'My Husband's Grown-Up Son Refuses To Pay Rent Or Move Out'

This week's dilemma comes from a frustrated step-parent.
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Most parents will tell you that having children completely changes the dynamic of the relationship, especially when you’re coming in as a step-parent.

It can be difficult to figure out your place in this position. Are you allowed to discipline your partner’s children? What happens if you don’t get along? It can make or break the relationship. And those challenges do not end when the child grows up. In fact, sometimes having adult step-children is even trickier.

Which is why this week’s reader, Lauren, is writing in.

I married my husband last year and moved into his family home,” Lauren says.

“His son (22) lives full-time with us and works, but he doesn’t contribute any money. I am frustrated that he pays no rent and he has no plans to move out. His dad says that he can’t afford rent (although he spends a lot of money on his cars).

“He says if he takes away his sons’ cars then his son will have no life. I have tried to discuss this and planted seeds about him moving out as I assumed that would be the next step after I moved in and I’m worried that he could still be living with us when he’s 40. We’ve discussed having our own children, but I’d want assurances that son no.1 had moved out.”

Clearly this is making Lauren anxious and upset. So, how should she communicate her frustrations about her step-son to her husband?

Counselling Directory member Amelia White says she hears how worried Lauren is about this situation. “It can be really difficult when you are a step-parent and you have different values and opinions to your husband on how his children should behave and how long they should live at home,” White says.

“Unfortunately, those differences can often be the cause of arguments between couples, both feeling they are right based on their own value system.”

What would you say to this reader?

White notices that Lauren says she’s “planted seeds” about her husband’s son moving out, but what exactly does that mean? “It sounds like you would both benefit from having an honest open discussion with your husband about how you feel and your hopes concerning having children of your own,” she says.

White emphasises that Lauren’s husband may feel caught between both her and his son. “It’s important for you to be able to hear how your husband feels about the situation, so you can work out a plan together going forward,” White says.

How can becoming a step-parent impact a relationship?

“It’s often a challenge to enter an existing family dynamic. For your husband and his son they are familiar with their ways of being, and for you it sounds like you hoped your arrival in the home would shake things up and for now at least, it hasn’t,” Counselling Directory member Billie Dunlevy says.

Dunlevy adds that “having differing opinions on how to raise kids or in this case how to encourage independence in an adult child can cause issues in a relationships.”

“In blended families it can be hard for the step-parent to know how much to be involved, and when to take a step back,” she says. “Resentment can build and miscommunications can arise especially in the beginning where all involved are trying to create a new family dynamic together.”

What are some practical tips you can give this reader?

Dunlevy encourages Lauren to talk to her husband about her concerns. “He talks about him potentially having ‘no life’ without his cars. Perhaps he’s worried about a lack of other connections in his son’s life and doesn’t want to cut him off or make him feel unwelcome,” she notes.

“It sounds like it could also be useful for you share more with your husband about your worries regarding your future as a couple and what it might look like.”

Dunlevy questions if Lauren’s husband is aware of her expectations.“Does he know that having kids of your own in a house where it’s just you two living there is so important to you? Have you talked about a potential timeline for trying for kids?

“Perhaps having a map of what the next few years could look like will help you both to recognise if you are on the same page and where compromises might need to be made on both sides.

“It is also important to build a relationship with your husband’s sons. See where you can get to know them a bit better, one on one, and take an interest in their lives.”

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