Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Getting to the "who cares" stage of parenting

J-son took me aside a few days ago.  With my husband overseas for a month or so, J-son is starting to feel more and more responsible for others in the house.  In his big-brotherly -- or possibly faux-fatherly -- way, he told me he was worried about N-son -- the way N-son eats so much junk food, the way he continues to have odor problems.  What's going to happen to him after high school? I said I was worried, too, and I described the various steps I've tried to take to help N-son help himself. And then I said, "but one thing I've learned is, you can't care more about a person's problems than he cares himself.  At some point, he's going to have to deal with this or live with this, and it's his choice."

In other words, at some point, both J-son and I have to back off, and let N-son eat and groom (or not) the way he chooses.  A hard lesson for us.  

It was only two days later that J-son lapsed again into difficulties of his own.  He's still spending all the money he comes into contact with, and occasionally starting to lift other people's money again.  Starting in October, his Social Security money runs out, which means that with no job he'll have no income and no money saved, not to mention expensive habits that he'll want to keep funding.  Speaking of those habits, he's been using the money to fund Extremely Unhealthy Purchases, which he lies to me about.  He says he wants to be a boxer, but then he doesn't actually go box, in spite of both his coach and me encouraging him to spend his days in the gym. 

This kid.  I reminded J-son about the conversation in which he told me he's worried about N-son, and I said that in a similar way I'm worried about him.  I said, I'm trying to help you, but I know that at some point I can't care more about this than you do.  You might end up living at our local rescue mission a year from now when you graduate high school and have to move out of the house, but that's going to be on you, because I'm trying to do what I can right now, but I can't do your half.  

This is a new tough stage of parenting.  There's part of me that's like the horse that smells the barn doors:  next year is their last year of high school and then I get to start the transition to having the kids all move out!  And I am almost counting down the days.  Is that awful?  I've been a parent for more than half my life now; I may or may not be ready to retire from my professional job, but I'm feeling darned antsy to retire from the primary parenting role.  I am Jonesing for those future days when the kids all come back once a week for dinner, and I dispense and advice and food and love . . . and then shoo them out the door back to their own homes again.  

At the same time, I want to make this last stretch as strong and successful as I can make it.  I feel like I keep walking the balance beam between steering these kids in the right direction and giving them enough rudder to steer themselves.  When do I take over and rescue them from their errors?  How much do I hover?  

And, of course, this question:  how do I care enough about the shape of their future lives without depriving them of the chance to care about it more than I do?


  1. Oh my, yes! Parenting is one challenge after another; and as my sister said, "Once you know how to do it, you're out of a job." Recently my husband and I decided that we would help adult children with challenges that are not of their own making such as a car accident; but if the challenge comes because of their own choices, especially going against advice from us, then they have to figure out the answer and sacrifice for themselves. Hard choices for parents, but we hope it will help them more in the long run. Best of luck and blessing to you too, Mom.

  2. Is age 18 a firm deadline in your household?

    One time, about 10 years ago, my little son considered my 30-something-year-old cousin walking into his mom's house. My cousin was living at home after studying for an advanced degree away at school.

    My son was puzzled asked, "Is he a kid or is he a grown up?"

    I replied, "He's a grown up who lives with his parents."

    Incredulous! "I'm never going to do that!"

    1. No, 18 isn't some kind of magical cut off age. J-son is already 18, and will be 19 when he's done with high school next year. Also, 25-year-old K-daughter has moved back in (temporarily) with her 2-year-old as she's leaving her husband, getting a divorce, looking for a job, and eventually looking for her own place.

      Like Rozy, I have a sort of a decision tree: I don't at all mind the idea of helping my kids transition through temporary situations, like K-daughter transitioning from being stay-at-home to employed. On the other hand, both of my sons ought to be getting ready for transitioning to living on their own soon, whether that means (like most of my daughters) living in a dorm at school, or renting a place with friends, or something.

      What I don't want is to be a free hotel where they play games on their phone and sleep all day while doing no work, until they can go hang out with friends at night. That's unfortunately sort of what's happening with J-son this summer, in spite of many people's efforts to have him be gainfully employed -- if that happens again next summer, I am going to boot him out, for his own good, really.

  3. It's truly a balancing act trying to figure out when to intervene and when to stand back. Even with my children in their 20s I can't look back and determine what we did right and what we did wrong as parents. In any case, it definitely seems to me you do a fantastic job as a parent!

    1. Yeah, there are a LOT of judgment calls, and the answers aren't all yes/no, that's for sure. Thanks for the pat on the back; we all keep trying to do our best.