They Turned Mom Into The Family Sheriff

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 184 · Duration: 00:21:09

They Turned Mom Into The Family Sheriff

What do you do when your husband agrees with your teenage son, that there’s no difference between Mom having a martini and him smoking a joint?Click To Tweet

We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast:  They Turned Mom Into The Family Sheriff. 

Today we’re hearing from Maggie from Massachusetts and Maggie writes:

I have 2 sons left at home, a 19 freshman at college and 17 Jr. in high school.  My oldest is in the Army now. I have said for quite sometime to my husband that he makes it impossible for me to parent our kids.  He "wants them to be happy", basically to be their friend.  Our children have really never suffered consequences.  I am the rule maker, the one who disciplines or tries to. The only one who takes care of school, monitors grades etc.   My tolerance on smoking pot is ZERO.  All 3 of my boys have or do still currently smoke. I have just come across a message between my younger 2 boys regarding a conversation my youngest had with my husband.... He was talking about me and how I can have a martini and he said, “Why can't we smoke but she can drink.  It’s no different from smoking a joint”, and my husband agreed.  When I asked my husband if he actually said this, he lied and said no.  I asked him again, and he said there’s no difference in me having a drink and them smoking weed!!!!!  I cannot believe he had this conversation with my son, completely undermining me. Like I said I am a big joke in my house. And when I confront my husband, he will argue and say..."of course, its all my fault".  He cannot take anything I say without thinking the worst.  Yet he will be all buddy-buddy and I’m the hated parent and he's perfectly ok with that.  I honestly don't know what to do from here. What do I do?  How can he not see that what he does and doesn’t do has had a tremendous effect on my relationship with our boys.  He is a good time dad...and me...the hard liner.  What means most to me in the world has slipped through my fingers. The relationship I have with my kids is strained. 

Now to Maggie’s question:

Yes Maggie, your relationship with your sons is strained.  There’s a lot here so let’s get this sorted out and see if we can get you a healthy path forward.  

For starters, yes of course teenagers smoking anything and especially smoking cannabis is unhealthy and dangerous, yet many youth will experiment with weed and we can’t avoid that.  If they smoke regularly and often, it runs the risk of seriously impacting their development; their neurological, lung, academic, social and emotional development.  As we’ve spoken about in previous podcasts,

The cannabis of today is extremely potent and can throw teens into a psychotic-like state where they will have to be admitted to the hospital.Click To TweetKids who adjust to it and get to a level of cannabis abuse run the risk of becoming addicted and that’s because adolescents move to addiction much faster than adults given the flexibility and responsiveness of their brain development.  That being said, there are probably more hospital admissions of teenagers with alcohol toxicity than any other substance.  So the comparison of you drinking alcohol and them smoking weed is ridiculous since teenagers should not be using alcohol or weed while adults using either in moderation is reasonable.  Teenagers buying alcohol or cannabis is illegal.  It’s not okay for your teenager to join you in a martini either.

So that’s the easy part to respond to here.  The more complicated part is the dynamic in your family.  Let’s see if we can untangle that ball of string.

Maggie, you say you’re the hated parent and he’s okay with that.  So your frame of reference is that your husband is the cause of you being hated by your sons because he undermines your limits and standards with them. And from your point of view, he wants to be buddy-buddy with the kids.  

I’m not sure it’s true that they hate you, and I’ll explain that later.

Your husband doesn’t support you, and because of that undermines you and so, what your kids have is an angry mother and a buddy-buddy father, and neither one is good for kids and neither one is what kids want and need.  

You don’t mention how your sons are doing; one is in the army, hopefully doing well there, one is in college and I hope that’s going well for him and one is a high school senior and you don’t mention if he is doing well and by that I mean, is he keeping up with school, does he have interests and involvement with sports or other healthy activities, and does he have plans for next year.  Of course the pandemic may be blunting all of that, but given the challenging circumstances, is he doing okay?

By your description of the extreme polarization between you and their Dad and the kids looking to Dad to endorse their unhealthy behavior, there would predictably be compromises to their performance.  

Maggie, it does sound like in spite of all this, that you have kept the kids on somewhat of a healthy course.  Even with the compromises that the stressful triangulation in your family brings, the kids are doing reasonably well.  

Here’s a way to think about things so that we can think about how to change things.  The patterns of interaction in your family are stable and predictable; unhealthy yes, and stable and predictable.  Your two sons smoke weed, you get upset with them and their father who passively supports their unhealthy behavior, infuriating you and you get upset with him and he feels sorry for himself and avoids you.  Maggie, being upset about how things are, being upset with your husband and being upset with your sons doesn’t change anything, in fact it is part of the problem, it stabilizes the patterns in your family.  How? It gives your sons and their father the opportunity to see you as emotional and therefore not rational and that supports their discounting of what you are communicating.

Let’s think about the impact of this dynamic on the kids, actually, young adult kids.  They have Mom the sheriff who’s the voice of “the law” and Dad the passive buddy-buddy who says, well some laws are unreasonable so if you can get away with not following them, no problem.  That’s pretty confusing isn’t it?  A congruent message about expectations and standards allows kids to learn the benefit of them and eventually make them their own, even if they modify them, they’ll see the intent was to support their growth and development, the rules were in their best interests.

A mixed message is confusing and puts kids into a bind; should I do what Mom says, and avoid her anger and avoid getting in trouble, or do I do what I want to do and maybe get caught and face Mom’s anger but Dad knows it’s no big deal.  That’s a Control Battle, doing or not a behavior because I’ll get in trouble if caught is very different from doing the right behavior because

I’m honoring the expectations and standards my parents have established to support me with. I may not like them all, but I get that my parents have my best interests in mind and in my heart of hearts, I know they are good for me.Click To Tweet 

So Maggie, being upset and getting upset and angry about the situation doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t help anything.  In fact it keeps things the way they are. In fact that’s true about many things, getting upset about the state of things doesn’t change anything. 

Maggie, you need a path forward.  Now before I offer one, I’d like to empathize with you a bit.  How frustrating to have your husband, your sons’ father, approve their marijuana smoking and how infuriating to have him secretly aligning with the boys against you? That’s horrible and not a good statement about his character or leadership.  You’ve been together a long time, over 20 years I guess so rather than being upset about his deficits, you need to step up your leadership here.  

Here’s what you can do.

First of all calm down.  Even though your husband undermines you, you have influence in your family and I’m confident that they all know that you’re there for them, want them to succeed, and they love you.  Yes, the relationship is strained, but it is fully repairable.  And in repairing the relationship with your sons, you’ll also be healing some of the hurt and trauma you experienced as a child and teenager.  I don’t of course know what exactly that is, but your frustration, your sense of disempowerment, your hurt in all this indicates long term hurt pointing back to your developmental years.  So let’s make this a healing time.

Let your confidence and the fact that you love your sons and your husband be your guides going forward.Click To Tweet If it will help, take a short retreat for yourself; a meditation or yoga retreat and get within yourself so that what you share is from love and confidence, not from a battle or a fight.

Next, ask your husband to do a little research on the effects of marijuana on youth.  It’s easy to do, just google THC and youth.  You can go to the CDC website and they have great information and Johnnysambassadors.org has a ton of resources as well.  There is no shortage of information on the profound negative impact of THC on youth development.

Critical to this is engaging him with a conciliatory tone such as;


“Dear, I know we’ve been at odds about raising our kids and my anger and being upset with you has been hard for you to deal with.  I would like to be more positive and adult in our communication and would like to address issues together in a healthier way.  I’d like us both to read a couple of short articles on the subject of
THC impacts on youth development to see if we can get on the same page together.  Would you be willing to join me in this?” Don’t expect your husband to have a personality change, but with your positive adult approach, he will be less inclined to undermine you.  Next go to your sons either together or one at a time and have a similar discussion.  Start with the conciliatory message and tone. “Son I know I get upset with you when you aren’t managing your responsibilities and I get really upset about pot smoking.  I want you to know that I’m truly sorry about that.  It must seem as though I don’t approve of you and am against you.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Nothing is more important to me and precious to me than you and your welfare.  That’s why I get so upset when you do things that compromise your welfare.  That’s not an excuse for my anger.  I just want you to know that it comes from love and caring and I’m going to try to do better.  I have strong feelings about you smoking weed because of the negative impact that it has on youth development.  I realize I can’t control you or be responsible for your behavior. I would like at the very least for you to read an article or two on the effects of cannabis on adolescent development and then for us to discuss it together.  Will you be willing to do that?”

Do you get the idea here Maggie?  Once things become highly entrenched, with a long standing Control Battle in place, it’s hard to get out of it.  It’s hard not to think, “I’m right, they’re wrong and if there is any changing to do, they’re the ones that need to do it.”

It seems we’re all good at knowing what others need to change and we’re less good at seeing our opportunities for change that can positively influence the relationship and lower the conflict. 

Maggie, remember what you said in your question:  “What means most to me in the world has slipped through my fingers. The relationship I have with my kids is strained.” If you can focus on that, put your efforts into connecting with your sons in a positive way and when there are behavioral issues to address, address them without the anger and the demands, you’ll get much better results.  I’m sure you’ll find that your young adults will be far more respectful and responsive to your leadership.  

So parents, therapists and folks who work with families, a situation like this can invite a lot of different responses.  For instance, help Mom get effective consequences, couples counseling, arrange a substance abuse counseling program for the youth and while none of these are bad ideas, they won’t create change.  Why, because the essential family dynamic is not changed.  If Maggie will follow this script, that will indeed flip the dynamic. It will end the narrative of Mom being out of touch and therefore ignored, and her relationship with her sons, and her sons’ behaviors will only improve.  

Thanks for tuning in today listener, I really enjoyed talking with you and special thanks to you Maggie for your question. 

Right now we’re getting vaccinated and we’re feeling optimistic, like we can get our lives back in the near future. Let’s hang in there a while longer, cross the finish line we’re close so this would be a silly time to give up. Let’s mask up, socially distance and reduce all the risks we can.

There is a lot of burnout in families, and the longer it goes the worse it gets, but like I say there is an end in sight so in the meantime, please, please, take care of yourselves. 

You need it, you deserve it, and you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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One Comment

  1. May this mother take your advice and approach the situation with a new calm and by challenging the kids and “man child” to research the negative effects of cannabis. Would be especially good if it gains her any kind of respect from the kids because they need a parent. Sadly, contempt of her and her authority is being taught to the sons by the dad.
    And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I predict that dad will scoff at mom to the boys in his typical back-channel way. Your advice to her is very good as she needs to regain a sense of self worth. Her contribution to raising them won’t be for nothing when and if the 17 year old completes college or goes in the military. Then she can declare victory and divorce man-child.

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