I’m a single mom of a fourteen-year-old son who is out of control. He’s temperamental, moody beyond belief, often angry and belligerent, and doesn’t confide in me. I’ve been divorced now for about three years but this behavior on his part has only been like this for about the last six months or a year. I’ve only just recently started to date again and he very loudly disapproves of just about anyone I date, doing his best to sabotage things.
First of all, know that a child of fourteen is generally going through a whole lot of hormonal changes that are going to affect his behavior. Teenagers are often rebellious as their hormones are very active and their bodies and brains are literally undergoing a major metamorphosis. Thus, on that level alone his behavior is not developmentally unusual.
On the other hand, there may be specific issues in his life that are causing him to “act out.”? “Acting out” is when an individual acts out conflict or stress rather than dealing with it directly. I’m wondering how the divorce affected him and whether he had and has an outlet to discuss his feelings in this regard. How is his –or does he even have a — relationship with his father? This may be part of the source of his irritability.
Does your son have friends and a social outlet? How is he doing academically? Does he exercise or participate in athletics? Do you know whether he is experimenting with alcohol or recreational drugs. Another question that comes to mind is whether any significant changes occurred in his life shortly before the period when he began to act out?
These are all important questions that may have a significant bearing on his emotional state. It may just be that he is just now beginning to emotionally to the dramatic change in the family circumstances. Perhaps he is grieving now what he wasn’t able to experience then. It may very well be that your recent dating has spurred uncomfortable feelings in him and reopened unresolved and possibly issues within him about the divorce of which he may not even be aware.
The bottom line is that there should be someone whom your son can trust and talk to about his feelings. This would allow a venting that would be most helpful. If he doesn’t have a best friend that he talks to and since he doesn’t seem inclined to talk to you, ask him if he would be willing to consider counseling, underscoring that it doesn’t have to be long-term and that if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to go back. Find a counselor that works with adolescents; allow your son to “shop around”for the right person because the relationship and trust issue with a counselor is particularly profound at your son’s age.
Know that it’s not unusual or surprising that your son is resisting your efforts to date men. Regardless of the reasons things didn’t work out with your ex, he will always remain your son’s father. Bringing other men into the mix is likely to be seen, unconsciously by your son as a disloyal act on your part towards not only your son but towards his dad.
In addition, any time you spend with another man is less time spent with your son. Whether he admits it or not, he may still feel a sense of betrayal of your love for, and attention to his needs. Notwithstanding the limitations of some of his paradigms, Freud had many things right. The oedipal impulses of a boy towards his mom would dictate that he unconsciously feels that you are choosing other partners over him. In the classical oedipal dynamic, he may have had such unconscious feelings pertaining to his dad before the separation, but choosing men other than his dad may serve only to exacerbate such unconscious conflict.
The idea is to honor and give deference to your son’s feelings while honoring your own needs as well. Talking to your son thoughtfully and directly may be of great help. Let him know that you love him very much and that you will always be his mom and be there for him. Also let him know the same thing about his dad (unless this is grossly untrue). Validate his feelings — let him know that he has a right to them and that you can understand his feelings (try indeed to understand them).
However, also try to convey to him that you have a life and feelings also that you’re entitled to and that it’s important for you to move forward with your life as well. Tell him that this includes finding a new partner, if that is what you’re seeking. Perhaps also set aside special time each week or weekend that is specially designated as one-on-one time with him where you can talk and/or do things together. Ideally it would be beneficial if your son’s father also has a similar arrangement with him. Know that ultimately your son’s conflicts and anger are likely to diminish over time.
Your goal is to be as loving, supportive and patient with him as possible while honoring and attending to your own needs in a reasonable way. There are many, myself included, who believe that such a “reasonable way”should not entail your son meeting your dates until and unless there is a commitment and a long-standing exclusive relationship between the two of you. In other words, until and unless you become serious with one man, it would be, in my view, a huge emotional disservice to your son to create a situation where he would emotionally engage with and then be forced to disengage with different men as you proceed in your dating.
Seriously consider keeping your dating world and his world separate and apart until the “right”time comes along. Otherwise, you may be unwittingly exacerbating the roller coaster of emotions that he’s already experiencing.