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Parenting Adult Children for Your Peace of Mind and Their Accountability

Friday Food for Thought: Parents’ Greatest Fears

Posted on September 12, 2014 | 2 Comments

by Linda Herman An acquaintance asked me recently if she should be financially supporting her adult son. I had to get a few questions answered before I could answer her question. Things like:

  • Has he been working? If not, what are the circumstances?
  • Is he living independently now?
  • What is his general level of functioning
  • What is your greatest fear if you stop helping him?

While all of the questions are important, the last one is the most critical. Parents with an adult child they deem at risk are terrified of what will happen if they stop healping. Here are their most common fears:

  • He will be homeless, sleeping in his car or under a bridge somewhere.
  • He will sink deeper into depression or drug use.
  • He will commit suicide.

With those kinds of fears, most mothers just cannot NOT give financial support, either by providing that child a place to stay or the funds to live elsewhere. I totally understand their love and their fears for him/her. And, that is precisely why I NEVER tell a parent in therapy to just put their her child out of the home.  I do not want a parent coming back to tell me that she followed my recommendation and her child overdosed.

But I can and do talk about related topics. For one thing, I have seen hundreds of situations over my years as a therapist. It is rare that a  young adult who is “stuck” emotionally or due to drugs suddenly wakes up one day and embraces a new attitude and lifestyle. Despite their complaints to the contrary, many stuck young adults become rather comfortable with a predictable life of little responsibility. The world consequently looks intimidating and the young person increasingly believes that there is not a place for him in it. He becomes even more alienated, thus perpetuating his lack of growth.

There are consequences for his actions and for those of the parents. Working and productive siblings become resentful of a brother or sister of whom nothing is expected. They feel bad for their parents, and furious with them as well.  Relationships between parents become strained if the parents are not in agreement with how things are being handled at home.

Change doesn’t have to happen all at once. Sometimes, and often with difficulty, parents find success in gradually increasing the expectations of their child or decreasing the “help” that they provide.   This can look like cutting off money for gas, cigarettes, or phones. It may mean no access to a vehicle unless the young person is out job-hunting or  as a means for getting to work.

If a parent thinks her daughter needs drug treatment, then she may offer to drive her to the treatment center and/or give contact information to her.  Some parents make entering or completing treatment a condition for letting their young person stay home. Parents have to have a bottom line and the child needs to know what that bottom line is. It is human nature to push parents to the limit, especially when a child has been successfully manipulating Mom or Dad. There is no change without discomfort all concerned.

If a parent is going to insist that a child leave, I recommend that resources be presented to him/her, e.g.   agencies, shelters, phone numbers of other friends or family members who may temporarily offer housing. Regardless of what parents do, some endings are tragic. Mom or Dad get the call they have dreaded− that their child is gone.

Parents have no way of accurately predicting the outcome for their son or daughter if they increase their expectations of him/her. But I am pretty sure of the outcome if the situation is allowed to continue as is:  Nothing…no change, no growth, just an increasingly disillusioned young person with little confidence to meet the challenges of adult life. These are not easy decisions.

Take your time; reflect; don’t let anyone decide for you.

2 responses to “Friday Food for Thought: Parents’ Greatest Fears”

  1. Ginny says:

    I was one of these parents who lived in fear of doing and saying the right thing to my son who was severely depressed I watched him fall further and further for several years and then one day I knew the only way to give him the chance to save himself was to give him an ultimatum to seek help or leave. He did nothing and I had to order him out. I never I dreamt it would be six years before he spoke to me again. I lived those six years doubting myself every day then I would hear from someone that he was alive and well or even better working. I would breathe a sigh of relief. The guilt was very heavy to live with. Many well intended friends reminded that they would not have done what I did. I had to believe in my son. He has returned a changed man, a lovely man. I am not saying that this would work for every one in this situation. I guess people have to ask themselves what are they able to decide to do that they can live with and know and trust that is the right decision. There are many roads to what works for each of us. No one fits all I was blessed this worked for me and he came home. He still has demons to deal with but he is better at dealing with them now. I wish all your readers who are in this situation all the very best. They need to look after themselves as it is the hardest thing a parent has to do, second only to burying s child.

    • LInda Herman says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful contribution. It must have been awful at times during the six years, not knowing what the outcome would be. Congratulations for sticking with a course of action that was right for you. I am happy that your son is doing well.
      Linda

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