurts him to be treated this way, but he has a lot of guilt about his kids and their past experiences so he is reluctant to call them out an much of anything. It is typically ok to hold people accountable for these types of things and I find it incredibly aggravating that these grown up brats are off limits. It is hard to treat them as grown ups when they are behaving like spoiled toddlers.

gailcalled's avatar

Can Mr. LilCosmo find a good therapist to help him develop some practical strategies for dealing with the kids? Often, having a neutral and experienced voice is helpful and can guide Mir. LC in finding a fair path and a strong voice. Guilt is crippling and will respond to therapy.

Do all the kids behave in the same disrespectul and uncourteous way or is there a range?

Is this just your question or also his? Nasty business, under any circumstances.

LilCosmo's avatar

All of his children behave this way to varying degrees, and all stretch the bounds of appropriate behavior. As an example, his daughter, who is currently staying with us (for free) with her two children disappeared on Christmas Eve without a word and reappeared last night after seeing her mother, former step mother, and brothers, and not a single greeting to her father. I saw her this morning for the first time since I fed her and her kids dinner (after having babysat her kids for two hours) Monday evening, and her only communication was to let me know she is doing a load of laundry. Geez, that makes me sound like a doormat! I do help with the kids when I can, it is for them not their mom, because they deserve to be treated well regardless of their mother’s behavior and they need responsible adult role models.

This question is all me because the more these people are in my orbit the more resentful I get. I like your idea of his discussing this in therapy and getting the tools to deal with this.

snowberry's avatar

You teach people how to treat you.

They’re not only mistreating your hubs, but they’re mistreating YOU too! So you really do have a right to stand up and say something. It would be best if you and hubs could agree on how to go forward. If you don’t find a way to teach them differently then things will continue as they are, and your aggravation will get worse. It wouldn’t be so bad if you had to deal with it once in a while, but when you’ve got one living with you, that behavior is truly unacceptable. It’s really a toxic situation.

Find a good therapist on how to do it.

jca's avatar

With one living with you, you’re now in more of a spot, in my opinion, because the disrespect affects you too, because you’re there receiving disrespect, along with Mr. Lil Cosmo. If you out your foot down and stop being a doormat, be prepared for that daughter to start acting like a real bitch and poisoning everyone against you.

I don’t think that this is going to go well unless you and Mr. Lil Cosmo project a united front.

Talk to him and get his thoughts on it. You can’t go it alone but if you do it and you’re all in the house together, it might get worse before it gets better.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I don’t have kids but I’ve been a part of my husband’s family for a decade or more now and it seems really odd to me the kids completely disregard this man, their father. There must be more to it, because at least one of them should recognize his humanity and that they’re treating him poorly. Somethings missing.

LilCosmo's avatar

@KNOWITALL can you please clarify what you are insinuating by saying “something’s missing”?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@LilCosmo I’m saying there must be a REASON of some kind to make this acceptable behavior for them. How do they justify it to themselves? “Well he never acted like he gave a crap about us” or “He’s got his wife, he doesn’t care about US anymore.” I’ve been in a few of those conversations with the adult kids in a few households and there’s always a reason, even if a lie.

I’d call a family meeting and mention the thing’s you notice and ask what the issue is, because being disrespectful is not acceptable behavior. Especially if they are now being disrespectful to you as well as their father, not cool.

LilCosmo's avatar

@KNOWITALL based on what I have seen, I think it is mostly that they believe he has a new family and doesn’t care anymore. The truth is though that at various times during our relationship, they have all lived with us for free, we have babysat their children for free over and over and I have never been anything but kind, accepting, and loving toward his children and grandchildren. My husband was married once after he divorced their mother and in a serious relationship with another woman before me and always made perfectly clear to these women that his kids come first. At this point they are all grown up and he has made clear that our relationship comes first – this seems to be pissing them off. The whole thing has me furious and every time I want to do anything to address it, DH insists that my wanting to discuss it or my getting frustrated about it is hurting him.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@LilCosmo That’s unfortunate for all of you because communication is the key to understanding.

Often when I hear “my family comes first” or “my wife comes first” it is because someone, usually the person/ people coming first, is causing trouble, so it kind of makes me flinch a little bit (because I’ve been on the not first end of things.) It doesn’t sound like you are by the way.

At this point in their lives, why are the ‘kids’ not taking care of themselves? Are they leaning on dad to ‘fix things’ or shack up with when they’re immature and homeless or ?

Maybe they just need to take care of themselves until they learn to be polite and grateful. If dad’s not good enough to talk to on Fathers Day, then when they need a place to stay, maybe his extra room and clean towels shouldn’t be made available? Harsh but if they’re adults, it’s time to give them some tough love. From him to them, because it seems like he is being taken advantage of and you are, too.

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