Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Step-Son: The Teenage years

Nolan came to live with us when he was 14. Prior to that he lived on the other side of the country with his free-spirited mother. By the time he was 13 he had moved 14 times. While he was in no-way abused as a court would define it he did have a destructive combination of spoiling and neglect the effects of which were very apparent. Not only was I the custodial step-mom of a teenager but my husband traveled a I was the primary care giver as well.

I realize there are much worse step-parenting stories out there. We weren't dealing with a kid who was violent, drug addicted, yelling "Shut-up, bitch, you aren't my mother". No, In fact, Nolan is rarely surly or cross like most other teenagers which I greatly appreciate. Mostly he's a very pleasant and engaging person. But he's sneaky and manipulative. You know you are NEVER getting the full story and you have to ask 1 million questions 1 million different ways to find his angle...becasue there is ALWAYS an angle. It's exhausting and really disconcerting and frankly makes me dislike speaking with him becasue I know it's all bullshit. Most of what he says is embellished, pertinent facts are omitted, and there is always such an arrogance and know-it-all-ism.

Here is an example of the type of lie he tells continually and why I was so concerned from early on. For weeks he was planning a big debate at school on the death penalty with the Republicans (his side was anti-death penalty...I gotta say the kid has great politics). The morning of the debate I said, "Oh the debate is today. Good luck Nolan. I can't wait to hear how it goes". And he says, "Thanks". Just making conversation I asked him, "Is it at lunch or after school?" After hemming and hawing for a bit (which clued me into the fact that something was up) he finally admitted the debate got canceled.

Most normal people would have said, "It got canceled" first without my digging deeper. The fact that he would knowingly let someone operate under a misunderstanding...a misunderstanding that he weird. Why does someone do that? Power? Status? Image? There is no reason to lie here so why the lie of omission? I find it to be even more troublesome than a teenager who outright lies to stay out of trouble. At least they have a reason for lying. Nolan does not. He simply lies and manipulates. All the time. To everyone.

To me that kind of behavior reveals an underlying contempt for people. A need to have control over other people by hiding facts from them...even facts of no consequence. In the end I think Noland likes people to the extent that they are useful to him or to the extent they do his bidding. He sees himself as the smartest, most creative, and only person that matters.

Given his mother and his life you might feel sorry for him and I do have a certain amount of empathy for him but his continual choice to lie, manipulate and never accept responsibility makes any empathy quickly fade away. Even more so now that he is 19.

His first semester of high school he got on the honor roll. After that his grades slipped. And by slipped I mean he was continually in danger of failing multiple classes. Furthermore, he insisted on taking all the Advanced Placement courses. He always managed to pull out a c- so he could move onto the next level. Why the AP courses if you can't handle them? Status. Image. He loved to say he's in AP English, AP Physics. It's all about image but not effort or truly earning esteem.

His dad would tell him "No more AP courses" and Nolan would big-fat enroll in them anyhow. Mr. Peeveme went to the school and the counselors insisted that he let Nolan try AP courses again. Both he and I were pissed. We know our son. What in his transcript makes you think he can handle this? Mr. Peeveme caved into the pressure. Mr. Peevme, not being manipulator, was less convincing than Nolan.

In his senior year Nolan upped his antics to include the habitual cutting of classes. As in he never attended class. He would even ditch the course he liked such as choir and photography. At one point the kid had 8 out of 65 points in his econ class. And since he was 18 and could sign himself out of class, we didn't even know he was cutting. Not that we could have stopped him.

Surprisingly, during this time, there was no angry door slamming (on Nolan's part...Mr. Peeveme slammed a lot of doors). There was no disrespectful attitude. When we'd eat dinner every night we'd have lovely conversations about politics, technology, copy-right law. Nolan was positively delightful...especially when he was in trouble....which was really troubling. Again, it's manipulation. What kid gets grounded for the entire Summer and 1 hour later is cheerfully chatting up his father about his views on Net Neutrality? Poor Mr. Peeveme fell for it most of the time. Which made me mad at Mr. Peeveme most of the time. "I think Nolan is really ready to make a change this time. I think he's really serious and gets it", he's say. I would wonder out load and to myself, "When is Mr. Peeveme going to catch onto the fact that this is all manipulation?". It was maddening for me. Not good times I tell ya. Most of the time I was more angry with Mr. Peeveme than with Nolan.

When it looked like he was going to fail high school his mom was all over Mr. Peeveme saying, "You can't let him fail" and Mr. Peeveme was all, "I can't stop him". Besides, Mr. Peeveme and I felt that Nolan SHOULD fail; that he SHOULD understand the idea of consequences.

Nolan always found a way of wiggling out of the situations he got himself into. Either by begging, borrowing or doing just enough to pass. He'd make deals with teachers who, becasue they'd look bad with the administration if the failed a student, would "help" him to pass with extra credit assignments. Everyone bent over backwards for Nolan and he screwed them all by never living up to his side of the negotiated and renegotiated bargain. Teachers, parents, bosses. 2nd Chances, 3rd chances and more. Time and time again this was the pattern. All promises and talk. All manipulation. And it was never really his fault don't cha know.

He did finish high school over the summer at a continuation school to make up for the course he failed. Most of his other grades were D's.

During his Junior year he become enthralled with R.I.T. (Ro.chester Institute of Technology). Many times we told Nolan that we could not afford a private school. California has some of the best public institutions in the world and we could neither afford nor we were willing to pay for a private education when low-coast, high quality education was near-by. Additionally, given his tract record we weren't going to give him one red cent for college until he proved that he could be serious. No matter. The summer after he finished high school he moved out to New York (with the encouragement and the assistance of his mother) and deferred enrollment for a year. Of course, he had a "solid" job lined up which, of course, didn't pan out which, of course, was not HIS fault. Of course.

Within six months he had gotten fired from two jobs (actually he quit before he could be fired), pissed off his roommates who put his possessions on the porch, ran his credit into the ground. Crash and burn in 6 months.

So now he is back but not living with us. He is staying with a friend. But a 19 year old with ruined credit, two jobs in 6 months and probably bad recommendations from his former bosses doesn't bode well even in a good economy.

Mr. Peeveme and I sincerely hope that this is truly humbling for him, that he understands this is his fault, that these were HIS bad decisions. We hope he changes while he is still young enough to change.

I'm not seeing good signs though. Statements like: "My roommates were all crazy" (really all four of them?), "I was smarter than my boss", and "Ro.chester isn't a good place to live if you don't have money" make me think that, again, he feels nothing is actually HIS fault. It's Ro.chester's fault after all. DAMN YOU Ro.CHESTER!

Next: being a step-mother to a difficult teen while infertile.


kate said...

Hmm. "Nolan" sounds exactly (EXACTLY) like me when I was a teenager. I lied out of habit, because telling the truth meant being punished or bearing the disappointment of my parents. My parents ingrained in me a deep and horrible sense of shame. I would have rather lied and been caught then to have told the truth in the first place- lying at least bought me a few extra days of freedom, a few extra days without the weight of feeling ashamed that I'd failed again, that I wasn't good enough again.

When you're a clever kid who clearly isn't mature enough to handle your responsibilities, it's really hard to look at a situation and be honest and say, "Dad/step-mom, I'm smart enough for AP level work, but I can't keep my sh^t together well enough to do the homework which is why I make Cs". If you've been told your whole life that you are smart and special, when the reality of the situation is that you can't hack it, it becomes embarrassing to admit that your intelligence can't fix your problem.

I so don't envy you trying to step-parent a child like that. I have my own opinions about where my own parents went wrong in dealing with me, but mostly I just wanted to convey that my heart goes out to Nolan. Some people take forever to really get the level of maturity necessary to function on their own, and it seems from this post that this may be the case with him. I don't know that I see manipulation so much (then again, I'm not in the room when he says or does these things, so I certainly don't know anything real about the situation...), but I see a lot of serious growing pain in his future, and not a lot that you or Mr. Peeveme could do to help him attain that.

I will say that despite my rocky teenage years, I am a (mostly) honest person now (except on occasion with my mom- the power of her disappointment still looms large over me, which is why she doesn't even know that we're TTC...). It took me a really long time (I mean, a really, really long time- like just about 5 years ago did I really get my crap together and start acting like a real adult), so even though you didn't ask for advice (and even though I really have no right to offer it, nor do I have enough experience with the actual situation to even be in a position to offer it), it would be to constantly assure him that he won't get in trouble for telling the truth, and that he loses you and Mr. Peeveme's support ONLY if he lies. That, and just be patient with him. I realize that this kind of behavior is maddening (I lived it, or something similar, from the other side), but the lying will never stop until he feels like you guys won't judge him or hurt him for telling the truth, that you will still think he is smart and kind and engaging, even if he tells you that he failed a class.

I would also encourage him to see a therapist if he hasn't already. A lot of my behavior also stemmed from occasional bouts of depression that my parents either didn't recognize or didn't care enough to treat.

Sorry. I know that this is so none of my business and that he isn't a teen in your house anymore. I just felt compelled to share that I had been there before myself.

Coco said...

You could be writing my brother's biography up until the part about Nolan graduating. My brother is a senior and is manipulating everyone he can into letting him pass.

Anonymous said...

Gaaa! What a nightmare - for all of you. I have no experience with this (yet!) and my teen years were totally tame by comparison.

areyoukiddingme said...

That's a difficult position...although I think you can safely blame his mother. Using people seems to be her way of life, and it will be hard to break Nolan of the habit. If he is charming enough, he'll coast through on the benevolence of others. I do hope he learns how to deal with life honestly at some point.

Anonymous said...

ugh. neglect and indulgence make for a messy set of narcissitic behaviors. I think Kate is right on in suggesting a therapist.

Pepper said...

Yikes! Makes you wonder if he has some sort of personality disorder or if it's all a result of being raised by his mother. One can only hope that he grows out of it somehow.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. Hats off to you, Peeveme. I don't know how you haven't killed him (or at times, Mr. Peeveme). Therapy's probably not a bad idea for him (if he'll go). If my BIL had moved in, I guarantee I'd be seeing a shrink. He has some of those unsavory overtones (minus the charming part - I could handle him a bit better if I liked him more), and when he asked to move in I said no without hesitation. I've always had reservations about my BIL, and told D YEARS ago that if he ever moved in with us they could both live in the garage. When my BIL was 19 and his dad remarried after a divorce, do you know what he told his new stepmother? That he was glad his dad at least had someone to have sex with now.

And at times, his mouth-brain connection still works exactly like that.

Being a step-parent can be so tough. And then the IF on top of it all? Damn. I can't imagine what that must have been like.

Aagh! You ended on a cliffhanger! Type faster! :)

Chelle said...

This sounds like a constant struggle... I am anxiously awaiting the next chapter...

Teresa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresa said...

I was the deleter of the last comment cuz I spelled like 14 things wrong. Geez. Loving the stories. I want to know what you'd do if your daughter or your baby turned out to be Republicans? Haha probably the same thing I'd do if mine turned out to be Democrats. I'm not looking forward to the teenage years, you are a friggin saint!

tonya said...

What a huge thing to be dealing with, for such a long period of time.

My Dad was *exactly* like Nolan, only for him it lasted his whole life. He was born charming to an alarming degree, and learned lying as way to escape the horrible reality of his life being emotionally and physically abused growing up.

It is SO HARD to be around that, and to know there is very little you an actually do to help him. I feel for you, and hope he somehow learns how to be more honestly in the world before the habit is impossible to change.

BTW, there was one name you might want to go back and change; not sure if it is a real one or not, but it jumped out at me.

Hang in there!

tonya said...

(11th paragraph)

Martha said...

Holy Cow, this sounds so stressful and I'm glad the stepson isn't living with you all. It is a shame, I hope he gets his act together.