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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 11-Apr-08


Friday 11-Apr-08

Growing pains

I wrote last year of troubles with my teenage son and have since had several helpful conversations with others with similar experiences. Parenting problem teens is a trial by fire but although it has been far from plain sailing I know that it could always be worse.

So here's a synopsis of the past year.

After dropping out of school (which was after failing a year and being let back on a promise of knuckling down), he announced he was going to live with a friend in London. I felt we needed to stay in touch so helped him move. I got him a job with a friend in IT, but that lasted a little over a week - he quit after being told off about something ('they're all idiots').

The London stay lasted about a month then he came home again, soon to go and live 'permanently' with a bunch of friends in a faraway town. For several months the only contact was when we phoned and when he deigned to pick up. We were careful here to remain positive and keep calls brief. After living on their charity for a while he fell out with them and left, moving to a series of friends with a similar pattern of dependency until Christmas, when he was on the point of being put out onto the streets.

He asked to come back. We said yes, but with a few conditions, like getting a job (and with the motivation of no internet until he had held one down for a month). He also brought a friend who would otherwise have been homeless. The friend had a transferable job and agreed to a nominal rent (which never got paid). When they fell out, we were left to clear up and lever the friend out.

The biggest frustration for a long time has been that he just takes what he wants and gives pretty much nothing back ('I don't do housework'). He also distorts and uses anything you say against you ('You said you wanted me to be happy'). Our frustration at the selfishness has boiled over now and again but with little effect ('Get off my back!'). Largely, though, we've tried being tolerant and patient. Occasionally we see a gently and funny person peeking through and hope that this is the real person.

Several friends who know the whole story have expressed surprise that we haven't kicked him out, but despite all he has (and has not) said and done, we believe there is a fundamentally good person in there waiting to emerge. I think the biggest issue is that he is terrified of growing up and taking responsibility for his life. Like Peter Pan he has been clinging to the safety of childhood, where somebody else provides and he can play in his make-believe world.

Even as I write this, a new chapter may be beginning. He has got a job as a trainee butcher at Tesco's, the UK's leading grocery superstore where he starts today. He hasn't lasted more than a few days in any job yet, so I'll believe what I see, though I've got my fingers tightly crossed.

Your comments

This is what will happen to your son if you continue to enable him: he will eventually find someone and marry them. Then his wife is straddled with his irresponsibility. She marries him because she feels that she "understands" him and can "help him."

Unfortunately he never takes on the responsibility of becoming a responsible husband, homeowner, or citizen. Every time he is in trouble, his parents bail him out. He steals from his wife's bank account, invites unsavory friends over, has trouble with the law, makes his neighbors angry, and can?t take care of basic day-to-day household chores, starts drinking or abusing drugs. Each time his parents bail him out.

His wife leaves in the hopes that he will "hit bottom" and finally realize what he needs to do to have a happy life. Instead his family bails him out again. The ex-wife is left picking up the pieces of her life.

My ex is the son of a successful doctor. His family always enabled him. Their enabling created a menace on society. Please be tough on him or he will never grow up and he will be lost to you forever.

-- Colleen

Dave replies:
Thanks, Colleen. I do take your advice seriously and empathize with your situation. He has said he will be saving up to go and live with a friend, and we'll encourage (but not finance) that. We've also been very deliberate in giving him little whilst he is here -- he has food and shelter but little else. We will continue to withdraw as needed to ensure he stands on his own feet.

It is sometimes difficult to realize that children and others in my life have free will and free choice. With the free will and free choices come consequences such as being homeless (almost) for your son and feeling the inner turmoil of wanting good things for someone who would rather walk their own path for your son\'s parents.

I continue to receive life lessons in relationships from friends and family members. I hear an internal voice which sometimes say, "You do have a problem!" Sometimes to myself and occasionally out loud, when invited to join in the problem.

In my life with age came increased wisdom and I hope it will work that way for your son as you lovingly do what you are willing to do and set reasonable boundaries for yourself..

Good luck!

-- Gene

Dave replies:
Aye, Gene, likewise I know I cannot live my children's lives for them. I have told them both that I just want them to be independent and happy. At the moment, my son is focusing on 'happy' first. One of the sad lessons of life is that food and shelter come first. 

Not that I have had experience raising a son, but I have put a lot of time in being one.

All I can say is that some children admire their parents to the point that they are intimidated by them. At some point, many sons do not think that they can even converse with their father until they have proven themselves an equal.

Unable to achieve the success of their parent in the field of that parent in the short term, they will try to be quickly successful in an endeavour where the parent has not succeeded.

Daughters (I have siblings) may even be worse. If they cannot impress their father with their own achievements they will find a male friend who either impresses or challenges their parent, whether or not they are indeed their own friend.

It may sound simplistic, but all this commotion may be only a prelude to a dialogue?

-- peter

Dave replies:
Fair comment. There's been limited dialogue, not through lack of effort. He's been closed and I'm cautious about pushing him too hard. I've given an occasional trial stronger prod, but he needs (and wants) to drive his own life. I've a great relationship with my daughter (though there were challenges with her too), which is something of a relief -- when you've problems with a child you start to doubt your parenting abilities.

One part of the psyche tells one, "Spare the rod, spoil the boy". But there is always a danger of building a strong and irrational reactance, which seems to already be a part of the case here.

Tactful handling of persons is your forte, and I can give no advice to you on that count, which you are not already aware of. But at some point, I suppose one has to reflect upon the fact that humans are individual creatures, are free, and when they realise that what they are doing is not what they want to do, they rebel.

I convinced someone very close to me to stop smoking, more than a year ago. But because of a ham-handed and authoritative approach later on, I managed to make her extremely defensive, angry, and inclined to do the very thing I had asked her not to, even though she really didn't feel like she needed to do it anymore, even by her own admission.

I suppose the best sort of change is that which comes from within. Our job is just to help that change come. And sometimes, perhaps, accept that we cannot change things.

-- I Vassarion

Dave replies:
Agreed. It's a delicate game and easy to trip even after it seems won. It can be a big problem where they think they know what you are thinking, but are completely wrong.

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