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My Needy Son Hates My Boyfriend. How Can I Avoid Choosing One Over The Other?


I have been divorced for almost 9 years. I have 2 children ages 22, and 14. I am now living with someone and have been for the past 4 years. We bought a house together. Before that we had been together, broke up and then got back together. When I divorced, my ex husband took my son away from me (brainwashed him) he was about 13 years old then. He has stayed with him but that was because he was able to do whatever it was that he wanted to do. He eventually got into trouble, we (my ex and I) bailed him out more than once. He is now 21 years old and my problem is this, he says that he can’t stand the man that I live with. At one time when the court placed my son with me, they exchanged words telling each other that they didn’t like each other. He and I ended up breaking up and I was alone with my kids for a while. It was nice, but I missed him. Eventually we got back together. My son has since had a girlfriend, lost a girlfriend, lost a daughter (born very premature) and lost a step son who his mother took (the girlfriend he lost) He is now living alone. He comes over to the house once in a while. He has now however been wanting to spend the night more often. I don’t have a problem with this, but my boyfriend does. He doesn’t like my kids and he doesn’t trust my kids. My son can be very manipulative, just like his father, and will try and make you feel guilty for something that isn’t even your fault. Well to make a long story short, what do I do when my son wants to spend the night? He sometimes needs someone around. He still sees his father, but his father will want to talk to him sometimes and makes him feel like a "loser". My son is not a loser, he is just lost. I am seriously thinking about leaving my boyfriend because I think my kids need me. Or is my son just trying to break us up and making me feel guilty. I don’t know what to do. There is a lot of tension when they are both at the house. I love my son very much, but I can’t let him run my life either. What should I do?

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It’s a bind you’re in for sure, being pulled between roles as you are. I think many women and men alike can sympathize with you, however. You’re certainly not alone in facing this issue. Most any divorced parent with children will see some likeness.

There are a number of issues going on here that make the key issue (e.g., how do you choose between your boyfriend and your son) complicated. The first thing is that divorce is naturally hard on children, and much harder when one parent tries to turn children against the other parent. There is a name for this these days. It’s called Parental Alienation Syndrome, and recently, Mental Help Net did a podcast interview on this subject that you might want to listen to so as to learn more about it.

The brainwashing your son received at the hands of your ex-husband seems to have made it especially difficult for him to view you in a positive light. The loss of security that comes with divorce may have contributed to his current relative immaturity and depression, although the other losses he has suffered cannot be discounted either. All in all, he has had a rough coming up, and he is presently emotionally needy and angry. It’s easy to imagine your son attacking your boyfriend who is, after all, an easy target for your son’s rage. He needs to preserve you and your ex-husband as positive figures in his life as much as he can do that, but your boyfriend is and will always be alien to his birth family and therefore fair game. If your boyfriend was not himself very mature and able to see the hurting boy behind the attack, it would be natural for him to start to see your son as little more than a threat. You prioritizing your son over your boyfriend can only have reinforced his perception of being secondary and discardable when push comes to shove. I’ll bet your boyfriend is feeling quite vulnerable that you’ll leave him again under whatever masculine bravado he shows you.

So you are caught between roles that are important to you and not seeing a way to avoid choosing one role over the other. This is a problem because the last time you did this, you suffered and realized that it was a mistake to have rejected your boyfriend for your son. It is only luck or fate or God’s will or whatever you believe in that runs the universe that made it possible for you to undo that mistake. Maybe this time it will be better to avoid making it in the first place.

I can totally relate to your loyalty to your son. He is your baby and he is letting you know he needs you and it is only natural for you to want to run to his aide and give the adult equivalent of the breast. Your son is not an infant anymore, however. He is a young man several years beyond the age of majority. He’s made adult decisions and has suffered adult grief. It is time to temper your desire to suckle him with respect for his adult status. He may want to regress towards childlike behavior during this low and lost time he is in, but it is not necessarily in his best interests that you support him in this.

It is not necessarily in your own best interests that you give up your boyfriend for your son either. Quite apart from missing him, you are an adult woman yourself who has needs for companionship and sex and an intimate life as you can make one happen. Allowing children into your adult intimacy will sabotage that intimacy and then you will become needy too. Your past experience has already shown you that being a mother only is not enough. Being with a man of your choice is a vital part of what makes your life work.

There is historic anger and tension between your son and your boyfriend, and maybe it is too much to hope that this can be completely overcome. Still, you maybe don’t have to overcome or resolve that tension in order to find a workable alternative solution for how to support both your son and your boyfriend at once. The key to such a workable solution will involve figuring out what boundaries you need to set with your son and with your boyfriend, and then figuring out how to enforce those boundaries creatively.

Myself, I think that it is vital to your relationship with your boyfriend that you show him you are committed to him. This may mean that you do not allow your son to sleep over without asking your boyfriend’s permission in advance, so that he has time to make alternative arrangements for what he might do besides staying in the house at the same time your son shows up. If your boyfriend has a regular guy’s night out routine, you might ask him what he thinks about you having your son over the house while he is out. This is not so much about asking permission as it is about respecting his need to have some advanced warning and a say in determining how his space gets invaded. You might decide to tell your son that he can come over for a visit, but that it doesn’t work for him to spend the night. Perhaps you can visit with your son at his apartment or the both of you can go out for an inexpensive dinner at some restaurant so that your boyfriend’s space is not invaded. If you can keep the two of them apart, and show both of them that you love them dearly, but also need to ask each of them to respect what you need to do independently , you may be able to keep both of them satisfied.

Your son needs to respect that you need to be with your boyfriend and that limits what you will do for him unless it is a real and dire emergency. He recognizes your love because you give him everything you can support-wise except for the things you cannot give without harming your relationship. Your boyfriend needs to respect that you need to support your son and this means you will have less time for him. He recognizes your love because you are respecting his primacy as your mate and his need for peaceful space in his own house. You may need to yell at each to get them to see what you are doing, but hopefully neither is so dense that they don’t ultimately get it and accept it.

This is a tough one. You’re going to have to figure out what your limitations are and make some hard decisions based on those limitations. You’re going to have to enforce those decisions in the face of two men who will likely push you to cave towards their own way of looking at things. You will need to maintain some independence from both men if you are to succeed in making this sort of solution work. From what I can see, however, you are up to the task. Good luck to you.

More "Ask Anne" View Columnists

  • Lisa

    I don't agree with this advice. I've been in the same situation for quite some time -- divorced for 9 years. My 21-year old really fell apart at the time (he was13) and he's never really pulled himself out of the mess. My boyfriend continues to lecture me about my son, which led me to tell my son to move out. It soon led to my boyfriend getting angry when my 16 and 17 year old sons called me at 10:30 at night to let me know where they were (because it "woke him up.") Forget it. I respected him and then he took advantage of the situation. No man will come between me and my children. He has two kids who live with their mother (early 20s), and he seldom sees them. Sorry -- I love him dearly, but there is no way that he is going to dictate how I manage my household and my children -- especially if he hasn't made any commitment to our family (ring, help with bills, etc.) Blood is thicker than water.

  • Vanessa

    I am 24 years old and I am the [ daughter ] of a woman who has chose her boyfriends over me since my parents divorced (at age 11). She currently has a boyfriend for 5 years who has a drug abuse problem. He ultimately nagged my mother until she kicked me out at 19 years old. I moved backed with her this year (because she begged me). I been living in HELL with her and her boyfriend for the past year and nothing has gotten better. She still chooses him over me and today she has given me an ultimatum to pay the mortgage or leave (because her boyfriend said so). This is not about money, because I am 24 and have a great career where I can pay for a mortgage. My issue is the emotional damage my mother has caused me because she refused to put her flesh and blood before a stranger. She has caused me to be a broken young adult women, who at 24 is looking for a MOTHER. I feel robbed of my childhood and teenage innocence.

    Please Mothers I beg you... if your kids are young, don't damage them because of your selfish needs or wants. Give them all of you. Love them unconditionally! Give them emotional stability! When they get to an age where you know they are stable and complete and are able to live there own life and make their own decisions... then you can go and live your life. Having a child means SACRIFICE!

    What if every woman cared about their selfish desires over their children? What kind of world would we be in? Only God's grace pulled me through this turmoil. God is the one who keeps me sane through this unstable time in my life. My plan is not to resent my mother because she is ill minded. She is not able to make sane decisions because she is blinded by her boyfriend and years of emptiness. I pray the best for her. I am moving out as soon as I can. I will no longer take part in this unhealthy relationship. I'm not giving up on her, I'm simply removing myself from pain, abandonment and depression that I REFUSE to accept in my life. Most children are not able to walk away from this situation without being broken.

    PARENTS, you need to step up and know that you hold the future in your homes.

  • Anonymous-1

    I am in the situation where my daughter who lived with me after her dad and I separated, (She was 12 then) has moved back to her fathers home. She is now 16.

    She did not respond well to my new partner backing me up when I repeatedly asked her to perform a household chore.

    As a result she has now been at her fathers for a year. I do see her and she is barely civil or completely rude to my partner.

    I am stuck in the middle here as I don't feel it was his job to interfere as he did but can see that he was backing me up. He has now said that because of her ongoing rudeness she cannot come to our home. It is his house.

    I am very upset as this means I miss out on being a part of her school prom and seeing her mix with her friends.

    I feel like a failure as a mother and although I frequently tell her I love her I also point out that we all need to treat everyone with respect.

    She is getting reinforcement of her attitude from her father and he seems to be enjoying what he must see as a huge coup by having our daughter on his side.

    Attempts my me to keep our split amicable were completely destroyed by him when I met my new partner. He was the instigator of out breakup however.

    I am distraught. I just want my little girl back.

    Any ideas please.

  • Cindy

    I completely disagree with this advice as well. I am also a daughter whose mother chose a man over her and have never forgiven her for it. My mother did this to me more than once. It completely destroyed my relationship with her to the point that I stopped calling her "mom" and have severed all ties with her. It's taken a lot of therapy for me to come to terms with the fact that "my mother" cared about no one but herself and her top priorities were always her boyfriends/husbands. Her children took a second seat in her life, if not a third seat. Because of a man, she lost her child....I still wonder if she thinks it was worth it and if she finally found her "happiness". I know now that I deserved a lot better, and that she WAS NOT a mother

    Whatever happened to being a parent? A real parent. Your children come first. ALWAYS. You decided that when you gave birth . The second you decided to become a mother, you also made the choice to make that child the top priority in your life. And NO, financially supporting your kids DOES NOT mean that you have done your job as a parent. That is what you're suppose to do!!! There's nothing extraordinary about that!! I get sick to my stomach whenever I read about these women with children going off and dating men, moving them in w/ their children, getting pregnant again and again, and never once taking the children they already have into consideration. Here's a foreign concept to you....How about keeping your legs closed and taking proper care of the kids you already have? Yeah, you can all use the excuse that "I deserve to be happy and have a family" know what? Your "happiness" is coming at the cost of losing your children and YOU ALREADY HAVE A FAMILY. YOUR KIDS ARE YOUR FAMILY. Does it seem fair to you that in order for you to be "happy" your children have to be unhappy and be forced to live with someone they don't like and who doesn't like them? You hoping that they will eventually like him and in the mean time what...they have to be miserable? The child has to feel uncomfortable in their own home? The mom is the one being selfish and thinking only about herself and her "loneliness", she is the one disrespecting her children, disrespecting herself, and disrespecting their home. Oh that's right!...the child will just have to grin and bear it, get use to him being around and hopefully get to like him, or the other solution....the kid can move out when they are old enough and then they won't have to live with him. And in the mean time what? The bond/relationship between mother and child has been completely broken!! Why? Because the mother chose a man over her child, the mother forced that child to live with someone they don't like (regardless of the reasons why), the mother's actions indicated that her happiness and her relationship/sex life come before her child, and that her child's feelings and comfort don't matter. Children are not suppose to sacrifice themselves for their parents, it's suppose to be the other way around! Children don’t always tell you what they think and exactly how they feel because they don’t want to hurt your feelings or have you be angry at them, but in the end they grow up resenting that they had to keep all those feelings hidden FOR YOU. That resentment grows into anger. Those mother's that say "My child doesn't make the rules in my life, I do." You may make the rules in your life, but don’t assume that those rules apply to and are the best for your children…and aren’t they suppose to be your top priority? Did your child ask to be born? No, you decided that. Did your child ask for his/her parents to divorce? No, you and the father decided that, so the least you can do for them is not bring some sex buddy into their home, and make them ashamed of their mother. They've been through enough turmoil as it is. Just because you're the adult (and I use that term loosely), doesn't mean that you get to drag the kids down with you in your loose lifestyle, just because they are dependant on you and will have no other choice but to put up with it. Your "new man" telling you that he likes your kids or acting like he likes your kids doesn't matter!! They are suppose to like him first, not the other way around!! What he likes is using you and getting sex from you. He could give two sh*ts about your kids, and that I can guarantee you because given a choice he'd prefer that your kids didn't exist. Set an example for crying out loud! Women who do this DO NOT deserve to be called mothers. Even dogs care for their litter better than that.

    How dare syou try and subject your child into living and putting up with some stranger because YOU "have needs", YOU are "lonely", and YOU "deserves to be happy." If your "happiness" is worth losing your child then go right ahead with your plans and boyfriend because that is exactly what will happen.

  • Anonymous-2

    WOW!! I thought I was the only one in this situation! I am in the same situation, but I came from a disfunctional family myself and know to well the repercussions of a mother abandoning her son. My father had two boys and a daughter when he married my mother who had no children. They had my younger sister and myself to add to the family. They never saw their mother again and only new my mother since they were 5, 3 and 1 years old. My mother did the best she could with them and they have never disrespected her. Yet she's always treated them differently then her natural daughters (my sister and I). My older half-brother is an alcoholic and my younger brother is a convicted felon who has spent half his life in and out of jail. I can't help to think that this is a result of the situation they were put in. Where in this case my father chose a women instead of his kids. All three were asked to move out as soon as they were 18 years old.

    I am now is a similar situation and will do everything I can to not repeate the cycle. I have been divorced for 5 years and have been with my boyfriend for almost four years. I have always been really clear with him that we would not marry nor live together until my son either married, went of to college, etc.. Regardless, my needy son does not like my boyfriend. They have exchanged words and can't be around each other. My son lives half-time with me and his father. I will not marry this man until my son is settled (or any other man). My son comes first. I will always provide a place where he can come home to. No man will ever come between us because there are many men but I have one son who God has blessed me with. To all the mothers out there, our children need us, our time will come, until then stay strong. God Bless!

  • Heather

    "I don't have a problem with this, but my boyfriend does. He doesn't like my kids and he doesn't trust my kids."

    Your biggest mistake is that you're still with your boyfriend. If your boyfriend doesn't like your kids, he doesn't like you. Men will come and go but your kids should always come first.

    If your son is manipulative, this is an issue you and he need to work out. And it sounds like he's been through a lot in his short life. But don't tell your son he can't spend the night with his mom, especially if it's because of your boyfriend.

    My life changed completely when I had my first son. All the drama with his father was disgusting. His father finally got the hint that I wasn't putting up with him and his BS anymore and ran away to another state, calling every couple of weeks to ask for money and now not even calling on my son's birthday because I refused to send him money. I am currently pregnant with my second son and, as the child of divorce (and totally feeling like both my parents chose their significant others over my sisters and I- my Mom moved a new guy in- who she'd been telling us was her "gay friend" from work within 6 months of my Dad leaving and both of my parents were remarried within a year) I can tell you I don't care who walks up and offers me the world, my kids are my world and I would never even put myself in the situation where my sons would feel I was choosing someone else over them. Yes, I'm lonely. Yes, I wish I had someone but there is nothing better than waking up to my little boy crawling into bed with me and asking me to help him make some toast.

    No matter what decision you make, you are going to have to sacrifice something. I can deal with a grown man moving on but I can't deal with my children moving on without me in their lives.

    Good luck.

  • Anonymous-3

    It's an impossible situation.

    I come from a family that represents the Waltons. Parents are still together, everyone is very loving, supportive. I married young, had a son several years later when we had already sort of grown apart and unfortunately the marriage fell completely apart soon after his birth. I have full custody of my son. A few years later I met a man that seemed a dream come true. He sure seemed ok with my son in the beginning (he put on quite a show). He's wealthy, I eventually moved in with him, quit my job, and had a nother son with him. Unfortunately soon after becoming pregnant, his true feelings for my first son started to show. To say he hates my son is an understatement. I have moved out of his house on several occasions because he was so mean to my son, that it is abusive (never anything physical, all emotional, lots of name calling, put downs, bullying...). He always brings on the sweet talk to bring me back to his house and because of the baby, I always fall for it. But sure enough, in time, my first son pays. We are again living apart and he at this point wants to marry me to "prove" he's changed and can be trusted (Yet will openly admit that my first son just doesn't exist for him). I couldn't begin to tell you what I have been thru and the struggles I feel. I love my boyfriend & I want to be together with him for the sake of our baby... but I absolutely cannot tolerate my first son being treated like this. And of course, after giving up my job, financial circumstances make it even more difficult for me to just walk away.

    So sadly I have no solutions for any of you... But man, I CAN RELATE!!!! (

  • Sabah

    I can totally relate to all the Mothers going through the Rejection s' of their babies, I totally agree with the Advise to be crative and set some boundries because as humanbeings we do have needs as to full fill our moother hood, on the same page have needs to full fill our lives with romatic love and intimate life.

    There is nothing worng to make the two wonderful people and relation son/daughter, Husband to understand how important they are to you so therefore there are boundries they both have to share your time your devotion your love in a respectuful manners by goiving you the right to drive your own relationships with them.I admire the women who would have the courage and creativity to get them both aside if you can not them plz keep your chin High and take all the pride in Motherhood, coz its natural and you know i know Blood is always thicker.

    I am happy I am not alone here dealing with a 50 years old vs My 16 teen years old to the point that I feel he is making me to choose one of them, why he can n't chosee to live with boundries set by me.... He will..... trying to negotiate with him..... lets see where he can give .....?
    I cheerish all of the women who are going through all this after seeing divorce hardship and rasing children to save theire intimate life with they one they adore...

    Its Toughhhhhh !!!! Remember,
    Courage is to keep going when you can't see the Map!

  • MsT

    I think its important to take into consideration the age of the child. When a parent has a minor child (i.e. less than 18-21 years of age), they have an obligation for the welfare of the child. Every single parent needs to be especially cautious about starting a new relationship when either party has minor children, because stats now show that these relationships have a high risk of failure due to just the conflicts that have been stated. However, once the child reaches 18 or 21, they are then adults themselves. At that point, both the parent and child are adults and should treat each other as such. If a child is still dealing with issues from childhood, the parent can advise. Any further than that only keeps the adult child from ever being able to fully become an adult. If the parent starts putting their own life and relationships on hold at that point, their child will ultimately suffer, and the parent is merely being selfish by not allowing them to grow up completely. As long as the adult child knows they can pull the parents strings and always lean on them financially and physically, they will never fully grow up. That just doesn't work out well if you want to have a serious relationship, because the boy/girlfriend or spouse will struggle when the parent makes decisions that are not agreed upon by both in the relationship. So, if you want to keep allowing your adult child to run the roost, best to think twice about ever having a relationship. Some people have the patience for a partner who lets these older "children" run their partner's lives and put these children first for years (or the rest of their lives!), but most won't. Additionally, the outcome of never setting adult boundaries with the adult child can have disastorous consequences as time goes on. If parents want to really help their children grow up, guide them to be become healthy adults by age 21 and stop keeping them reliant on you for the rest of their lives. It goes against popular thinking, but it's the best and most unselfish thing you can do for your children, and grandchildren, in the long run. It will be great for your relationship with a new partner, too. Something to think about!

  • Julia

    It seems there is a lot of anger and hurt out there towards the changing of family ties. As a mother who separated from her son's father after 11 years of trying to make our relationship work - for the sake of our son - and receiving nothing but guilt trips, emotional and mental abuse, and a narrow minded view of life, I made the final decision to leave. This was a very difficult time for our son who wanted us back together, not because it would make him happy but because it was all he knew and was comfortable with. I had to ask him if he preferred to see me live with a man who would keep me sad or live a life where I could be happy. After some time, he agreed that he would rather see me live a happy life.

    I spent 4 years living on my own. I was lonely, hurt, afraid, with low self-esteem. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was not going to put myself back into the same relationship situation I found myself in. That took a lot of soul-searching. It was time for me to identify the characteristics I wanted in a relationship and what I didn't want. I made a promise to myself that I would not bring a man to my home unless I was absolutely sure that I wanted to carry on a relationship with him. I set out and met a lot of men. I tested them to determine their worth. What I discovered was that while there was a lot of pretty men (on the outside), there were very few honorable, good-looking men (on the inside). At that point, I gave up believing that there was truly someone out there for me. Then I met the man of my dreams who passed all my requirements.

    During these 4 years of living on my own, I shared joint custody of our son with his father (alternate weeks). It was very difficult raising my son during this time for a variety of reasons: I could not provide him with more than the basics of life (He seemed to understand and so never asked anything from me), he ended up living a yo-yo existence in terms of jumping from his dads to my house each week (stability became an issue that could not be resolved due to differing opinions of how to raise our son, his father would often attempt to impose law and order upon my household and I refused to allow it to be so), battles over our sons ability to walk/take the bus to school, to visit his friends, to go to the local mall on his own (I wanted to give my son a sense of independence, his father was afraid of loosing him and constantly telling me how awful a mother I was).

    A battle of wills ensued between my son and I regarding basic household expectations (doing his homework, help with cleaning up his toys or the house, making his lunch for the next day - all the "chores" a good mother/father instills in their child, right?). It was easy for him to explode his rage on me because I was safe. Was it right? No. But it was a safe outlet for him. The only way to reach him was to explode right back - believe me I have tried every other way and they never seemed to work.

    When I finally met a man who truly loved me as I am, liked my strength of character and became my friend as well as my lover he had yet to meet my son and I wasn't sure how this was going to unfold. The difficulty was helping him and my son develop a relationship and I probably did/didn't do what others believe I should have done - Sacrifice all for my son. But I don't believe that in order to provide a loving environment, you must sacrifice all for the sake of the child. Martyrism is a not necessarily the way to achieve a sense of enlightenment. We have had our difficulties in communication and a lack of understanding on all sides. But I feel that it is important to stand up and work through your challenges no matter how futile it seems. If you truly believe there is a way to bridge the gap, then there is.

    Now, I am getting married to the man I love. I informed my son (no, I didn't ask his permission) of this event and asked for his honest opinion. His reply was, "Well, its about time mom."

    I think the key to happiness in all aspects is to be honest with yourself, your children, your family. Set your boundaries and your goals. Look at your previous relationships for signs of why those relationships didn't work out. Identify what you deserve from another adult, what your children deserve (because, after all, your children will be with you for the rest of your life and they need to be included in the development of your relationships - kinda like you would like to be included somewhat in their friendships). Be up front with the person you want to partner up with: your children come first. If your partner has a problem with that, say so now because later is not an option. Are they willing to explore family counselling options? Are they willing to grow and change with your family as it is? Ask the important questions. Set yourself up for a successful relationship with your loved ones. Forgiveness is crucial in all aspects of a loving relationship (whether parental, maternal, paternal, partnership). Be honest with yourself so that you can be honest with each other.

    Each one of us is responsible for our actions. We mothers/fathers will always be tied to our children as our children are tied to us. We have made a commitment to guide them in the best way we know how in the intricacies of life. Most of the time we will fail because in order to be a role model, you must first realize who you truly are, what your issues are, your moral/ethical fiber, what are your boundaries, what you want for your life and how do you go about getting there. You have a responsibility to seek solutions to your challenges.

    We live in a dysfunctional society. Regardless of our past histories, our past hurts and disappointments...the reality is that its up to us to change our personal circumstances. Instead of blaming others (no matter how righteous it is) we need to concentrate on finding our own personal strengths, success, and achievements. Only through changing ourselves in a positive fashion can we hope to help our loved ones find their way.

  • Anonymous-4

    If your son wants to spend the night, let him. He's been through a lot. How do you think it feels to be rejected by someone you thought cared about you when you're in need of emotional support? If your boyfriend cared about you, he would understand that first and foremost, you are a mother. He's being manipulative and trying to force you away from your son just because he does not like him. When someone enters your family, you learn to like them!


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