Dear Donagh, you may be able to help. My step-son is giving his mother and myself terrible trouble. He seems to have no respect; he uses foul language to us; disrepects our authority and he seems to have changed dramatically from the sweet youngster he always was. He was a real homebird and loved being with his family and we loved that about him. Since he turned 18 and got a car he has changed so much. He's hanging around with a crowd who I feel do not share our values and they seem to be rubbing off on him. It's very frustrating and worrying. I'm confused as how to approach it all.
I love the website and thanks very much.
Having no experience of bringing up a family myself, I'm not the best person to ask about this. I'm afraid my comments will be very general.
First of all, I have heard a great many similar stories – if that is any consolation to you. These stories convince me that rearing a family is the road to Calvary – and to what Calvary led to. If you look you can probably locate all fourteen (or rather fifteen) Stations of the Cross along the way. The ego, which normally enjoys a long career in single people, is condemned to death on the day you marry. When your first child is born you take up your cross. Along the way you collapse from exhaustion at least three times – and probably many more. Yes, your mother comes to help you, and various versions of Simon of Cyrene will give you reluctant support. But you get willing support too: if your wife’s name happens to be Veronica, the picture really fits; but even if it isn’t, she’s the one. Which station are you at now with your step-son? You are being nailed to the cross. St Paul wrote about God forming us in the image of his Son. The pattern of Christ’s life and death – and resurrection – is being formed in you. It must seem at times that it is being carved into you. All I can do is honour the patient suffering that you endure, and I honour it by naming it the way I did.
As a bystander I have little else to say. No doubt you have done all the obvious things: like talking with him, and especially listening. The fact that his new attitude is not directed only to you, but to both of you, suggests that the source of the difficulty for him is not the step in the family, but something else. It must be especially difficult to heal a wound that isn’t detected. If only he would say what is bothering him…! But maybe he doesn’t know. A child being born doesn’t know what's happening; and a child turning into an adult doesn’t know but as little. It must be really difficult to grow into adulthood today. The rites of passage that society offers aren’t focused with enough clarity, nor even named as such. Getting one’s own car is probably such a rite: an acknowledgement of adulthood. It should be helping him into adulthood, but there’s some leakage of meaning somewhere. There must be some other things conflicting with it. Could you check whether you are helping him to leave his childhood behind – by the way you talk to him and regard him? His transition is a transition for you too: from having a child in the family to having an adult. The Christian story names it as a kind of dying and rising.
If I were pope I'd beatify only parents.