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What to Do About a 'Dirtbag' Stepson?

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki, 

I have heard the phrase, "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." I absolutely believe this when it comes to outsiders, but what do you do when it is your own family?

My stepson, who became my stepson at two and lived solely with my husband and me until he moved out at 18, is, in all honesty, a dirtbag. He mooches off of people, he can't hold a job because he's completely unreliable, he steals, and he lies.

Obviously, we stay in touch by phone and the occasional e-mail (my husband was relocated last year). Even when we lived in the same area, we didn't see much of him after he moved out. 

We have refused to send him money when he has asked, which makes him angry. Do we just tolerate this and stay at a distance? We both love our son very much and want the best for him.

He refuses to take advice or follow rules, which is why he moved out (his choice) while still in high school. It's very difficult because we are asked by family what is going on with him, and we don't want to say he is mooching off of another family. We generally just say he is living his own life, but some relatives won't leave it alone.

Thanks,
Distraught Mom

Dear Distraught Mom,

This is tough. He is your stepson, but your son no less. Having a child living here and there, and lying and stealing, is a hard pill for any parent to swallow.

My first thought is that drugs and alcohol are involved. Think about it: Why would a person in their "right mind" move out of their parents' home because they don't want to follow the rules, but then call home asking for money and become angry when the parents say no.

If it's not drugs and alcohol, then I can also reflect on your son's generation. I call them the "Entitled X" generation. They don't want accountability or guidance, and you are not allowed to expect or ask anything of them because if you do they will "kirk out" and become disrespectful toward their parents.

You and your husband have to be wise. No, I wouldn't give him any money. He should be working three jobs to support himself.

Now, it may be embarrassing at first when trying to explain this to family members who are inquisitive, but it will get better. You will get stronger and more resilient regarding your children. You will get over the hurt and pain of your son's actions.

However, first you have to say that you didn't make him choose this road he is on. He chose it for himself. In his defense, he can choose his own path, right? But he can't call home to throw a tantrum and ask for your money when things aren't going right.

Other family members should do the same thing too, but they may be tempted to slip him money to help him out. However, that would only make the situation worse. My grandmother used to say, "What it takes a parent 18 years to instill in their child, they will learn something different in less than 5 minutes and stick to that." Sad, but true.

Stay in touch with him as you wish, but I wouldn't tolerate him being disrespectful toward me and I wouldn't give him money. I hope this helps.

Sincerely,
Ms. Vicki

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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