Hi, Carolyn: My daughter, an 18-year-old about to graduate from high school, is in a serious and loving relationship with a young man who will be 18 himself this month. He goes to school full time and works full time, and they spend much of their free time together.
I found out today that his mother has designated his bedroom for his stepsister and that all his things are going to be packed up and put into the garage as soon as possible. He’s very hurt and feels his mother is pushing him away, but they have very poor communication skills and always end up in screaming fights. He’s a good kid but immature, and not at all equipped financially or mentally to navigate his own life at his current stage of development.
Of course, if need be, he can stay at my house (he’s here a lot anyway and fits in well), but this seems very drastic. I know his mom only a little, and it would feel like a big leap to call or go by to talk, but it seems cruel to me, what she’s doing. Your thoughts?
Be careful. That’s my first, if not the most charitable, thought.
He’s in a tough spot, you care about him, you’re a parent, and his difficulties are playing out right under your nose. Add these up and it’s easy to see justification for getting heavily involved.
But it’s not your place to. He needs to deal with his mother, for starters. Making it easy for him to bypass her completely not only undermines her, but also reduces the likelihood that he finds a way to work with her (and other difficult people) on this and other important steps toward his independence. Her doing a terrible job in this role — objectively or just in your opinion — doesn’t change the fact that the role is rightfully hers.
And, your daughter needs her relationship with him to remain independent of his living situation. If you offer him both a home and extensive pinch-parenting, then you complicate the important work she has to do in navigating this relationship for its own sake. They are so young, and your daughter herself is dependent on you for a home. She needs to have room literally and emotionally to break up with him if — and as soon as — she decides she needs to do that.
These obstacles don’t mean you can’t help him. They just mean you have to resist the impulse to sweep him into your protective embrace and instead help him pragmatically and at arm’s length. With your daughter’s knowledge and consent, of course.
Be a listener, for example; let him talk out his frustrations and ideas for what to do next. If you’re a skilled communicator yourself, then coach him to work better with his mom. Counsel perspective: If he can still live with Mom but just lost his room, then, OK – he’s at least sheltered and fed till he makes other arrangements.
You can help with those other arrangements, too, as long as he takes the lead and you’re just there to fill in logistical blanks. If college isn’t in his plans, then he’ll need roommates or a job that provides housing or a savings strategy toward moving out. If he’s not experienced at managing money, then he might need help setting up plans and accounts. If he hasn’t yet weighed career paths that both suit and support him, then you can steer him to the counseling office at his school or the local community college.
You prompt, he thinks and decides, you connect him to information.
Kids with involved, supportive parents get these things often without either party knowing it; they’re modeled more than actively taught. His mother’s abrupt actions suggest — but don’t prove! — he might need active teaching.
Besides providing empathy, that’s what the listening is for: to be attentive as he sorts this out, so you’re there with the nudges he needs.
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