Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“Is There a Kind Way to Kick Out My Stepson?”

I’ve been married for a year and a half to a wonderful man who has two great teenagers, a boy (“Tom”) and a girl (“Lucy”), now 18 and 16 respectively. I’ve been a part of their lives for the last four years or so. Their parents had split custody up until late last year, but now Lucy lives with us full time (Tom still goes back and forth between parents). Their parents live only a few blocks from each other.

Tom just graduated from high school and will be going to college this fall, about an hour away. He decided he wants to live at home to save money on dorms and rent. We haven’t talked with him yet about which parent he will stay with during college. I’m assuming he won’t be home much other than to sleep, as he will be commuting at least two hours each day, on top of full-time classes and work.

My problem is that we live in a house built in the 1800s and, as such, the floor plan is quirky. Lucy’s room is attached to ours, and the only way into her room is through our room. This wasn’t as much a problem when Lucy was with her mom half the time, but now we rarely get time to ourselves without fear of a teenager walking in on us.

I would usually err on the side of leaving a room open for a kid for a few years while they are in college, however:

1) Tom has two rooms, one at his mom’s and one at our place
2) Lucy hates having to go through our room to get to her bedroom, and I hate never being able to lock the door
3) My work changed to being home-based last year, and I only have a tiny corner of the bedroom, which is not enough space to adequately work.

Is it terrible for us to ask Tom to sleep at his mom’s while in college so that Lucy can move into his room and I can turn her room into a work room? My husband would rather go that route as well, but neither of us want him to feel like we’re kicking him out. Is there some way to ask this tactfully while still making him feel like he can always come home? What would you do in this situation? Suck it up for another year, or ask? — I Need Some Space

Since you are still relatively new to these kids’ lives and because college is such a big transition anyway, I would err on the side of being sensitive to Tom and not making him feel rejected or unwelcome in your home. Telling him (or even asking him) to move to his mother’s house so you can have a home office risks alienating him and screwing up what sounds like, until now, a smooth familial relationship.

That doesn’t mean you are stuck with how things are now — basically sharing bedroom space with Lucy, having little to no privacy, and no room for an office. I suggest a couple of things. First, if you and your husband and his ex-wife can afford it, you could consider paying for a rental apartment for Tom close to his school. Commuting two hours every day on top of going to school full-time sounds kind of awful and, if you could help ease that burden and free some space in your home without making Tom feel rejected, that’s a win-win for everyone.

If contributing to the cost of a rental apartment isn’t feasible, then what about moving Lucy to Tom’s room and turning Lucy’s room into a combination office space for you and guest room for Tom who will only be there, at most, 50% of the time anyway. That at least buys you some privacy (and space to work) and may motivate Tom to spend more time at his mother’s house without you explicitly telling him he isn’t welcome to sleep at your place anymore because you want to be able to lock your bedroom door.

As you said, none of these scenarios will last forever — one year maybe, a few years, max — and then you and your husband will be empty-nesters, with space in your home to do as you please. While not ideal in the interim, I’d suck it up for now and accept that things are going to remain a little tight but at least you retain close relationships with your husband’s kids (unlike, this woman, for example) and they know they’ve got not one, but two homes where they are welcome and loved. That’s pretty priceless, and not worth losing for the sake of a little more space.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

24 comments… add one
  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray June 8, 2015, 8:15 am

    That’s exactly what I was thinking – Lucy should get Tom’s room considering she’ll be in the home full time. It would seem silly to have LW, her husband, Lucy and LW’s work station all sharing the tandem rooms while Tom’s private room is sitting there empty 50% of the time (and likely more than 50% of the time).
    *
    Another option: How about LW and her husband move into Lucy’s room, so she is the one whose privacy is disrupted while LW/Husband walk to/from their room? Between the three of them, I’d think LW/Husband would need more privacy than Lucy.
    *
    No, wait, I got it. LW/Husband, move into Lucy’s room. Lucy moves into Tom’s room. When Tom comes back home, he can sleep in LW/Husband’s old room. That way, Lucy and LW/Husband have privacy 100% of the time, and Tom loses a bit of privacy the 50% of the time (or less) he’s in the home. Voila! It’s a bit of musical rooms but that, frankly, makes the most sense! Also, while Tom is gone, LW could use that room for her home office. It’s not as if he will be there during the daytime, when LW would be working. I’m a genius!!

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      jlyfsh June 8, 2015, 8:21 am

      My first thought too was how do you make the space work. Especially since like Wendy said it will probably only be for a short time!

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        ktfran June 8, 2015, 8:33 am

        One of my close friends in high school had to do this… walk through her parents room to get to her room. They too, had a ridiculously old house. Her room was tiny though and could only fit a single bed. Therefore, unfortunately, AP’s scenario wouldn’t have worked. I’m assuming a similar situation here.

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        zombeyonce June 8, 2015, 10:46 am

        While I have no idea how much it would cost or if the layout would allow it work, it could be really helpful to add a door to Lucy’s room (from a hallway or the outside of the house or wherever the other walls connect).
        .
        This wouldn’t just solve the rooms issue, it could add value to the house if they ever plan to sell, since someone else buying a house with three bedrooms would likely want them each to be private, too.

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        RedRoverRedRover June 8, 2015, 10:57 am

        It’s probably not possible or they would have done it already. My house is like this, and the most plausible doorway to the “fourth” bedroom is blocked by the stairs. We’d have to eat a chunk out of the third bedroom to make a hallway to the fourth, and it’s just not worth it considering the size of the rooms.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom June 8, 2015, 8:24 am

      I like the idea of trading rooms with Lucy. Even if her room is smaller it would be worth it for the privacy. Or they could trade with Tom. Then they aren’t involved in the room that lacks privacy.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray June 8, 2015, 8:27 am

        NOW I GOT IT. (You’ve inspired me, Skyblossom.)
        *
        LW, here’s your solution: You and Husband move into Tom’s room. Lucy stays put. And Tom can sleep in your room, disrupted by Lucy’s comings and goings for the part-time he will be at your house. DONE AND DONE AND DONE!!!! (It took me awhile but I eventually got there.)
        *
        ^ Wait, that is exactly what Skyblossom just said, she just got there faster and with fewer posts. That’s it, I’m getting back to work.

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  • becboo84

    becboo84 June 8, 2015, 8:46 am

    LW, I think Wendy’s option of helping Tom afford a place closer to school is the best option if it’s at all feasible. Classes are only part of the college experience, and if he’s working a lot of hours, and spending two hours each day in the car, he’s going to miss out on a lot. Personally, I think everyone should live in residence halls for at least a year if they can afford it. I only went to school about an hour away from undergrad, and lived in the residence halls every year, mostly because I was an RA (side note: if the costs are prohibitive, being an RA would be a possible option, although typically not until the second year of school. Most RA positions cover room and board, plus some type of very nominal spending allowance).

    Also, I was a little confused by your question of whether or not you can “tactfully ask him to move out while still making him feel like he can always come home?” Isn’t the reason you’re wanting him to relocate so he does not, in fact, always come home?

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      RedRoverRedRover June 8, 2015, 10:59 am

      I totally agree with this. In my first year I lived about a 1/2 hour walk away from campus, and I felt like I missed out on a lot. In my second year I lived across the street from campus, and it was a whole different experience. I don’t think you need to live in residence necessarily (I didn’t), but you need to live where other students live.

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  • avatar

    SasLinna June 8, 2015, 9:15 am

    I agree with everyone suggesting a room switch. Tom is the one who is home the least, so it seems unfair for him to have the room with the most privacy. It is natural to try and attempt to make use of the limited space you have in the most efficient way.
    I totally get that you don’t want to make Tom feel like he’s unwelcome at home, but on the flip side he’s 18 and you should be able to talk to him about how to balance everyone’s needs. When I was 19 I moved away temporarily and it was known I’d move out fairly soon anyway, so I got a smaller room and my mom got a bigger one. This was a non-issue and I completely understood. I feel like at 18 is an age at which you can ask for a bit of sacrifice.
    I 100% think that your husband should handle this though. You need to be on the same page with him. If he resists your ideas, definitely tread carefully.

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  • findingtheearth

    findingtheearth June 8, 2015, 9:44 am

    Does Tom have friends he can split the cost of an apartment with? Once he starts school and meets people, he is going to want to spend time with them more. Also, once he starts having relationships, coming home is going to be awkward.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom June 8, 2015, 9:49 am

    Tom has continued to go back and forth between both parents even though he doesn’t have to so I’m assuming it is important to him to maintain a relationship with each parent that favors neither. If he lives with his mom his carefully maintained balance will be broken and he will probably feel less than welcome. If it is important for him to maintain his equal relationship with both parents I’d let him continue to maintain it. Spending half of his time with you is also the way that he sees his sister which is probably also important to him.
    .
    If he begins to find it difficult to continue going back and forth while commuting for college you could then tell him you would understand if he chose to live at only one house so that he doesn’t have to keep going back and forth and that if he lives at his mom’s house he is always welcome to come over for dinner if he is living at her house.
    .
    What reasons did your stepdaughter have for choosing your home over her mom’s home? If there were strong reasons for choosing your home over her home and they also apply to your stepson I’d be wary about asking him to live with his mom.

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  • avatar

    SpaceySteph June 8, 2015, 10:37 am

    College is not just about learning in class, you also learn outside of class– it’s a measured taste of freedom that helps you turn into an adult. By living an hour away and at home he will miss out on so much of that. You and your husband and his ex-wife should really talk about whether there’s any way you can help him not have to do that rather than keep having him at home.

    Either way, though, he will have school breaks that he will come home during so you can’t kick him out and should maintain some place he can sleep there when he wants to. But I think you can swap his room with his sister’s since she lives there full time. Also, is there any way for you to do some remodeling on the house and put another door into that bedroom? Seems like that would solve a lot of problems in the long run.

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  • avatar

    Cleopatra Jones June 8, 2015, 10:46 am

    I totally second having Tom live at or near college.
    .
    I think everyone who goes to college should have the experience of living on their ‘own’ and being engaged 100% in the school community. He will miss A LOT by commuting 2 hours a day.
    .
    Honestly, how much money will he really save compared to the cost of missing the experiences & connections he could gain from living at or near the college? Is there a way he can find a job on campus or near campus, so that he can quit his current job.

    If he’s adamant about staying home, y’all can try it out for his freshman year to see how it works out. Then, encourage him to move on his own or into the dorms.*
    .
    *I say this as someone who didn’t push her kid to move on campus. I totally regret not doing that because I think she misses out on all kinds of independent adult experiences. That and ‘I’m staying home to save money’ isn’t really about her saving money, it’s really about buying a bunch of stuff that she couldn’t afford if she had to more financial obligations like rent & groceries. 🙂

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      RedRoverRedRover June 8, 2015, 11:01 am

      Excellent point about the money! My sister lived with my aunt to “save money”, and instead she just blew her student loan on crap. I guess in the end she still got the crap out of it, so maybe she thinks that’s a win. But she’s still paying the loans off, so I don’t think it was really worth it.

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        Cleopatra Jones June 8, 2015, 11:22 am

        And I think it’s even worse (or better) for my kid. My job covers 100% of her tuition so she doesn’t have to take out school loans. Since she gets free tuition, her job agreed to cover her books & supplies so she gets the equivalent of a full ride.

        Any money that she makes goes directly to her lavish lifestyle. 🙂 Although, she does take a lot of trips which I encourage because she’s doing stuff that she might not be able to later in life but dang those amazon packages she gets every other day…still feels like wasteful spending to me.

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        RedRoverRedRover June 8, 2015, 11:48 am

        Yeah… the real danger here is that she’ll get used to this lifestyle, and then when she’s done school, she won’t be able to switch right into responsibly handling her own expenses. Right now she’s using 100% of her income for “fun”. She’s not budgeting or saving or anything (I assume). It’s going to be a rude awakening for her when she gets into the real world.

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        Cleopatra Jones June 8, 2015, 12:29 pm

        She saves but nearly as much as she could for someone in her position.

        I once watched this show on why most professional athletes go broke and one of the financial investors said something like, ‘budgeting and saving aren’t sexy so they [athletes] don’t want to do it. Or they think that’s for old people.’

        But honestly, I feel like that applies to a lot of younger people cause I think there’s this mentality of, ‘I have forever to save for my future’ or ‘this isn’t even a real job so I don’t need to save.’ The good thing though, I forced her to start contributing the max to her 401K and an FSA plan for her medical stuff.

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        RedRoverRedRover June 8, 2015, 1:00 pm

        Well that’s good at least. And she’s lucky she won’t have any debt.

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    Texas T June 8, 2015, 11:45 am

    Or.. invest money into having a second door put in the home. That is what I would do. I am sure there is an interior or exterior wall that could make that work. Make it a pretty French door that way when Lucy moves out you can have an office with a nice view and lighting. That would be the easiest way.

    But Tom is also an adult now. Let him know your concerns. Tell him you want him to stay ask if he has any suggestions on how to make this better work… like the Lucy has his room arrangement. He may have an idea he has been pondering that will work for you.

    And four years isnt really new. Not in my opinion. You are the woman of the house, your husband’s number one and the kids have known you for quite a stretch now. and I am assuming from your letter you are patient, understanding and kind to these kids. Still, if anything needs to be conveyed to Tom that is less than welcoming it should come from his father as something you both have discussed and came to a conclusion about; a united front. This is advice that came from a professional family therapist… not something I came up with on my own. 🙂

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    • Moneypenny

      Moneypenny June 8, 2015, 12:17 pm

      I just suggested the new door too! Putting in a new door is probably a handy idea to do in the long run, anyway!

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny June 8, 2015, 12:16 pm

    I am inclined to try and switch bedrooms in order to try and get more privacy as others have suggested. OR, what if you did a little bit of construction and made a new door into Lucy’s room? It wouldn’t be all that difficult (although I say this as someone in the construction industry!).
    .
    Also, I may be biased here, but I think if him living at home during school can be worked out, I think it’s a good idea to stick with. I’m biased because I did the same thing! Although, my commute was a 1/2 hour each way, not 1 hour. In hindsight I am SO glad I did it. My mom and dad helped with my tuition (which was at a private school so it was pretty pricey, about $20k a year), and paid for my car expenses and small things here and there, but anything else was my responsibility. If I had asked for them to pay for an apartment, they would have laughed in my face. I learned very quickly how to budget and be responsible for my own stuff, even though they did have my back for the big stuff. I still managed to make friends, participate in school activities, and completed my 5 year program on time. And to this day, I am glad I did it- I’m almost done paying off my loans. If I’d taken out more money for living expenses, I’d still be deep in debt at this point in my life. I can safely say that in the long run, for me, it was worth doing.
    Just my 2 cents!

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  • avatar

    dinoceros June 8, 2015, 5:49 pm

    I like Wendy’s advice. As mentioned above, commuting could be somewhat detrimental to his college experience. Two hours a day is going to make finding time to study difficult, and he’s going to miss out on a lot of friendships and connections on campus, which are actually shown to be a big predictor of whether a student persists in college.

    I also think telling him he has to live at a certain home could be a problem because of the message it sends. You mention him having two rooms as though it’s a huge luxury, but for most kids, it’s not. It’s something you have to put up with because your parents got divorced. When I was in college and splitting my time, I basically just felt like I lived in two guest rooms.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark June 8, 2015, 7:08 pm

    Honestly? All the room switching ideas just sound like bad bait and switch attempts to kick him out that will be PAINFULLY obvious to the stepson. Wendy’s moving out and on his own sounds like the best bet. And honestly — since the LW and her husband shall be the one’s who ultimately reap the benefits from such a shift (Yay! Privacy and an office of her own!) they should be the ones to (GASP!!) pay for it. As it certainly won’t benefit the mother any. Hey, the only thing she seemingly stands to gain here is seeing her son a whole lot less… Yeah, good luck convincing her to cough up some dough for that.

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