Sometimes you are a spectator on the fringes of your loved one’s life


Editor’s note: My regular readers know that I very rarely discuss feelings or my life on this blog. There are good reasons for that: a) I don’t believe feelings are useful to any one (yeah, I’m strange like that); and b) I’m not arrogant enough to think that my life can be of interest to anyone: let’s face it, even I get bored by it sometimes. Tonight, I just can’t stop myself. If you visited expecting the usual ‘can do’ post, you can stop reading now. Because tonight is about feelings and fear, and despair; tonight is about feeling helpless as a new born babe.

I’m sitting here and my heart is racing, my mouth is dry and my head feels like 200 wild horsemen are galloping through it.

No, I don’t have an exotic illness that kills you in 24 hours. What I have unfolds slowly.

It all started twenty two years ago when I met a boy of six. He had very blond hair, a cheeky smile and my lap was like designed for him to snuggle in.

His eyes were large and the colour of the Aegean Sea; the shadows under his eyes were several shades darker. His eyes were troubled.

No six years old boy should have such shadows. My heart went to him.

He became my step-son. He is one of my sons.

I can’t say that our relationship was always easy. There were tantrums (on both sides), there were arguments and there was rudeness.

When John and I first moved in together (my step sons have always lived with us) this son used to tell me to ‘go back where I came from’. I knew it was simply that me being in the house meant his mum and dad are not going to get back together and his family will never be complete again.

Did I try to be his mother? Never!

It was so much more fun to be the ‘naughty’ grown up friend; the one you can tell anything to and who will ‘understand’.

Probably I should have tried to be a bit more like a mother to him when he was little; my position was that the boys have a mother and we have only one mother in our lives.

Thinking back, my younger step-son probably didn’t need me as a friend; he had friends as well. What is done is done!

We had several great years; my younger step-son was a delight of light and comedy. He could always make me laugh after a hard day at the office, he will always be there with a warm hug when I was back from one of my trips.


One day, shortly after he was thirteen, my son went to bed a wonderful, chatty and funny boy.

The next morning, he woke up a grunting, hormonal horror.

It all went rather badly from there.

When my son was fourteen and I was pregnant with our youngest, I went to the nearby park with a friend and her little girl. While the kid was playing a sat down on a bench: I had just had IVF and the pain, the tiredness and the suspense were hard to take.

You know I always read things, right?

So, I was sitting on this bench reading the graffiti. One said: ‘We are ‘here, smoking dope!’ and was signed by none other than my fourteen years old, hormonal step-son and his friends.

I am not sure what upset me more: that he was smoking dope at fourteen or that he was silly enough to write a confession on a park bench and sign it.

A year or so later, I started noticing that my spending has increased. At the time, I didn’t know how much I earn and I certainly didn’t know how much cash I have in my wallet.

I did notice that my cash goes down fast, though. ‘Well, I though, I am being a bit more wasteful than usual.’

Until one day…

…I knew that I had about £60 in my wallet; enough for the weekly shop. Went to the shops, opened my wallet and there was nothing there: empty bar several small coins.

When you realise that someone you nurture, someone who in your dreams you see and a wonderful man, has been stealing from your wallet – and stealing a lot – it is like someone switched off the light of your life.

Guilt, pity and fury make a bitter cocktail of disappointment. You know what was even worse?

This continued for two years because John didn’t talk to him. I had to hide my handbag, in my house from my step-son. When I mentioned that someone needs to talk to him, that this young man needs help…well, I met what most step parents face some time or other: the question ‘why do you hate him so much’.

I couldn’t explain that this has nothing to do with ‘like’, ‘dislike’, ‘love’ or ‘hate’. We have a troubled young man who needs help.

My step son grew up and, I thought, matured.

I always stood by him:

  • He needed to talk to someone, I did my best to listen.
  • He had problems with girls, I was a shoulder to cry on.
  • He did well at work, I was proud.
  • He said he wants to go to university, I exhaled.
  • He needed money, I (we) provided it.

The only thing I never had enough for him is love. It is not because I didn’t (don’t) love him: I love him as much as the other two even if as high Asperger’s scorer I have hard time expressing it.

It is that it doesn’t matter how much love you show him, it is never enough.

Let’s talk about today.

He’s back after university and as many young people (men) has been unemployed for close to three years.

His older brother went through something similar: he took courses and tried hard. I am not sure what my younger step son is doing; he certainly is not taking courses, he hasn’t tried anything for a very long time (to the best of my knowledge) and he keeps messing up his social security payments.

I have tried to help.

I’ve tried to give him the opportunity to earn some money by working for me: he never got the idea that he has to do good work for him money. I stopped – my ‘hustles’ are too important and paying him to do all myself is not going to help anyone.

Before Christmas 2013, I insisted we give the two step sons slightly over £3,000 to clear their over-drafts. In fact most of this was for the younger step son – the older one is working but they share a house so he ends up paying for most of what they need.

What a waste this was! Instead of exhaling and deciding that it is time to build, my step son went downhill.

At the moment he has no income, no work, no life! He has depression, anxiety and phobias.

Is he doing anything to become better? No sign of that.

What is worse, is that it doesn’t seem to me he sees the situation as something he could change. This is it and this is how it’s going to be! He is not trying to get better.

Where do we go from here?

As a high Asperger’s scorer I passionately want him to get better but can’t feel empathy.

I am just sitting here, feeling terrified!

Terrified because I have to watch someone I love waste his talent, life and love away. Terrified because I can feel a coming crisis. Terrified because…well, who know what may happen.

I just know that when one reaches the level of angst and despair I see on my step-son’s face something has to change. And I pray and hope that the change is for the better.

How do you help someone like that? Or do you let them go a learn to cope with their life?

photo credit: [ henning ] via photopin cc

10 thoughts on “Sometimes you are a spectator on the fringes of your loved one’s life”

  1. WOW! It takes a lot of effort and professional help to turn around an adult. The important element is that he realizes he needs help, if not you cannot help.

  2. I couldn’t not reply to this …

    I don’t know what the totally right answer is sadly, but I have learned through personal experience that a person won’t change till they want to, we can try and help till we are exhausted and done in ( like never having enough love ) till there is nothing left to try and still it might not be enough.

    Sometimes we just have to say ” I love you, I want the best for you, and in order to help you achieve that I think I need to step back”

    And whilst you do score quite high in the aspergers scorecard ( hey me too 🙂 ) I think you shouldn’t allow that to be a stick to beat yourself with … You’ve done the best with what you have

    Take care and it will come right … Eventually

    1. @Lisa: Thanks. I suppose that this is what I’ll need to do; to say ‘I love you and this is why I’m stepping back’. Still, my imagination is running ahead of me and I’m thinking ‘what is the plan? how far I can watch him fall? when is the time to step back in?’

  3. I have known young people with similar problems who have not been through a family break up – and some who are well balance despite a divorce.

    Try not to blame yourself. You have done the best you can and he will have to realise he needs help before anyone can make a worthwhile intervention.

    In the meantime, remember that the other people in your life are fine. Just keep the lines of communication open.

    I’m sorry I can’t offer any better advice.

  4. Situations like this are certainly challenging. Sometimes the best you can do is to send love and encouragement. You can’t really do nearly as much as you would like. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to learn to find peace with whatever path your son’s choose. The more you can find a way to maintain your own peace, the better a resource you will be for them, as well as all others in your life.

    1. @TheWalletDoctor: I suppose you are right.If I loose my cool completely I’ll be no good for anyone (including the other members of the family). What I’ll need to find the wisdom and patience for is to be just there.

  5. Maria,

    Thank you for writing this post. My heart was in my mouth when I read it because I have gone through something very similar. The situation is somewhat different but the feelings were identical – and I am very in touch with my feelings.

    It is very, very hard being a step parent. Even with full support of your spouse, which it appears you also have, you never have the power or influence as the bio parent (nor should you). People often say to me – well you should have known what you signed up for. But when you are newly in love and before you have children of your own, you really don’t.

    People offer advice like “love them like you own”. While I know that comes from a well-intentioned place, I actually think it is very harmful advice. No one tells these kids to love you like their parent – that is a ridiculous and unrealistic thing to say.

    It sounds like you have done the best you could and offered lots of olive branches. You can only do so much. One thing I do know is that when they know what they want, they will tell you or do it on their own. We cannot do it for them.

    Take it easy on yourself. And cut yourself some slack. I admire your courage it writing this. That is a great step to acknowledging that you cannot do or know it all. Please take care of yourself!

    1. @Alli: Thanks. I’m still worried but try to believe that he’ll find it in himself to pullthrough this one. As to ‘love then as your own’ I found something very interesting. I love my step-sons (and they love me in their own way). But the difference between them and the one that is biologically mine is not love; it is ‘genetic confidence’. With my step sons I worry more; with my son I just look at him and think: yeah, I’ve done this; in fact, I’ve done worse so he’ll be fine. Strange this one!

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