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Is It More Than Sibling Rivalry?

by Sheila
(Aitkin MN)

I am a single mom of three teens, the two youngest being 13 and 15 year old boys. I have always raised the children on my own but as they are entering this later teen years, a severe separation has begun on them.

My oldest, my daughter will be seventeen and has more freedoms than the some ways. My oldest boy has taken on the role of being the man of the house in that he feels responsible for keeping the youngest out of trouble, at least, and at times, even tries to monitor me. This causes a huge rift between the boys.

I, myself am an advocate against domestic abuse as a career woman and am increasingly aware of the red flags in a controlling and abusive partner. I am starting to see these flags in my youngest son, the thirteen year old as he struggles with his new teen-age status.

Any time I attempt to discuss what I am seeing or hearing, my son accuses me of bringing my work home with me. He shelters himself against me and his siblings now and I find more and more of a stranger coming through my door than my son.

Last night, the usual argument escalated and the boys came to blows, which I was able to stop..this time. Any advice I could get on how to bring my family back together?

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Sheila, and thanks for telling your story here. I can tell that you really love your children, and that you're a good mom in need of some guidance. I will try to help.

One thing is very clear, and very important. Your oldest son needs to be relieved of his job of being the "man of the house." This role puts him in the position of surrogate parent, which is disruptive to his development as an adolescent. It is completely your responsibility to deal with this, as he cannot and will not deal with it on his own.

I know this is very challenging for you, but I think it is essential for the health of your family. Your younger son is rebelling against his brother's authority, and that could be a big part of his behavior problems--although it sounds like some other things are going on with him as well.

I think you will find the following page to be very helpful, and you will find resources there to help you: How to develop tough love.

The main thing, Sheila, is for you to be the authority in your home. Your authority needs to be clear and firm over your sons. If that is not established, they will feel the opening for more power, and they will take advantage of it in their own ways. When children or teens are given too much power, they will take it, even when it's not good for them.

You can do this. You have what it takes. Believe in yourself, and take one step at a time.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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Aug 15, 2011
Thank you.
by: Sheila

Thank you Dr. DeFoore, for your advice. I really needed to hear you tell me that re-establishing my oldest sons' role was necessary. I knew in my heart that this needed to be done but would allow him to be that surrogate parent because it helped ME when i couldn't be there. I see now how it does more harm than good, not just to his siblings but to himself. He tends to get ostracized from the other kids and labeled as a "tattler" or they won't invite him to be with them because he is a "momma's boy". We have a family meeting scheduled this week and I am re-asserting some rules that pertain to everyone. Summer is over and school is beginning again. There is no better time to get back on track with schedules and curfews. This will hopefully put them all back on the same status as the children and me being the ONLY adult in the house. It's a start, I think.
Again, thank you for your advice and referrals. I will definitely look them up.

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