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16yo Stepson Disengaged

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16yo Stepson Disengaged

Hi, my partner and I have been together since March 2018 and have a 2.5 yo boy, we’ve had a whirlwind relationship but we really love each other and want a happy nurturing home for our little boy, however...
My partner has 4 children from a previous relationship, all aged between 22-16 he has lived apart from his kids for about 10 years and in a different state for about 6, and has no contact with their mum.
At some point or another the eldest 2 boys have lived with us as adults but it hasn't gone well, they have lacked motivation and have not had much time for our family life or me in particular, and just wanted to stay at home locked away playing video games 24/7, rather than get tertiary education or employment or help around the house, despite much assistance and encouragement. Both boys have ended up choosing to leave our home when challenged to take responsibility for their lives.
After living as a nuclear family - myself, partner and toddler for almost 2 years my partners 16 yo has asked to live with us to "get to know his dad" he came from another state in February and is seemingly very happy, doing well in school, has a girlfriend and is really enjoying life after living quite a sheltered life with his mum. We aren't strict, and only ask him to help around the house a little, we really just want him to feel happy and comfortable and be his best self.
The issue we have is that while he was quite open and enthusiastic about spending time with his dad and little brother at first and said he was happy to do any chores and help out he has regressed into his own space, and rarely makes any attempt to spend time with us or get to know his dad, myself or our son. It has taken a lot just to get him to say good morning or hello. He almost never responds to our son talking to him and really seems to disinterested in anything we are doing when he does come into the common space of the house (usually only to eat). He never wants to come out on adventures with us, or even with just his dad. We have tried to find common interests such as sport, film genres, hobbies etc but any conversation or activity around this is met with a minimal response or shut down. Interactions with him are becoming increasingly stressful, his dad and I tiptoe around many issues with him, and I don't feel comfortable being in the same space as him as he acts like we are not there and doesn't join in conversation or games despite our best efforts.
I am worried that the dynamics of our home are having a negative effects on our toddler, he is very aware of his brother being in his room all the time and he has gone from being happy and excited when he sees his big brother to not really being bothered by him at all anymore, as he is met with a grunt or blank stare, I don't want my son to think this is normal behaviour, or to feel as though he is not loved or accepted by his big brother.
His dad and I have tried to talk to him about if he is happy here, and how we can work together as a family to make the atmosphere around the home more pleasant, if I discuss it with him alone he gets quite nasty and aggressive, but at least responds, with his dad he cries and doesn’t say much, when it's both of us he just shuts down and doesn't react. He has said that he doesn't "want" to live with us and is only here because he "can" be, and that he doesn't want to talk to his little brother - this is so alarming to me and I am not sure I can live with this. My partner is also unhappy that his son feels this way, but always wants to see the best side of his kids and says his son didn't mean it.
My partner and I argue quite a bit about the situation, I have less tolerance for the bad attitude as it is often directed at me when his dads not home, and I want to see things improve but my partner just never wants to upset his kids, no matter how out of line they are, however, he is starting to understand my point of view a little better after experiencing his sons worst side himself, so I feel we are more united and committed to a positive outcome these days, but it has been a rough road.
A month ago we told him that if he doesn't start showing a bit more respect to our family and make some effort to get to know us and be a part of our home life then he will need to go back to live with his mum (he enjoys living with his mum and other half siblings, so we don't see this as a threat, but he may not adjust back there so well after having so much freedom and positive lifestyle here).
A month later he says he wants to stay here but the situation has not changed, he says he is happy and thinks there is nothing wrong with the way we interact, so he isn’t willing to put any effort in. I am afraid it will get to the end of the school year and we will be having to talk to him about leaving. I feel we have just one more chance to try and form some relationship with him, I know it can't be forced and he needs to want to be part of our family, but current status is just not a viable option.
I know my partner will be devastated if we can’t make it work. I don't know how our relationship will go after another of his kids chooses to leave our home rather than be a part of it, but I know it won’t last under the strain of our current living situation, it’s causing me so much anxiety and depression, and I know it causes my partner such a heavy heart to have his son so near but also so far away.
Any suggestions on how we can handle this situation.
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Re: 16yo Stepson Disengaged

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Hey @HumanBeing ,


Firstly, I want to thank you for sharing so clearly what is going on for you. It sounds like a really complex situation at the moment, and I can hear your frustration around not wanting the dynamic to remain the way it is. The strain you are experiencing is completely normal, and it can definitely be so mentally taxing to juggle to expectations of your relationship, expectations of your partner's kids, and your roles and responsibilities as a parent. 

It's okay to have to assert boundaries at some point. Like you've identified, sometimes, a situation is unsustainable. It sounds like you've been trying to make compromises where possible, but are also identifying that you don't want your child growing up and learning from what's going on.

There was a really helpful response written by Linda here around someone else having issues with their step-son, and although not all of it would be helpful for your situation, Linda writes some incredibly good reflections that I think you might find useful.

Please let us know how you're going. Hope you're holding up well.