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Step son is driving me mad

Community Member

My step son is 18 years old, has has been the major source of our(My husband and I) arguments.


I don't want him to live in our house any more since he is an adult and he has his barrages of issues which makes me doubting humidity. I'll explain this later. My husband, although very much agree with me on those problems, insists that he stays with us no matter what.


He came into our care at 14, by which most of his personality already formed. Neither of us knew that at the time, but he was impossible to live with.


He lies, so much that I had to learn to question every single sentence he said. He'd lie about his friend gifted him something but it was actually  he bought using the money  he stole from our room, even the friend was a made up, as we never saw him hanging out with anyone. Like he said his shoes were broken but actually he cut them open to get new expensive($300-$500) shoes, the same goes for everything, pants, bikes, phones. And sometimes he lies without obvious personal gain, like he said he used the allowance for gift card but it was actually for food, sometimes he said he had rice for lunch but was actually a sandwich, he said he went out but actually stayed home the whole day, etc. those lies make even less sense to me. 


And as I mentioned a little above, he steals and have NO idea of the value of money. He doesn't earn a cent and he wants all the limited edition, high-end brands, not because the quality, but to show off online. And his logic goes: If I ask, you'd have refused to buy it for me, then what choice do I have, other than steal your money and buy it myself? I mean that's criminal's mindset and creeps me out.


He lacks any form of respect and manner. He doesn't greet people unless requested, he'll curse, yell and say profane words with no remorse no restraint. He said to me and his dad that he'd (f word) our mothers because we cut him off internet. Other sayings even worse I simply can't repeat. And I really don't think he loves or misses anyone. Even his grand parents who love and took care of him for the first 14 years. He'd choose games over talking to them. 


I'm I a bad person thinking that? Because I kinda agree my husband has a point, he's not capable of making it by himself. He has the language/maths skills of a 4th grader, seriously tested. And he only graduated year 10 with no other certificates. And he refuses any learning/job because they requires certain commitment.


In this case, what do I do?


6 Replies 6

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi, welcome


There is several issues here that, hopefully I can see report on them independently. Firstly, I've had 3 long term prior relationships all with step children or in the case of my last one prior to this 12 year marriage, my last partner was a step mother to my daughters.


Re: "He has the language/maths skills of a 4th grader, seriously tested. And he only graduated year 10 with no other certificates."  I finished school after year 10, went on to become an airman in the RAAF, prison officer and ran my own successful business. Not everyone can go on to higher education particularly maths. The word "only" in your sentence is telling and sad because it reflects some judgement that is not helpful to the situation and I highlight this only because there is always two sides to a story. Re: " he's not capable of making it by himself."  and this is a huge part of the problem, the young man doesnt have the capacity be it IQ/behavioural issues or other to deal with the real world hence this leads to dishonesty and any means to get what he needs. His lack of respect is not through lack of love but lack of ability to succeed within normal boundaries. This means that people not blood (but can be) are his only guarantee of unconditional love, nobody else matters because he knows he hasnt the ability to succeed in normal ways.


In a step parent situation the step parent commonly requires an enormous level of nurturing qualities, so much so that they can ignore all the ill behaviours their step child displays. That is a rare step parent indeed, in my case my wife of 12 years is called "mum". Such nurturing approach is natural so those without that LEVEL of softness, cannot be learned. Such limits of the common step parent produces issues with some step children with i.e. special needs and learning difficulties. The elephant in some rooms is jealousy a trait my last GF of 10 years had with my daughters but it isnt the case here. Just another example of complexity.


At 18yo correcting this young man about respect, stealing, dishonesty etc is not likely effective... its simply too late. Instead, you and your partner can only try to "guide" the ship as its rudder is broken, you'll need to both become a team with a common strategy. In your case become more of an observer with the goal that eventually he comes to you for reassurance and love. That will seem an impossibility but it can happen. Restraint will be your enemy. Money must be hidden/a safe etc. Basically "batten down the hatches". If you have money (cash) and he cant find it.. say you caught him looking in your room, let him look he wont find any. Then use it as an opportunity to chat. Expect no progress for some time. Give options/choices not ultimatums. eg "If you mow the lawns we can buy those cheaper runners" but I'm sorry we cant afford the dearer ones" No lawns mowed, no runners.


His father is in the middle, a different position to yours but just as tough. Seek out a family counsellor and the two of you could make better progress. Remember- this is not your fault, his behavioural issues are deep and that fact alone means he requires patience of a saint, the love of a mother and always look at alternative ideas as time goes by. In a couple of years this all could change and then... it would be good if he's left home that he WANTS to visit, not hate to go there.







Dear White Knight,

Thank you for your kind reply.

Can you please explain to me what do you really mean by saying "people not blood (but can be) are his only guarantee of unconditional love, nobody else matters because he knows he hasnt the ability to succeed in normal ways." ? I doubt either myself or my husband has unconditional love for him. To me he broke the trust long ago and never felt like family. And I’m starting to think my husband’s patience has also worn thin.

Just recently my husband got so angry with him because he insulted his grandparents. He "kicked him out" temporarily (It lasted only half a day).The creepy thing was that he just sat at our front door, playing games until his battery died, and then just sitting there doing literally nothing, and for hours. We didn't dare to leave the house because we fear he might break-in.He didn’t try to call anyone, didn’t try to make any sort of arrangements, he didn’t even reach-out to complain.

I do agree that I have judgement. Not about the degree though, the willingness and ability to learn is what's important to me, and he lacks both. But the “Year 10” statement was meant for employers. Finding a job for him is nearly impossible. He's first language(I'll leave out what it is) isn't English, and the 4th grade level was tested in his first language (IQ around 70 point, it’s not disability level, but as low as you’ll get within the “normal” range). His English vocabulary is about like 100 words, which means he can't even learn to drive (impossible for theory test) or understanding instructions. And his "year 10" was not a "real" year 10.He attended the language school for 4 years in this country before dropping out, and he had education in both countries for a total of 10 years. So he doesn’t have a standard graduation certificate.

We've been seeing family counsellor since he arrived and we discovered something was off. He rejected them through and through, refused all treatment options. And as you can imagine, no progress. A 18-year-old is too late but a 14-year-old isn't much better either, he's already molded that way, sometimes I wonder if genes really are that powerful.

P.S:I was never a "mum" character to him, it's embarrassing and weird as I'm like 8 years older than him and he takes No notice of what I say. I was freshly out of the Uni when I met him, my husband is 11 years older than me so you get the picture. I don't try to discipline him, observing is all I can do.


The problem is, it doesn't stop him from lying to me, and now that I know it, even from the day we met, he spoke in length of how he was mistreated and mocked among the relatives, and asked me for my sympathy. I didn't know it then, but later, down the line, my husband and literally everyone in his family telling me those bits and pieces (Cuz I was curious and I asked), their stories all match, his doesn't. He also said he had crappy teachers all the way through his education, which then proven to be untrue again.


And did I mention when I say stealing, I didn't mean money alone. This is even crazier because regardless of its value, food, drinks, household items, sweets, toys( Baby Toys!), even my make-ups and dresses. He doesn't know how to sell them that much I know, he hoards them underneath his bed (I hope he did not wear my dress). We've found out twice and that's just so creepy. (He had stolen half a pot of half-cooked pasta, it was like, we ran out of pasta sauce, and we went shopping leaving the pasta in the kitchen, then by the time we were back, you get it, half of it was gone. And of course we know where it went. He didn't eat it mind you, we found the pasta about 2 weeks later already gone bad and under his bed.) He lies about stealing them too, but most times they are too obvious and the values are too low to make a scene out of it, so we'll just leave them be. And sometimes we didn't find out because he took things out from boxes in the storage room, and we'd only realize it when we found someone has been digging in the storage room.


In fact these are the times where if he'd asked we would have just agreed. I mean, we wouldn't agree for him to eat a whole box of donuts, but if he asks for 1 or 2, or 1 per day, we wouldn't argue. Or if he wants something in the storage, which means we probably not going to use them very often, then he may be able to have it without stealing.

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Thankyou your replies. It is a difficult time and honestly, relationship problems aren't easy to assess based on an initial post so follow up posts paint a fuller picture.


Re:  "people not blood (but can be) are his only guarantee of unconditional love, nobody else matters because he knows he hasnt the ability to succeed in normal ways." ? 


I was referring to a person that rebels against family members often because he cant fill their basic expectations of behaviour, obligations and responsibilities. Then they eventually turn to the ones that are, "one their side" at all times. It doesn't matter to these pleasers that he does wrong they just nurture/comfort. Pleasers however have problems because they have no boundaries. They create issues from that approach down the track when they  get taken advantaged of.


All the things you listed including his low IQ are summed up as under the one umbrella, that he needs help. In you and your partners situation I would certainly talk to a GP and get referral to a mental health department. There they can initiate a safety program (I'm under one, I'm like all others here that I have mental health issues and we are not professional medical people).  You never know when he might need help and there is a 24 hour number to call for immediate help.


So yes I understand how difficult this is for you both but can I ask you a question?


What result/response did you desire from me or others here? I'm an empathetic person, so I feel sorry for this confused, troubled young man on a downward spiral and with a nation woth suicide rates 3 times the road toll with men 3 times more likely to do it, thats my concern.. People that require professional intervention for behavioural issues and destructive outcomes need help. The fact that such incapacities result in lying, stealing, odd/abrasive reactions disrespect etc is a direct result of him needing help. Any hint of blaming imo is counter-productive... how can we blame him if his behaviour is natural (for him) and uncontrollable? Its like blaming someone for forgetting things when their memory is destroyed. Those people get comments like "you remember last week you said..." it's a no fault situation yet as they don't function normally, normal people find difficulty in accepting their disability.


I really think these problems need professional support by those that have the expertise to provide solutions. 

I hope that helps.



Hi, White Knight,


We had psycologist looking after him for 3 years, up until he reached 18 years old. And after that point it's not up to us and we can't do anything if he refuses the help. Do you know some of these people just don't think and don't accept the fact that they need help? He is one of that kind of people. Which means he doesn't think himself as needing help, even object the idea. I don't know if you'd agree that, without the patient being cooperative, any psycological attemps only see a fraction of its intended result, if at all. He's not cooperative, he's very against it that even someone brings up the idea of a test, an assessment, he shuns away. It's ridiculous to think after 3 years the doctor couldn't even get a proper diagnose.


I really don't know what kind of answers I'm looking for, but I want some suggestions so that we can resolve this problem at least on our family level. Less arguement, less tension, and if he can somehow moves out, if there are places for people like him, then fantastic. Or if someone has a way to get him to see reason and embrace treatments, tests, diagnosis, that's a huge plus as well! (For example, how can I convince him to sit through the IQ test again?) Or if there are some simple way to correct his behaviors. I don't really know what exactly will be available, so I'm open with anything. 


white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Your approach is commendable  being so open. I've been here 10 years, a community champion for 9, the topic of insight by those with mental health issues and those without that crucial insight... then there's stubbornness, pride, fear, èmbarrassment, low self esteem, genetic, the hidden reasons. So, proper diagnosis becomes the most pivotal of all important processes. Not getting one for whatever reason is a road block to any progress. 


Of course you are correct, he's an adult and even 13 year old, if they refuse to do something what can you do? Early childhood learning or lack thereof can be the culprit but, again it's up to professionals and that opportunity has past.


In my experience, such young men clash with the law and eventually their crimes get worse and in and out of jail. It was 45 years ago as a 22yo prison officer I saw this revolving door with inmates. Nothing has changed except the mental health system has made progress for those that embrace it.


He needs to change but only he can do that. Until he hits rock bottom and has the capacity to desire to improve or relent to the medical system, I don't think you can do much.


To maximise things your end being on the same page, you and hubby, is crucial. That "same page" will means any professional guidance you can find and I'm sorry that our lived experience doesn't suffice on this occasion.


All the food on offer won't satisfy one that refuses to eat...


You are more yhan welcome to continue the discussion if you think I can help.