My Ex Overindulges Our Son by Jean Illsley Clarke

From: Mom who needs help.

My ex-husband is extremely overindulgent, especially with our 16-year-old son, for whom he has no expectations, consequences, gives permission for everything.  It seems as if our son has control over that household.  At my house I have rules and consequences and household responsibilities for him. However, my ex continually interferes with my consequences, learning that he can circumvent them. I see my son's self-centeredness moving toward conduct problems, including lying, manipulating people, and lack of remorse for the things he has done.  He is seeing a private counselor but she has no clue as to these behavior changes.  She has only seen him a few times, and he has become very good at manipulating people's impressions. I tried to talk with her about my concerns, but I felt she was dismissive. What can I do? I have ordered a book on overindulgence, but with an ex-husband and therapist nowhere on the same page, what kind of impact can I have?

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Dear Mom,

First, let me assure you that you are not alone. Unfortunately, I hear concerns like yours all too often. Here are my ideas. You, of course, will have to decide what suggestions might work in your situation.

It seems to be very difficult to change ex-spouses. If this seems serious enough, you may have to go back to court about it. Or, you may have to accept this as a part of your child's learning experience. It will be just that, as I gather that your son also spends time with you. His brain will record your words and he will retain somewhere in himself the skills that you teach him, even if he resists them now.  When he is older and sees how positively the world responds to your input, I expect he will not only use it, but will value you highly as well.

First, do you think it would help to list the behavior and attitude changes you notice and mail the list to the therapist? Be clear about the changes and give specific and concrete examples.

Second, have you talked with your son's school counselor? Sometimes they are very helpful.

Third, if your ex-husband has the welfare of your son at heart, he may not understand the effects of overindulgence on adult life. According to the research my co-authors and I have done, the impact of overindulgence is very serious.  Please read about that in the book How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence by Clarke, Dawson, and Bredehoft. If your ex likes research, he might pay attention to that information as it is not authors’ opinions but comes directly from the mouths of people who were overindulged as children.  If your ex-husband clings tenaciously to his opinions, or if he is using your son as part of a game to get you, giving him information will probably not help.  If that is the case, I recommend that you get your own therapist or trained parenting coach to help you through this.


I am glad that you are taking your son's behavior changes so seriously.  I recommend our book How Much is Too Much? for understanding overindulgence.  Also, for handling your son, I strongly recommend Parenting Teens with Love & Logic, by Foster Cline, and & Jim Fay.

I hope you find these two books helpful. They are not shaming or filled with negative labels. You must continue to observe accurately and believe in yourself. Tell your son you are deeply concerned about his behavior now and about his future. And do get some help for yourself. This is too hard and too important to do alone.

My very best wishes,

Jean Illsley Clarke

Thanks for your permission to place your story on this web site.  (All stories on this web site were told to us as true and all are placed here with permission.)

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo.

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2022;