I was walking with a good friend who shared the ongoing problems he and his wife were having with one of their children. It was a serious problem. It was clear, on his face and demeanor, how troubled he was. I know him well and I know he is a good parent, an attentive one, a caring one, and a smart one. Yet, nothing they seem to do is helping with this one particular child, a young adult really, and it was clear that this situation was at risk of consuming their lives.
That old saying that “Parents are only as happy as their least happiest child” occurred to me when this friend was telling me the latest drama from their kid. I wanted to offer a solution, but knowing everything he and his wife have already tried, all I could offer was solace and gentle concern that they may be allowing their child to damage their other immediate family relationships. Sadly, he agreed.
What should we do, as parents, with a difficult and troubled kid? After we’ve tried “Tough love” and “Kid glove love,” what do we do next?
The other thing that so troubled my friend was the blissful ignorance and apparent judgment he felt his family was receiving from their friends. So, not only were he and his wife struggling with an untenable situation, they were doing it without the support of their friends.
Again, I couldn’t offer much more than solace and comfort. Sometimes we all need to just let it out and share our heartaches with someone that cares. I felt that was what he needed more than the usual guy “fix it” solution. Men tend to react to most problems with a “fix it” mentality that immediately goes towards how to resolve the problem rather than just listening or commiserating.
I asked myself how much do I allow my own children to affect my personal happiness and well-being? How much is my wife affected by our kids? The truth is I let them affect me a lot. Of course, I’m not alone in reacting this way to my children and, of course, that is why the cliché title of this column is a cliché. It’s mostly true for most parents.
A small personal example happened when my older son broke up with his girlfriend of a year, who our family adored. She had become almost the daughter I’d never had. When they broke up, I felt almost as if we’d lost a family member and, to a degree, we had. But, my empathy and involvement in his “affair” was obviously too much and a prime example of living my life through my kid. And, obviously, my reaction was not the right one to have.
Thankfully, I realized most of this in my own head and adjusted my behavior accordingly. This situation turned out to be my own struggle and adjustment, so consequently I was wise enough to stay out of their affairs and realize it was truly none of my business. By doing so, I gave my son the room to come to me about the situation without fear that I’d be judgmental or that I was attached in an un-objective, inappropriate manner.
Also, I talked to my wife about it and she reinforced that it was none of my beeswax, to quote her. And, reinforced it very strongly. A good partner, a good spouse, will do that. Sometimes, I need to hear what I may not want to hear and I’m grateful that my wife has no fear in that regard. Sometimes I wish she didn’t voice her considerable opinions about my behavior, but we’ll save that subject for another column.
My wife has a different reaction and different feelings than I do, both because she’s a woman and because she’s the stepmother of my boys. That is a double-edged sword in that she isn’t overly affected by the inherent maternal soft-love instincts, but she also can be occasionally too quick to make a judgment without taking into consideration the history they’ve lived. Nonetheless, I value her feedback, harsh as it may be at times, as I trust her objectivity if not every bit of advice she so readily gives.
I believe my friend and his wife are basically on the same page but the toll this ongoing situation has clearly taking is considerable. Therefore, I come back to the same questions asked earlier. What to do? I think the greater good of the whole family must be taken into consideration. If one child indeed is affecting the whole unit and everything has been tried to help and solve the problem, maybe the tough love approach is the only option? Maybe letting that child, that young adult, loose is the best thing to do? Maybe then it is possible to renew the other relationships and connections with the rest of the family?
This is easily said and easily offered, but it is not so easily accomplished.