May 18, 2019 at 10:20 am #294317
I decided a few months ago that I need to make changes with how I deal with a particular person in my life, but the emotional blackmail he asserts over me is very strong. After a time of silence he is now back asking me to support him- but my own circumstances have changed and I can no longer give him any financial help. He suffers from mental health problems and finds life difficult to deal with- I need to start to see my own behaviour in his life more clearly, and how I can influence him to make more positive changes for himself and therefore heal the constant pain his presence in my life causes me. This person is an adult and free to make his own choices, as I am- the difference is that this person is my son- how do other people come to manage these relationships as adults without feeling tremendous guilt about how they have messed up as parents?May 18, 2019 at 12:04 pm #294423
I believe that most parents at one point look back on their parenting and see some big (sometimes huge) mistakes and wish they could have a “re-do”, but the truth is there’s no such thing as perfect parenting or a perfect childhood. We are all flawed and often transfer those flaws to our own kids without realizing what we’re doing. I believe that honesty with our kids is the best policy. If I were you I think I would have an open and honest discussion with my now adult son. I’d identify for him the mistakes I believe I made during his upbringing, sincerely apologize for each one, and explain what I would do differently now if I had the chance. Then I’d decide how to best move forward in this relationship, and I’d stick to my decision even when it’s difficult to do so. When deciding how best to move forward I’d consider what is best for me both emotionally and financially and also what is best for him. Enabling him both emotionally and financially may not be what’s best for him, so I’d probably guide him to seek quality psychotherapy, and I’d also stop giving him money.
I guess my point is that you can decide right now, at this very moment, to be the parent you wish you were earlier and to be a good role model for your son, and to also set important boundaries with him. I believe you love you son and want what’s best for him, but does he know how much you love him? It may be a silly question but I think it’ll be much easier for him to accept and to forgive you for the mistakes you made during his upbringing if he feels genuine love from you and knows you sincerely want what’s best for him.
So forgive yourself for your mistakes and understand that we all make parenting mistakes that we wish we could correct, and make a list of the qualities you now want to have and stick to that list, and always come from a place of love for your son. Sometimes that “place of love” is actually “tough love” — doing what you need to do to help him become a functioning adult, someone who has the proper tools to face life’s problems (no more emotionally blackmailing his mom) who can make a living on his own without financial help.
BMay 18, 2019 at 5:00 pm #294431
Thanks Brandy- I think you are right on so many levels. The history I have with my son is complex. I have always tried to be honest with him and been down the path of tough love, but it is hard to see your child living on the streets and without obvious means of support. He found a relationship which has not been a happy one for him or his partner, and he broke up with her, but now they are back together again. The worst thing is knowing that he is unhappy, frustrated and trapped, but having to stand by and watch the car crash happen, over and over again, is truly horrible.
I don’t give him money, but he expects me to, and refusing time and again is something I have to go through repeatedly. My offers of advice, given in a loving way, are repeatedly rejected. For years I felt I was being punished by him, but I have never compromised my own standards. Does he know how much I love him? Only he can answer that. What I think is best and what he sees as best are not the same- who am I to judge what may be the right thing for him?
He is incapable of making a living on his own,which is why he went back to his girlfriend- I have had to stand by and see him mess up so often. Now, the only way I can deal with it is to pretend he isn’t my son, but just another person I know who doesn’t cope well with life, and let him know I am here if he needs me, but I will not run to do his bidding.
Parenthood is fraught with expectation and vulnerability- so often the finger is raised against me by people who cannot see beyond societal expectations. It is my fault- I have been a negligent and incompetent parent, but yet I maintain healthy relationships with my other child, my grandchildren, my siblings, my nieces and nephews and my friends and their children. Just this one I have failed in and am judged by.
Thank you for taking the time to reply.May 18, 2019 at 8:53 pm #294437
You are welcome. I think you’re doing all the right things, and I share your sentiments about the societal expectations of parenting. It’s terrible to be judged negatively by others, especially for those who are already blaming themselves. Recently there have been a series of unfortunate incidents in my community where the foolish actions of a few teenagers have resulted in some very negative gossip about their parents. Instead of being compassionate, there are many in the community who have become self-righteous and judgmental, and without even knowing all the facts! So I understand what you’re saying.
So just let people think what they want. Let all the extraneous b.s. drop away so that you can focus on what’s really important: you and your son. Has he had professional counseling to work through some of his troubles? And what about you? I ask because this is a common problem for parents of adult children, one that trained psychologists deal with every day.
It’s possible that indeed your son has been punishing you as you had mentioned. All the more reason to take responsibility for your mistakes and apologize for them. If he’s angry, maybe this will dissolve some of that anger. If I were you I’d do my best to keep communicating with him without compromising my own standards, just like you’re already doing. I would give him advice only when he asks for it, and I’d check in with him often because I care about him and love him. But, and you already know this, you can only do so much, and he needs to learn from his own mistakes and start making better choices or else, well, find himself on the streets, and as a parent myself it pains me to type those words.
I’m sorry you’re going through this.
BMay 19, 2019 at 3:33 am #294455
Thank-you so much for your kind words.
I learned a long time ago to ignore the opinions of others as regards parenting, as well as lots of other things I may have done which have caused disapproval (too much to say here, although I have never broken the law ha ha!) my life has taken a somewhat unconventional path. I have a lot of support from friends and family who know the struggles I have had both with my marriage and my children, but the criticism mostly comes from my own self.
I did lots of things wrong- trying to treat both children the same was my first mistake- not dealing with the trauma after the marriage break-up- not helping my son see through his grief when his cousin died- are just a few of the big ones. I can now see where I did not understand my son’s weaknesses and help him to work through it- now he is a dysfunctional adult and I veer between thinking it is all my fault, to believing it is now his fault- but the truth surely lies somewhere in between. I don’t like to play the blame game. I want to see clearly how to move through this.
He has some mental health problems and is deeply distrustful of any medical professionals- at times I made appointments for him but have given up, as he tells me that professionals say there is nothing wrong with him, therefore making out it is me that is at fault thinking he has problems. My son never or rarely apologises or thanks me- he only tells me he loves me when he needs something, which is what teenagers do, but my son is now an adult.
I need to know how to keep communicating with him without opening myself up to hurt, and I think this is the issue. I am seeking ways to re-open the dialogue without falling back into old patterns. If I try to suggest help he gets angry and I can’t deal with that and tend to walk away. The last time this happened I stayed with him but his tirade then got out of hand and I walked out anyway. I will not open myself up to verbal abuse- I don’t give it so don’t expect it back. I am a classic conflict avoider.
I will try to frame a short message to him today- maybe along the lines of if there’s anything that’s bothering him I’d like to help, but that I can’t keep doing the same things anymore. Maybe I need to be more honest about not wanting him to say hurtful things either, as I am only wanting good things for him, something I haven’t really done before. I would really like to dispense with the whole mother/son dynamic and just become a person talking to another person without all that other parent/child stuff in the way.
Thanks again for letting me sound off about this- it is making a difference.May 19, 2019 at 8:11 am #294469
I need to know how to keep communicating with him without opening myself up to hurt, and I think this is the issue. I am seeking ways to re-open the dialogue without falling back into old patterns.
I will be away from my computer for the next several hours but will think about what you’re asking while I’m gone.
It’s complicated, I understand. I have a friend who’s in a similar situation as you with regard to her adult son who is now married and lives out of the state. When her son needs money he goes directly to his father who is still married to my friend, and he always gives him money. My friend does not agree with this. She wants her son to be forced to learn from his mistakes and start making good choices, but he keeps falling back into old self-destructive patterns. It’s almost like he’s incapable of making any good choices. My friend and her son have a very strained relationship and communicate very little, and when they do it involves only small talk, never anything meaningful, steering away from explosive topics, yet he and his dad talk often and have a much closer, more meaningful relationship. My friend would like to improve her relationship with her son but it’s hard to know how to do it.
BMay 19, 2019 at 10:36 am #294523anitaParticipant
Did you consider family therapy, that is, you and your son attending therapy together?
I don’t know if your son would agree to such, or if you can afford it (there may be a sliding scale option, maybe you have insurance that will pay for such).
May 19, 2019 at 11:32 am #294533
- This reply was modified 1 year, 4 months ago by anita.
Hello Anita and thanks for taking the time to write to me.
I have been to counselling about this issue a few times, sometimes it helped and others it didn’t. I know my son has been to counselling a long time ago but we have never been together.
I think right now I am working on establishing communication again, but I will keep your advice in mind thank-you.May 19, 2019 at 11:44 am #294535anitaParticipant
You are welcome. Counseling together, a couple-therapy context, only the couple is mother and son, is my suggestion; glad you will keep it in mind and hope to read from you again.
anitaMay 19, 2019 at 11:47 am #294537
I know where your friend is coming from. I was in a relationship until quite recently where my partner was very indulgent with his children, and thought I should be the same with mine. It did cause problems for us and now I am on my own (again!) I feel much more free to manage my family relationships in a way that feels right for me.
My son and his father have a difficult relationship and his dad has always been more indulgent with him than I have been. Now neither of us are in a position where we have money to spare, and I think my son knows this but cannot seem to break out of this parental dependency.
My son also makes bad choices, like your friend’s. It is as if just when he seems to be getting things together he messes up, as if failure is easier for him to deal with than success, he is very like his father in this regard.
For a time I kept communication to a minimum too, and as long as I know he is well it is enough for me. The closeness we once shared is no longer possible, I have accepted that.
I hope your friend finds her way through this too- it is incredibly difficult but love finds unexpected and surprising ways if we let it. I love my son and I’m hopeful all will be well. Thank you.May 19, 2019 at 5:02 pm #294603MarkParticipant
It seems like you know what to do and are handling it the best you can. You have awareness of your role and what it should be in order to best protect yourself. You also know you want to go in the right direction of being an adult friend for your adult son rather than being a mother of a child.
MarkMay 19, 2019 at 11:22 pm #294643
Thanks Mark- yes, I feel that I should know, all I can do is trust myself that I will do it. Since I did not respond to his request for money last week I have not heard from him, but maybe that is the price I have to pay.May 20, 2019 at 12:00 pm #294785
When I look at my friend’s situation it seems to me that her son is rewarding his dad for giving him money and punishing his mom for not giving him money. His dad’s reward is a relationship with his son and his mom’s punishment is no relationship. That’s how it appears to me but it could be far more complex than that.
Maybe your situation is a little something like that too: you refused his request for money last week so he’s going to punish you by not talking to you. Your goal is to re-open a dialogue with him without giving him money, and if it were me I’d probably write him a letter telling him my honest feelings which I think you said you were planning to do, and then the decision about re-opening the dialogue is his to make. Ball’s in his court. There’s really nothing more you can do because you need to hold firm on your decision to not give him money.
I see it gets complex when you factor in that he’s probably also using your guilt to get money because this has worked for him in the past so why stop doing what’s been working? So the longer he goes without speaking to you the more you probably beat yourself up for the mistakes you’ve made, and he knows this. He wants this. Yes, you’ve made mistakes that have affected him and I don’t mean to minimize those mistakes but the key now is that you acknowledge that you made them. And guess what….we all make mistakes as parents. We mess up but we learn and we get back on track no matter how late in the game. Make a decision today to be the parent you want to be. This means put it all out there, all the stuff you two aren’t talking about, things that have been brushed under the rug, and start the healing for the both of you. Do your best to make things right with him. This is what I would do. As painful as it may be to rehash the tough stuff, you’ve got to do it especially if he won’t do it (with or without you) in therapy, and if it’s too explosive a situation then put it all in a letter to him and then send it.
I think sometimes adult kids cut off their parents when the kids 1) see only one side of their childhood story, 2) don’t see any improvement/change in their parents’ behavior, and 3) believe that their parents didn’t/don’t love them. So help him to understand the other side of the story, show him you know you’ve messed up but you’ve learned and changed, and let him know you love him and want what’s best for him. Then you’ve done all you can do. He can decide what happens next. And you can move on with your life knowing you’ve done your best.
BMay 20, 2019 at 2:27 pm #294821
Thank-you so much Brandy- I think you are spot on with these observations and suggestions. My son went to live with his dad not long after we had split up, as he was much more lenient with him than I was and indulged him in ways I never would have. However, I don’t think he sees his actions as punishment or reward, rather I think he just tries to get what he wants from any source available.
Recently his dad was seriously ill, so I tried to support my son through this and for a while we became a little closer,but it didn’t last.
I can see that I have permitted my son’s dependence by helping him out now and again with money for specific things (never cash) and understand that that has become the nature of our relationship- for most of his adult life I have also used money as a means to get him off my back, as he wasn’t the easiest person to live with, and he did come back to my home from time to time.
I have counselling appointment tomorrow, and will use it to try to frame the letter I will send. I now know what to say and how to try to re-form the relationship in the way you have outlined. The rest will be up to him. I am now in a place where I am prepared to completely cut those strings if need be- there is nothing more I can do. Thank-you for your good sense and understanding.May 20, 2019 at 3:49 pm #294835