Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is it Love... or is it Wimpy Parenting?

It's easy for me to ask the question and it's even easier for me to pontificate about it as I sit in the ostensibly all-knowing-and-wise Wizard of Oz chair 50 hours each week.  The debate has strong adherents on both sides. 

Many parents explain to me that the realities today are significantly different than when I was leaving the nest of my parents’ home. Quite true.

Of course, we live in a very difficult financial environment. I'm told it is very difficult if not impossible for a young person to find employment that will cover their housing, food and other bare essentials. Also, there have been articles written suggesting that another "developmental phase" is evolving; a  "20-something phase" which follows adolescence but precedes adulthood. This argument supports the idea that it is healthy for pre-adults to stay under a protective parental wing.

I'm in agreement with the first argument; we are certainly living in difficult times - I am not so sure about the notion that another developmental phase is evolving that warrants a protracted adolescence. 

I am continually flummoxed when it's suggested life should be "easy" or "easier". I wonder, when has life EVER been easy - except for during my childhood when my mother did my laundry, prepared my meals, cleaned my bedroom, virtually did my homework and fought my battles with my father. 

Since I matured (in the last few years), I've come to "accept" that Life is difficult. As I survey the situation of others, I think others have a more difficult situation than do I. As I consider those in other countries, it is doubtless that their life is even more of a struggle.

Where did we ever get the impression that life "should" be easy?  

[Disclaimer: I have often said and it applies here also that this is my OPINION - not facts or the conclusion of research - so feel free to dissent.] 

In my professional experience, I generally find it unhelpful to allow young adults to stay in their parents’ home. Young adults are in a developmental period in which it is appropriate to make their own rules - often these rules are at odds with the parent's values and norms. If a young adult is living with parents, one party will have to adjust and often - it's the parents that capitulate. Instead of maintaining clear boundaries about their expectations and allowing the natural consequences to occur, they violate their own integrity (becoming increasingly angry and increasing helpless in the process) and unintentionally retard their child's emotional/psychological maturity. 

Why do parents, again and again postpone imposing significant consequences (i.e., booting the older-adolescent out)? Parents, frequently, will offer a litany of rationalizations - but more often, the real answer is that the parents can't tolerate their own anxiety that would escalate if they "induced labor" to get their child to leave the nest. They feel plagued by all of the "what if" questions. "What if the young adult becomes homeless? What if they turn to crime? What if they go hungry?"  These are real possibilities - but they are possibilities that the parent(s), ultimately, cannot control. The lack of control is what provokes the anxiety. The parents are exchanging a feared future “what if” for the alternative – a surly, entitled and resentful offspring who never develops a sense of competence and responsibility.

It may be worth reviewing the blog entry about the “drama triangle”. The rescuers believe they are motivated by compassion, but more often, the root motivation is their own anxiety. They engage in recuing behavior to contain their own anxiety which would escalate if they were to allow their young adult to face the harsh realities of life. As they continue to rescue, the “victim” suddenly becomes the rescuers’ persecutor who now feels like they are the victim. The familiar refrain from parents and other rescuers is, “After all we’ve done for you, this is how you repay us”?

Commonly, the young adult (or other victim) will charge the rescuers with being too controlling or unfair.

How, you may ask, does one extricate oneself from this kind of trap? The answer, I'm afraid, is not easy. And, isn’t it interesting that the initial desire to provide an easy way became the fertile feild for this very hard dilemma? 

The answer is that there is no escape from the fact that this life is hard and that we do a grave disservice to our children when we try to shield them from this fact. The way out of this dilemma is hard and heart-breaking. The way is filled with anxiety as we wonder if our children will “make it”.

There is a well-known saying – which while sounding hard-hearted is true: Life is hard, so get a helmet.

Two neighbors have a fence between their backyards.
The first man notices the neighbor got a new dog.
Over a period of weeks, as the man observes his neighbor's dog, it seem his tail is getting shorter.
One day, as the neighbors meet at the mailbox, the first man comments that he has seen the new dog.
His neighbor gushes about how cute and sweet the dog is.
The first man mentions that it seems the dog's tail is getting shorter and shorter.
Yes, says the neighbor, "The Vet said I should get his tail docked, but I love that dog so much...I didn't have the heart to do it all at once."


  1. It is obvious that you have never had children - if you did, you'd know how hard it is.

  2. Hi Anonymous- Actually, I'm quite happy about my 26 year old son. You'll be happy to hear he's not a lot like me - and the last time I checked, he's pretty happy with what he does. Thanks for your comments - I'd be concerned if too many people thought like me. Rob

  3. And how does the dog's tail work into this?


As always, your comments are helpful.