Son Thinks Other Parents are “Terrific” But I’m the Bad Guy While I Help Him Battle His Addiction

My biggest parenting heartache is that my oldest son thinks everyone else’s parents are terrific and has nothing but disdain for me. Not his dad — just me. He speaks about his girlfriend’s parents with respect and admiration, has no problems with their rules and boundaries. He loves his buddies parents — they’re THE BEST. Me? Always crabby, always in a bad mood, makes a big deal out of everything, needs to chill — his words. Before you say this is how all teenage boys are, keep reading, there’s more to the story.

young man blue sweater
My son thinks all other parents are fantastic….but they don’t know about his addiction problems. (Twenty20@JulieK)

We were once a regular family, doing all the regular family things

Backstory: My oldest is 20, his brother 18. I was a stay-at-home mom for seven years, until the younger one went to kindergarten and the big guy went to second grade. We lived in a high rise in a large city when they were young and so we did all kinds of enriching city things. We couldn’t afford to travel, but we went to the zoo, museums, the beach, kids theater, good restaurants, library story times, swim classes, parks–all the cool, interesting things that a city affords kids.

When the kids got older, we moved to a nearby suburb. I am a teacher and for elementary school, both boys attended the school where I taught so we had the same days off and all breaks and summer together. We did all the regular “parent” stuff: signed the reading logs, dinners at the table, no TV on school nights, screen-free Sundays, reasonable bedtimes, helped with homework, healthy snacks–you get the idea.

We were no better than anyone else, but we were a regular family doing all the regular family things. Most of this was driven by me. Their dad worked long hours and was often not around. The boys and I got along just fine. They flourished academically and socially.

My oldest did extremely well in school and joined the swim team in high school where he was a fish. Sophomore year it all came to a screeching halt when he found marijuana at a swim team party. He  has ADHD and I compare him to that dog from the movie UP: ​SQUIRREL! ​He has a very short attention span and is a risk taker, thrill seeker, very impulsive, and very immature. He is also so charming he could sell heaters to people in hell. It’s a bad combo.

When my son was 16, he overdosed.

My son LOVED pot. Pot led to pills and alcohol which led to cocaine and in his junior year when he was 16, he overdosed. He was in the hospital for a week followed by 8 weeks of inpatient rehab which cost us $13,000. He still drinks because my son believes it was just a blip, he isn’t really an addict.

But I digress–his bad choices with substances at age 16 changed the course of his life–he had made state times in swimming but the state meet was during his stint in rehab. He had to drop two AP classes because it’s wasn’t possible to keep up with those in rehab either. He managed to finish high school-barely.

So my once sweet, funny, intelligent boy who used to love museums and theater is now two years out of high school. The first year he went to Costa Rica for several months on a volunteer program and then came home and worked full time. Last year he was at community college full time and also continued to work. He has applied to a large local public school. We are waiting to hear if he gets in.

I am not certain he will be mature enough to make it there. He has been told that if his grades fall below a B average we will not continue paying the tuition. I don’t know if he believes us. Right now all he cares about are video games, partying, and working out. He always with some grandiose plan that never happens. He has a girlfriend who also has a drinking problem.

I am always the bad guy trying to keep my son from destroying himself.

Every time we go out he asks if he can order a drink and I say no — EVERY TIME. We don’t keep any alcohol in the house because of him, but he goes to friends’ houses and their dads play beer pong with the kids or sit down and play poker with the underage kids and hand them all shots and beer. In the summer a bunch of them will be in someone’s backyard around a fire pit and a dad will make margaritas. Of course those are the cool parents. They likely don’t know that my son was in rehab or that we are still paying for it, and — not their job to parent my kid.

My issue is not with those parents but with my own kid who is so immature and in search of immediate gratification that all he sees is the instant fun thing. He sees a counselor, I have no idea what they talk about because he is over 18 and I cannot be involved.

I am the bitch who makes him clean his bathroom, the nag who exhausts herself with repeated demands that he NOT leave dirty dishes in his room, the harpy who insists that he keeps his curfew as long as he is living in my house.

It is very hard to insist that your kid act his age when at every turn he doesn’t — a result of the lost time spent high and in rehab perhaps, maybe the ADHD, who knows — and so you are the killjoy, the obstacle, the bitch, the fun spoiler. It’s like a knife to my heart when he comes home and goes on and on about how wonderful so and so’s mom is, that she baked them all cookies and made them coffee with Bailey’s.

Or so and so’s dad grilled steaks and had some cool IPA for all the guys. You see, the other parents give him exactly what he craves: alcohol and head pats. They think he is charming and funny (he is).  The girlfriend’s parents LOVE him and talk about them getting married (they are so young) because he treats her like a queen. It’s very hard to compete, when my job is to make sure he grows up and stays clean.

I cannot be the mom who serves her underage kid who was in rehab and his friends alcohol to buy his goodwill-I just cannot, so I realize this means he will go elsewhere. He may never grow up enough to understand the stability I tried to give him and the good habits I tried to instill. It’s hard to lose all this time with him when I know my days with him are numbered as it is.

I wish he would make better choices because this is excruciating to watch. At what point does leveling up on your video game stop being so important? When will he realize that I have his back and he could suck up a few things like putting the damn dishes in the dishwasher without me asking. I am not looking for some big show of gratitude but man this kid has put us through the ringer and a little tiny bit of maturity would go a long way. I am tired of hearing how great everyone else’s parents are.

This is how my son is doing today.

My son got accepted to college. One day after we dropped him off he was arrested for dealing pot. He was in town 36 hours before being arrested and he spent his second night at college in jail, instead of in the dorm room we all had fun decorating the day before. He was kicked out of the dorm and is on academic probation, meeting with the Dean of Discipline weekly. He has had three court dates, the last one to dismiss his case since he paid his fine, did the online class and completed his 20 hours of community service.

We sent him back to outpatient rehab, which helped the university let him stay. He finished his first semester with three Bs and two Cs. While it’s not quite the solid start I would have hoped, it beats getting kicked out. He continues to make questionable choices that make me want to tear my hair out.

He joined a fraternity, which does not seem like the best place for a kid who struggles to stay away from substances. He didn’t bother to get a job for the month of winter break and is irritated that I won’t give him money. He is still with a girl who drinks and does drugs.

I am at a loss. What will make him grow up and start making decent choices?  Everyone else’s parents are still terrific-why wouldn’t they be-they don’t have to say no to him, they don’t insist he clean up after himself. They don’t insist he let them know where he is from day to day.

The dads drink with my son and his friends and the moms send him home with homemade cookies. What’s not to love?? They aren’t paying for the second round of rehab-all they see is an affable, friendly guy who is always up for a good time. Every time he walks out my door to have fun at someone else’s house, it kills me inside a little bit.

In the meantime I have started 2020 by limiting the amount of money that he gets from me. He will be 21 soon and I am patiently waiting for him to mature.


My son graduated from college in 2022 and turned 24 in 2023. Since graduation, he has worked a few shifts a week at a restaurant and has been studying for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) which he plans to take. He talks about attending a top law school despite having a low GPA. His dad and I split after 25 years together when he walked out to be with his girlfriend of two years. I stayed in the city we had lived in as a family for a year after the split and then moved away, for a fresh start.

For the first year, I barely saw the boys even though we all were in the same city. Now we are doing a bit better. The oldest remains drug free. He and his long term girlfriend recently broke up. I don’t know the details that led to the break up.  He lives with his dad back in our hometown and works a few shifts a week at a restaurant. I have no issues with him or any other young person needing time to figure themselves out, I just wish he was working full time while he did his thinking.

His dad suffers from PTSD due to military experiences and I would rather my son not be living with that. I don’t think a 24 year old who has had challenges with substance abuse and depression himself needs to be managing his adult father and his mental health issues.

So. Am I a martyr? Do I lack empathy? Should I have let my son sit in jail? He was released on his own recognizance after one night, so that wasn’t really an option.  I love him no matter what but I wish he would make less destructive choices. I wish he wasn’t living with a mentally ill adult.

At age 24 there is little I can do about those things except have loving conversations about what he might do next. I have invited him to come stay with me for a bit, but he is not interested. He hasn’t even come to visit and I have been here over a year. It’s painful and I miss him.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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