Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Trina was in a quandary. Her 24-year-old son Justin was begging her to pay next semester’s college tuition, and she just didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, she was anxious for him to complete his degree and get a full-time job, especially since he still lived rent-free with his mom and dad. On the other hand, Justin never saved much of the money he made at his job and already owed his parents thousands of dollars in loans he had used to pay for a car, college, and so on. He always offered a re-payment plan, but his resolve always dwindled after a few months.
One year earlier, Trina and her husband, worn out from trying to get their son to be responsible, told him they would no longer lend him any money. But this time seemed different: With only one semester to go until graduation, Justin was desperate and even promised to take on another part-time job. As usual, he had put off applying for financial aid until it was too late, and the deadline for registration was the following day. Trina felt torn. Her husband told her he would support whatever she decided.
After talking with a friend and writing in her journal, Trina still had no clarity. She decided to go for a hike, since being out in nature always helped clear her head. As she tied her hiking boots, she said a prayer, turning the decision over to God and asking for a sign about which way to turn. She felt relieved when she arrived at the trailhead, and she set off on a familiar trail. After walking for an hour, she felt more relaxed, but still had no answer, so she decided to take a previously untried route back toward the trail head.
After forty-five minutes of treacherous climbs on overgrown trails, Trina was exhausted and realized she was lost. Stopping to drink some water, she got her bearings and headed off again, hoping to find herself back at her car shortly. Instead, fifteen minutes later she made a startling discovery: a full hour after embarking on this detour, she was back at the exact same place where she had started!
Sitting down on a rock, Trina roared with laughter as it dawned on her that she had, indeed, received her sign. “If I give Justin the money, I’ll wind up in the exact same place I always wind up, and I’ll be more resentful and poorer than ever.” Descending the trail, she thanked God for illuminating her path. Later, she and her husband told Justin that they would not loan him the money, but that they had every confidence in him being able to figure out what to do. Then they took themselves out for a nice Italian dinner.
Turning difficult decisions over to their Higher Power and asking for direction are powerful tools for parents of adult children.
Wendy Boorn, M.C., L.P.C.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
“I’m totally devastated! I just found out my son Jeff’s wife Ella has been having an affair with a co-worker for the last year,” my friend Janet wept through the phone. “It seems like yesterday that we stood at the front of that church and gave our blessing on their marriage. She seemed just perfect. He was my baby so I finally felt free to live my own life – my husband and I even planned our second honeymoon for shortly after they came home from theirs. And then a few years later they had those precious little girls – I thought they would be happy forever.
“And now this – I’m so shocked I haven’t slept for three nights, and I can’t stop crying. I don’t know which has me more upset, Jeff’s news or the fact that he won’t let me help him. He was sobbing over the phone, and I just couldn’t stand it. I jumped right into ‘mother mode’. I told him I’d get on a plane tomorrow, and he told me not to come. I wanted to call Ella and he said ‘absolutely not’. I offered to help him find an apartment or a therapist and he said he could do those things himself. Mothers are supposed to fix things when their kids are hurting. I don’t know what to do – I’m climbing out of my skin. I’ve just got to find a way to make things better,” she wailed. “What would you do?” she asked me.
“Well, in a perfect world, I’d stay calm, ask my son how I can help and then follow his direction. But, since it’s not a perfect world, my guess is that I would probably panic like you did and then throw every suggestion in the book at him hoping something would stick. When they were little and fell down and split their knees open, we could take away their pain by holding them and giving them Band-Aids and kisses. It seems like the hardest part about parenting adult kids is that there is so little we can do to make things better for them when they’re hurting. Even though we’re terrified, we have to let go.
“Since Jeff isn’t asking for your help, maybe you’d like to look for the opportunities here for your own growth. These might include calming down and accepting that he is an adult and can handle this challenge without your help. Another would be to write to him, apologize for panicking and jumping into fix-it mode and tell him that you would be honored to listen if he needs to talk, but that you won’t intrude and will do your best not to offer unsolicited advice. Then call it a day.”
Janet responded, “I know you’re right. Thanks for the reminder - I feel better already.”
In order to maintain peace of mind as parents of adults, we must let go and allow our children to forge their own paths, no matter where those paths may take them.
Wendy Boorn, M.C., L.P.C.