Brainy Parenting

What do you do when your 18 year-old son and his girlfriend are noisy having sex, it’s bothering your daughter, you’ve talked with them about it, and it’s still a problem?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, I Can’t Make Everyone Happy.

Today we’re hearing from René. René is from Canada, I’m not sure what province and René writes:

Hi Neil,  

Our son just turned 18 and he has a new girlfriend who is 17. She stays over quite a lot and we know they’re having sex. We don’t have any issues with THAT except that his girlfriend is pretty loud; loud enough to wake me up on a Saturday morning. Loud enough that my 15 year-old daughter is complaining that she can hear them all the time and it’s grossing her out. I talked to my son a few times, texted him, “Hey keep it down we can hear you”, but it didn’t make a difference so I had a fairly light talk with the two of them to stress that the walls are thin and we didn’t want to know what was going on in the bedroom. I stressed that this was important. Anyway, I think she’s trying to be quiet but it’s not quiet enough. I told my daughter we need to be a little understanding but she’s like, this can’t keep happening. My husband is pretty chill. My best friend is like, “I’d kick her ass out.” I really don’t know what to do. We are home all the time because of COVID-19 and she’s here a lot. I don’t want to make ultimatums but how do I handle this? Thank you. I knew teenagers would be tough years but I had no idea what I was in for. God help me. This is only one of many issues.

René of Canada

Now to René’s question:


René, your last sentence is the telling one; this is only one of many issues.  I beg to differ, there is really only one issue, and that issue is you want to make everyone happy.  

Is it really okay with you that your son’s NEW girlfriend spends the night with him?  That’s mighty flexible and permissive of you in the first place, but quite understandably, you don’t like that his girlfriend is noisy during sex and you’ve talked with your son and with both of them and it is still not acceptable and it’s grossing your daughter out and making her uncomfortable and you’re advising her to be understanding.  So René, you’re not making your daughter happy.  You’re not making yourself happy, your husband is indifferent and that’s a problem, and I don’t think you’re doing this girl or your son any favors by letting this go on.  

First of all, your daughter is uncomfortable with it, end of story. This is her home, not your son’s new girlfriend.  You need to give your daughter the clear message that her needs matter and they matter to you. She is your priority.

If your son had a longstanding girlfriend René, and she had a relationship with not only your son, but the family as well, and she had proven herself to be a grateful, positive addition to the family and had a positive connection with your daughter.Click To Tweet Then it would be reasonable to accept her spending the night.  Any self-respecting 17 year old would certainly not want anyone to hear them having sex; particularly as in this case, a girl being overheard by her boyfriend’s family.  Her and your son’s behavior is unacceptable and you need to put a stop to it and you don’t have to “kick her ass out.”  Simply tell your son that he can’t have her spend the night any longer, it hasn’t worked out.  No discussion.  No “we’ll be quieter.”  Simply, “No”.  When your son breaks up with her, and two weeks later he has another new girlfriend, will it be okay for her to spend the night with him in your home?  Of course not. This is the family home and anyone who sleeps there is your guest and needs to have an attitude that reflects appreciation for your hospitality.Click To Tweet   They have to be someone that you know and are comfortable with.  New girlfriends, who don’t respect their own sexual privacy or your hospitality, don’t qualify.   

René, of course you say there are other issues.  If your model of parenting is making everyone happy, then you’re going to miss a lot of parental functions.  You’re not doing the job of leading with your standards; having standards of behavior that essentially include managing responsibilities, being respectful and cooperative in the home, and having accountability to those standards.  No parent is going to be popular with their kids all the time. 

You can’t and shouldn’t prioritize making them happy over having and enforcing healthy values.Click To Tweet   

So my weighing in on the noisy girlfriend issue might be helpful, but the more important way I want to help is to strongly encourage you to shift out of make everyone happy mode.  To do that, you need to understand where it came from.  My guess is you grew up in a family situation where you became the accommodator; the one who smoothed things for everyone by being supportive and flexible and that became your go to conflict management strategy.  It was really a survival strategy where it seemed to you as a child and teenager, that being the accommodator was critical to the family’s survival and it most likely represented for you, what was good and loveable about you.  You were loved for putting your own needs aside and making sure other people’s needs got met.  

So René, how can therapy help you?  As I said, you need to learn that you’re lovable for who you are and you need to appreciate that you will be loved and respected when you set and enforce limits that are consistent with healthy values.  You can even set limits around your needs.  That’s right your needs matter and you don’t need to be awakened from your well-deserved sleep on a Saturday morning so your son can have sex with his girlfriend.  You need to learn this not just in your awareness, but in your behavior as well.  Your daughter is being taught the same message of unworthiness that you so painfully received.  She needs to know that she matters and that her needs matter to you.  Your husband is not fulfilling his parental role here either and I’m guessing he’s not going to jump up and down about participating in a therapeutic process, but maybe he will. So René you might start by seeing a therapist on your own but don’t let it turn into long-term individual therapy.  What’s going on in your family involves everyone and can be an awakening of your need to address critical issues, issues that undermine your happiness and effectiveness, and other family members’ happiness.  Clearly, your daughter could benefit by being involved and the two of you could talk about the message of putting one’s needs aside and where that comes from and what to do about it.  I’m not sure how your son will react when you set limits with him, but it could be that he’ll get upset because you’re changing the family dynamic, the family culture.  Now he has to deal with limits and other people’s needs.  He may look to his father for support and that will be something that you have to be prepared to stand up to.  Not by fighting or arguing, simply with the clarity that this is not negotiable.  What you will be doing here René is creating a real change and there is always resistance to change in family dynamics.  I’m not sure where the resistance will come from, but it will be there.  Therapy needs to support you in moving forward with confidence and clarity.  Therapy can involve some or all of you, but regardless of who is involved, the goal is for you to move out of the make everyone happy model into a stronger leadership model and that will affect everyone and for the better. As I said earlier René, if you see a therapist on your own for starters, don’t let it be “individual therapy”.  Let it be family therapy with one piece of the family, you.  Then when you are supported and strong enough, you can bring other members of the family into the process.

So parents and folks who work with families and parents; it’s one thing to help a family solve a problem.  It’s better when we help them develop skills for solving problems.  It’s better yet when we help people understand the drivers of the behaviors that undermine healthy skills and offer them a way to heal those limiting drivers.  But we have to remember that parents are pieces of a family and if we are going to be of value to them, our work with them needs to positively impact the whole family.  Seeing one person in a family is not necessarily individual therapy. Family therapy is a way of thinking about things more than who’s in the room.

Thanks for tuning in today listeners, and special thanks to you René for sharing your situation with us. This year of online learning has taken a major toll on teachers, parents, and kids. Depression, anxiety and burnout are way up for so many people around the globe.   

All the more reason that you need to take care of yourself.  You need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it! Bye for now.

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This post first appeared on Neil D. Brown.