My husband and I have raised four children. Three children are loving and respectful, educated, and hard working. The fourth child has a “dream.” In his 30s, he went a thousand miles away to fulfill this dream. Although he has never missed a chance to tell us what failures we are as parents, we have supported him both emotionally and financially and overlooked the hurt he has caused. This has gone on for more than a year. There have been jobs here and there, but always the dream came first and the jobs go by the wayside for various reasons. The calls for money were regular, and it was never enough. After many unfulfilled promises, I’ve said enough, the well is dry. That has brought on a harangue the likes of which no parent should have to endure. I’m accused of being selfish, abusive, have words put in my mouth that I’ve certainly never uttered and told that I am crazy.
Now, he is being put out of his apartment. Do I get him out of this? If I do, next month it will start over again. I’m so afraid that he will be like the sad men I see who are out on the street. I believe he may have a mental illness. What can I do? What is a parent’s responsibility to an adult child who refuses to be responsible for himself?
Your son sounds angry. So do you. But anger is a reactive emotion. More often than not, it is a reaction to sadness, helplessness or frustration. We humans follow patterns when someone or something we love begins to slip through our fingers. First there is anxiety and disbelief – sometimes panic and desperation. Clearly, you have spent a great deal of time and energy in an effort to change your son’s behavior. Because your efforts repeatedly fail, you wind up feeling desperate, frustrated, then angry.
If you were to give up this struggle with your son, you might come face-to-face with your worst nightmare – that he is ill and out of control.
Frequently we find that as we face our nightmares, beyond the terror there is a deep, palpable, seemingly bottomless, grief. That’s because you have your dreams too, dreams of your child being loving, respectful, educated and hard working. With each one of his disappointments or requests for money, your dream slowly dies.
If your son thinks that all of your behavior is about control and manipulation, he may be partially right. After all, you do want him to be different then who he is. But your behavior is about something else also. It is about love. A love that neither you nor your son may be able to feel anymore.
As you know, parental love is like no other. When I first held my daughters in my arms, I swore I would protect them from adversity and make sure they had happy lives. Naive? Of course, but how else could I express this deep sense of love and responsibility I felt for this vulnerable little angel at that moment?
So in your case, as in many others, hopes and dreams get dashed and love turns to anger. And anger masks sadness – even grief.
No matter what happens, he will not be the man you hoped he would be. Although I admire your tenacity, it might be time to give up the battle.
That is not to say you should turn your back on him. If he has emotional or social problems, make it clear to him that you will help him get healthy and whole. But you cannot help him any other way. I would set a limit on how many months you will pay for his apartment and expenses and then tell him after that, all you will pay for is treatment should he desire (and if you can afford) it.
But also tell him that you love and care for him and will be available to talk, share time and ideas. Please do not try to talk him out of his dream in this process. The more you argue with his dream, the more important it will become to him. Which brings us to the topic of what might be going on with your son.
Of course, I cannot know exactly what is happening, but I do know this: Many of today’s young men are frightened. They see a future that is filled with demands and devoid of compassion, in which they are not likely to achieve the financial success of their parents.
Many of these young men have watched their fathers and mothers work to exhaustion, carpool kids, and give up their own lives. The majority of these children grew up with parents who were exhausted, empty and unhappy. Parents who were too busy and tired to become part of their immediate community, let alone play a role in the larger world.
Of course your son has a dream. Dreams can help sustain life. Unfortunately, because so many of today’s young people are afraid of becoming who and what their parents were, many never have the opportunity to discover who they really are. They are paralyzed by their fear.
If you ever are able to open a dialogue with your son, I would love to see you explore his dreams. Find out what they are about and what they mean to him. Perhaps then he will tell you about some of his fears. What a gift it would be if you would share with him what some of your dreams were – which ones you realized and which ones you gave up on. If you have the courage, tell him about your regrets also. It will make you more human in his eyes and perhaps give him the role model he desperately needs.
Bottom line: Set a limit on your giving so that you don’t feel confused and manipulated. Give up hope for winning this struggle and come face-to-face with the pain you have been avoiding. You see, you and your son both have dreams. We don’t know his, but yours is that your son be different. Mourn what has died: your dream for your son. If you do these things, perhaps you will feel safe enough to again feel how much you have always loved him.