Single Mom Trying to Hold 18Yr Old Accountable, Father Does Not

Updated on July 10, 2015
D.C. asks from Suncook, NH
26 answers

My son is 18, just graduated high school after an extra year of study (was expelled for drugs, had to take alternative classes). He is enrolled in trade school for the fall. He doesn't have a summer job, stays out all night, day with friends who drive him around ( he never finished his license). Up until the last year I have been the parent responsible but after 3 years of trying to hold him accountable for school, drug use, job etc I finally had enough and he started living with his father, who is rarely home(lives with girlfriend) and doesn't hold him accountable for anything so it's one big party.
He barely graduated as I hauled him back home for the last two months of school which he was attending sporadically, sleeping in, not completing assignments etc. I was tough on him, but he finished. Now he's out with friends constantly, doesn't come home, doesn't work but somehow has money. I know I can kick him out again but he'll end up at his fathers where he gets to party and not have any responsibilities and I'm afraid he'll blow off trade school.
How do I teach him to be accountable if his father doesn't back up the plan?

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So What Happened?

Thank you to all of you who intended to be helpful, your effort is very much appreciated. It's a shame that some people are assuming that because a child is in this situation he has not been raised correctly or given the time, effort and opportunity that other children have been given.
If you feel the need to beat me for what you feel I haven't done right please ask first if your assumptions are correct, has he had access to counselling, was he raised in a family with good values, work ethic and consequences? Yes, he was,
I have three children, two are doing exceptionally well and don't have the struggles of their brother. I agree that I was not effective, and things have to change, that's why I asked for help.

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answers from Washington DC on

I think that if he doesn't know by now he never will. This is when kids usually go out in to the world and start to do what will make them adults and successful. The first 18 years is meant to teach them how to do what you're hoping to accomplish in 2 months.

And he should respect you regardless of what his father allows him to do - but again, that's a learned behavior.

I'm sorry I don't have better advice, but he's 18 and can legally do what he pleases now. I hope it gets better for you both.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

By stopping the enablement.
You took him back in, and you forced him to finish school, etc... I know you want the best for him and for him to be in a good position. But when you "interfere" with his life choices, you're preventing him from hitting rock bottom.
Let him be and let him ruin his life. He needs to do it in order to realize the consequences of his actions.

5 moms found this helpful

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answers from St. Louis on

My eyes are sore from rolling them at your user name, just an FYI.

I find it odd when divorced parents say well junior would be perfect but for the other parent's flaws. Like in your case, "Up until the last year I have been the parent responsible but after 3 years of trying to hold him accountable for school, drug use, job etc I finally had enough and he started living with his father.." So what exactly did both of you do up until 14? You get that right, you had him, married or whatever for 14 years and you couldn't instill self responsibility by then? But this is all your ex's fault?

Kind of seeing why your user name makes me roll my eyes?

I also find it interesting that when asked how do the responsible parent hold them accountable the response generally is, well I have all these rules, the other parent doesn't. Of course that begs the question how are those rules enforced? Looks like for you it is pointing out the rules over and over and finally kicking him out, how is that working for you?

You failed to teach your child self responsibility by the age of 14, I am of the camp you have till ten to get them to internalize your work ethic, your morality (whatever that looks like), and your idea of what a responsible human looks like because once they gain independence you have no control over them regardless of what you think. Letting him live with you is enabling just as much as living with his dad and if it isn't his dad I am sure he has friends he can crash with. At some point he will hit rock bottom and only then will he learn personal responsibility.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Here's the deal. Condensed.
You can't MAKE anyone else (esp 18+) DO anything.
Change your own behavior.
Learn about enabling.

Oh-O. more thing!
If he has a problem with drugs or alcohol? You're wasting your time dragging him to trade school because NOTHING in his life will change until his addiction/s are addressed.
Which you can't do yourself either.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You can't force him to do anything.
He's got to WANT to give up the drugs and he doesn't want to do that.
If/when his father gets tired of supporting him in his lifestyle, he might live with friends for awhile or end up homeless.
I know you'll never stop worrying about him.
The best you can do is to take him some food or groceries every once in awhile.
Get some counseling about how to deal with an addict relative.
Try to find a Nar-anon group near you.

He might have to hit rock bottom before he'll take rehab seriously but it's also possible he'll die before he ever gets to that point.

I think some of the responses you've received are a bit harsh.
I've known family s with 6 kids where half of them got into a drug life style while the other half did not.
Same house, same parents, same rules.
I've seen this happen in poor family s and in rich family s too.
Doesn't matter if there's a divorce or a single parent household or not either.
You can do everything absolutely right to the best of your ability and sometimes a kid will turn to drugs no matter what you do.
There is no %100 sure fire guarantee in raising kids on how they'll turn out.

I don't know the details in how your son was raised (and I don't want to know) - but a wholesale blaming of the parent (usually the mom) isn't fair, it doesn't help and it's not kind.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You want your ex to support your plan? You don't have a plan. You have a child who is now an adult and who has been in trouble for years. When he was a minor, you never got him the professional help he needed. You spent 3 years "trying to hold him accountable" - what does that even mean? You lectured maybe? You brought him back home for 2 months but you weren't able to do much of anything except nag him, but it didn't make a difference. He finished school, but so what? What's the benefit? What's the point of him going to trade school? Even if he finished, which is doubtful, and even if he got a job, which is doubtful, what makes you think he wouldn't be fired by the 3rd day for not showing up on time?

Your ex is a huge problem, I agree. But you are not effective either. You want to see his finishing school as an accomplishment, but it's not much of one. If you were really tough on him, you'd have enrolled him in a counseling and rehab program, inpatient and involuntary if necessary. Instead, you tried to do it alone, and when it didn't work, you sent him to his father's. Through it all, you paid for his cell phone and whatever else.

"He somehow has money"?? He's dealing drugs, dear. Either that, or he's been stealing your valuables and pawning/selling them. Or both.

So sit him down, as suggested below. Tell him he gets clean and gets into school or he's out, and he has 1 week. Before you do that, put anything of value in a safety deposit box or with a trusted friend who would not let your son in the door. Then take his house keys, cut off anything you are paying for (phone, clothes, food, insurance, everything) and tell him that's the deal. Inform his father, but expect nothing in return.

Get into a support group for codependency and enabling. Your son has to hit rock bottom before he will change, and I fear you need to as well.

I'm sorry - it gives me no pleasure to say this to you. I have a stepdaughter who lived like this, and a friend whose son did the same thing. You have yet to admit that you are powerless to do anything about this boy because you failed to do it when you were his legal guardian. Now it's out of your hands. All you can control and change is yourself.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You cannot control other people. You can only control yourself.

I agree with another poster that said you blew it when you didn't teach your child responsibility and work ethic when he was younger. It's too late now. He has to learn all on his own. How's he supposed to do that when Mommy is always saving him?

Tell him that you love him, but you are not going to watch him destroy his life. Kick him to the curb.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

He should have learned to be accountable years ago. He's already decided that he wants drugs and parties with friends. He doesn't work but has money because he's selling drugs. You can continue to want better for him but he needs to choose to want better for himself. Until then you are just spinning your wheels.

Cut him loose and get help for yourself. You'll always be his mom and you'll always be worried but you are trying to make him into someone you want him to be. He may or may not come around to your vision.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You can have rules and consequences in your house. Do you pay for his phone, gas for the car? Taking them away are consequences that he cares about.

You can have conditions for him to meet to live with you. He doesn't meet them out he goes. Leaving will be a result of his choices.

Tough love is tough to do. He's 18, an adult. I'm sure he tells you. Tell him these are the things adults do.

I suggest you get the support of a counselor. Learn ways to deal with him and how to love yourself so decisions are easier. You have the right to a peaceful life.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You just have to walk away as hard as it is. Right now he does not want any help, he wants to party and do drugs. He will have to hit bottom before things turn around. Even though, he still might not learn. Hopefully he does before it's too late.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

Now that he is 18, he father does not need to "back up your plan." Additionally, it sounds like both father and son have had no real accountability in the past - why would they start now?

You need to decide how YOU want to live. Do you want a grown man living in your house who doesn't follow rules, get a job, go to school, and is using drugs? If the answer is no, kick him out. Sure, he will go to Dad's, and it will probably last for a little while, but I am willing to bet that Dad also doesn't want to live with a grown man who doesn't follow rules, get a job, go to school, and is using drugs (even if Dad is doing all of those things himself).

As far as blowing off trade school, I think you know how that is going to go already. Even if you could "make" him go (which you can't), what is the point if he only wants to party? You can't make him use his schooling to get a job?

Good luck.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Read the book:

You're Kids Are Your Own Damn Fault

Start practicing Tough Love, now, today, forever. He's an adult and behaving like a spoiled child. Remove all his stuff from his room in your home and put it in boxes on the front steps and tell him to take it all away or it's going to the Goodwill the next day. Cut off all financial support, no new clothes, no cell phone, nothing....not even tooth paste and tooth brush. He's and adult and can get a job and support himself. And when he decides to grow up and treat you with respect for keeping a home over his stupid head for 18 years, you would consider helping him with trade school.

Hon, he's sort of gone off the deep end and his behavior speeks volumes of disrespect towards you. Let him go to his dads and party every night. Remind him that this choice is harder on your than him as you had hoped for a mutually respectful relationship with him for life.

Most of what you describe, teens do do, on and off, but not to the chronic extent you since your tools are clearly not working you've got to try the old tried and tested ones.

My bet is that will get worse before it gets better due to your Ex's values. So you need to find a CoDependent support group, plug and learn about healthy relationships.


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I am sorry you are going through this but what did you do to teach him about responsibility, independence, work ethic, morals, etc from the time he was born?

If he was never taught how he is supposed to be, then he has no idea. It sounds as if his dad was never taught how to be a good citizen as well.

Children model the behavior they see through their parents. He is 18, he is free to do what he pleases and should be off your payroll right now. He is making some horrible choices and if he has money with no job then assume he is dealing drugs.

I am sorry but it is too late to teach accountability and responsibility at 18... these attributes should have been ingrained in his brain as he was growing up.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

I agree with the moms below who say that your son should have already learned personal responsibility. But I don't agree that he's screwed now and will never learn, I just think you need to take a different tack.

You've been parenting with an iron fist, controlling the situation so he can be successful, and frustrated when he balks and pushes back. At his age, you need to stop trying to run the show and start advising and treating him like an adult, to include reasonable expectations and allowing him to fail. You need to help him to problem solve and stop treating him like HE is a problem person.

So, sit down and have dinner with him. Tell him how proud you are of what he's accomplished, talk about his goals, and tell him what you're concerned about. Don't lecture. Don't judge. Just let him know that you want to see him successful, understand that he wants to have fun, but you and he both know what a life of unemployment and boozing and sexing and drugs leads to and you know that HE wants a better life than that. Ask him how you can help keep him accountable to HIS goals. And let him know that you love him, but if he's going to use your home as a launching pad for partying and not working toward independence, you're not going to support that.

The bottom line is that, at the end of it all, YOU need to step back and change your role in his life from dictatorial to advisor. And you need to be okay with him not taking your advice, and with him possibly failing. Parenting adult children requires something different. You need to accept that.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I was a single mom with a teenage boy who wanted to be the man of my house. You're doing too much for your son. He ONLY graduated b/c you made him do it. He's learned that he doesn't have to take responsibility b/c you'll do it for him. Its going to be a real struggle now, but be his parent. Give him 2 weeks to find a job, pay you $X in rent (even if you put that money into savings for him) and start paying his own way. I understand your fear that he's going to go to dad's, but at this point how is that worse? He's always out with friends now partying so the scenario won't be much different at dad's. He can only learn responsibility if he's given some

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

Well, I read the other people's advice. I will say that a lot of young adults this age that I knew way back when were really into having fun, going to parties, and not being very responsible. The guys that I knew like this all seemed to mature later...closer to age 30. Have a talk with him (if you have not already) saying he is an adult now and it's time to make plans for his own future. Ask him where he sees himself at age 25. At age 30. Ask him what his dreams are for himself and how he would like to start working towards them. Tell him it is time for him to be an adult and he will need to pay for his own rent, bills, gas, etc. Or tell him once he turns 21 this will be the case...whatever age you think this needs to happen. Most kids I knew that age were in college and their parents were paying for it...paying for their dorm or rent, and paying for their food. Once they finished college...once I finished college...our parents then paid for nothing. I got a job, found a place to rent to share with a friend, and went to work each day. I could not afford a car for a few years so I rode my bike. Maybe you and his dad should talk and decide at what age should he be paying his own way. The fact that he has applied to trade school is great. He is very young and has a lot of maturing to do. It sounds like he's having fun partying with friends this summer before everyone leaves for college or trade school. I remember my mom freaking out about my brother when he was about 23 and how irresponsible he was. I told her that lots of guys take a while to mature and to not worry so much...that he will be fine. Well, he was bad with money, he liked going out and partying, he liked goofing off...but now he is a wonderful dad and has a terrific job with the Forest Service.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

So you had him for 17 yrs, made no progress, cast him off to
his dad, and now the way he turned out is dad's fault???? Ummmm ok... I hate to tell you, the teaching and accountability ships have sailed. He is what he is, all you can do is hope he figures it out before making any real detrimental mistakes. If you have younger children please consider getting yourself into some parenting classes and getting the kids into some mentor type programs.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

If I could give B 1,000 flowers I would. I tried to answer this questions twice this morning and lost my response both times. I thought maybe it was a sign that I shouldn't answer :)

I have seen multiple families where one child out of 2 or 3 who are raised by the same parents, in the same household and generation turn out very differently. Heck, in my immediately family it's true. My sister and I have an extremely strong work ethic. My brother, on the other hand, not so much. We were raised by the same parents and couldn't be more different.

You've already been told there's not much you can do. If you want him to live with you, I would draw up a contract lining out the details including when rent is due and how much. Also recognizing his history with drug use, personally I would make random drug testing part of the equation. Mostly for your protection. More than likely he's not going to be interested because he has a group of friends who are in the same boat. This is a very hard circumstance to overcome. The healthiest thing for you to do is make sure you have an unbiased person who you can lean on when you enforce your tough love should you decide to do it.

My step daughter came to us with a myriad of issues. She had been abused by her mother's multiple boyfriends, she was behind in school, she would sometimes not have anything to eat outside of school and her mother is a psycho. I had no children at the time we gained her custody. I really believed if I loved her enough I could help her. We had extensive counseling both for her individually as well as a family since we were a blended family and I recognized she needed more support. I loved her as my own (lots of people had no idea she was my step daughter) and provided her every opportunity to grow and heal. She is 28 years old and has been arrested multiple times. She doesn't have a legal license and lives with friends until she wears out her welcome. She's in touch with us occasionally. She is living such a sad existence. It literally breaks my heart. I have ordered food for her from Walmart and had it delivered to her friend's house because I don't feel good about giving her money. I can't however, live in a comfortable home with plenty to eat and sleep well at night knowing she's hungry. I would feed a homeless person I don't have any personal connection with, but turn my back on her?

This road is going to be hard and more than likely long. You have to prepare yourself for what you're going to do. For example, my husband and I agreed if our daughter was arrested we would NOT be bailing her out. We hoped if she was arrested maybe that would be her bottom and she would begin to see the seriousness of the decisions she's making. When we received the call, because we had already talked about it, we were able to stand by our choice. It was not easy, but I'm glad we had already discussed it.

Take care of yourself. I am sorry for you because there is probably a lot of heartache heading your way. It is so tragic when someone we love decides to live a train wreck life. You will be there for him to cheer him on when/if he decides to live differently. Until then, take one day at a time.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

I am sorry you feel that we on Mamapedia were not supportive of your requests for help. But, we, in fact, have read many posts similar and many of us have been there, done that, know someone who went through it and they did or did not survive the journey. We can only respond to what is written at the time of the original post.

Since you have other children at home, they are watching you and how you handle things with big brother. Being that, they probably figured out what not to do to stay out of trouble. My daughter said she saw what her brother did and did the opposite. She did not lie or stretch the truth. She did not have a curfew because if she got tired or wasn't happy where she was, she would call home for me to come get her.

Regardless of the outcome, you are as responsible as your husband for how your son turns out. Perhaps you should have included the fact that there were more than one child in the household that were younger. But as another poster stated, this ship has sailed. Now you can only pick up the pieces and hope and pray that he sees the light and wants to turn his life around.

You will always be his parents but he has to want to make the changes. You can lead him to the water but he has to want to take the drink. Til then, you are on the sidelines watching the train wreck in slow motion.

the other S.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

You are getting some harsh responses. It sounds like you have done what you can for your son without the help of his father. I know a family like yours. They are a married hard working church going couple. They have 3 kids but one son was like your son. They did everything by the book as far as spending time with their children, doing things together as a family but he turned out different. Unfortunately this happens. He had to get arrested a few times before he grew up. Now he is having a hard time finding a job because he has a record due to drugs.

I don't know what you can do. With my friend they just continued to love him and let him know they were there for him. I want to say have a heart to heart with his father but I don't think that will help because he probably doesn't see that there is a problem.

At 18 there isn't much you can make him do. If you threaten to kick him out he will have a place to go. Since I can't offer advice I want you to know that I will be thinking and praying for you and your family. From watching what my friend went through I know this is very hard on you. Be sure to take care of yourself too. We can give our children all we have and train them to be what we think they should be but it doesn't mean they will turn out the way we want them to. Good luck!!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I agree with the moms. It's a little late to be teaching accountability - but ...

You can have house rules. Start there. If he wants to stay with you he needs to find a summer job. Who's paying for trade school? Half his pay should go towards next year's school and the other half is for his spending.

I don't know what you do about his father, except to tell him your plan, and ask him to back you up. Have dad agree to not give him any money also. You can pay half of trade school (together, or however you do it).

If he's working to pay half of his school, he will take it much more seriously. Trust me. If you're paying for it all - he sounds like he will just blow it off again.

That's where I would start. See how that goes. If he won't get a job, then tough love. Everyone I know that age works during the summer. Your son shouldn't get a free ride. Start there.

Good luck :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I have to say that you just should not fault anyone here for holding you accountable for your son's failures. You have written precious little here to help any poster know what you've done right. Indeed, all your protestations just sound like so many parents we've heard make excuses for everything. How on earth would we think you are any different?

It's kind of like fixing the barn door after the horses have run away. It's too late to get him to be accountable. At this point, he has to learn how life works.

Don't pay for his cell phone. Don't provide him with a car or insurance, even if he does get his license. Don't let him spend the night. Feed him if he comes over, but that's it. Tell his father that you are done raising him and it's time he learns that he has to be a man. Let your ex decide when he will require his son to move out on his own and have to actually make a living.

If you want your son to be one of those "tough people" your handle is talking about, he needs tough love at this point. Keep the lines of communication open, but don't let him live with you and don't give him money. That's the best way for him to have to grow up. And if he gets in trouble with the authorities for drugs again, you won't be in the middle of it because you aren't supporting him and he isn't living with you. The last thing you need is for his behavior to land YOU in the court system for aiding and abetting...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I guess my thought is that he's a legal adult and he doesn't have to "mind" you anymore. He's like a roommate now. There isn't anything you can do to MAKE him conform to your wishes.

The man has shown what he's made of. Let him go live with dad and welcome him home to dinner every now and then. Dad seems to be allowing him to live how an adult would live.

Not the choices he needs to make but he's an adult and is allowed to do that now.



Kids are a product of their environment BUT sometimes kids can have the most nurturing loving supportive environment and grow up to be serial killers and some can grow up in poverty and in gangs then grow up to be a community leader and make wonderful changes to their community and be amazing adults.

So it's normal to assume it's bad parenting that creates the son you described.

I still say it's time to tell him to go live at dad's and you get to move on with your life. Invite him over to do things he will enjoy doing with you. Then don't be so enmeshed in his life otherwise.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Going to trade school and following through with it builds accountability. There are times to back off and save yourself a lot of grief. You have your own life to deal with.

I think it's valid to allow him to stay at your place for a year or two and see if he follows through with trade school. Don't give him money and don't fuss about him getting a job. Sometimes kids have to do things one step at a time. Let him come and go as he pleases for now. He will mature in time.

Try it for a year, and see if in that time he follows through with school. If he's blowing off school, then you can reevaluate in a year, at which time it might be time to kick him out.
But it's worth trying to help him out for this year and letting him pull his act together. But do not monitor his social life or require him to find a job. Just make his main requirement be school.

At his age, motivation has to come from within. Mom can't beat and carrot him into submission, metaphorically speaking.

Boys start maturing a lot at 20.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Richmond on

the answer is simple..he is an adult now, if he refuses to act like a grown up unless you are right there making him, then its time to wait until he goes to daddys, change the locks and let his daddy deal with him.he will eventually wear out his welcome at his dads place. you arent gonna get him to act like an adult as long he refuses to and his daddy lets him.he will grow up, might take him a couple of car accidents, and possibly an arrest or two, but he will eventually grow the mean time, change your locks, change your passwords on all your accounts and lock up your car and block his number.then wait six months and see if he is ready grow up a little. K. h.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You need to check with a family attorney about this. Each state is different.

The age of majority is presumed to be 18. However, in some states and under some circumstances, the age of majority is actually 21. Meaning that the parents are the guardians (responsible) until age 21.

I think this falls more under the umbrella of child support though. Do you have a child support order? Can it be amended until he is 21?

I know in very, very rare circumstances parents have remained custodians of children until 21, but I don't know all the loop holes.

If it could be done I wonder if it would help motivate his father?

I think you and his father (and girlfriend ) need to be on the same page.
I think the family needs to be involved and on the same page.

I would contact an interventionist/ family therapist. Start seeing person on your own to discuss goals and then invite family members to join so a neutral party is helping everyone stay focused and aligned with goal.

Once the family can work together (primarily parents) I think you will have a better game plan how to help him or cope with lack of progress.

Good luck

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