I have a 14 year-old son who has some mental health issues. He’s diagnosed with an exhaustive list of attention deficit disorders, and we’ve just started therapy for the fourth time. My boyfriend does a great job of not engaging in my son’s attempts to annoy, but he gets so stressed out when he’s around him. He clams up and I can tell he’s struggling to enjoy his time with us (I also have two grandsons whom he gets along great with.).
My boyfriend is just under 50 and has never been married or had his own children, but previously lived with a partner and her child, so he’s been around kids before. We don’t live together, but do spend every weekend and one weeknight at my house.
Do you have any tips on how to keep our relationship healthy and thriving even with a disruptive child in our lives?
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That certainly sounds like a tough situation, and kudos to your boyfriend for choosing to not engage. It’s hard to find a man strong enough to control his own reactions in difficult times, and it sounds like you’ve got one who recognizes that vomiting negative feelings only makes difficult situations even harder.
I feel like you’re both doing what you can to try to power through this, and hopefully with time and the proper interventions everything will smooth out and your son will grow through this relatively unscathed. Teen years are tough, but if there’s one thing I learned as my own step-kids went through theirs, is that with the right amount of patience and guidance everyone will get through it.
So what should you do about how your boyfriend is handling all this? In my opinion, he’s already doing exactly what he should. Being with you, spending time with you all, and shutting his mouth when things get amped. When it comes to a partners children it’s never our job to parent them, and I’ve done my share of tongue biting when my husbands kids were acting up.
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As for what can you do? Well, I’ve got some tips for you, Amy!
Show appreciation. Your boyfriend sounds amazing, and he should know that you appreciate his precence, his patience, and his understanding of the whole situation. I recommend finding out his Love Language so you can show it in a way that’s meaningful. Is it Acts of Service? Then do try to find something to take off his “to do” list and let him know you’re doing this to show your gratitude for his great attitude. Words of Affirmation? Write him a sweet note letting him know you see what he’s doing, and appreciate every bit. Quality Time? Then set some “just us” time aside, and lavish him with positive attention so he understands that as much as you need to look after your son, there’s still quality space for him in your life. And so on… so find out his Love Language if you don’t know it already, and use that to show him how thankful you are.
Elevate your self-control. We feed off each other’s energy… or as I like to say, we infect each other. So be sure you’re meditating and shrinking your own fight or flight reactions, so you’re not contributing even more stress to the situation by reacting negatively to it. Our partners are often assessing us, and they can only be the strongest link for so long. If out of all of you your boyfriend is modelling the best behaviour, given the situation, it won’t feel fair after a while. So be sure you’re equally modelling calm, patient behaviours so you’re working as a team in de-escalating those moments where your son is exercising those “attempts to annoy”.
Try to get your son to join you in this meditation thing. If focus is a part of his problem, see if you can get him to do this 10 minute meditation track once a day. It could decrease the size of his amygdala, which will reduce his feelings of anxiety and increase his concentration and feelings of compassion. And doesn’t that sound like a winning combination?! I’ve personally worked with grade school teachers who introduced daily quiet time to their classrooms, and soon found students chose to “self monitor” their feelings of anxiety. Next thing they knew, students were asking to go to the “quiet spot” with an iPod filled with meditation tracks to self-soothe their amped emotions, coming back to the group when they felt better. The results? Calmer, more productive classrooms. Amazing.
This is not an easy situation, and only time will tell how everything turns out for your son. But taking everything one day at a time, doing what you can for yourself and your son while letting your partner know you appreciate his calm, constant presence in your life, will help you all get through these difficult years.
Chantal Heide is an Author and Motivational Speaker, focusing on dating and relationship building. Her books Dating 101, Comeback Queen, Fake Love Need Not Apply, No More Assholes, After The First Kiss, Fix That Shit, Say Yes To Goodness, and Custom Made (available on this website, Amazon, and your favourite online book retailer) . View her BOOKS page for more information. Be sure to sign up for her mailing list (scroll all the way to the bottom to join, and get a free book!) and check out more free advice on Facebook, YouTube, and Itunes, as well as fun tidbits about her life on Instagram and Twitter.