Dear Dr. Laura,
I need professional advice because I have no idea how to approach this issue.
Let me start with a little bit of family background. My wife and I have been together for almost 12 years. Our youngest child is 9 and he is our biological son. Our middle son is 16 and he was almost 5 when I met my wife. Although I love him very much and think of him as I do my biological son, over the years we have had what seem to be typical parent/step parent and parent/step child issues. Of course my wife feels that I treat him differently, and my wife and I have had difficulties with that from time to time, so I try to be very conscious to treat the boys the same and show no preferential treatment to either of them.
Our 16 year old is a good kid. He's very responsible, he's a tremendously hard worker and people often comment on how mature he acts for a 16 year old. He's a handsome kid and my wife is extremely proud of him, as she should be. She definitely favors him and treats him noticeably different than she treats myself and our 9 year old. Several of our friends have noticed that and innocently and separately commented about that to me multiple times over the last couple years. My wife feels that I am jealous of the relationship between her and our 16 year old because I have mentioned that she treats him favorably, so she becomes extremely defensive at the mention of his name. It is very hard for us to have a constructive discussion about him because no matter how carefully or positively I speak, she takes anything I say as a criticism of him. The conversation almost always will quickly degrade into an argument and her shutting it down or shifting blame to me in any number of ways. They do have a very close relationship, which is a definitely a good thing. They deserve to have a good mother/son relationship and I'm truly glad that they do.
Here's little more background specifically about my wife.
My wife is a knock out. She's 34 years old, and although she's a breast cancer survivor you would never know it. She is a tall, busty woman with a fantastic figure. Depending on how she does her hair and and makeup people often say that she looks like Pam Anderson or Claudia Schiffer.
So here's where it gets really complicated.
While my wife and our 16 year old were gone this evening I was attempting to help our 9 year old to get his PSP to connect to the internet, which we could not do. Our 16 year old uses his PSP on the internet all the time so I grabbed his and powered it up so I could see if I could figure out what was wrong with the first one. Immediately upon powering it up a lengthy story appeared on the screen. As I started reading it I quickly realized that it was an erotic story with an incestuous story line. I immediately went to the browsing history and was dumbstruck to find other erotic incestuous stories that he has been reading. Also at the top of his browsing history is a half dozen searches of the keyword 'mom' on the pornographic website 'eunich.com'. He has surfed 'milf' (mom I'd like to f**k) websites extensively as well.
Because of my wife's medical history, doctors had recommended that my wife have some limited exposure to the sun or tanning beds for the naturally occurring vitamin d in the UV rays, so I bought her a tanning bed, which has been inoperable and stored in several pieces. Three days ago we were surprised when our 16 year old took it upon himself to put the tanning bed together for his mom. The PSP's browsing history also shows that he has recently browsed pornographic web pages featuring the keyword 'tanned bodies'.
I'm no genius, but this all seems to be much, much more than coincidence to me.
I don't even know how to approach this with my wife because I can already hear her accusing me of attempting to get my jollies on his PSP pornography because this isn't the first time he's been caught with pornographic magazines, websites, and web searches on his laptop and his PSP. I assure you that was not the case. I was mortified by what I found. My wife had enabled parental controls on his laptop, but apparently not on his PSP and I definitely was not expecting to find what I found.
After that accusation fails she'll fall back on the 'You just want to get him in trouble' defense as a way to skirt the real issue at hand. After that will follow the 'I have way too much stress to deal with without having to deal with this, too' defense. I've been with her for 12 years. I know her. She'll be in total denial and try very hard to avoid dealing with it - even if it means starting a heated argument with me. We've been there and done that time after time.
What makes the issue especially difficult to address with is that my wife can be something of an outwardly sexy woman. She has a nice chest and she frequently wears tops that show anywhere from a little to quite a bit of cleavage. She's a very beautiful woman and she's very aware of that fact. On a surprise whim just last week she ordered a portable strippers pole that can be put up and taken down in the living room, and although it hasn't been installed, our 16 year old helped her take it out of the package. Don't get me wrong, I know it sounds funny but I assure you that we don't act or speak to each other in any kind of overly sexual or inappropriate manner around the kids, and we work hard to set a good example for them. Despite that, I can't help but wonder if our 16 year old has taken a bit too much notice of his mom's feminine charms. I assure you that she is not ever sexually suggestive with him, and she is not overly physically affectionate with him, either. I truly believe that she does not feel that she portrays a sexual image to him. She simply sees him as her son and would not ever believe that he could have sexual desires for her.
I strongly feel that I do not want to shame or embarrass him in any way. I just want to know if this is something that he should speak with a therapist about, or is this more normal than I realize and something that will pass with time. I don't want to make a bigger deal of this than it needs to be, but I am pretty uncomfortable with what I have discovered.
As you can see, it's an extremely complicated matter and I have no idea how to approach it. I need professional advice and I look forward to your response. Please feel free to call me if you would like to discuss the situation or need further information. It's a delicate matter that could create quite a rift in my family if it's not handled properly, so I really need proper advice before I can approach it with my wife or our 16 year old. Thank you very much for your consideration and your time.
Completely Unsure of How to Proceed in Oregon
I understand your shock. Boys are not supposed to lust after their mothers.
Nonetheless, they do. A mother is always a boy's first love. At the age of three, most boys will tell you they expect to marry their mothers and make babies with them. By five, their love for their father, combined with their intellectual development, have convinced them to seek elsewhere for romance, and their obsession with mom begins to feel dangerous, something to repress.
As boys grow into independence, their attachment to their mothers puts them in touch with the vulnerability of a small child and becomes even more scary, something that can't be admitted even to themselves. In normal adjustment, teenage boys -- who are famous for their libido -- focus on girls their own age. The incest taboo slams down, and mom becomes a middle-aged woman who could not possibly be thought about in a sexual way. This is one of the reasons most teens are disgusted at the thought of their parents having sex, and why it becomes so important for a young man to defend his mom's purity from slurs that she might be sexual, like knights of old defending their queen.
Sometimes, though, things go awry. Dad isn't in the picture when the boy is three or four, and he never gives up his desire for his mom, even if a step-dad appears later. Or the boy and Mom are alone because Dad is out of the picture and they develop a special, exclusive, relationship that persists even if she remarries, and makes him feel like she is actually his, new husband or no. Or Mom doesn't observe the usual healthy boundaries of a mother/son relationship and invites greater emotional intimacy, even if not physical intimacy.
Or Mom is seductive with him, flirting or displaying her sexuality in front of her son in overt ways. Most moms know not to walk around naked in front of their sons once they reach age three or so. But nowadays with women being given the message that to be attractive means to be "hot" many mothers cultivate a sexy image past the age when their sons are old enough to notice. There are limits to how much of a woman's body she can appropriately expose around her teenage son, regardless of fashion trends or how much of a "knockout" she is. In my view, showing “quite a bit of cleavage” is something one does on a date with one’s husband, not around one’s teenage son.
I admire your wife's open approach to sexuality, but I have to say that if I ordered a stripper's pole, I would not share that information with my son. (And I happen to have a 17 year old.) He would be mortified at the idea of his mother using such a thing, and I would consider it to be rubbing his face in something private that would be inappropriate to share with him. The idea that your wife let your son help her unpack her stripper's pole is a red flag. It doesn't matter that nothing overtly sexual transpires. This fact alone signals poor boundaries and indicates that your wife is encouraging your son's sexual interest in her, even if not consciously.
So I agree with you that your son's sexual obsession with his mom is unusual and not what we would hope for in healthy development. But I do not think "he needs help," at least not yet. More importantly, I think you and your wife need help.
Why? Because you and she can't even talk about your 16 year old without fighting. Because she shows him preferential treatment over you (which is another red flag about lack of boundaries.) Because your wife apparently needs so badly to feel attractive and sexy that she is unconsciously violating basic boundaries with her son, which solicits his sexual interest. Couples therapy, during which you raise these issues about your 16 year old and learn how to talk together about them, will transform both your relationship with your wife, and her relationship with your son.
My advice to you is that you find a good couples therapist and insist that your wife accompany you so that you can talk about issues that are important to you without fighting, including your concerns about your 16 year old. Your wife is likely to be resistant. I think you have a responsibility to both your 16 year old and your younger son (who is also affected by all this, although not at this point noticeably), as well as to your marriage, that you insist.
Does your son also need help? So far, you are not reporting issues in his life, only in his online life. Many teens experiment with porn, which can be addictive, and since sexual feelings tend to attach themselves to our most persistent fantasies (that's the power of sexual fetishes), can limit healthy sexual development. I would certainly keep my eyes open for problems (Does he spend a lot of time online looking at porn? Is he dis-interested in girls his age? Is he acting seductive toward his mother?), but it may be that if your wife changes how she relates to him, he will move on to new sexual interests. I would particularly be aware that he might fall in love with an "older" woman, but that might be exactly what he needs to resolve this issue, and that’s his business as long as he’s happy and safe.
I'm very glad you wrote. I wish you all blessings.